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an article on IGN about two weeks ago titled Spec Ops Dev: Game's Multiplayer "Should Not Exist." Although I
personally haven't played the game, I've heard plenty about it and wanted to
know what the developer meant by this. A brief rundown of the article is that
the lead designer of the game, Cory Davis, slammed the multiplayer component of
their game by calling it "a cancerous growth [that] tossed out the creative
pillars of the product." They never intended to add a multiplayer mode
because they wanted to focus on the single player experience. Alas, their publisher
demanded that there should be one for marketing reasons. In effect, Cory said
this "sheds a negative light on all of the meaningful things we did in the
single-player experience. The multiplayer game's tone is entirely different,
the game mechanics were raped to make it happen, and it was a waste of money."
article really made me contemplate on the differing relationships between
developers and publishers. Although there are okay publishers out in the video
game industry, some of them let their desire for money get in the way of the creative
freedom needed by the developers they fund; they want specific things that can be detrimental to the developers' vision for a game. So where should publishers draw the line
on what they want to see in a game vs. what the developer wants to do? Is it
worth it for a developer to go into a partnership with a publisher sometimes?
By thinking about questions like these, I ended up concluding that there's pretty much only two main kinds of developers in this world.
starters, I think you'd agree with me that publishers get along well with
developers for the most part. They go into a project together with a similar
vision with little conflict of interest. Take the relationship between Treyarch
and Infinity Ward with Activision, for example. Each developer is given two
years to create a new Call of Duty game. Once Treyarch's game is out, IW is
already halfway done with their game. Then when that game comes out, the cycle
has already started back to Treyarch. What I'm trying to convey with this
demonstration is that this development process has always been surprisingly
smooth, Activision and the developers seem happy (I'm definitely sure
Activision is happy :P), and all of them benefit from this symbiotic
partnership. Yes, what seemingly belies my example is the West and Zampella
case, but that's completely beside the point. The point being that the visions
of the developers is eye-to-eye with Activision's, so everything works out
really well. It's Activision's fault that they didn't rightly pay certain
people. Despite that glaring blemish, look at how Modern Warfare 3 turned out! Activision
found other developers that desired to help complete that game and it came out
on time. It's like nothing ever happened behind the scenes. Overall, this is
what I'd describe as a "dream partnership." The process is straightforward:
make another CoD with new content. Although I don't consider Activision the...umm...greatest
publisher ever, the people under them aren't complaining about being worked too
hard, oppressed in their creativity, and so forth.
This is the first type of developer: one that desires to work on some of
the things a publisher wants to see in a game while having creative freedom
within that realm (and the funds to do it). On the other hand, the second type
of developer isn't quite as conventional or common to say the least.
I don't know what it is, but Treyarch seems to try really hard making Call of Duty the best it can be.
understand what I mean by this, I want you to imagine being a publisher and
having Mojang come to you and ask if you'd be interested in supporting,
promoting, and publishing Minecraft (not that Markus Pearson would ever
approach any corporation in the first place). I don't know about you, but I
wouldn't have thought from the get-go that a pixilated sandbox-building game
would've ever been successful. I'd imagine it being quite boring. Yet, it's become one of the most iconic and
profitable games in recent years. Its developers like Mojang that have
ideas that go against the curve, which is what publishers rarely approach.
They're relying on the statistics of what's popular and selling. So, do you
think it would've been likely for one to fund Supergiant Games, Frictional
Games, or Valve? They're all independent/indie developers. And speaking of
Valve...ha, I think they're the perfect example of why publishers still don't
fund their games. Valve runs on their own schedule (Half-Life 3, anyone?), they
take risky chances (Portal), and they do what they want (like create Steam or
develop their own console...yeah, it's coming). Their creativity and way of
doing things are sporadic, unpredictable, and odd. However, it works out for
everyone in the end. It's why they're one of the most popular developers in the
These developers don't want the support of publishers to create their
games because they desire 100% freedom in all the decisions they make. Sure,
companies like Microsoft and Sony put their games on the market, but they rarely help in the
process of making or promoting them. It sure is an accomplishment to be able to do something that's uncommon in this industry. Overall, it's pretty daring, wouldn't you say?
They're not only daring, but can be generous and reputable as well.
Now that I've covered both kinds
of developers, it's time to address the middle ground where complications
occur. It's what Yager Games (Spec Ops: The Line developer) falls under. They
seemed like they got along with 2K Games pretty well, but there was an area
that really conflicted with both of their interests. 2K Games thought a war
game would be fantastic. A unique campaign with lots of action sounded good. It's
just that they thought there would automatically be multiplayer. After all, it
is a shooter, and the statistics 'cough' Call of Duty 'cough' say those games
are popular now. Well, Yager Games never intended there to be any multiplayer
due to the tone and mechanics of the game. Instead of understanding this, the
publisher had them rework core components of the game and focus less time on
the campaign so a multiplayer component could be added. I don't believe this
turned out good for either of them. Critics deemed the multiplayer component of
the game "okay" and the original vision Yager Games had in mind suffered
because of it.
does this mean for a developer in a similar situation? I think there are two
options: they plan ahead to adjust to some of the demands of a publisher or go
rogue. If funding is required to carry out the general idea of a developer's
vision, I recommend the former. However, if the project in mind (which is
probably radical in concept) is manageable to personally finance, then the
latter is the best way to go. In the case of wanting to make an AAA game, these developers should start out small in equipment and depth to see their vision through in a simpler way (look at Minecraft). Either path is fine to take, but only one can be
chosen to fit a specific agenda. A decision must be made to take the road of
risky and difficult independence or the road of firm support with limits on how
far a developer can go.
If only Yager Games had done what they wanted, we might've had one of the most compelling shooter campaigns in recent years.
never like seeing publishers and developers having major problems in their
partnerships. It can stifle creativity and cause distress for both entities.
Although publishers aren't perfect (by a long shot), they are very likely to
honor their promises of funding and payment if a developer fulfills their
vision combined with theirs. If there are important differences to work out with a publisher, a
developer needs to discover whether they want to sacrifice funding for
independence or vice-versa. I'm repeating myself now, but it's a tricky situation
to discuss. In the end, it's revealed in these circumstances what kind of
developers we see in the game industry. Thanks for taking the time to read!
Do you think there are
only two kinds of developers...or are there more? Do you tend to like
developers partnered with publishers or indie developers more? How would you
define the two kinds of developers I wrote about?