A Developer's Personality Shouldn't Ruin A Good Game
Though the games industry has always had well-known designers representing big franchises and properties, lately more than ever do we see an increase in outspoken game designers with public personalities. With social networks like Twitter and Facebook tying together game developers and their properties, the relationship between the designer and their game is becoming completely transparent. Tweets by developers become news stories on gaming blogs and websites, and it’s gotten to a point where a designer’s personality, tastes, and opinions become associations to the identities of the projects they are working on.
It’s an easy association to make, really. When a indie game only has a few developers, the promotion of their games becomes a much more intimate and direct affair. They speak directly to press and are typically very open about their passions and their inspirations. Because of this, readers and consumers tend to associate the game they’re promoting and the developer themselves to each other, creating a personal connection to their intellectual property. It’s why we associate Fez with Phil Fish, Super Meat Boy to Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Double Fine to Tim Schafer, and so on. Those developers become the identities of their companies and the products they produce.
Note: this piece is an opinion and is no way associated with the opinion of Rebel Gaming. I’m offering a side of an argument, and plan to argue my case. These are in no way facts, and I realize what follows is entirely up to debate and is relative to your personal beliefs and feelings. With that out of the way…
Because of the notoriety developers have gotten because of the success and merits of their game, they have achieved an increase in their social platform where a large majority of what they say carries with it an influence. Even offhand remarks and tweets become big headlines, and what they say has an effect towards shaping the climate of the game industry. I’m sure the "Japanese Games Suck" fiasco surrounding Phil Fish will not be forgotten anytime soon. That’s an extreme example, but one that set the foundation for this whole debate.
Now, I’m going to level with you. I think Phil Fish’s Fez is a fantastic game. I would consider it one of, if not my favorite game, of this generation. It’s great, and I’ve tried to push it onto as many people as I can, since I know most people who would give it a chance would love it. There is a roadblock, though, when attempting to talk to people about the game itself. In my conversations, and more vocally in internet commenters, I hear more and more of a call to boycott Fez. People feel burned by the comments of Mr. Fish, taking personal offence to the ideas he speaks out against and the games he insults. I understand completely the need to defend what you’re passionate about and why one would take offence to careless remarks such as these. Here’s the thing, though:
What Phil Fish says and the ideas and opinions he expresses has no effect on the quality of game he produces.
Fez was met with general critical acclaim, but Phil has earned a reputation for being a very outspoken and abrasive person. I think that’s okay! If that’s his personality and that’s the way he chooses to express himself, that’s his choice. A person can listen to him and the things he says, or a person cannot. This does not retroactively change the product he has put out, nor does it alter the work he currently produces. Phil Fish is not Fez.
Hell, Phil Fish could come up to me, in person, and tell me the Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past is a terrible awful game and a disgrace to action adventure games everywhere, and I would probably respond with, “that’s cool man. Personally, it’s my favorite game, but you obviously have your reasons for saying the things you’re saying and I respect that. Great job on Fez, by the way.” I have a fundamental difference with what the man is saying, in this hypothetical situation, but it doesn’t matter because I respect the work he does.
In the most simple of terms what I’m trying to say is this: a game developer’s personality should not affect the way his or her game is received. Consumers can disagree with some of the opinions held by the developer behind a game, but if those opinions aren’t represented in the product itself, I don’t believe it should alter the way the game is received.
Now, I realize the main counter-argument to this would be not wanting to financially support a developer with which a consumer has a fundamental difference to. Having a contentious opinion to something a customer is passionate about is enough to make that customer unwilling to pay money directly to the person who holds that contentious opinion. This makes sense when the development team largely consists of a single person or a just a handful. I submit that quality work should be rewarded. A consumer is not paying them to tweet, and express opinions, they’re paying them as reward for their quality work. Maybe the response to that would be, the payment allows the developer to continue to have a larger platform to speak on. This may be true, but when the opinions are just as easily ignored either way, I would respond that this doesn’t make much of a difference.
Let’s say a game had been purchased knowing nothing about the developer beforehand. The burden of knowledge of the personality behind the game is tough to bear when the choice of whether to purchase hasn’t been made, but had that kind of information never been learned prior, the indecision wouldn’t have even arisen. The big question is, then, if one had only found out the offensive opinions and personality after the game had been enjoyed, does it lessen the experience that was had? Does it make the game any less fun, or diminish the quality of development?
My response would be: of course not. I may not like the person or what they say, but I don’t have to. I don’t have to like them to respect the work they do. I am willing to support, financially, a person who I have a fundamental disagreement with, for the quality of work and effort they’ve made. A good game should be enjoyed, and the personality behind it shouldn’t matter.