Video game enthusiasts often muse about the secrecy surrounding game development, which is at times treated as if it were operated by MI6. Over the weekend, one developer offered an interesting take: Game developers are secretive because being open can lead to too much toxicity.
Designer and programmer Charles Randall, who has worked for companies like Ubisoft and BioWare, wrote a long thread yesterday that went viral on Twitter and is worth reading. Because Twitter is impossible to read, here it is with a bit of proper formatting:
The other day a friend commented to me, “I wish game developers were more candid about development.” He was surprised when I said we are. The caveat is that we’re only candid with other industry people. Because gamer culture is so toxic that being candid in public is dangerous. See that recent twitter thread about game design tricks to make games better — filled with gamers “angry” about “being lied to.”
Forums and comment sections are full of Dunning-Kruger specialists who are just waiting for any reason to descend on actual developers. See any thread where some dumbass comments how “easy” it would be to, say, add multiplayer or change engines. Any dev who talks candidly about the difficulty of something like that just triggers a wave of people questioning their entire resumé. “Questioning” here being an absurd euphemism for “becoming a target of an entire faction of gamers for harassment or worse.”
There are still topics I can’t touch because I was candid once and it resulted in dumb headlines, misunderstandings, and harassment. So while I’d talk candidly about certain big topics right now — I know doing so would lead to another wave of assholes throwing shit at me. (And of course I face almost nothing compared to women/PoC/lgtbq+ folk)
(Here Randall was likely referring to his tweets from 2014 about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’s developers allegedly taking code and animations from Assassin’s Creed 2.)
But here’s the rub: all the stuff you ever wanted to know about game development would be out there if not for the toxic gaming community. We *love* to talk about development, the challenges we face, the problems we solve, the shortcuts we take. But it’s almost never worth it.
I did a public talk a couple weeks ago to a room full of all ages kids, and afterwards, a kid came up to me and was talking about stuff. And I shit you not, this kid (somewhere between 13-16 I’d guess) starts talking about how bad devs are because of a youtuber he watches. He nailed all the points, “bad engines”, “being greedy”, you name it. I was appalled.
I did my best to tell him that all those things people freak out about are normal and have justifications. I hope I got through a bit. But I expect he went back to consuming toxic culture via youtube personalities, and one day he’ll probably harass a dev over nonsense.
Randall went on to draw a parallel to the film industry, where movies are announced years in advance, and pointed out that transparency like that wouldn’t work in video games. “Games change during development, this is a universal constant no developer would argue with, but toxic culture can’t handle that.”
A number of developers have tweeted agreement with Randall’s thread, and it’s led to plenty of interesting discussions. It’s also led to—and this will probably shock you—some toxic reactions.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and Kotaku boss Stephen Totilo and I have been discussing for a while the idea that the people who make games are afraid of the people who play them. Having spent the past couple of years talking to 100-something game developers about how games are made, I’ve found that most people are willing to be candid about their craft—at least after their games are already out. Before and during the release of games, everyone’s afraid of becoming the next No Man’s Sky or saying the wrong thing and getting roasted by a YouTube consumer advocate.
I’ve long believed that the solution to this problem is to try to inform and educate more people about how games are made, whether it’s breaking down budgets or trying to explain why games are delayed so often. But not everyone is always going to listen.