Revenge in Videogame Stories
Time & Punishment

Developer Failed Morale Check

Want to know why such-and-such wasn't done better in such-and-such a game? Perhaps the developer failed its morale check.

One of the reasons that professional game development can be so stressful is that everyone involved in each project has different complaints about the game they're working on and not everyone can get their own way. (This is perhaps also why a game made by just one or two people can sometimes feel like it was delivered at a higher standard to one made on a huge budget!) The larger the project, the more people want their viewpoint reflected in the game, and the more people will end up feeling disappointed.

On the whole, it's just part of the friction of development and needn't be a big problem, but it does have a significant cost. The developer's staff can often manage to negotiate a resolution to disagreements about this-and-that point amongst themselves, but when it comes to the publisher forcing these issues on the developer, it can have a serious effect on morale. The publisher may have dozens of people working on each particular game project, and once again each of these people has their own point of view they want to enforce – but because of the hierarchy that's usually in place, the publisher's demands almost always take precedence, irrespective of the validity of their complaints.

At first, the developer's staff will defend their position with the publisher; argue the merits, and consider the options. But as the project moves onwards and time begins to get short, it becomes harder and harder to justify wasting time on what are often fruitless discussions with the publisher's staff. Eventually, individuals who used to come to bat on any issue under discussion with optimistic fervour simply lose the ability to care – they fail their morale check, and just become focussed on getting the game out the door. The result is inevitably a lower quality game, since the best games almost always come into being because the developer cares about the game they are making.

Publishers believe, perhaps erroneously, that the only thing between success and failure is their vigilant reporting of the things that must be fixed. But in pursuing this kind of dogged agenda, they frequently ignore the morale of the developer. And in all honesty, the morale of the developer is perhaps the biggest single factor in determining what quality of game can be made for any given budget.


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It's an interesting point you are making. The publisher is, at least in theory, the proxy for the customer/gamer. So you'd hope that their issues are directly related to what the end-gamer wants.

Do you have any compelling evidence about how well publishers fulfill this role?

We've talked before about gamers making games for (hardcore) gamers. Do publishers "make" games for users or publishers?


Too many cooks and all that eh!

Nothing of superior merit was ever created by a committee Chris. As you pick up on, the best creative endeavours typically involve small groups of individuals, without undue external influences. Anything else will inevitably be riddled with compromises, and the disempowerment of individuals.

And whilst you see the dalek i-Magi-Nation as er, "weird" and "trippy" ;) ;) ;), it's an allegory of sorts, and actually advocates solutions to the very things you bemoan here in your post (see dalek Sociology and the concept of 'The Magus' for example).

Given the way humans persistently order their social structures along hierarchical lines, the only solution for the resolute idealist in the end, is to 'go it alone' - that's what I have 'did and gone and done', and it works just swell!

OK then,
All The Best!

I completely agree with you and have experienced this first-hand (not with a publisher however, but with upper management.) A lack of trust, both up and down the hierarchy, can undermine even the most determined of projects.

Feedback and critique are a part of the iterative process, and without them good games can't get made, but at the end of the day if you don't trust someone to do a good job (or a group of people) they should not be on your team. In an ideal world, it should never come down to "do this because I told you so".

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