The Ignorance Of Crowds: Why Open Development Is Crap

No wisdom here.

Open development is just about the worst idea for games.

People like to think they’re pretty special. And people do tend to have a habit of thinking what they think is right, and those who disagree are wrong. In my case it’s actually true, but unfortunately that’s not always the case for others. And really, honestly, the very last thing I want is other wrong people to be influencing the games I’m going to play. Developers have to stop asking other people how to make their games.

One of the biggest mistakes of the caring, sharing internet ways of the 2010s is the idea that if you’re creating something for someone, you need to get those someones’ approval as you create it. I can assure people, based on the last few thousand years of creativity, that this absolutely isn’t the case. In fact, it can only lead to stifling creativity, and deepening the ruts of gaming. Why? Because people don’t know what they want.

People know what they already like. They will inevitably ask for more of it.

Turns out he isn't an idiot - plays chess aged 7 now.

This is partly the equivalent of the child who will only eat sausages, because he’s not tried fish fingers or spaghetti bolognese. He doesn’t want the unknown. A good parent will respond by telling that child to shut up and eat his fish fingers. A bad parent will say, “Well, you know what you like, I suppose,” and feed them nothing but sausages for the rest of their childhood. I don’t want to only play sausages. I want to taste games I’ve never even heard of, games from exotic locations, to eat mysterious new combinations of games that no one’s ever tried before.

And it’s partly because it’s very hard for people to say, “I would like this game to include this fantastically original new feature that you need to come up with.” And that’s precisely what I want my game developers to be doing, on their own, in private.

I’m not arguing that all open development inevitably leads to mediocrity. But I’m saying it bloody well asks for it. Asking people to tell you the sort of thing they already like, or giving them the chance to tell you to change something different into something they already like, is one hell of a shove toward a bland, beige middleground. Player feedback sounds so great, so all-inclusive and community friendly. But I’ve a thought exercise to argue otherwise:

Photo by Vladimir Kirakosyan

Imagine if I stopped all the people in the supermarket while you were shopping, and told them to come to a consensus and fill your cart for you. And remember, this isn’t some fantasy supermarket in Dreamland where there’s the possibility of anyone else there not being a screeching arsebucket who leaves their trolley diagonally across the aisle while they fart into their mobile phone and knock over the milk.

So as these lumbering Homo ergaster attempt to process the instructions, and then begin bawling their likes and dislikes at each other while likely throwing vegetables, what do you imagine is going to be providing your dinner options at the end of this exercise? It’s going to be frozen chips, isn’t it? And sure, you like frozen chips – you’re not mad. But you’ve eaten an awful lot of frozen chips over the years. An awful lot.

World Of Starwarcraft.

The wisdom of crowds, as first observed by eugenicist Francis Galton, argues that “the many are smarter than the few”. And the argument is well made. Because it’s based on averages. The larger the number of people guessing at something, the closer they get to the truth when their answers are averaged out. And that’s the key. Averaging. And we don’t want that from creativity! It’s the death of creativity. When it comes to the creativity, crowds are about the least wise mass imaginable. Crowds should be avoided at all costs. In all senses.

One of the most stark examples of this I’ve seen was The Old Republic. I played the game a few times during its years of development, and saw its erosion to mediocrity at the hands of crowds. The first time it was talked about and shown, it was so promising. That mantra, that line they repeated far past its being true, that this was to be “KotORs 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7” was meaningful at one point. They were hoping to take the magnificent Old Republic universe online, and create a story-driven MMO. Each time I revisited it that goal was being further abandoned, the game becoming increasingly generic and unoriginal, and each time the developers explained, “When we’ve beta tested, these are the features players have been demanding.” What was once going to be the continuation of Knights Of The Old Republic online, through the ignorance of crowds, became World Of Warcraft with Twi’leks.

People wanted raids! People wanted guilds! People wanted customisable pets! People wanted more of the MMOs they were already playing because they knew they already liked those! People are idiots! We shouldn’t ever listen to people!

