The serious business of making games

A couple takeaways for me:

  • Square Enix was likely looking for an exclusivity deal with collaboration regardless of who it was with
  • Microsoft was at a disadvantage because the team would have had to optimize for two systems
  • It feels like Microsoft would have to provide a lot of support to get the game ported to Xbox in the future
  • The weeb market is much larger on Japanese consoles.

Like half the games on the Switch store are “Sempai Haiku Hentai Waifu” with moons for eyes and napkins for skirts. Whether or not they sell well, their developers think that’s their market ;).

There is no chance a Square Enix Japanese studio would ever do an Xbox exclusive. There’s no amount of money that Microsoft would actually offer that would convince them to do it.

Well, this one was Xbox-exclusive for a bit.

Aaron San Filippo of Flippify Games:

I kind of see his point - in a world of easy refunds and other consumer protections, and easy ability to write reviews, developer apologies just seem…weird?

Like, maybe if it was a public apology from a CEO to their employees for forcing them to release a game before it was ready, along with a cut in pay for said CEO, it would actually mean something. But in this case it just seems like it’s pandering to gamers and painting a target on the backs of developers who mostly aren’t responsible for deciding to release a bad game.

I get his point, and he’s not wrong when we’re talking about creative choices. Developers shouldn’t apologize for making the game they want to make.

The problem here seemed to be that the game is riddled with bugs and technical issues.

I see his point as well. It won’t make him any friends among many gamers probably, but I tend to agree that folks should treat buying a game kind of like going to a movie or dining out or buying some songs/an album, whatever. If it sucks, it sucks. If you can get your money back, you do, and you move on.

These aren’t the developers, wracked with guilt, begging the players to forgive them for their horrible crimes. It’s a statement drafted by a PR person, approved by the CEO and the legal team, aiming to limit the damage to the company’s reputation caused by release of a poorly received product. The question isn’t “Did the bad game do terrible harm to players” it’s “will players avoid buying our games in the future”.

Going with the dinner analogy, if a restaurant served thousands of customers with 50$ meals that were widely seen as some of the worst meals they had in years, you don’t think the restaurant would try to do some damage control?

Most restaurants fail.

Yup. It’s the equivalent of Chipotle’s food poisoning issues. And yes, the CEO publicly apologized.

So do most game developers?

I think that’s the context he’s talking about. Bad games happen, for a bunch of reasons. Audiences can be critical of them, they can refund them and refuse to buy the next one. They can’t act like they’re entitled to good versions of every bad game.

This is exactly right. Part of the problem is that the implication of the apology is it was the developers who failed, when a failure like this is probably much more on whoever controlled the schedule, budget, and maybe the early creative choices. If the apology said, “Our developers and testers worked very hard under difficult circumstances to make the game as fun and robust as possible, but we (the executives and publishing arm of Daedalic) didn’t give them enough time to complete the job…” then not only would that probably be more accurate, it also wouldn’t feed the “lazy developers” narrative.

Since the apology we got (and always get) is a marketing tool, not a truth-telling tool, it naturally feeds the entitlement of consumers. And that’s just turning out to be a toxic trend for the industry.

Ah, yeah, as a PR move from the publisher, makes sense. As @Nightgaunt notes, though, gamers tend to conflate developers, publishers, and everyone else in the business.

I didn’t buy Gollum, but if I did I wouldn’t care who’s failure, specifically, it was. I assume the statement was phrased as coming from developers to be seen as more sincere, but could have been phrased as coming from the executives taking responsibility to seem more sympathetic (“We’re sorry about the game, just don’t blame the poor devs who worked so hard on it!”). By the way, if you read the statement it doesn’t really assume any blame. If it was about a more consequential matter than a bad videogame, it would be seen as a responsibility dodging non-apology.

And I don’t buy the idea that this is feeding into some gamer entitlement monster. They put a game on sale, it apparently sucks, players have to live with a bad game, game makers have to live with negative reactions.

I don’t place any blame on the developers. Regardless of the quality of the game they made, they aren’t the ones deciding to launch the product to market (obviously doesn’t apply in all cases, but we’re talking about large AAA games here). The issue for me is that this isn’t a single game with some performance issues on odd PC hardware configurations. It’s seemingly part of the business model these days.

Release game → apologize if it’s a turd (and in ways that should be extremely obvious before launch) → maybe fix it

And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, telling customers to “just get a refund” is extremely tone deaf and out of touch with how every platform not called Steam works. When other platforms allow digital refunds it’s the exception not the rule. And if you bought physical best you’ll get is half your money back in store credit.

If the apologies actually meant something, if anyone actually believed anyone at corporate was really concerned about anything other than the fact the game was not doing well commercially, these mea culpas might go over better.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t played it but my impression is that Gollum is not a AAA game, but more what we might call AA. Daedalic is not Ubisoft. Now, given it’s major IP, players might be treating it like AAA and having higher expectations, fair or not.

That would have been my perception as well, but they charged $60 for it. For better or worse, that price point says AAA.

I think you’ll find the current price point for AAA is $70, or will be soon. :)