We Need Better Video Game Publishers

We Need Better Video Game Publishers

Over the past eight or so years, we’ve all seen a worrying increase in the number of Western game development studios going bankrupt. We’re told this is due to the economic climate and that modern games cost more to make. Much of that is misdirection and plain old-fashioned bullshit.

I should know. I’ve been in the games industry for over a decade. While I’ve spent the bulk of that time working in development, as a designer, I also had a decent spell in publishing too.

In short, I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

In the previous console generation, the size of development teams was far smaller. Because, of that, budgets were too. One major platform, the PlayStation 2, dominated the market with an immense install base. All of that meant you had great profit margins.

By “you” I mean the large game publishers.

The orgy of cash publishers enjoyed in the PS2 era made the majority of the management in games publishing complacent. A lot of people at the publishing companies made it into positions they wouldn’t normally have achieved. They were carried there by those large profits. Basically, they failed upwards.

These days, the market is much more fractured in terms of platforms. Games cost even more to make. And something has had to give.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that we have a large number of idiots in publishing management, this means that when they’re unable to manage budgets properly — most often the result of their own interference inflating costs — they hit the panic button and shut down the studio that just tried to make a game for them.

You also have insidious shit like Metacritic score targets written into contracts. That practice is done entirely to deny developers royalties if a game sells. And that’s not to mention the fact that, even if you make something that sells hugely and reviews brilliantly, you’re still likely to get screwed (just ask Infinity Ward).

Making this all even worse, game development is misunderstood and misrepresented to the gaming public. Design as a profession is generally thought to be all about ideas (except that it’s not). Singular geniuses supposedly drive the medium forward (actually, they don’t). The lone hero myth in game design — the one that associates one game with one game designer — is there primarily to benefit publishers. Not only does it produce a potent singular PR narrative but it also keeps those who do make games from receiving any meaningful credit or visibility for what they actually do.

Publishers control the narrative of how games are made. So when a large studio goes under, it’s assumed that’s down to the studio making bad creative decisions. Over the past few years, this meme has become worryingly widespread, especially as multiple studios have gone bankrupt.


Previously, the worst idiots in game publishing could make catastrophic fuck-ups, but the profit margins would protect them. These days, there is no profit margin buffer. Instead, publishers now resort to human shields.

“The lone hero myth in game design — the one that associates one game with one game designer — is there primarily to benefit publishers.”

Ever notice that sometimes something seems broken across an entire game? Blame the developer, right? Well, not so fast. It might be the developer, but, trust me, those problems are very likely a result of top-down, high-level design requests from the publisher to the developer.

To give you an idea about how bad publisher influence can be, consider this: during production meetings, publishing execs often have someone — often the developer — “drive” a game so they can see how it is coming together. The publishing people all watch and then make passive, aesthetic appraisals of active, functional aspects of a game. This is because the bulk of execs can’t and don’t want to play or understand how games work. They don’t want to play. This would be akin to editors in literary publishing being unable to read or write.

The relative ignorance of people in game publishing has been called out before. As Gabe Newell put it, gamers/consumers have a much better understanding of games than the management at publishers. It’s entirely and utterly true.

I’ve seen that much of this inability by publishers to play games stems from a general insecurity towards the medium of gaming itself. Gaming often has much of its innate worth ignored, in favour of something with more glamour: film.


Having film as a touchstone for gaming is very much a thing that comes from publishers. It’s harmful to games, but this is what many of them want.

“The publishing people all watch and then make passive, aesthetic appraisals of active, functional aspects of a game. This is because the bulk of execs can’t and don’t want to play or understand how games work.”

Not only does the framing of games as film excuse this habit of making high-level decisions based on aesthetics instead of in interactivity, but it also affords a modicum of prestige via an association with a medium that’s more established. This is what goes through their heads, but, in reality, this is absolutely killing games and developers dead.

The kind of ruinous top-down publisher decisions that I’m talking about often involve how a game looks and flows. The design changes that result tend to involve the creation of rigid and extended animations, ill-placed cutscenes and, at its worst, the functional simplification of core mechanics in favour of something that looks nicer to watch. The game that we all wind up with usually plays far worse because of those requested changes.

