Game Designer Says Developers Would Be More Candid If Gamer Culture Wasn't So Toxic

Video game enthusiasts often muse about the secrecy surrounding game development, which is at times treated as if it were operated by the NSA. Over the weekend, one developer offered an interesting take: Game developers are secretive because being open can lead to too much toxicity.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has been a breeding ground for toxic behaviour

Designer and programmer Charles Randall, who has worked for companies such as Ubisoft and BioWare, wrote a long thread yesterday that went viral on Twitter and is worth reading. Because Twitter is impossible to read, here it is with a bit of proper formatting:

The other day a friend commented to me "I wish game developers were more candid about development." He was surprised when I said we are. The caveat is that we're only candid with other industry people. Because gamer culture is so toxic that being candid in public is dangerous. See that recent twitter thread about game design tricks to make games better -- filled with gamers "angry" about "being lied to."

Forums and comment sections are full of dunning-kruger specialists who are just waiting for any reason to descend on actual developers. See any thread where some dumbass comments how "easy" it would be to, say, add multiplayer or change engines. Any dev who talks candidly about the difficulty of something like that just triggers a wave of people questioning their entire resumé. "Questioning" here being an absurd euphemism for "becoming a target of an entire faction of gamers for harassment or worse."

There are still topics I can't touch because I was candid once and it resulted in dumb headlines, misunderstandings, and harassment. So while I'd talk candidly about certain big topics right now -- I know doing so would lead to another wave of arseholes throwing shit at me. (And of course I face almost nothing compared to women/PoC/lgtbq+ folk)

(Here Randall was likely referring to his tweets from 2014 about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's developers allegedly taking code and animations from Assassin's Creed 2.)

He continued:

But here's the rub: all the stuff you ever wanted to know about game development would be out there if not for the toxic gaming community. We *love* to talk about development, the challenges we face, the problems we solve, the shortcuts we take. But it's almost never worth it.

I did a public talk a couple weeks ago to a room full of all ages kids, and afterwards, a kid came up to me and was talking about stuff. And I shit you not, this kid (somewhere between 13-16 I'd guess) starts talking about how bad devs are because of a youtuber he watches. He nailed all the points, "bad engines", "being greedy", you name it. I was appalled.

I did my best to tell him that all those things people freak out about are normal and have justifications. I hope I got through a bit. But I expect he went back to consuming toxic culture via youtube personalities, and one day he'll probably harass a dev over nonsense.

Randall went on to draw a parallel to the film industry, where movies are announced years in advance, and pointed out that transparency like that wouldn't work in video games. "Games change during development, this is a universal constant no developer would argue with, but toxic culture can't handle that."

A number of developers have tweeted agreement with Randall's thread, and it's led to plenty of interesting discussions. It's also led to -- and this will probably shock you -- some toxic reactions.

There's a lot to unpack here, and Kotaku boss Stephen Totilo and I have been discussing for a while the idea that the people who make games are afraid of the people who play them. Having spent the past couple of years talking to 100-something game developers about how games are made, I've found that most people are willing to be candid about their craft -- at least after their games are already out. Before and during the release of games, everyone's afraid of becoming the next No Man's Sky or saying the wrong thing and getting roasted by a YouTube consumer advocate.

I've long believed that the solution to this problem is to try to inform and educate more people about how games are made, whether it's breaking down budgets or trying to explain why games are delayed so often. But not everyone is always going to listen.

Game developers: Have you ever felt like you couldn't be candid because of toxic culture? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

    Sigh. I still yearn for Fez 2.

    I know there was a lot behind this, but I wish some of these guys could be left alone to do their jobs.

    You mean the culture of gaming where we put up with business practices that are unacceptable and downright illegal?

    Selling products that are broken, with missing features, and are outright lied to?

    The kind of b.s. that would get you dragged before a tribunal except of the excuse of "it's only a game"?

      So... why dont you make your perfect game..?? I mean i sounds like you are the best gaming dev in the world..

        Hell yeah I am. I will make a game where you try and see how many times you can bounce a basketball in an hour. And then try to break that record.

        In all seriousness, I do feel for the little indie devs who get shit on for stupid reasons. It really is the big guys who shit on their consumers that tends to make gamers a rather hostile market.

          But that still doesn't justify the hostility. Just because a customer's been burned in the past doesn't mean they should get a free pass to be a dick.

          I think it's about a false sense of entitlement. Just because we're the audience, doesn't mean we get to lord over those who make content.

          Just my 2c obviously.

            I definitely don't excuse some of the a-holery that comes out of gamer's mouth's to some of these devs.

            I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that this whole medium has exploded from a hobbyist pastime into a seriously big industry. However, none of the practices on both developer and consumer end have really caught up with it.

