Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Game Developers, Armchair Designers and Game Critiques

Image courtesy The Muppet Holding Company
If you haven't added the insightful blog "Ask A Game Developer" to you bookmarks, feed list or blogroll, you really should. The blog is run by an unnamed game developer who both answers reader questions about game development, and occasionally write essays on different aspects of being a game dev. One of the more interesting discussion threads that emerged was the role that game reviews and YouTube reviews played in game development. As it turns out? Not very much.
"As a whole, however, the developers don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing. We’re too busy working on the game itself to really pay too much attention to the gaming media outside of cursory attention just to keep abreast of current events in the industry. A handful of people might enjoy watching the youtubers or other video makers (I think Zero Punctuation is fairly popular at my office) who post let’s-plays or reviews or opinions on games, but that’s more of the exception than the norm."
Well then, according to this game developer, who does care? The marketing team.
"...they absolutely care about the gaming media, youtubers, and anyone else who creates content related to the (possible) promotion of games. In these situations, however, what they care about is the metrics. How many of the readers/viewers are in the target demographic? What is the general attitude toward the developer and publisher by the audience? And, most importantly, if we spend part of our marketing budget to hire this person/group/etc. to promote our product, what sort of returns will we get? "
The blog author delves further into this when they discuss what they call "armchair designers" in the post "Getting Up From The Armchair":
"So here’s the thing about armchair designers. They tend to lack the context to make choices like how much time, effort, and/or money it will cost to get something done. After all, they’ve never had to deal with a budget or a production schedule or requirements before, so they aren’t necessarily aware they exist or how they work. They don’t know how long a cinematic scene will take to create, because they never had to wait for the motion capture and audio recording, or set up the positioning and timing, or make sure they stayed within the word budget, or had to create it without using any additional resources because the animation department was tasked up the wazoo already. Because the armchair designer lacks this crucial context, he lacks the necessary skills to determine whether something is easy or hard to do."
What do you think? I'm torn. I do believe that baseless, uninformed critique doesn't help anyone-- it's just posturing and pontificating on the critic's part and useless noise. However, just because someone doesn't have a background in game development doesn't mean that critiques that come from someone without a game development background are useless. Games, after all, are meant to be played. And some game studios have tried to deflect legitimate criticism with bogus technical explanations (google "assassin's creed" and "women are too hard to animate" for example), and making a game dev background a requirement for decent critique is a bit of unnecessary gate-keeping to excludes those that have already been marginalized in gaming spaces. In fact, setting it up as a dichotomy is a false choice, in my view. People can create AND critique, and many would argue that criticism is an important part of the artistic process in and of itself. While I think there's an effective way and an ineffective way to critique, I also think that creation doesn't exist in a vacuum and artists and creators will never learn, develop, or improve from an echo chamber.

What say you, readers?

No comments:

Share This Post