That new plastic smell? You love it don't you? I know I do. How about the feeling of opening up that game wrapped in that new plastic... you like that, too? I know I do. How do you feel about getting to the end of the game and getting stuck in the floor and not being able to finish the game and having to restart? You probably hate it... I know I do. Well, everything you love about the game up until you get to the broken parts are because of the developers. All the broken parts? You can blame them on the publisher.
Brian Fargo, the head honcho of inXile Entertainment and the lead on the upcoming Wasteland 2, the indie project that was successfully Kickstarted last year, had some cold hard facts to share about the developer-publisher relationship.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun, taking a moment away from their SJW moonlighting, decided to impart some time on a very thorough interview with inXile's Brian Fargo, in which Fargo spared no expense to tell it exactly how it is in the AAA business and how hard it can be on developers making big-budget, wannabe-Hollywood blockbuster games.
First up, he dispelled the myth that developers are just known for making buggy products because they just naturally suck at the job (an unfortunate rumor that spread like wildfire about Obsidian Entertainment), saying...
“....ultimately… It’s like when Obsidian took a hit on their Metacritic and didn’t get their bonus. Mostly they got dinged because it was a buggy product. Obsidian, their reputation was taking a hit for shipping buggy products. They don’t control QA. The publisher controls it. The publisher always controls QA. They decide when it’s done. There’s no bug we can’t fix. There’s no bug they can’t fix. Somebody made a conscious decision – because there was a list. I guarantee you the QA department had a list of bugs. They said, “We don’t care. We gotta ship it anyway.” Why does the developer lose their bonus and get their reputation killed for that?
For those of you probably asking the very, very obvious question "WTF is up with devs not releasing patches then for the game?" They do. In fact, day-one patching has become a bit of a ritual these days for most bigger budget titles.
However, there is something to keep in mind: A lot of patches require (or used to require) payments to Microsoft and Sony after an initial free-patching requisition. Tim Schafer, Phil Fish and a few other devs skirted around the issue of payments to patch games (mostly due to NDAs, something that Nintendo briefly discussed during a recent developer conference).
So basically, a lot of games are patched in intervals or not patched at all to avoid any additional costs on the publisher's end. Besides, the only people who care about a broken game are the people who made it and the people who play it... not the ones who profit from it.
But if you think the above quote was rocket-busting, check out what Fargo further added...
“So yeah, you can imagine – even if it’s a different scenario – how it can be frustrating to be a developer doing work when you’re the one that’s taking it every which way. You’re usually not making money, either. I would run the numbers on games and say, “Look. You guys are up $20 million in profit. It’s my idea. I came to you. I did 100 percent of the work. And guess what? I don’t mind if you make more money than me. That doesn’t bother me, because you took the financial risk. However, when you’re up $20 million after paying your marketing and everything, don’t you think we deserve $1 million?” Nope. So yes, it’s frustrating.”
Those tossing publishers. It just makes you want to smack your fist into your palm and say “Darn you all, darn your souls to Baal!”
Go on, do it. You know you need to vent a little after reading that last line. You know it and I know it, so let's not let formalities stand in the way of proper venting. No worries, I'll wait... ...
Just kidding, I can't wait, but you can still vent while reading on.
Fargo goes on to explain the rocky financial relationship between publishers and developers. That myth about used games eating into developer profits? Forget about it. As mentioned in the Top Misconceptions about the Gaming Industry – and just as Fargo explains – devs are paid up front. It's contractual work with the possible bonus based on silly things like Metacritic scores, swayed by those oh-so-important reviews.
When the contract expires, it's time to pack up your bags... game sales be damned. That's right, new or used, it doesn't matter when the contract is up. But don't take my word for it, Fargo explains it from first hand experience...
“There’s always some deals that change. I’m sure the guys working on Titanfall have a different deal, so put that on the side. But most developers have a certain kind of deal. It’s all in advance. If a publisher says… Let’s say they slow you down and you have to spend another six months on the project and your team is burning half the money in a month. That’s $3 million of your money. You’re in the hole another $3 million, because everything is in advance.”
“It also hurts on the creativity, because let’s say you think, “God, I have a great idea. Let’s do it.” And it takes two more weeks to do it. Now you’re in the hole another $150,000 for doing it. It’s counter to coming up with clever ideas. It’s almost like you saying, “Oh, I have a great idea, but you know what? I have to add some more money on to my mortgage.” You’re not going to be as inclined to come up with creative ideas, because you’re never getting out of that hole. You’re digging it deeper. That’s why you have… Usually the owner of the company is spending very little of his time on the project, which you’d like him to spend. Instead he’s thinking, “What are we going to do next? We’re probably not going to recoup and I don’t want to let people with families lose their jobs.”
That quote right there is the quote of the century in the world of gaming culture.
You really want to fight the good fight against developer injustice? Take up a pitchfork and torch with the publishers who are running your hobby and the developers' jobs into the ground.
It's not all horror stories and Darren Aronofsky endings, though. Fargo talks up a good deal of the positive side of development thanks to Kickstarter. Yeah, Kickstarter is kind of an exclusive club based on whether gamers like you or not, but it sure beats having a game homogenized so that it's broadly appealing.
I tell you the honest truth, any game that seeks to be “broadly appealing” I just skip it altogether. I don't care what the devs have to say, I don't care what the marketing pitch is... if you want to sell out your creativity so a pub can meet their profit margins, you've already lost a sale.
Thankfully, Wasteland 2 is a passion project and Fargo and company have been dying to make the game of their dreams for quite some time. Even more than this, the game was actually delayed because it was budgeted well enough for them to add in additional content and flesh out more ideas. No qualms here.
You can read up more on the horror stories of the AAA business by checking out the Rock, Paper, Shotgun article.