            It's not a false sense of entitlement though. Game devs have to win their fanbase. it's what happens when you have a competitive market. I just find it funny that this person is talking about the reluctance game devs have on info due to "toxic gamer culture" when game dev have most often kept their development a secret prior to that. Take the N64/PS1 days, for example or the generations prior. Chances are, if you are reluctant to let the public know what your game has to offer nowadays, then your game probably wasn't good anyway.
            "Gamer culture?" Gamers are consumers. they buy your product, or try demos out. If they like your game, they'll support you and buy it. Yes, you have people who may not like the game or be haters about it. At first, I thought Shadow of Mordor was an assassin's Creed clone, yes, but I gave it a try, watched friends who had the game play it, and then i was like "oh, i should give it a try." Come to find out, yeah, i see some AC elements in the game, but it's fun and enjoyable.

            The only thing the community is obligated to do when it comes to games is buy your product when it comes out (or preorder it) if they want it that bad. It's honestly not their fault if your marketing game isn't strong.

            I think you only have to look at microtransactions and the tactics companies employ to exploit the userbase into maximising profits made from them to see how a lot of developers view their customers.
            Can anyone say if CD projeckt Red are online complaining of toxic gaming culture?

      There's an excellent method you can use to avoid the concerns you raised. Buy the game after it is complete, after reading reviews on the final product.

        That's what I do. And that is fair enough a practice to get a game that is good. Just like the film industry. But to get a game that works?

        That would be like having to trawl reviews and wait for the tail end of a movie's showing at cinemas to see if the cameraman left the cap on the camera lens.

        Usually, but like films, reviews are often bought out by the developer company or the publishing company. Demos honestly are what I try to look for first. or if they can bring the hype, I'll look at other people playing the game to see if that's something I want to buy.

      Could say the same about the film industry.
      Broken stories, bad CGI, trailers that mislead what the film is about

    I agree, while I am not a game Dev I am.anf have been an R&D engineer for 10 years now.

    The amount of people who think it's easy and oh just do this, or something like that... It's infuriating. I never discuss anything unless I have to. It's just the best option.

      I am with you on your assessment. I do wish game devs were more open during the design process. I don't think I'm the only one. However as per Randall's views, I feel that the 'toxic' part of the community is just the most vocal, and to be honest, not the majority.

      It's just that it "feels" that way, as they are the most vocal.

      Represent. Underpromise and overdeliver, that's the engineer's way.

      From the perspective of writing software, my experience has so often been that when adding something unexpected or changing something fundamental, the client/boss often expects something to be easy when it's not, and visa versa.
      "Oh, this is going to be a huge problem, but can you change the whosit to a whatsit?"
      "Oh, yeah, that's going to be real tough". *changes one variable*
      "Oh great! Now can you just change it to do this? Should be easy"
      *weeks to implement tiny change*

        the fun part is when the idea is seen as bad, you get the blame. but when its good...

        hah.

          True story, but that's poor leadership.

          A good boss passes on all the praise and takes all the blame.

      Project manager in the house.

      All the armchair developers (or actual industry artists!) who tried to claim AC:Unity could've tossed a female player character in the game 'over a weekend' made me want to invent a machine to transfer the raw, concentrated power of all my project scope-creep migraines into one deadly karmic burst to fuck their ignorant-ass shit up.

      It's my go-to example of how the layperson knows worse than nothing about project management.

        Developer in the house.

        What we do is really hard and complicated. I've had these same conversations with people.

        Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1425/

        scope-creep

        ...is the devil, and the main cause of most project delivery failures.

        Oh man that one really vexxed me. It was even more ridiculous seeing some actual developers saying that to Ubisoft, if anyone was meant to get it, it was them.

          My guess is they were indie developers not working on games whose credits scroll are the length of two episodes of most TV shows. Developers used to an environment where you CAN actually implement changes quickly without checking on whether your changes are going to synch up with the work being done by seven other teams who only have two opportunities to meet this week thanks to sprint/crunch on a task-list that's blown out by two weeks.

          Last edited 27/09/17 7:11 am

            Actually it was the opposite; it's the AAA devs comments that surprised me. I can't remember who exactly but I recall, Tim Schafer's criticisms using one of his own games as an example where the animations were exceptionally cartoonish; and I think another from a Naughty Dog employee who should have had the self-awareness to realise they worked for a developer which has literal master-class of animators and a library of motion-captured female character animation sets since the first Uncharted.

            All of the hullabaloo of course started after Ubisoft advertised the game's amazing 'rebuilt-from-the-ground-up' motion-captured parkour animations that surely took a sizable amount of dev time. Also it was really obvious that the multiplayer co-op was without a doubt a successful result of that very scope creep you mentioned; it was tabled right near the end and the devs just got it running with four instances of the main character in time for gold release.