Games are not films, obviously. In terms of their inherent architecture, they are very different. With a film you can add on top of what was already there. Add a scene here; cut a scene there. Edit the movie differently. In games, the initial architecture of the game limits what can or can’t be added after that. This is why you hear stories of Shigeru Miyamato at Nintendo “flipping the table” and starting a game that was well into development from scratch, again. While that may sound crazy, it actually shows that Nintendo understands how games are made. It shows that, in fact, restarting a project will be cheaper and make a better game than adding features onto something that turns into some kind of Franken-mess.

From what I’ve seen and heard, imbecilic publishers tend to vastly underestimate the budget actually needed to create a game of proper scope. So you often end up with a situation where a publisher’s additional requests simply won’t fit well with a game that’s been made to budget. Their changes won’t fit what the game fundamentally is in an architectural sense. Much of what breaks games is very often down to these after-the-fact changes that don’t fit within the context of how the game has been constructed.


So you have these ignorant and insidiously-motivated top-down design requests that ruin a game. When the game tanks — invariably due to said top-down design requests — the publisher puts the blame on the developer (who is often contractually bound to say nothing). The developer goes under and the publisher continues on unscathed, ready to do the same again to another studio.

The problem with this setup is that it doesn’t get rid of those who screw up in publishing. It also ruins games, as well as developers, that would have been otherwise good or even great.

“When the game tanks — invariably due to said top-down design requests — the publisher puts the blame on the developer (who is often contractually bound to say nothing). The developer goes under and the publisher continues on unscathed, ready to do the same again to another studio.”

If you were thinking that this is only the case for a few publishers, you’d be sorely mistaken. There is a huge amount of movement between the publishers and, ultimately, they’re all basically the same in terms of workforce. Even those that have run a publisher into the ground find jobs again at another publisher.


Given all of what I’ve just written, what does the future hold for gaming?

We know that big budget games currently need to sell millions to just make their money back. And the next generation of games will have to leverage the increased potency of the new console hardware. The result is a dangerous mix where these kinds of big-budget games could become unsustainable with the current “talent” at publishers.

Admittedly, you have the wonderful rise of indies who publish their own games. There is also a general realisation among larger developers that following the same budgetary roads so many have been going down in recent years is foolish. It’s therefore likely that publishers, as we know them now, will soon no longer be relevant. (We’re already seeing a botched transfer of some people from publishing into development. They can obviously sense what’s coming.)

If publishers do survive then they need to be managed by people that aren’t inept.

The creation of a big game must involve an informed, sympathetic and symbiotic relationship between a developer and their publishing investor. That’s the only way for a game to become a true success, but it’s not what is happening now.

What we have now is insidiously hidden, unsustainable exploitation.


  • It would be nice. Better practices for movie studios, tv production, music labels protecting artists would be nice too.

    • Your task is to drive a car through the CBD in peak hour traffic. You must drive from point A to point B. You must stay within the traffic rules.

      Six months later, halfway through the development cycle:

      Your simulation doesn’t look exciting enough. You need to introduce some power slides, maybe allow the driver to mow down some pedestrians.

      Game complete: Reviews come in. “As a peak hour driving simulator, the game completely fails to appreciate the complexities of peak hour traffic, allowing the driver to simply smash their way through all obstacles in pursuit of spectacular visuals…”

      Some requirements are simply incompatible. No doubt in many games the game’s failure is at core the fault of the developers, but any programmer can tell you that tacking on changes in the middle of a development cycle is never a good thing.

      • Dude, bad example I’d much rather play the second game.

        But yer, I can see this shit happening.
        Aliens Colonial Marines:
        We want to you fight more soldiers!!
        But, its about fighting Aliens??
        Make it more like Modern Warfare!

        Imagine if these developers started listening to 4chan.
        Dinosaurs everywhere..

        • We could all use more dinosaurs in our games, I see this only as a good thing.

          But yes there is definitely something abhorrently wrong when games can sell 3.7 million physical copies +digital and be a commercial failure like tomb raider. Industry needs to collapse or something since these wankers seem content to keep going with a broken system.

        • Aliens: CM was shit because Bioware outsourced it so they could work on Borderlands while still taking money from Sega.

