The dangers of open development - MCV

The dangers of open development

As some developers come under-fire for over-promising on their games, we ask studios making their games in the public eye how to avoid angering fans
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Broken promises, or the perception of this happening amongst consumers, has become one of the major talking points in development, particularly on studios making their games in the public eye.

Perhaps one of the biggest recent examples is Godus, made by Peter Molyneux’s 22Cans. The studio made numerous promises on the game’s development time, of multiplayer and a persistent hubworld – targets it has missed and features it has yet to implement.

Though it is still in development, some of the anger from players and Kickstarter backers has raised questions over how studios should approach making games in the public eye, and how they inform paying consumers of features and the development roadmap.

Subject to change

Rust developer Garry Newman, whose team at Facepunch is revamping the open world survival game’s codebase, says he tries to make a conscious effort to under-promise, and never gives out deadlines on feature implementations. This is another pitfall that devs, and 22Cans, have suffered from, and it’s a tactic that Valve itself has advised studios to avoid.

“I don’t talk about stuff until it’s implemented,” said Newman. “I didn’t become a games developer because I love stressing myself out.

“To me it seems like if you promise a bunch of shit, the chances that you’ll actually do it are instantly slashed by about 90 per cent. When you discuss these things you already get the positive feedback, so actually implementing them gives you no joy at all.”

Dominic Matthews, product development manager at Ninja Theory, which is adopting an open approach on Hellblade, says making a development roadmap to give consumers an idea of a game’s planned future can also be a dangerous strategy.

“We’ve been careful not to put a timeframe on our development roadmap for Hellblade,” he said. “This is not because we have anything to hide, but because I don’t want us to be making commitments to fans that we then might not want to stick to. Development roadmaps are always subject to change, so it is a dangerous game to be putting timeframes out there in the public domain if you’re not confident of hitting them.”

Public education

With the wealth of Early Access games, Kickstarter-funded projects and other titles in open development, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the complexities of games dev, and are also savvy to knowing when they are being strung along. But more still needs to be done when studios interact with their community, or they risk confusing and frustrating fans, or worse.

“I think Steam’s Early Access is giving players a relatively decent idea of the time and process involved in game development, especially for those players involved in the game from the beginning,” says Bohemia’s Martin Melicharek, project lead on Take on Mars.

“That said, players are usually not exposed to the pre-production phases, which are usually about formulating and planning. Perhaps in this regard, it may be interesting to think of a way of passing this aspect of game development on to the players, as thinking up an idea and creating a plan for implementation are two very different realities.”

Newman advises developers to talk more about the process, and says some people don’t understand what goes into it because they simply aren’t told.

“People think: ‘you made a million dollars, so hire 100 programmers and make the game in two weeks’. They don’t think through the logistics of that,” he states.

“They don’t consider that you might not want to fire 100 people in two weeks time. They don’t consider that you’re making games because you love making games, not because you love telling people to make games for you.

“All it takes is for someone on your team to sit down every week and write an update. Get technical. Explain why you’re doing stuff. That’s what people want. Honesty, frankness.”

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