        You sure those "Toxic gamers" weren't calling your development team "sexist misogynists for not doing so?"

          Oh, don't get me wrong. If the playable assassins in co-op weren't all going to be Arno, then having female variants should've been a no-brainer. It absolutely should have been in the original plan.

          What I object to is everyone who not only said it should've been added that late in development, but had the nerve - the outright ignorance - to claim that it wouldn't be a fucking massive, release-date-annihilating exercise to do so. "A weekend's work for one person! Hey look, I did it myself!" Unbelievable.

          Last edited 27/09/17 11:09 am

        Haha, concentrated "project scope-creep migraines" would definitely kill people.

    Everyone would be open, if everyone wasnt toxic.

    We by nature protect ourselves from whatever threatens any aspect of our lives and are willing to jump to absurd conclusions or statements if we percieve a threat.

    I love how some people go your ruining the game I love... so I will threaten to kill the key person that made it exist in the first place. Thats not rationale... and its irrational to try to explain understand or protect yourself from that without cutting yourself off and keeping quiet.

    Bullcrap...

    Just because you can showcase a few toxic individuals, it doesn't mean you can then elevate those individuals as an example of something as huge and diverse as gaming culture.
    Shame...

    I'm especially tired of this habit following questionable business practices.
    Screw people over, show off a mean tweet and presto, you're now the good guy and the Internet will swaddle you in blind protection.

    But this is pretty much society in nutshell at the moment, deal with the petty symptoms and lazy ideals rather than the problem.

      You don't like that he appears to tar all gamers with the same brush as being toxic, but you seem happy to tar all developers with the same brush as screwing people over, or to tar all of society with the same brush as being superficial? There seems to be some hypocrisy in your approach here.

      A few bad apples spoil the bunch. Developers aren't required to be candid about development, if we want them to be more open we collectively need to do them the courtesy of listening to what they have to say and keep responses rational. I'm a software developer myself, I'm not going to take the time to explain something only to get abuse in return - even if it's a few toxic individuals, abuse is abuse.

        Namiwakiru to be fair didn't tar or make a generalization of developers as a whole, But i agree with keeping responses rational as it's the only way for a genuine discourse of information & discussion to take place, I try to be level-headed, Cool, Calm & collected but i don't always succeed in that endeavor, Part of being human i guess. But agree with both of you, We do need to try remove the bubble that ppl hide in when commenting online as it takes away responsibility of ones behavior etc..

          I read comment, including his criticism of 'screw people over, show off a mean tweet, now good guy' as addressed to Charles Randall, who's just a programmer and isn't likely to be involved in any screwing over of anyone. It's possible I misread, though I think the second paragraph remains valid.

            I thought the seperation was obvious, but looking back it's more ambiguous than anything and can be taken either way.
            (And there is a tweet in there, though not really in the same field, my bad)

            Oh he is far from generalising, he is marginalising the entire demographic as well as a very real, longer standing and arguably central issue in developer consumer trust.
            I mean seriously, the toxic gamer proxy is an infant compared to the marketing "culture" of game development (and publishing)
            I would even say that the toxic gamer proxy is the infant of the marketing culture.
            The idea that a PR driven marketing industry isn't candid because of meanies is insulting and insane.
            I bet there's more of a chance that somebody realised that one mean tweet moves 50 bloody copies!

            Sorry I'm not arguing with you, this arsehat pissed me off and not directly for the reasons I mentioned, fair enough.
            I know one bad apple ruins them all, but at this stage I feel we all know this and still throw out all the damn apples anyway lol

          We do need to try remove the bubble that ppl hide in when commenting online as it takes away responsibility of ones behavior etc..

          The problem with any tool that increases accountability through removing anonymity is that it can be used maliciously to target people who've done nothing wrong.

      and dont forget to cap of the point you were making, no matter how accurate or inaccurate, with a nod to the women/PoC/lgtbq+ folk so that everyone is sure youre one of the good guys and cannot be argued with.

    I've seen this big time with the Friday the 13th game. They have been very up front with issues, why they happened and how they are fixing them. One was explaining why the X-Box patches take longer (to do with certification and stuff) but the majority of commenters would prefer to believe it's some conspiracy and the creators of the game hate X-box players and want to punish them...

    The problem is the inability to get a refund for the developer failing to provide what was implicitly agreed.

    For example I thought Mass Effect Andromeda was a finished game when I bought it. When I discovered it wasn't but that DLC was going to be produced I was relieved.

    And then in August EA and Bioware announced that they had canned the project.

    And yet they were still selling the game for full price.