          • (Psst, Gearbox, not Bioware. I mean obviously you know that, but here we are)

          • My bad, I didn’t see this. Yeah I wrote the wrong name at the time. My bad and I retract that comment entirely. You got my point though 🙂

          • Gearbox. BioWare have enough mistakes of their own, they don’t need to borrow them from Gearbox. =P

      • But changing customer requirements are pretty much standard for software projects. Are games really that different?

        If the developer knows that their publisher is likely to request changes, then it would be in their best interest to provide a prototype that demonstrates the traffic simulator as soon as possible so they can get the feedback before the six month mark. And once they’ve been told to add the power slides, work to determine how that affects the game as quickly as possible.

        It might be nice to get all requirements up front, but it is a bit naive to work on that assumption. Especially if it isn’t the studio’s first game for a major publisher.

    • The article is not be trying to make an excuse for every bad game that’s ever been made, and trying to say that it is only detracts from the real issue.

      In the end, no game developer wants to make a bad game. While sometimes they do just get it wrong and it’s their own fault, unreasonable publisher demands definitely don’t help and can often make what could have been an interesting gameplay experience an instantly forgettable one.

      • Case in point – Movie Tie-in games

        Honestly just about everyone knows how shoddy 99.9% of these games are. But what do you when you grab a studio and tell them do X w/ really low budget for Y movie in 6 months??

  • When I read articles like this, I think a major crash is coming. Just not in gaming specifically. This describes the management in probably 90% of companies in every industry. I think it has a lot to do with the recruitment of MBA’s rather than developing talent within the company.

      • It’s not so much the MBA, as how they are attained now. Forty years ago, MBA’s were inroduced to help talented on the ground staff transition to management i.e. develop the management skills of people who understand the industry. Now the MBA is the starting point, and the MBA is treated as an alternative to actual industry knowledge. Its far from surprising these people don’t seem to understand their consumers at all.

  • I’m highly disturbed by the lack of gaming within the game-publishing industry. That would be like film distribution studios (and publishers) not watching their own films before sending them onto theatres.

    • It boggles the mind. Maybe not having the time to play a whole game might be reasonable, but having a complete lack of interest in even giving it a go at all seems at odds with their chosen profession.

  • 2010 – “We like what you’re working on, it definitely feels different, but can you make it feel more like Modern Warefare? We feel that the market is responding well to modern war shooters at the moment, so it would be a wasted opportunity to not captialize on that.”

    2005 – “We like what you’re working on, it definitely feels different, but can you make it feel more like Call of Duty? We feel that the market is responding well to World War II shooters at the moment, so it would be a wasted opportunity to not captialize on that.”

    1997 – “We like what you’re working on, it definitely feels different, but can you make it feel more like Mario 64? We feel that the market is responding well to 3D platformers at the moment, so it would be a wasted opportunity to not captialize on that.”

  • An excellent insight into the problems with the problems with Gaming atm! I work in a peripheral component of the film industry and from what I could see, there were parallels & differences to between the two, despite the calls for ‘convergence’ from both. Specifically this is similar to the friction between the VFX community & hollywood atm. Nobody knows where they are going, but there is an understanding that there must be change

    I was speaking to a ‘venture capitalist’ about innovation in America vs Australia (not in gaming specifically) and he stated that Americans we much more willing to develop new models because their traditional ones were all broken – whereas in Australia, Investment stagnates into traditional bricks & mortar, cos they still give returns. From what I understand from this, until someone in authority reads articles like this, the problem will continue as publishers are in a position to justify there existence till its too late.

    Indie & kickstarter models are the flavour of the month, but we still need the big publishers for big games, so I think we need to get more Gamers into publishing!

  • Nice article, but as a consumer i dont see “indy” becoming anything more than an interesting side show to the bigger picture. We had this discussion 10, and 20 years ago. Indy games and developers are popular with some, namely people who visit gaming sites, but the wider community doesnt give a shit unless the game is truly something special.

      • Minecraft is one game in a sea of thousands of ignored titles. Every once in a while an indy title rises above the rest, but the frequency of such happenings is low enough for it to be considered rare. Certainly not enough to bring along a so called indy revolution.

