game-developer
Editorial

Give Developers Creative Freedom

Video games are a medium that gives players control over the way an interactive story unfolds. In reality, this power is an illusion crafted by developers with a creative vision. This means that developers should have the final say over all creative choices. However, with the continued rise of social media, the gaming community has become so vocal that their opinions on the games they play can no longer be ignored. No other creative medium offers its audience that much power over its creators. Looking at past games which have been updated due to player feedback offers some insight into whether developers should listen to or ignore them.

A lesser known example is that of Portal. On March 4, 2010, Valve included an update that added “valuable asset retrieval” and altered the ending. This update came three years after the initial release of Portal and was created following Valve’s announcement of a sequel. The original ending of Portal had the community questioning the developer as to how the story could possibly continue. This led Valve to update the ending to ease fans’ concern.

Recently, when the ‘Shadow Heritage’ DLC for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey disrespected the LGBT community and took away player agency, consumers were outraged. The subsequent online response urged the developer to reconsider how the content’s story concluded. The initial response from Ubisoft was that the DLC had “missed the mark.” The post explains the reasons behind the choice of ending in great detail but players continued to give negative feedback. Eventually, Ubisoft announced that it would change the ending of the DLC based on customer feedback.

In 2008, when Bethesda released Fallout 3, players and critics alike were frustrated that a game that featured an expansive open world would simply end and prevent players from returning to their adventures. Bethesda’s approach to resolving this issue was to create paid DLC that allowed play to resume after the final mission and experience a new selection of missions.

The most memorable case was when BioWare released the free Extended Cut for Mass Effect 3. The ending ignited fury among players, who took to the internet petitioning for the game to provide an alternate ending. Prior to releasing the Extended Cut for Mass Effect 3, Bioware co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka released a statement on the official BioWare blog stating that:

Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics – but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility.

I believe passionately that games are an art form, and that the power of our medium flows from our audience, who are deeply involved in how the story unfolds, and who have the uncontested right to provide constructive criticism.”

The above statement is a much-needed reminder that games are works of art. They are subjective in nature, designed to entertain, and are visual delights like any other artistic medium. The only difference is that players can directly manipulate how they experience a game. This agency gives them a sense of ownership and, in turn, the right to change something they do not like about the game. Gamers are not always right but neither are developers.

Criticism and feedback are an important part of the creative process. However, no filmmaker, painter, or songwriter would change a masterpiece because someone complained. At some point, game creators deserve the right to ignore feedback just like any other artist.

In all the above cases, the studios listened and made a change to appease consumers. Some changes such as those to the ‘Shadow Heritage’ DLC are necessary as the content was disrespectful. Others, such as Mass Effect 3, Fallout 3, or Portal, were not entirely needed. Yes, the changes made enhanced the quality of the games, but demonstrated to the gaming community that negativity wins.

If negative commentary continues to dominate online forums, the developers will no longer have creative license. They will create games that jump on bandwagons and follow the same tried and tested formulas out of fear of retribution from players. Innovation and bold ideas will effectively cease, and in a culture like that, nobody wins.

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