    I've actually raised a complaint with them with the ACCC because they made an undertaking to ensure that Australian's were afforded their legal rights (per an undertaking they made in 2015 with the ACCC and High Court).

    Imagine buying Star Wars IV and getting to the part where Luke and Han rescue Leia only to be told that the film has stopped, DLC will be produced.

    Only to find out several months later that it hasn't.

    There would be a fricken riot on their hands.

    And that's why the law in the USA sucks and why the raise of the youtube critic has been so virulant. If people had legal avenues to pursue, and developers faced consequences for the shit they produce....well it would be a different world.

      To play devil's advocate, a dangling narrative doesn't on its own equate to an incomplete product. From what I understand of how the ACCC works (which is purely observational, take with a grain of salt) they'll check against the guarantees in the ACL: acceptable quality (which doesn't mean flawless), fit for advertised purpose, matches seller descriptions, has repair services for a reasonable time after purchase, and no hidden charges (not to be confused with charges for additional goods).

      I don't remember the material, was there mention of DLC (as in 'there will be') in the description of Andromeda? If so then there's a definite case there, but if it was only expressed as a plan (as in 'we plan to') then I think you might have a harder time getting that one tagged as misrepresentation.

      Oh!! How did the ACCC thing go?!
      Sorry, love me some consumer rights shenanigans.

    Yes, gamer culture is toxic, we get that, Kotaku has built a whole brand on writing about it; but that's only half the problem. I feel for developers in this because they're caught in the middle between the most vocal and influential faction of their consumer base (us, as in, people interested enough in the hobby to comment online about it) and the companies who actually fund production and distribution of their software.

    As toxic as gamer culture can be, the corporate culture from the companies paying Mr Randall's wages are so much worse. The real reason you don't get to lift the lid on games development the way we'd like to, the way Kotaku would like to write about it, the way people interested in a career in development would like - is the studio's business model. Our games are sold to us while they're still in development, via pre-orders for AAA titles or via 'early access' schemes for anything on the fringes of mainstream genres. We are paying for these titles to be developed, based on what they tell us they will look like. You simply couldn't, in today's marketplace, develop a title like Halo, or World of Warcraft, the way we know those titles were developed, evolving across platforms and evolving out of whole other genres, when you're selling them in advance.

    It's like selling pre-sale tickets to a Star Wars movie and then telling all the people who bought them 'sorry, we changed the plot half way through, it's not a Star Wars movie any more'. So what we're left with is a drip feed of sanitized information to keep us buying.

    I've even noticed recently, a shift away from transparency in games re DLC cycles as discerning consumers come to realise how much we're getting ripped off on 'season passes' and what not, games are only to going to get less transparent as time wears on these companies keep making money.

    I think the thing that I have noticed is that some people don't realise that games development is a business. Gasp!

    Development and estimation are hard enough when you have very well defined outcomes, and objective measures of correctness. If your banking application adds up the dollars wrong then it fails a test. If it adds them up correctly it passes that test.

    In a game you need to try things. Various aspects of a games correctness are measured in very subjective ways. There is no automated test to check if something is fun, or that a characters movement feels right.

    Plus the permutations are astronomical. Business applications (which remember, are hard enough to quote for) often have simple forking paths the user can take. Games blow this away. Note how people often eventually find ways to take advantage of complex systems - like the basement painting troll in the sims or looping various bonuses to game breaking levels in elder scrolls. Speedrunners often take advantage of more subtle flaws. Games are so complex that you never get everything.

    Basically, someone quoting for game development is putting their balls on the line as they pull numbers out of their arse and pray they can do it. Crunch time stories from gaming houses are brutal. And then the fans hate you as well, and fill forums with how they would do it better... or that you lied because an early mentioned feature didn't make it.

    And there is still more money in banking and other boring shit.

    Lots of games get released because they run out of money and time. A big example of this is the infamous no mans sky. I am convinced they mostly just ran out of money. You have a dozen or more people working for you, rent, equipment, licenses you would be blowing through a few million bucks a year easy. If your cash runs out and you have no revenue, you are done. Release or die.

    Because gaming is a business. And if these businesses are not profitable, they go away. Simple as that.

      Sadly those vocal toxic players don't understand this or simply ignorance of it. And those of us that do understand aren't so vocal. So developers are constantly getting hit by those hates and threats.

      And this trend of refund for a poor game, I don't see any help at all. Only serve as a hindrance for the game development industry as companies are now even more afraid to take risks to be creative.

      The more toxic and salty this gaming community get, the more us the mature players tend to stay away.

      Gamers hate monthly subscription games, hate pre-purchases, hate DLC, hate Microtransactions, and hate free shitty games.

      I am just curious on what more/alternative business model can future developers employ.

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