      • And Kerbal Space Program. And Hotline Miami. And Mark of the Ninja. And Super Meat Boy. And Limbo. And Journey. And The Unfinished Swan. And…

        • Ive only heard of 3 of those titles, and im a regular here and own 6 consoles… They may be great, but not on most peoples radar. Never will be without heavy marketing.

          • I’ve heard of all of those, I keep up with everything and I too own consoles. I am going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that people wanting good, different games could also spend a few minutes looking through their various stores, instead of/in addition to just expecting every good game to come to them. They’re bound to find fun indie games.

          • That’s the damned point. Indy games aren’t about shoving into the mainstream and eclipsing AAA titles with heavy marketing.. they exist happily in a subculture, selling well enough to sustain further production and barely getting any of the spotlight. The wider community doesn’t need to give a shit.

            It’s okay.. it’s working as intended. There’s heaps of room for games that aren’t trying to be the Next Big Thing. Maybe the big publishers have brainwashed many with the notion that if it’s not AAA, it’s not worth a shit, but AAA budgets are why mainstream gaming is always choking on a glut of formulaic sequels, safe-bets, and unimaginative clones.

          • You just made my point entirely. Why are you arguing as if we disagree? And lay off the “mainstream is lamestream” rhetoric, this isnt high school and im not some artsy chick you have to try and impress. (Though if you want to, i do like muffins)

          • Well, if you believe I agree with you entirely I guess there’s not much to be done. Interesting that you picked up “mainstream is lamestream” from what I said. I guess you must see a lot of that. Can’t imagine why you think I’d like to impress artsy chicks – Scientists and engineers are where it’s at. And yes, muffins are fine. Isn’t it nice to find common ground?

      • “…but the wider community doesn’t give a shit unless the game is truly something special.”
        See: Proving the point.

    • What makes indie games important is they offer an entry point to the industry for people who don’t have the resume to make it into the big developers.
      Perhaps some of the people who regularly play and visit gaming sites should look at getting into publishing and effecting some change there, even if it is a circle jerk as the writer seems to think.

    • So what do you think will happen? Let’s imagine, 5 years from now, Ubisoft and EA have collapsed, Activision is hanging on by the skin of its teeth, and there are no really huge games on the horizon. What do you think will happen? Will all the CoD-/Skyrim-/Fifa-players just give up on games, or will they look around?

      I’m of the opinion that if you make indie games easy to find, people will play them. Ludicrous numbers of people. Maybe if every person who has a smartphone plays games, then every person with a Nextbox or a PS4 will be able to find good games on their online services? Or, if a Steambox does happen and it’s cheap, it could be the door to an indie explosion among the non-games journalism fans.

  • This is why crowdfunding is such a great thing, it cuts out the publisher and all the money goes to the developer. If only it would work on a larger scale, then we could get rid of publishers all together.

    • Except that then publishers get upset, and do something about it. Like a highly funded EA version of Kickstarter, market the crap out of it so everyone ‘knows’ the ‘number 1’ place to go for crowdfunding, force studios to put the EA crowdfunding logo in the game intro for more advertising, and as the site builds popularity, start choking smaller less money making projects into conforming to profit making models. All this while demanding significant amounts of returns on released game profits, as well as an original cut on the crowdfund for ‘securities’.

      The general public won’t know the difference, and EA will market it as “let us know what you want to play (pay for) and we’ll make it, because customers are everything to us” as if they’re doing us a massive favour.

      Note: The use of EA as an example is purely as that, an example of what a major publisher may do…

  • So the article has a fist of solidarity at the top of it … and yet it doesn’t mention a thing about consumer demand, or, you know, consumer power.

    “You vote with your dollars,” as Cliffy B once said.

    This is just attacking the publishing scene. Publishers WILL survive because the industry needs quality control. You can’t just have indie devs making whatever they want because they THINK they know what gamers want, or because they think people care about their vision and/or agenda and/or social commentary.

    Publishers won’t create the crash. Publishers will save this industry FROM the crash. Then playing it safe with sequel after sequel is representative of an industry acknowledging the issues, and simply riding the wave until market interest returns (which it will).

      • Tell that to the hundreds, if not thousands of Aussie devs laid off in the last fifteen years.

        I’d also love to see a citation supporting the assertation that publishers know what gamers want while dev’s don’t. If all you want is CoD: MW: BO: WTF iteration after iteration (and that’s a valid choice) you’re right, but that’s not quality control. That’s milking the cash cow and it’s unsustainable.

