Easy villains

Not that the designers have taken this particular lesson.

It’s not as satisfying to say you got yourself into this mess by yourself, but it’s probably more accurate.

I’m leery of anyone who pins the blame for their bad games on someone else.

Most games, especially big ones, are not the product of one person’s ego and hard work.  That’s asking a lot.  A big-budget game is the result of a whole lot of people working together.  In an ideal situation, you have the publisher who handles all of the tedious stuff like funding and promoting, directors who have a unified and fun vision for the end product, and programmers who know how to put everything together.  Usually, a few of these people wind up being the face of the project, generally the directors and producers.

But then you get bad games.  And an awful lot of big-name directors seem to be unwilling to shoulder any of the blame for those games despite taking all of the credit for the games that people love, never mind that both games were equally reliant upon teams.  And that makes me leery of directors blaming publishers or studios or anyone else for a game being crap.

Or financially soluble.

Nobody came out of this looking good. Or even acceptable.

The fact of the matter is that a team effort succeeds or fails as a team effort.  If the game that you’re making is total crap, it’s not Steve’s fault unless the only crap part is what Steve was responsible for.  That’s just common sense.  Steve might have created a lackluster driving engine, yes, but John created a lackluster shooting engine, Michelle made a terrible character creator, and all of them were working off of bad directions from Leanne.  Meanwhile, the publisher is tapping its collective foot and waiting for the game to be released, because they’ve already sank a lot of money into this game…

You know that bullshit “there’s no I in team” crap?  Well, there’s still a point there.  Your ego does not get to rule.  The people who are working with you deserve respect for the work they’re putting in.  And if the team you’re working with made a bad game, well, so do you.

A lot of this ties into the rush on Kickstarter, wherein big-name developers are trying to convince fans of their games to give them millions of dollars for an idea, something that I’ve discussed elsewhere as being kind of ridiculous and horrible.  If you asked me about it, I would have said that it was totally absurd and could never happen, and the only counterpoint you could bring up is that it does happen.  People will totally ignore any and all bad games that someone was involved with as long as they offer an entertaining idea and blame someone else to serve as an easy scapegoat.

“Oh, but we’ve all seen games that would have been great if they had gotten more time, so that means -”  No, we have not.  We have never seen a game that was going to be great get pushed out too early.  We have seen games that could have been great pushed out in obvious beta states, but saying that they would have been implies an absolute knowledge that neither I nor any other living human being possesses.  I’ve said before that there are some games where additional development time would have been totally irrelevant.  If Final Fantasy XIV‘s original launch version had gotten another year in development, as long as the same people were in charge, it would have been the same damn game, with all the same problems, because what inspired changes and fixes was the game releasing to tepid reception.

We just don't know what would have happened.

The question isn’t whether the game would have been better without cut content, it’s whether or not it was ever going to be implemented anyway.

I know that Knights of the Old Republic II was released early, and that meant a lot of content and mechanics got cut.  But does that mean the planned version would have been great?  Especially seeing as how the “rushed” version still wound up with solid, positive reception despite what was missing?  By that same logic, if someone had kept Aliens: Colonial Marines in development long enough, it would have turned out to be great.  The first seven years didn’t do it, but another six will, promise!

Some projects just don’t work out well.  You do not see the number of articles I start and stop early on, because I realize that no matter how much work I pour into it, this is never going to be very good.  No, I don’t have a publisher breathing down my neck, but I do have deadlines; I just have the flexibility that I can afford to scrap something if it’s not working.

When the project doesn’t work, though, it’s not someone else’s fault.  It’s mine.  Sure, I was working under a deadline, but that doesn’t mean that I deserve all of the credit for my successes and none of the blame for my failures.  I come up with bad ideas.  Some projects are just never going to turn out great no matter how much time you give them, and that doesn’t automatically mean you should blame the easiest target at hand for screwing things up.

But let’s just say, for a moment, that a project has a brilliant director who is hampered by terrible workers and horrible publishing conditions.  Even then, it’s probably better to own up and say that you were in part responsible for what happened, because that at the very least implies that you were trying to make things better and want to learn from your mistakes.  Blaming the whole thing on other people creates the impression that you see yourself as a misunderstood genius, forever held back by the peons around you.

The only way you can be a better person is by taking yourself to task for what you can do to avoid disaster.  The only person you can control is yourself.  And when the lesson you learned from failure is “I need complete and total control so other people don’t screw things up,” does that seem like a positive takeaway?  Does that come across as the act of someone who knows exactly what they’re doing?

Sure, it sucks when you have what you are certain are spectacular ideas that don’t translate well into a good final result.  But that does not mean that someone else screwed up and you are blameless, nor does it mean that you can get away with making convenient strawmen and blaming them for your failings.  If you can’t own up to making any bad games and fall back on just blaming other people… well, I suppose the upside is that eventually you run out of other people to blame.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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