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An Honest Con Artist – A Game Dev’s Take on Peter Molyneux

Molyneux - Not on Rails

I’m pretty sure that everyone who follows the games industry has noticed the controversy that’s developed over the past few weeks around Peter Molyneux, his company 22 Cans, and the Kickstarter-funded game Godus. I’m not going to bother to recap the whole chain of events, but I think it’s fair to say that the culmination of it all was this RockPaperShotgun interview. Anyone who’s heard anything about this story has probably heard of this piece in particular.

For my part, I’m not really interested in discussing the interview itself too much. It doesn’t really concern me how it was conducted, or how Molyneux came across (if anything, it pisses me off how belated the reaction is, seeing as none of this stuff is really new when it comes to Peter).

No, for my part I’m mostly interested in the assertions about how game development is conducted, what it takes to make a great game and the nature of making predictions and estimates. Because even if we were to accept the premise that Peter is completely honest in defending his past statements and actions, he is still quite unforgivably and amateurishly incorrect about a lot of things. At the very least, he needs to be cognizant of, and responsible for, his voluntarily and stubbornly viewing the game development process as impossibly chaotic and unpredictable. Even more so, he should be ashamed of trying to pretend that his own inadequacies are in any way inherent in the game development process. Perpetuating that kind naiveté might be a great way to whitewash one’s own incompetence, but it also does great harm to both gamers’ understanding of games and the game development community itself.

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Transformers Universe shutting down

I offer this link without commentary:

Commenteer – Shutting the F*cks Out

It’s hard to tell if the whole #GamerHate (or whatever) thing is winding up or down or what, at the moment. I don’t really care that much, as I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on the subject in this post. Sorry, I don’t feel like I have anything to add. Far more eloquent and intelligent people than me have already said everything meaningful there is to say. Or at the very least, they’ve said more than I could ever have thought up myself. So I’m not going to dwell on the subject, or try to force open another “angle” to what always was, and remains, one giant exercise in online bullying of the worst possible kind. There will be no minority report or desperate attempt at “nuance” here people, move along if you were hoping for one.

What this whole shitfest has done, though, is remind me of why one of my favourite Twitter accounts remains @AvoidComments. I loathe, absolutely loathe comments on the internet. For all the benefits of the “democratization” of this public online space of ours, the possibility for absolute morons to insert themselves at the same volume and level of visibility as actually intelligent people is not a good thing. Unlike in the public space, people online can impose their moronic views, ideas and grammar on the rest of us, and far too often do we find ourselves woefully underequipped to deal with them. The real-life tools of shutting people out are simply not available to us to the same extent online as elsewhere.

Mind you, I really am talking about shutting people out, not up. Freedom of speech should be all-but-absolute. I just need better filtering methods to be made available, because I would rather have no online presence at all than force myself to engage with 99% of the people who choose to post comments on the web. And I’m pretty sure that a lot of other people agree. This in turn creates a negative feedback loop, or downward spiral if you will, as intelligent people simply give up on discussing things on the internet.

Another problem is anonymity, because it has a strong influence on people’s sense of accountability. Some people say “if everyone had to log in with Facebook, they would think before they posted”. And yes, that does help things some times. But there are workarounds; people create phony such accounts all the time. Also, in some instances, it’s good for people to be able to speak their minds without having their identities compromised.

So I thought around for a bit and came up with this concept I called “Commenteer” (it’s a mix of “Comment” and “Commandeer”). The idea behind it is to create a persistent online identity that ties into a community where both individuals and websites are rated, and people and web masters in turn can set their filters according to the kinds of traffic they want in their comments fields. People can have fake ID’s as much as they want, but they will have to invest in them. If they don’t, they won’t build up their Commenteer score, and thus won’t be “let in” to certain communities and situations.

The idea is in an early draft state, and I’ve not really edited it for quite a while. But I think the core idea is somewhat solid, though there are sure to be aspects that I’ve underestimated quite a bit. Anyway, I’m sharing my slides as they are, because, well… most people are stupid. Furthermore, everyone deserves the right not to have to listen to white noise and hate speech. And let’s be honest here… there’s been way, way too much of that stuff lately.

Seven Questions for Every Video Game Kickstarter

Recommend checking out this article:

Seven Questions for Every Video Game Kickstarter.

My own comments below:

These are all good questions. I would offer the following advice:

For point 1: “Who is the project manager for this development?”