    • This article said nothing about sequels or being safe, its entirely about publishers pushing for things that don’t work within the game to breaking point and punishing developers for their own shotcummings.

    • “This is just attacking the publishing scene. Publishers WILL survive because the industry needs quality control.”

      Wow, that is just… Wow. I can tell you right now the publishers I’ve worked with just wanted the game to look nice instead of play nice. The Quality that they are trying to control has very little to do with the end product. Believe me the Developers are the ones who WANTS TO and UNDERSTAND how to control the Quality of the game not the Publisher – even if they think they are actually doing it.

      “You can’t just have indie devs making whatever they want because they THINK they know what gamers want, or because they think people care about their vision and/or agenda and/or social commentary.”

      Indie devs can and will create anything they want – that’s the reason they exist in the first place. Most indie developers are not bound by market trends or potential profits, unlike 99% of publishers.

      The corporate publisher -> Technical developer business model is starting to stagnate and collapse, whilst indie is not really the shining beacon of hope, it’s there to remind people that good ideas and thoughtful games still exist amongst the plethora of copy & paste horror from big budget companies.

    • What your describing precipitated a crash in cinema in the sixties. Playing it safe is disastrous in the long-term because audiences lose interest. The real problem though is costs – they try and capture the market with expensive advertising campaigns instead of quality product.

    • Isn’t that exactly what the gamers problem with publisher’s is though? They THINK they know what the gamers want when nothing could be further from the truth? Ubisoft head just said now is the time for always on DRM consoles, despite a solid week of it being made abundantly clear that’s the polar opposite of the truth. Also ironically, though granted not necessarily the norm, in the last year or two the most polished titles I’ve played have come from indie devs, while consistently broken unfinished shit gets pushed out by publishers. See Mark of the Ninja (possibly had the best quality control of any 2012 release I’d say) and NeverDead. Meatboy and Simcity. Spelunky and Brink, Torchlight II and Diablo III (>_>).

      Consumers WILL vote with their dollars, I think you think you’re disagreeing at a different point along the causal chain than you actually are, people WILL vote with their dollars and that’s why many think publishers are hoarding us towards a crash, because the crap publishers are pulling of late is becoming so anti consumer that people will just flat out stop buying their games.

      • Its important to not overstate the power of the vocal minority who visit forums. The fact is publishers can and will get away with most things we might find distasteful because the wider audience just takes it as it comes. If DRM were truly such a deal breaker for gamers we wouldnt still have it. People like to complain, but most dont close their wallet.

        • I take it you didn’t see what happened to Diablo 3. Blizzard was a super well liked company for a long time but the always on and DRM stuff got rid most of the player base…

          • Pfft… The vocal community has always been shitty with Blizz. Before Diablo it was Real ID, before that it was Wrath content being too easy. Bad things like the Diabo and SimCity launches sure do hurt, but if you look closely both companies are still leaders in their fields. It takes more to kill off the big boys.

  • Great article.

    Interestingly, I see many other areas of our economy with similar issues. The great growth over the last few decades meant that large profit margins could hide poor performance and these days it just doesn’t cut it.

    Games, music, cars, banks… they all are the same.
    It means at the moment lots of publishers/car companies etc are crashing and blame the GFC, but in several years time hopefully we will have more skilled people up top and realise that the aim of a company is to make money by being efficient and selling something people want.

    • You’re missing the point. Games are not cars – making them successful has to do with talent, not following trends blindly.

  • I’ll refrain from reiterating several points already put down by the other commenters. Instead, I’d like to point out that the author used the word “meme” in its original definition correctly and appropriately. Kudos to them for that.

    Now if only everyone under the age of 18 knew that…

    • Yeah the word meme’s been ruined, much like the word Hipster. The latter especially is used by idiots everywhere to belittle things they don’t understand, calling anyone different to them a hipster. It never was supposed to have negative connotations in the first place.

