An Open Letter To Everyone Involved With The Game Industry
First I would like to say thank you to TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling for sharing their thoughts on the Aliens debacle . A lot of what they said was certainly flying around in my mind while I began writing up this letter. Furthermore I would like to thank everyone in the game industry that tried to fairly defend the Aliens “game” even though they understand just how ROUGH it is. To even stay in that “game” for longer than 10 minute takes some serious dedication. Lastly I would like to thank whoever created that temporary account on Reddit to give a little insight into what was happening during the development process ( if it’s accurate of course) and I really hope it stands as the final learning lesson in this area for everyone in the industry.
Let’s take a moment to collect some of the data that we do know. Gearbox grabbed the contract for Aliens and even started posting videos that showed they had a serious dedication to the product. I believe Randy Pitchford will probably even openly state that he still loves the Aliens series ( he really should give everyone hurt by all this an apology). They then sold everyone on the notion that they were making an exceptionally polished game and even opened it all up to preorder. I personally remember hearing about how people that had worked on the Aliens movies as set designers were helping to recreate the entirety of the ship including everything we never saw in the movies themselves, this I would like to point out was a very smart idea that definitely helped with the marketing. This is where it all gets hazy, Gearbox if we look at this timeline correctly was also working hard on Borderlands 2 while supposedly at the exact same time as Aliens. If the Reddit post is accurate then both games were at a decent level of quality and were a few months off from certification so Gearbox decided to focus on their own child instead of the child they had promised Fox, Sega, and gamers so it was delayed back. Somewhere after this delay it was decided to outsource the game to time gate, a studio with a highly questionable past, and began tossing DLC options out to any studio that was interested in picking them up (I really wish Gearbox would state who did what, some think Demiurge was working WIIU port while others say DLC I’m all forms of horribly confused on that one). Since Gearbox hasn’t commented on any of this yet I can only state the opinions that I have seen online.
That this is a serious ethics issue that places Gearbox in a terrible light.
1) It gives the impression that Gearbox wanted the license for the money and not because they wanted to make a game. (regardless if that is true or not Gearbox should never let someone reach that conclusion)
2) It very easily guides people to the idea that Gearbox did not care in anyway who was making this title.
3) Borderlands was so important to the company that the sequel instantly superseded everything else that the company was doing or had already agreed to do .
4) Gearbox was going to market the game at levels that they thought were going to make the most money no matter what the game looked like.
(I have got to wonder if their marketing team was sweating bullets or even tried to figure out what the public response was going to be)
If the speculation is still dead on then Timegate was given what Gearbox had made and immediately decided for whatever reason to throw everything out and start from scratch ( which means that if they really did bring in people from Aliens to make the environment, then all that work would have been tossed out and the marketing teams should have stated something to the public. People preordered on this notion which would now very much be a lie). Time goes by, people start wondering where Aliens is, we see several more awesome Alien trailers being posted, Borderlands 2 is a success, and Timegate scrapes together what they had and gave it back to Gearbox. Gearbox hated what they saw, if the Reddit post is correct several developers stated it was terrible, demanded things to be changed, added, moved, but no one dared push Sega for another delay because they feared Sega was ready to sue ( which I honestly can’t blame them for). Continuing on we also see what I consider to be the greatest insult in this menagerie of bad business practices, the QA teams ( and I’m guessing they had Usability teams as well, what with all their UX designers) were told to skip all bugs that were not game breaking. I now ask everyone to click the following the link. While I will admit I am still relatively new in the world of Usability and game testing ( At it for 2 years but been playing games since before Aerith died) I can count at least 15 bugs that would be considered a priority on the bug list due to how early they are inside the game, through constant observations I had counted well over 300 bugs that could be considered Unique and well over 60 different design, art, and UI issues that make it *painful* for people to play the game. The games overall quality in the first 3 minutes is GALAXIES different from what I can see 20 minutes later.
For a game studio this is a huge problem.
1) It gives people the impression that no testing occurred for this title regardless of whatever you say, developers say, or fanboys say.
2) That certification was all that mattered, that the User experience was in no way a factor with Gearbox, Sega, or Fox when they all approved and sent the game off for certification.
3) That the repercussions didn’t matter because we can always just work on the next title ( this is a belief that first manifested when Duke Nukem Forever was launched).
This is an industry destroying mess I’m seeing right here that if it were any other industry would be grounds for massive fines, an expensive recall, and quite possibly some jail time depending on the details of everything that had transpired. Hell, my past work was so obsessed with bug hunting and testing that any of it would be grounds for misconduct firing. To hear that Gearbox just ignored all these bugs believing they didn’t matter is embarrassing. In some ways it could also harm the professional future of everyone within the industry even more than it does for people involved with the game.
