Diatribes on Design(ers): Expectations vs. Reality Matt Frymire February 19, 2015 Opinion For game creators’ sakes, there really needs to be more mystery to the development process leading up to release. Because right now the gaming community seems to have a little too much trouble separating their perception of a game designer from the actual person. Let’s take the internet’s latest whipping boy: Peter Molyneux. Last week we saw the man getting his ass kicked all up and down the internet for reneging on some of the Kickstarter promises for his game, Godus. After Molyneux gave a few tear-filled apologies, commentators either doubled down on their judgements, or sympathized with his inadequacies. Molyneux was in equal parts lauded and pitied, deified and demonized. The famed game designer was asked if he was a pathological liar in one article, and called a starry eyed dreamer in another. Are either of those portrayals accurate? Probably not. Most of the time the boring reality lies somewhere in the middle. I can’t and won’t guess though, because I don’t know the man, and neither do you. You can’t know a person from reading a two page article, you can’t know them from an hour long phone interview, or a video blog, or a podcast, or a tweet. You can be acquainted with someone for years and might never know them enough to make an accurate character judgement. Even so, we seem to do it a lot when it comes time to rake someone over the coals. Game creators and designers are placed on a pedestal in our community, like it or not. They are both beloved and judged by a group that considers themselves ‘apart’ from designers, and vice versa. Indeed, these creators are financially dependent on consumer good will and our good opinion of them; maybe to an unhealthy degree from a business standpoint. Gabe Newell, President of Valve, is so universally revered by the game community it borders on comical. In contrast to Molyneux, Newell says practically nothing at all, and is still hailed as some sort of messianic figure (Ironically the same can be said of Gordon Freeman, the protagonist of the Valve game, Half Life 2.) Generally when a Valve game comes out (when all the planets align) very little is said about the game beforehand. Yet when they’re released, they sell like crazy. Why? There’s still a little mystery in how Valve makes games. You don’t see half the game in trailers before it comes out, and you usually only see something that’s been removed from a Valve game after the game’s been released. What you see is what you get, and Valve fans eat it up. Obviously this method can’t work for everyone, but if you’ve got name recognition and a pedigree, a la Peter Molyneux, you can afford to be a little more utilitarian with your public relations. Despite how it may seem, what with our appetite for rumor and hearsay, people on the internet really don’t like getting bullshitted. Get on the blogs, the news aggregators, forums, Twitter; folks love nothing more than to look at something and say it’s fake. We love to prove each other wrong, we love to tear each other down. When someone like Peter Molyneux comes along with his unrealistic goals and grand ideas, you have to know that the trolls are waiting in the wings for him to mess up so they can pounce. Expectations are everyone’s enemy. Players: You have to stop building up this idealized version of a game in you heads, because the real thing cannot possibly measure up when it comes out. These developers don’t deserve the kind of ire you think they do. Creators: You’re not helping. Smack your PR team (or yourself) with a rolled up newspaper or something! When you build up excitement to a fever pitch, you’re only setting yourself up for ridicule if your game isn’t absolutely perfect. I never put much stock in Molyneux’s proclamations; I don’t care what the man says, I care what he does. Molyneux promised a fully featured PC title, and released a mediocre mobile game; he and his studio deserve to lose the trust of their fans. The onslaught of personal attacks he received were disappointing, but unsurprising. Molyneux says he’s not going to talk to the press anymore, and hopefully that’s true. They say you shouldn’t look too close at how laws and sausages are made; let’s add games to that list too.