Let’s talk about something in games journalism today, and I promise I won’t use the GG-word.
Rock Paper Shotgun just published a pretty heavy interview with Peter Molyneux, one of the most famous game developers in the world who is currently working with his indie studio 22Cans on the god game Godus. I highly recommend reading that interview in full (settle in, it’s a long one) before reading this, since I won’t be quoting too much of the actual content here, just looking at the overall message.
It went okay. Here’s the first question:
Alright, maybe it didn’t go okay. Throughout the duration of the interview, both RPS writer John Walker and Peter Molyneux get very passionate about their goals. Walker’s goal is to expose how wrong it is to take the money of Kickstarter backers without delivering on the company’s promises, and Molyneux’s is to defend himself by pointing out how much work he and his team have put in (and are going to put in) to Godus. Both of these are valid sides to take; the lines are blurry in Kickstarter and many of the backers who wanted to see Godus made are very upset with the quality of what they’ve received.
And rightfully so, what they thought they were going to receive in the timeframe promised is not what they received. The problem is that we have been and still are treating Kickstarter as if it is a marketplace. It is not. Kickstarter is and always will be a website where those who believe in a product can put their money forward to see it happen. I understand that these backers are upset. Those who had faith in Godus should be.
However, it’s wrong to besmirch someone for doing their best to deliver on those promises. Molyneux very clearly has poured his heart and soul into his game, you can see that in the interview. It’s not just evident in the numbers he quotes but in the passionate way he delivers his statements:
When game developers have a great idea, and great plans for features, they wait for the excitement to die down, then actually begin to consider all the concrete things necessary for a game to be made. How much will it cost, how many work hours will it take, when can we promise to have this by? I get the impression that, during the Kickstarter phase of Godus, Molyneux and his team did this. They were asking for people’s money, after all, and they can’t toy around with that. It’s your word as a developer that’s on the line, and when you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, it feels like a huge breach of trust to the people you put your faith in. This is why I find it understandable that Kickstarter backers are pissed. They were given heavy implication that the product they wanted would be done in the timeframe promised, and it wasn’t. By far. This really means that there’s an important lesson about funding vs. product here, and it’s what I’ve been saying about Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and Early Access for a while now:
When you give money to a company for a product that isn’t out yet, you are not buying a good, nor a service. You are funding a company. You’re paying them because you believe in them and you want them to succeed, so you’re providing a resource for them to find that success. If you’re on Kickstarter and you select a backer reward, you shouldn’t expect it. We need to avoid these types of conflicts, both on the press and development side. It’s very toxic to have arguments like this. They do nothing but pressure developers and make press look unprofessional. When Walker interviewed Molyneux as he did, he created a problematic environment between the two of them, because his main point is flawed from the beginning. The nature of Kickstarter is different than what he perceived it to be.
So that covers the consumer side. But how can we expect press to have a good understanding of what game development is like? Companies are required to be hush-hush about development lately, due to…recent events…And with the somewhat required lack of transparency from the company side (don’t want the consumers to revolt because they revealed the mistakes made before launch), both the press and developers are put in a very difficult-to-resolve dynamic with one another.
We need more transparency by game developers. We need more respect by press of the difficulties of creating games. Sometimes a developer promises something and they really mean it, and they think it’s feasible and possible and all that, but roadblocks will always happen in any industry, so why are we the ones that get outraged when they do happen? It’s unfair to those developing the game. I know that it’s not exactly presented in the clearest way possible on crowdfunding platforms, and that’s a huge problem. However, as those who invest in a product or a company do for a living, we need to understand that there will be hiccups, and be forgiving of them instead of punishing.
Let’s worry less about not getting our supposedly promised product, and worry more about creating a place where that product can be delivered without the humongous amounts of pressure developers like Molyneux have on them now.