All of the people pictured are idiots.

I’m not saying that games shouldn’t be playtested. Of course they should. A developer can get too insular, fail to notice the mistakes they’re making and end up developing them into the core of the game. Valve’s model of bringing a person in every week to play a build of a game, and observing their playing, is a splendid one. They don’t then fawn all over that person, asking them what they should do next. They see what does and doesn’t work by the player’s reactions. They mould their vision to fit reality. That makes sense. But “open development”, that’s abandoning your vision to appease the masses. And the masses are so often massive idiots.

Kickstarter is making this so much worse. This ghastly expectation backers now have that they should have some influence over the game itself: NO. NO NO NO. You’re a wallet, and that’s it. Hand over your money, accept the sheer unbridled stupidity of developers then showing all their promotional materials only to the people who already bought the game, and keep your mouths shut. If you’ve got some incredibly brilliant ideas for making a video game, then here’s an idea: go make a video game. But you don’t – you’re just going to loudly crap on about how important it is that there’s crafting. So shut it.

Developers! Stop listening! And damned well stop asking! I have no idea what started this colossal crisis of confidence amongst the development world, but good gracious, could everyone get a hold of themselves? You’re the CREATORS, so get on with CREATING. Have some bloody convictions! You want to make a great game, so go ahead and make it, and stop thinking you have to pander to loud-mouths back-seat-developing your game for you. LISTEN ONLY TO ME.

Gosh, games are going to be so much better now everyone’s agreed to all this.


  1. subedii says:

    I’m struggling to think of games that were destroyed by community feedback. Largely because most developers know what to take and what to leave.

    I can however, name a few off the top of my head that were hampered by developers outright refusing all feedback as ignorant braying.

    Yes yes, asking EVERYONE in the world and following EVERYTHING they say is going to lead to the colour magnolia. Fortunately that’s where the “design” element of “game designer” comes in.

    Crikey, Valve gets namechecked as a “good” example. I remember back when they first talked about how they went through this test procedure. All I saw was endless nay-saying about how this ‘pandering’ approach can only be destructive to the purity of the developers’ vision. Heck I still see it mooted that Valve focus test their games to homogeneity. And whilst it’s a valid opinion, it’s one I can’t say I really agree with.

    I guess I’m not really sure who this is targeted at, other than possibly to rant about “those commoners ruining my artistic vision”. Even post kickstarter, I’m seeing devs putting plenty of stuff up to community vote, but it’s almost always minor or cosmetic stuff. Major design decision simply aren’t put out there. Anything more significant tends to hit beta / playtest territory in terms of “hey this is how I was thinking of implementing it, let’s see how it pans out”.

    The most that “open development” means for the devs that I’ve seen is that they say “this is how it’s currently going to be, and this is why we decided on that”.

    Maybe I’m just following the wrong projects so I don’t see where this is coming from. But then I have a habit of not backing games unless they’re from devs I believe understand the process of making a good game and have the means to do so.

    • Viroso says:

      Yes same here. Without some more specific names it is hard not to read the article as a rant. Old Republic MMO isn’t enough, for a number of reasons.

      • Discopanda says:

        AAA titles are destroying themselves well enough with their relatively closed, NDA-covered developments. It certainly would be nice to hear some specifics about how The Old Republic destroyed itself in the beta stages, though! HOW ABOUT THAT, JOHN? ANY NDA’S YOU MIGHT BE BREAKING BY TELLING US THAT!?!

        Some game franchises (LOOKING AT YOU, UBISOFT) are slowly devolving into mushy grey masses, but the independent studios don’t seem to be suffering overmuch.

        • Grygus says:

          I was in the last couple of months of TOR’s beta, and there were very few major changes. Of course, that’s pretty close to launch, so maybe I missed it.