  • So, how does one go about starting a new publisher? What would be required? Would huge sums of money and some industry experience be enough? Maybe a bunch of ex-developers who dealt with the snafu can pioneer a publisher explicitly formed to NOT recreate or perpetuate the issue? Should this happen? Is a neo-publisher movement a solution to this issue? Has anyone already done this? Maybe that’s where our author (or our fantastically informed commenters) could look for a more constructive discourse on this topic.

    Sadly, as someone with little-to-no experience and little-to-no huge sums of money, I’m in no position to try this 🙁

    • Both writers make some interesting points, and both manage to come across as arrogant pricks in doing so…..

      • yeah, I thought this kotaku piece was a little self-aggrandising (weirdly compounded by its “anonymity”) but this david character took that up about 100 cubits

  • It’s not just the people making the decisions being bad at their job it’s the attitude of entire companies. The massive growth in the PS2 era put shareholders and the people who please them in control and they simply aren’t interested in a great company consistently doing a great job and satisfying their customers. They’re only interested in growth. If the company isn’t growing they’re wasting their money investing in it (even if they’re not losing money directly, they’re losing money by not having their money in something that is growing).
    You see the impact in most large companies. People start getting promoted because they cause aggressive, short term growth even if it’s at the expense of factors that won’t show up on a pie graph but still matter. If someone at EA found a way to literally spit on their customers, and it somehow generated revenue, that person would be promoted. Sales in all areas would drop, but anyone in a position to put two and two together and take action has their own closet full of awful short term decisions so they have an interest in the delusional level of denial. Eventually it catches up.
    The truly sad part of this is that it only takes a few rounds of layoffs and hirings to completely convert any company to this way of thinking. If Gabe Newell got hit by a bus tomorrow, and someone who was slightly more financially motivated took over in a key position, suddenly everyone under that person would need to fall in line with that motivation to keep their job/advance their career. From there it just infects the company like a virus.

    That said I think there is also a level of submission and lack of skill within the development talent pool that feeds the flames. Not talent as in building games, but talent as in knowing how to communicate with the people paying the bills. There’s a belief that a game developer has to be grateful that their publisher is letting them make a warped version of their game that will almost certainly fail.
    If you’re dealing with an exec that doesn’t know how to hold a controller you need somebody on board who has the skill set to handle them. Never work with children or animals… but if you have to make sure to bring someone who knows how to get them to do what they’re told.
    They’re not completely unreasonable. They want to make a game that makes money and you want to make a good game, those goals aren’t contradictory. If you can turn around and say ‘ok, I’ve looked over your feedback, here’s a list of the things that we can do, here’s a list of the things that are going to require an impractical amount of rebuilding to the core of the game to put in, and here’s a list of the things that sound good to an observer but actually play out poorly when the controller is in your hand. If you’d like I can take you through some examples of games that have tried these things and show you how they’ve go wrong’.
    That’s an incredibly hard conversation to have with anyone, especially an exec who will take it as a challenge for control or an implication that they can’t do their job (as true as that may be) unless it’s pulled off perfectly, but it’s something that has to happen. It’s a job on it’s own but it’s worth it.

    The relative ignorance of people in game publishing has been called out before. As Gabe Newell put it, gamers/consumers have a much better understanding of games than the management at publishers. It’s entirely and utterly true.

    I think this is what I liked about THQ. They were far from perfect but it was clear somebody there understood games or at least trusted that the studios working under them understood games. They didn’t go out of their way to secure popular brand names and then turn around and ignore the talent that made the brand name popular to begin with.

    • Having worked for a THQ studio I feel the need to thoroughly disagree with you there. I was the guy that played the game whilst the publishing execs passed judgement down upon it, without picking up the controller. We had three (that I can think of) different sub-sections from corporate (execs, marketing, and a “genre experts” team), each with competing visions for the game, telling us what to do from the other side of the world, and all these visions were different to what was green-lit. The game director tried to take control and push his vision, like you suggest above, but was fired. In the end the studio was closed and publishing lived on unchanged for another year.

      THQ made a lot of PS2 money from non-original IP shovelware, bought a lot of studios, and didn’t know what to do them them. Rather than let the studios do what they’re good at, they pushed their corporate vision on them whether it was a match for their skills or not. It worked in a few studios, but failed for most.

