The process of making games is an absurdly secretive one. Strict publishers and well-trained public relations (PR) guard even the smallest bit of information with their lives, trickling it out to the public at a glacial pace. The majority of people who work on games, rarely being trained to deal with media, are hidden behind closed doors while the groomed PR lackey is trotted out with cryptically bland responses. Footage of a game doesn’t appear until a polished E3 demo or until the release of the game. The gaming industry is one that seems to fear the general public and reacts to that fear by hiding everything away behind the curtain out of sight. Transparency is something the gaming industry is sorely lacking.
Let’s take a minute to compare the gaming industry to the movie industry, an industry that is very transparent. It’s rare for the public to not hear about a movie years before its actual release. When a studio commits to a project and hires cast members, they don’t try to hide this information. Instead, they use it as free publicity to get some early excitement building for their movie. Games, on the other hand, aren’t announced until a decent amount of work has been made on the project. It seems that publishers are afraid to announce games that may end up being canceled and do everything in their power to ensure a game will hit release before revealing it to the public. Sequels to games, even successful ones, aren’t usually announced for years, unlike movie companies that will announce them as soon as a movie is deemed successful. I can sympathize with game developers, as I know that game development is a process where a lot more can go wrong due to the variety of skills needed to put together a game. Still, I think publishers need to be willing to admit when a mistake is made and a project is cancelled or put on hiatus. If movie production companies aren’t afraid to do this, why are game developers and publishers so skittish?
On the topic of movies, I would also like to mention trailers. While movie trailers have a tendency to either show too much of a film’s premise or show things that aren’t even in the actual movie, they often demonstrate what the movie will be about. You will have the occasional trailer that shows the best parts of the movie just to entice theatergoers, but the majority of them are useful to your average consumer. Game trailers, in comparison, are often a mess. The vast majority of them are CG-based and show no actual gameplay. Even the ones that do end up showing gameplay cut around so much that it isn’t even useful. Nowadays, I rely on gameplay videos done after a game’s release, usually on Giant Bomb or Youtube, to make my purchasing decisions as those videos often show a large portion of the game actively being played. I like a pretty trailer as much as the next guy, but I would really prefer my trailers showed me a bit of the game in action and how it plays.
It’s not hard to understand why publishers are so afraid to show a game when it isn’t absolutely perfect–or as perfect as games get nowadays. Go to any online forum for a game after a bit of video leaks, like the recent Kingdom Hearts 3 footage, and you’ll see nothing but complaints on how poorly it’s running or how it doesn’t look as good as it should. The gaming public is quick to judge, taking early footage to be representative of final products. Herein lies the biggest hindrance to transparency in game development. The blame can’t be entirely laid at the feet of game publishers; we hold some of it as well. We need to be more understanding about the chaotic nature of game development. Learning more about how games are made will benefit everyone in the long run.
To do this, both gamers and publishers need to work together. The gaming public needs to be let in on the developmental process. We need to learn how games come together over the course of years of production and how the final months are when all the pieces are put together to assemble the final product. We have to realize that features being cut from a game is a common part of the process, often making a better final product. An understanding needs to be reached about how early footage with unfinished graphics, poor frame rates, and crashes isn’t uncommon early in development and that those problems aren’t necessarily indicative of the final product. Early gameplay videos shouldn’t be damning to a game; instead the gaming public should be made to realize that it’s an interesting chance to see how games change and evolve over the course of development. Developers and publishers need to be more open and we gamers need to be more understanding of how games are formed to finally break down this wall between us.
It’s hard to imagine that this will ever become a reality. Game companies are in the business of making money over everything else. As nice as it would be for them to lift the veil on game development, it does little to benefit them in the long run. The potential pros don’t quite outweigh the cons, at least not in a financial projections manner. Maybe this is a direction those publishers should start thinking about, though. Through Twitter, gamers have recently been connecting with the creators of their favorite games, especially indie developers. It’s clear that we enjoy speaking directly to the people who create our entertainment and learning about the process of how game creation works. Why shouldn’t we finally get a peek behind the curtain?
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