No one in the industry that is considered a professional can say anything without being reprimanded, blackmailed, blacklisted , or slandered. We force everyone that reviews the games early not to say anything to the general public until the game is released. The reason being we want to protect our overall sales under the guise of ” making sure everyone in the game journalism side is being given the time to finish a game and post reviews “. This singular act, while added to our “no refund policies” ( which are also ridiculous) is giving all the power to our games success rate to the marketing division. If people are upset then that doesn’t matter because they can’t get a refund. While it might look awesome to a business professional it is having a poisonous effect to the people making the games. They are no longer testing to see if what they are making or what other people are making is actually something that people will want to play. They have used the illusion of preorders,DLC, trailers, marketing, booth babes, and crazy convention parties to mask their ability to tell if what they are making is actually any good. Only a few journalist in the industry will openly state that something is bad because they are genuinely afraid of being snuffed by the industry unless of course in these rare instances where a game is so bad they are allowed to be honest without fear of receiving threats from expensive lawyers ( I am not exaggerating, I wish I could say who has talked of this in the past but they are under NDA, another practice that has been stretched beyond being helpful).
If the game developers had stayed up to snuff, asked some smart questions, and quite possibly lowered their entrance levels for their studios then I’m sure this would be less of a problem (The term “fresh blood” became popular for a reason) . Lately however it feels as if more developers are trapped within a forest and cannot see the trees. Simple honest observations by myself in the past at Pax Prime usually came with genuine shock from the development team because they had never “heard any of our testers mention that before” while if I tried to talk to a tester or low end developer I would hear bits of fear in their voice that gave me the impression that they were never allowed to openly speak on a project. The last two years have been very confusing to me as a developer.
In general, game industry professionals have for the most part been some of the nicest people I have ever met that will go out of their way to help out friends, however I also know that many will not help out anyone that is *NOT* a “friend”. If using twitter as an example it’s rare to find a game designer that will openly talk to people, ask questions, talk game design, guide people, or try to find the various faults they likely believe exists within their own work. I’m not sure if this has to do with some antisocial nature or just how strong the fear is growing of getting yelled at by the marketing department or various higher ups. Either way Aliens has shown we have a very SERIOUS communication problem in the industry and this extends to the gamer community in some ways as well. Aliens to me has become a cause and effect of these issues and I personally believe we can learn some things from it.
1) The no refund policy in the game industry helped create Gamestop’s success,
We need to find some way to correct this policy before it permanently harms the reputation of all companies in the industry or forces the government to enact harsh guidelines. If not because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s already happened in Europe, then because its harming our studios ability to properly function. We need some form of tighter checks and balances that is forcing ourselves to create work that is transcending what is available in the market currently ( this does not mean better graphics and that transcendence cannot just be something in our heads).
2)We need better QA and Usability testing practices
Where “good enough for certification” is only the first step , game quality being higher then what was originally promised being the halfway mark, and user testing being something that happened all the while but acts as a body of approval in the final step. (Think of it as a way to gauge the game before selling, am I truly happy with what I have right now, or is this 30% approval a shadow of my game’s future? If going this route then I would try to create some distance with the development team to stop personal feelings outside the game’s body of work from affecting the vote.)
3)Never act like a scam artist
Gearbox made promises, waggled those promises, made one hell of a trailer that waggled in our faces even more, used preorders to make people personally invested, then outsourced to a whole bunch of random studios not feeling the true necessity to finish a product that they had already stamped themselves hard to, then sat around and did nothing for the consumers (other then updates that will likely never help the design of the game). I really shouldn’t need to say this, don’t ever act like a scam artist. Be true to yourself, true to your ideas, true to your gaming passions , maybe try to not threaten, slander, or sue someone for seeing something bad being created, and maybe we’ll be able to do something about all these failing studios and horrendous layoffs.
Gamers accuse me of bias all the time for liking Persona 4 over Bulletstorm, It isn’t because I somehow take some serious offense to my “d*** being scared off”, it being from some foreign country, “HULK NOT ACTING AMERICAN OR LIKING BROSHOOTERS” but because Persona has a level of quality to it that is deserving of my eternal respect.
For the Business professionals who are too set in their ways to care:
What’s more important? 1 year worth of money or 100 years worth of money?
Hint: we aren’t even thinking 10 years in the future right now when looking at development decisions. Most Studios if put through the scrutiny of a Usability test would likely fail. Yeah, you might make some money but likely everyone will be laid off within a few short months( yourself included) while gaining some massive debt…..That is not any form of success.
( I’m also searching for my next Usability, QA, or Design gig if anyone is interested in chatting)