Yesterday, I ran an op-ed asking the people who make and publish video games to talk more, to be more willing to answer gamers' questions, to communicate rather than wrap themselves in a blanket of cold, corporate silence.
The piece triggered quite a few passionate reactions. Some agreed with my piece. Others spoke out against it. And I had a lot of great conversations on the subject with quite a few people, some of whom brought up points that I hadn't considered. I wasn't clear, for example, that I was not addressing developers who are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs; I was addressing the publishers and executives who want to shut those developers up. And there were certainly points I missed.
So in the interest of exploring more angles, I asked people to send over their thoughts. Below are a few letters from game makers and reporters, posted to present some other perspectives in this conversation.
Jamie Cheng, Klei Entertainment:
I'm genuinely surprised you didn't tackle the main reason why devs have a hard time talking to press: we have to take into account that our words could be used in the most sensationalist way possible.
I have literally seen this cause the cancellation of projects, damage developer/publisher relations and people getting fired. I have seen this happen to large companies and indies alike. I've seen indies who's games are no longer coming out on platforms due to the printing of a supposedly confidential, but honest and friendly, conversation. I have seen my own words taken out of context and cause my studio to look like we were blaming others when we were literally just being upfront and taking responsibility.
Through all this, I'm still working hard to give as much information as I can. Better to be bitten a few times than to play it safe and never say anything interesting. I can do this because I run my own company, and I understand the risks. I genuinely believe being open to the press causes more good than harm. But understand that the press has and will continue to periodically materially damage people's lives -- is it any wonder that the average PR person, who has far more to lose than to gain, says "no comment"?
Dan Teasdale, Twisted Pixel Games:
Legally, you might not be able to answer the question. Lots of things can cause this, but almost always you can't even say that a legal reason is behind why you can't talk about it.
Take the whole Prey 2 mess. I bet if you'd asked if Prey 2 was still coming out during that time, it would have been impossible for any party to answer that for a whole bunch of reasons -- it messes with the contract, Prey 2 may still come out with a different developer, one party might be preparing to/have already started suing the other party and anything in the press can impact it, etc. "Does your game still exist" sounds like a simple question, but even that can be complicated by behind the scenes problems. Business deals are never simple.
That's just one potential legal reason. Patents, resolutions to lawsuits that require certain changes to a game, NDAs, licensing terms and issues, IP issues... there's a huge chunk of things that we can never talk about, or even tell you that we can never talk about with you.
Sometimes there's better places to talk about some information, and you may have also secured deals to get that information out there.
This probably makes more sense after you wrote the article, but I'd bet that the reason Bethesda didn't get back to you about your Skyrim DLC request was because they were doing an announce and explanation of it during their huge convention the next week. While it might suck for you, Quakecon is clearly a better place for Bethesda to make announcements and get across their message unfiltered about their games.
That can happen all over the place. If I've got a cover exclusive with Game Informer for my game and you ask whether the game exists or not, I'm not going to tell you on the record that the game exists and is coming out soon. A big event is going to get more attention and be better for the game than an article on a single site.
Everything you say is taken as gospel and locked. It doesn't matter if you hedge it. If you say or hint at something and it ends up not happening, you'll get eviscerated, even if it's small - just ask anyone who wanted stage kit support in Rock Band 3! I bet that's the other part of Bethesda not telling you about the PS3 version of Dawnguard: they didn't know if they'd solve their problems in time for a Quakecon announce or not, so why tell you that they're struggling if everything could potentially be OK a week later?
In an ideal world, people would be able to understand the difference between announcing something and talking about potential paths of things, some of which might not happen. We don't live in that world. Hell, this is a problem even just internally when making a game.
Laura Parker, GameSpot Australia:
I agree with your article (as in damn straight, they should talk to us more!) but here is why I think it's kind of like saying that it would be nice if people were kinder to each other and stopped murdering or thieving, or it would be nice if countries stopped going to war with each other, or it would be nice if poverty didn't exist. It would be nice, but it won't happen until something deep in the core of humanity (or in this case, capitalism) changes. And that's not going to happen anytime soon.
People like Tim Schafer and Notch and Cliff and Gabe are personalities in the industry. Tim and Notch both run very small teams and have no one to answer to. Much the same for Cliff and Gabe (in terms of having no one to really answer to). These guys represent the best side of the gaming industry. But the reality is that a large part of the gaming business is made up of companies and corporations that don't have a strong personality or voice behind them. Perhaps there are some people within Nintendo or Microsoft or Sony or Sega or Ubisoft who do want to have a more open discussion with gamers, who do want to engage with them on a more personal level. But just think of the different tiers of management in those companies.
Think of how many people have to approve even a very simple decision. These companies have whole marketing departments. They have whole PR departments, and whole departments dedicated to community engagement. These departments function on one level but there are so many levels above them. It's easy to imagine a publisher like Microsoft having a single coherent vision or voice (ie "I hate Microsoft, they always rip gamers off.") But in reality we have to think of these publishers as what they are: a very large company with a lot of different people and personalities and departments and decision-makers. There isn't just one person who gets to say: "Right! From now on, we're going to be more open with our community!"
Approving things like teases for upcoming games or media comments/responses to stories or speaking out about rumours is not a simple process for these publishers. It requires a collective, unanimous decision from a whole lot of people, which is almost always impossible. That's why these companies have standard "No comment" responses. That's why they carefully approve who can or cannot speak to the media or speak to the community. Every decision that comes from them is one that hundreds of people have approved. It's not easy to change this process overnight.
It comes down to brand image, right? Publishers think: "How do we want people to think of us?" and this is something they spend a lot of time thinking about and eventually settle on a vision and keep to that vision as a standard. It requires a huge effort or shakeup to shift this vision or change its direction. Of course, they can choose to renegotiate this vision, but something huge has to make them do that. Something to do with either money or a shift in the audience.
So yes, we should keep trying to tell them to open up to us more, but at the same time I think we should be realistic about the reasons why it won't happen overnight.
This is a complicated issue that deserves a great deal more debate and conversation. And what's important (and great) is that we're having the conversation. That's the point.
Top photo credit Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock