For us older gamers, it wasn’t that long ago that the divide between developer and gamer was significantly more decisive than it has become. Studios like Capcom, Konami, Sega or Atari, would be loathe to talk to anyone outside of the consumer press. They were there to be idolised, viewed through rose glasses as the gaming overlords they were.
The new media landscape that has emerged over the last decade, in particular the last five to six years, has changed everything. No longer can developers hide behind magazines and corporate blocs. Their names are known; they even have blogs, twitters, facebooks and LinkedIns like us commoners.
Scarily enough, they even want to talk to you.
Some quirky news emerged recently when a gaming community attempted to blackmail COD developers, Infinity Ward. Their demands were silly, and their “plan” was ill-conceived and more likely to be ignored then lauded. But why would they even bother? Because, dear reader, developers are probably likely to notice these sort of now common stunts.
The rules have changed in terms of communication; feedback and bug-reporting from a live public test bed have become almost essential parts of game development. Almost every single title is drip fed to salivating gamers, while their responses are analysed, relayed and queried. Betas and previews are applied by millions worldwide, desperate to dive in and provide a service that used to cost money.
But that’s not enough. Once-hidden programmers have emerged and provide inside information in the form of periodic dev diaries, casually written blog entries or passionate responses on forums. They make outlandish claims during interviews with gaming blogs, publicise their side projects, and establish small personality cults around themselves, becoming not part of the company, but THE company.
The gamer, in turn, reciprocates. We comment on the blog posts, follow the tweets, join in on the live chats and Xbox Live events. We give into the element of celebrity, because we want to have a closer relationship with those who make our games. When Miyamoto was once simply an enigma, he’s now the guy playing Wii Sports with you at E3 or replying to your @tweet.
The race is clearly on. Developers who don’t make noise are quickly forgotten, drowned out by the 24 hour news cycle, trailers and PR buried under the next stunt. But we in the media aren’t exclusive, we play our own role as the enthusiast press. We are gamers, thus we find ourselves in the interesting position of becoming the middle man for this unusual new relationship.
Not only that, but it excites us, and the cycle continues. Any journalist would be lying if they didn’t think it was exciting to talk to a successful developer, or learn inside information on an upcoming development. But our job is to tell the world what is happening, to dig through the hype and personality to explain what’s really going on.
But what needs to be asked is this – has this new arena damaged the industry, or improved it? Has deeper interaction with the wider community pushed developers to create better games, or spin their way out of releasing junk? In my opinion, I think it’s a bit of both. Developers and publishers are more likely to rush games to meet increased demand at certain opportunities, but gamers are becoming a lot more clued in on what is acceptable.
It’s not difficult for a bad word to spread, quickly. Social aggregation of news and reviews has propelled bad press across the web, so quickly and so effectively that it’s impossible to control that information. 15 years ago, if you wanted to know something, you read what the developer wanted you to know in a games mag. Nowadays, you can check the RSS feeds of 50 different sites in seconds.
At the same time, bad press can be debunked quickly by the devs. Using twitter, forums or blogs, wrong or hoaxed information can be officially corrected and the record set straight. In any case, it’s a dirty battle. Developers have more to lose and, also, more to gain then they ever had. Their markets have exploded, and thanks to the internet, they are no longer constrained by borders.
What we must wait to see is where this relationship goes. Will the developers continue to bypass the media to a point where gamers prefer to get news direct? Or will they still look to us to cut through the greasy hype machine to say “Hold up, that might be a bit iffy”. Time will soon tell.
Either that, or they might continue to just torture us. *Gulp*