          I don’t think it’s entirely fair to call TOR a faithful WoW clone, anyway. The class-based storylines, personal ship, story choices in instances, and companions made it a much different play experience until you got to max level… okay at max level it was essentially WoW, only not as polished. But still, it’s not like they didn’t try anything new.

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            Seems more like SWTOR being KOTOR 3,4,5,6,7 was just marketing so they wouldn’t get fans too far offside, and “the testers wanted this stuff” was the excuse for making a generic MMO.

        • SillyWizard says:

          But that’s just it. AAA titles get focus-grouped into the same mess as potentially the devs who are trying to attract people to kickstart their project with promises of community feedback shaping the future of the game.

          AAA games more than anything else attempt to be all things to all people. Which means, while it may attract a large crowd, it’s not generally going to be a very memorable experience or say anything worth saying.

          I don’t know how many (if any) of these Kickstarted/Greenlight/Whatever’d games have come out, and there likely aren’t a lot of examples of the situation yet. Spending some time on Greenlight or crowd-sourcing sites will quickly yield results of devs who are making the kinds of promises John is addressing here, and it’s rather disparaging to see.

          If you have a game worth playing inside of you, wonderful. I’d probably like to check it out! But if you’re willing to compromise you vision in hopes that a few more folks will chuck some spare change at you…I’ll likely pass.

          TL; DR — John’s right, stop questioning him.

          PS: John, please post more videos of you futzing around in games providing whimsical commentary. It makes me happy.

        • Cinek says:

          “It certainly would be nice to hear some specifics about how The Old Republic destroyed itself in the beta stages” – there’s only one major reason for that:
          Beta test was mostly lvl1-49
          And in the game levels 1 to 49 ARE brilliant.
          However they never made a proper tests of end-game content. Which came out with huge amount of bugs that made some quests impossible to complete, and other outright frustrating. Oh – and noone could really point out that there’s next to no content there simply because there was no time to even test existing stuff.

      • Horg says:

        In the case of the Old Republic, I think John has underestimated the potential meddling of EA on the development process. No matter what that project started out as, I suspect that the driving force behind the rapid shift in vision was EA coming in half way through development and demanding a WoW clone worthy of Mordor. It would explain the poor melding of a half finished RPG and a traditional MMO, and an engine that was appallingly optimised. There was even some speculation that LucasArts might have intervened late in development, resulting in the inexplicable removal of some features, such as variable draw distance. It was in the penultimate patch before release, and sort of made the game playable in large groups, then removed in the final beta patch without a word. In any case, I strongly suspect that crowd feedback does not tell the whole story, and that it might just be a convenient excuse to hide corporate meddling.

      • Kadayi says:

        ” A good parent will respond by telling that child to shut up and eat his fish fingers”

        link to

    • Fox89 says:

      Open development is great! Oh sure the risk is there that creativity can be stifled because the designers pander to the whims of the crowd, but that’s their fault. When you’re working on a game pretty much all feedback is good feedback.

      The skill of a good designer comes in reading between the lines. Johnny Everyman and his friends all say “Your game must have feature X”. Someone who is not doing their job properly will then put feature X in the game and justify that decision based on the statistics. But really good designers will look beyond the superficial demands of their players and figure out WHY they all want feature X. What is it about feature X that they enjoyed? What did it bring to the other games it was in? What is my game trying to accomplish and is there anything interesting I can do to achieve the same sort of benefits that feature X did?

      So even beyond playtesting, there is value in the desires and poorly considered ramblings of the crowd. Because the guys who actually know their stuff? They can see through the crap and get to the root of what people really want. They know when to listen and when to ignore. And it is so much more useful to get access to that noise directly and from day 1 rather than via their publisher’s market analysis team.

      • DanMan says:

        This. I thought this was widely understood. *shrugs*

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Totally right. The sad thing is, fixing symptoms is easier than fixing/finding causes.

        So game X has people asking for “more powerful items”, when the real reason is too much grind or too high difficulty, and they think items would lower this. Or whatever.