      • Interesting. I wonder how it happened then. There are a lot of THQ games that were far from perfect, but there were some that really felt like someone down there understood what was going on. Dawn of War II for instance doesn’t feel like a game the execs you’re describing would have let be made. Red Faction: Guerrilla seems like it would have come out of that process as a Halo knock-off (admittedly the sequel feels like the sort of game you’d expect from the crew you’re describing).
        Perhaps they were just seen as more valuable assets.

        The game director tried to take control and push his vision, like you suggest above, but was fired.

        I’m really not suggesting the problems can be solved by just getting tough. They’re the odd man out in the situation. Whether they admit it or not they’re the idiot in a room full of experts. They consider themselves above you as a defensive measure (just like I’m better than a rocket scientist because my street smarts work in the real world). They’re going to be defensive. As much as I’d love to see it, adding the rule ‘you must be able to play the game yourself to sit in this room’ will get you fired. If you try to assert your dominance they’re going to see you as a threat and shut you down.
        I still think it’s a vital role, it’s just extremely difficult. It’s like having a lion act in a circus, no matter how hard taming lions is you’re going to need a lion tamer for it to work (that or a bucket of tranquilizers, which may come in handy here too). I know I couldn’t do it. I’d make it about three suggestions in before calling the guy a retard, punching him in the face, ranting about how they’re destroying the industry for a solid half hour and quitting. It takes a certain type of smooth talker to bring that sort of executive into the fold, make them feel important while still keeping them at enough of a distance that they don’t infect the game.
        It’s not about taking control as much as translating in a non-threatening way into things that appear positive for the person listening. It’s extremely underhanded and manipulative but I think the right person could make it work more often than it fails.

        That said even if I think it’s required when working with a big publisher I still think it’s a stupid thing that needs to be eliminated for the industry to move forward. The idea that someone negotiates for a game to be made knowing full we’ll they’re going to push for a different one later should cost them their job. Plan ahead and stick to it to minimise the amount of course changing, it’s the first rule in the book when it comes to game design.
        The idea that someone involved in such a vital part in production wouldn’t know that, or worse yet would actually plan to go against it, is insane. That’s the sort of person you fire, and then fire everyone who played any part in bringing them into the company to begin with.

        • Except the fact that publishers are usually the one who comes up with unreasonable demands for change while ignoring cries of “this will add x amount of time to development” form the developers. No, the biggest mistake publishers are making is misunderstanding developer’s feedback or altogether ignoring it because they are the big shots.

          Planning ahead & minimising course changes only works for the first half of teh development time with this business model. As soon as you hit a snag, blames start flying and pressure from above to add ‘more, more more!’ starts pouring in.

          • That’s what I’m saying. Their business model is in direct conflict with good game design. There is no proper accountability so they get away with using extremely counter productive methods that, if they weren’t able to distance themselves from danger would ruin them. Since the developer can’t do anything to introduce accountability for the publisher, at least not without committing career suicide, they need to find a way to counter and control it.

  • FRankly if I was a publisher I’d do two criteria for all new hires: they must be passionate about games and they must have some sort of IT background, preferably with a knowledge of programming so that they at least have some idea of what goes into making a game. Considering that TAFE offers a pretty decent crash course in game design (6 months @ 20 hours per week for a certificate 4) it’s not a lot to ask…

  • And this is why I’m hoping that EA’s new CEO is going to be someone who understands gaming and actually plays games (like Patrick Soderlund) instead of someone like Peter Moore.

  • this article needs EXAMPLES… but to respond to it: valve and 2k manage to pull off video game publishing that doesn’t hamper creativity or innovation. artistic/storytelling-based decisions made by developers can be just as catastrophic (see RAGE) as they would be if made by management/financial administrators (see every second sequel/reboot). i would tentatively disagree at the “lone hero” bit—those figures who understand development, are artists or writers, and understand brand/consumers generally bring us incredible games (gabe newell, ken levine). publishers who understand development are just as valuable as developers who understand marketing and management—as frustrating as it can be, the end point is a product, that is a constant. it goes both ways, even if that is a depressing prospect.

    • Publishers need to listen & take Developers views on board. They should be there to make sure the devs do the best they can without hampering the game’s vision with some uninformed design decisions. Similarly Devs should listen to Publisher’s demands and reply professionally why it is/isn’t a good idea, can it be made in time, etc.

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