Should Developers Be More Transparent?
When Sony teased everyone with the announcement that they’ll reveal something we’ve “all been waiting for” earlier this week, one game in particular was on a lot of people’s minds and in many comment sections around the Internet: The Last Guardian, a game that has been more than elusive since 2009. It’s been brought up by gamers and the media at almost every E3 and conference since then. But The Last Guardian is not alone in stirring this appetite for what is hopefully not just vaporware, Agent is another title that gamers have seen virtually nothing of and have been waiting for. Final Fantasy Versus XIII was another mythical beast of a game before its transformation to the next-gen title Final Fantasy XV.
Most gamers who have a vested interest in the gaming industry can name more than a handful of titles that have been absent for a large amount of time and some that are still nowhere to be seen. At a certain point, one has to wonder if this is fair of developers; upcoming games are often an incentive to purchase a new console as well as something to look forward to with an emotional and hopeful connection.
Make no mistake about it, video games fundamentally change people’s lives and become a part of their identities and it’s sometimes painful to wait for a game that seems to just fade away after an exciting announcement. What’s worse is that the more games slip behind a curtain of seemingly endless development, the more gamers will become skeptical about the announcement of new titles. This really begs the question of whether or not some developers are being too quiet about the games they’re working on and if this could have a negative affect.
Complaining about waiting for an indefinite period of time for a video game is certainly a “first-world problem,” and I am by no means stating that developers are guilty of some egregious act of deception, but in a way there does seem to be a slight hint of neglect by some companies. Square Enix was particularly guilty of this with Final Fantasy Versus XIII. This is a title that was announced almost two-years short of a decade ago: 2006. It was certainly a reason for some to invest money in the $600 behemoth that was the PlayStation 3, and when Final Fantasy XIII was also released on the Xbox 360, Versus became another reason to purchase a PS3. For those who have an emotional investment in Final Fantasy and were let down by XIII, Versus was a bastion of hope. While many are pleased that there is a more solid message about the game’s current reemergence as Final Fantasy XV, there’s still the fact that it never came out on the system we anticipated. It was an entire console generation of waiting only to be told at the end, “wait for next-gen!”
While we can lament over games that we purchased hardware for and never were able to actually play, or for the loss of playing what looks to be an amazing experience, one of the biggest problems is that this practice breeds skepticism among gamers; this is especially true when a developer just shows a logo or a pre-rendered trailer to promote a game. At E3 this year, I felt this particularly with the announcement of The Order 1886. While the trailer was incredibly exciting, the lack of actual gameplay and mostly “ideas and plans” made me feel like it could be another Versus XIII or The Last Guardian.
It’s very clear that large projects can be conceptualized and developed with a certainty among gamers that they will see the game. We see this with massive games such as the Grand Theft Auto titles, Naughty Dog games, or the Metal Gear Solid series. There is rarely a doubt that such titles will be stuck in development hell indefinitely. There is clearly a way to organize a studio to produce impressive and audacious titles that works and I think this is a plan that publishers might need to be stricter with.
Communication with the people who will be purchasing the games should be vital—whether it’s the sometimes-annoying methods Hideo Kojima deploys when working on a new Metal Gear, the way the developers of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn kept people up to date through a blog and a set release schedule towards the end, or the way Naughty Dog had announced they were releasing The Last of Us a few months later than they had planned to make sure it was perfect.
This is not a call for developers to install 24/7 webcams in their studios so everyone can see what they’re up to. Again, Metal Gear is a good example; Hideo Kojima has always managed to reveal enough to let gamers know what’s coming while at the same time retaining a level of theory-provoking secrecy about what’s being worked on. Gamers want to feel like the studios are actually paying attention to them, and whether it’s through a development blog or Square Enix’s simple request to wait for E3 during the PS4 announcement, developers can maintain a satisfactory level of communication without letting gamers feel like a title may never see the light of day. This will create more trust and more confidence; no one wants to wait to see if a game comes out.