      • Shuck says:

        “When you’re working on a game pretty much all feedback is good feedback.”
        As a designer, I find that most feedback is useless feedback. Because it does all comes down to reading between the lines, and that very quickly becomes a matter of already “knowing” what’s wrong and interpreting user feedback to fit that preconception (correct or not). Plus, sometimes players have completely skewed notions of how things work or how they’re balanced due more to psychological factors based on presentation rather than the mechanics themselves.
        Example: I was working on an online game, and the publisher put together a player survey that asked something like, “What skill most needs to be rebalanced/fixed?” We already knew that a few skills simply didn’t work. Those didn’t even appear in survey results – players knew they weren’t optimum skills, so they weren’t even using them; what they complained about were skills they were using, but perceived as being weaker than someone else’s skills (often incorrectly). They ended up choosing all the better balanced skills. This is pretty common. People are going to most complain about the things they feel most passionate about, and those are the things that work well enough that they’re emotionally invested. The things that don’t work at all tend to get dismissed.
        Often I see players griping about various impediments in games, but if you took them away, the games would often be fundamentally broken, as those impediments form core parts of the gameplay.
        In other words, if you’re a good enough designer that you can tease out what’s actually wrong with a game from player feedback (rather than what they perceive as being wrong, or what they’re complaining about), then you’re almost certainly good enough to have figured it out on your own. What is far more useful is statistical tools that allow you to see what people are using, how often they need to repeat something, what parts of the map they’re avoiding, at what points they quit, etc.

        • P.Funk says:

          “Often I see players griping about various impediments in games, but if you took them away, the games would often be fundamentally broken, as those impediments form core parts of the gameplay.”

          You’re describing basic human psychology. Its built into our survival instinct to basically “min-max” our day to day lives so that obstacles are less prevalent, because in the wild obstacles can lead to death.

          That it continues to affect us in non-survival related life is an interesting facet to how most human beings are driven by forces they largely are ignorant to with respect to self-awareness. That some developers understand this is good.

          I can only presume that those developers responsible for The Old Republic are not.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          I’m faced with this every day at a smaller scale: I administrate a small Minecraft server as part of a community and we run a modpack with some customizations. Just about every single day, I get one of the guys (all of them regulars, so they should know better) asking me if we could buff that or add that overpowered mod or complaining about that overpowered item we removed.

          The thing is, every single time the challenge gets removed, according to their wishes (for instance, if they find one of the many game-breaking exploits that give them just about infinite power and resources), they stop playing because there no longer is a challenge. They just don’t realize it.

        • malkav11 says:

          He doesn’t make videogames, but Robin Laws in his podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is fond of saying that when he playtests stuff, what he doesn’t want is for you to tell him what you think should be changed, why and how. What he wants is for you to tell him what your experience was. I.e., raw data. Because it’s far easier to spot problem areas in aggregate data than it is to interpret what the underlying cause of one’s expressed desires are and whether there might not be a more appropriate solution to the actual issue. I would imagine that applies just as well to videogame playtesting.

      • Ernesto says:

        But the point is, that people _don’t_ know what they want. You can listen to suggestions between the lines all you want. It’s not going to make a better game because, as pointed out in the article, they will suggest only stuff they already know. If you listen to that, you will develop the same game over and over.

      • sophof says:

        This works under the assumption that people know what they want, which surprisingly they often don’t. They often don’t even know what they like. You can’t read between the lines of an incorrect statement.

        It is not an accident that many genres die off for long stretches.

    • Risingson says:

      Take “Broken Age” as an example: a game that seems to be made by a commitee. Or many modern adventure games.

      • Godwhacker says:

        Broken Age doesn’t seem as if it’s been made by committee at all. They said they were going to make an adventure game, and that’s what they’ve done- but it’s very much it’s own thing, with it’s own style and set of themes.

        • Risingson says:

          It’s incredible: I see it as the exact opposite as you are saying: mostly impersonal, not challenging, not brave. And with nothing that suggests that Schafer was involved in that game.