To be fair, not everyone has a “General Manager” of a project. Indeed, that’s an oftentimes bad role in a creative enterprise; most subject matter specialists don’t like answering to a person who has authority just by virtue of handling the money. That said, if they use a better model, they should explain that model. So maybe what we should be asking is:

“Do you have an Organizational Chart for the team?” (Also, asking for workflows will sometimes yield some interesting information, but that’s a bit more advanced.)

The Org Chart should define the roles and responsibilities, and should also help in answering question 2 and to a lesser extent 3.

To further answer question 3, and to answer question 6 at the same time, the team should provide a preliminary Product Roadmap, featuring key milestones and staff ramp-up schedule at the same time.

Questions 4 and 5 can both be answered in the same budget breakdown document (even if the tools are free, they should still be listed and indicated as such).

Question 7 should be answerable both in the body of the pitch, but also in the aforementioned documents. Early Access and the like should be in the roadmap. Other sources of funding should be in the budget breakdown (as that shouldn’t just feature the Kickstarter money).

Two more things I would ask are:

* Where are you planning to get the additional staff from?

Quality staff are hard to come by. If you want the best of the best, you may have to use agents. Or at the very least direct approaches (which are time consuming), and then you have to expect to pay a lot more than you would for students out of Uni.

If they have a core team of relatively skilled and experienced people, sure, that can go a long way. But if they commit to a timeline for the additional hires, that puts them under time pressure. So I’d like to know if the future hires are scoped out already or if they will post a job listing or what.

* What happens if the project attracts unexpected investment?

People were none too happy with the whole Oculus/Facebook thing. Maybe explain the team’s philosophical stance on working with large companies, and what happens to the backers’ investment if and when EA steps in and buys the whole shebang.

Yogventures – Another failed Kickstarter

Thanks to commenter Yachmenev, I’ve decided to take the time to briefly comment on the following.

Seems that a bunch of total noobs making complex games for other people’s money didn’t work out. Shocker.

What’s especially funny is that right around the time I wrote my general comment on the whole phenomena in this post, someone had written their own piece, putting this very cancelled project in its spotlight. It’s a good read, check it out!

The author also writes at length about other relevant topics that I’ve mentioned in the past. Like the whole Dead End thing.

Another Kickstarter project goes for a second round of crowd funding

Kickstarter keeps killing off game dev heroes. Wonder how many more have to bite the dust before people grow a brain.

Dude, Where’s My Game – The Truth and Lies of Delays and Cancellations

The tagline "Everything is Connected" is fitting to say the least

Slowly, indeed far too slowly for my tastes, the mainstream games press and its clientele seem to be taking an increasing interest in games development. Granted, much of the interest stems from a desire for drama and controversy, and much of the time the wrong questions are still being asked (for instance “why does Peter Molineux promise too much” rather than “why would anyone even suggest a stupid idea like that in the first place”). But I’ll take what I can get – at least we’re getting somewhere, however slowly.

What I’d like to contribute is a unifying theme, a bit of a silver bullet if you will, that applies to many if not all of the stories of development woe we’ve been seeing lately. Thing is, even the well-researched and competently analysed stories are written in a bit of a vacuum; it seems like their authors don’t see the common threads between their own stories and the stories of others because of superficial differences, or because their own understanding of what game development entails is insufficient.

A small digression: before we get started, I wanted to warn that I do a lot of linking to relevant articles and other resources in this post. I do this because I think it’s important to have some case studies to reference. The articles are long, and I understand that getting through all of them would be quite a project. Rest assured that you don’t have to read them in any detail to get through this post. I do recommend watching the videos though.

Anyway, here are the questions I’m going to set out to answer in this article:

1.) What are the common threads between the articles below?

Article about why Japanese games take so long to develop

Article about the cancellation and panic-mode-fixing of the game Singularity

Three articles about the rebooting and/or delaying of the high-profile games DriveClub, Watch Dogs and Final Fantasy XIV

Article about the development of HomeFront and subsequent closure of Kaos Studios

Another article about that same game

Piece about Firefall and Red 5

(And many, many more stories – most of which nobody will ever write about)

2.) How are the identified issues handled in the immediate term by developers and publishers?

3.) How does this all connect to the macro- and business-side changes seen in the industry in recent years, specifically the focus on online, episodic content, social, free to play and indeed indie development?

But while I do realize that the answers to these questions have merit in themselves, I also concede that stories and anecdotes are more interesting, or at least sexier, than facts. Especially bloody stories – metaphorically or otherwise. So here’s some blood in the water for you.

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