          • Mokinokaro says:

            It’s half a game currently and the devs have already said the second half will have much trickier puzzles. It’s supposed to ramp up.

            I don’t really see any “design by committee” in it at all. It feels very much the vision of a small group.

        • Cinek says:

          “They said they were going to make an adventure game, and that’s what they’ve done” – based on that principle: every single game is a success.
          We all know that’s not truth.

    • minstrelofmoria says:

      As a 4chan lurker, I’ve seen this happen twice. Both Corruption of Champions and Flexible Survival allowed users to pay money to “commission” new characters or monsters. I’m not sure exactly how Flexible Survival handled it, but the dev for Corruption of Champions let the commissioners have absolute creative control over their own characters. Both games wound up with a small, very devoted fanbase of commissioners, while alienating pretty much everyone who didn’t care about these new Mary Sue characters.

      • tormos says:

        I would argue that CoC already alienated people by, well, being mostly about the depraved sexual habits of 4channers.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Endless Space is the poster child of why you don’t let the “crowd” develop your game. They had POLLS. The most idiotic idea of all time and guess what: It led to stuff like a Hero called “GLADOS AI” to be worked on to the exclusion of actual features. We got ripoff jokes INSTEAD of gameplay.

      That’s just the most egregious example but hardly the only one. Grim Dawn is looking decidedly worse than it could be thanks to the input of “hardcore” fans that think having to click a lot is good gameplay. Path of Exile could be a lot more popular if all progress wasn’t stuck in a morass of fans being angry at Blizzard and demanding terrible features just to spite a company that isn’t even making the game they’re giving input on.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        I think this is all just more proof that crowd-sourcing needs developers willing to filter ideas.

        There’s nothing wrong at all about getting community input during development (in fact it’s usually pretty vital,) but you also need to be able to differentiate between good ideas and bad ideas.

        Someone else in the comments said it really well: the community is great at finding problems but often terrible at finding solutions.

        • tetracycloide says:

          Amplitude is an excellent example of a developer doing exactly that. They mostly give the community choices not of what to do but if what order to do it in. Occasionally some cosmetic choices like what sprite to use or some silly name that apparently offended someone even though it’s just a silly name.

      • tetracycloide says:

        That’s your idea of an egregious example? A cosmetic name picked by the community out of options the developers presented the community? Naming a hero glados didn’t affect a damn thing about the game. Your example is ludicrous.

    • SilverToaster says:

      But question is if the developers really implement things suggested by the community because they think it’s good for the game or for the marketing. So when a developer asks the community about what they think about a function they might actually just be asking for advice on how to make it sell better.

    • Buffer117 says:

      “I’m struggling to think of games that were destroyed by community feedback”

      One word sums this up for me – XCOM.

      Firaxis made a brilliant reboot. 2K made a pile of crap because they listened to fan outrage rather than sticking to their guns giving us the game they wanted and saying “play it, then tell us if you don’t like it”.

      I fucking hate every opinionated idiot who destroyed literally the only FPS I had been looking forward to bar HL3. I was so fucking intrigued by the idea of being an XCOM agent, using progressively better weapons while fighting aliens and analysing attacks after. It could have been so cool and instead we got brothers in XCOM just because a very vocal group were outraged a turn based game was having a FPS spin-off. Cheers guys, thanks for your constructive comments, I’ll go play COD or one of it’s clones shall I? no wait they suck..

      • subedii says:

        Sorry, I can’t buy that. Those EVIL EVIL FANBOYS weren’t the making of this mess, this was 2K and co.

        If you want to know more about how and why XCOM shifted directions so badly and so frequently, I would advise you to read an excellent Polygon article detailing its history to release day:

        link to

        Short version: The devs don’t really mention feedback at all, and when they do, they generally talk about the press being happy enough or ambivalent towards the project.

        The key issue is simply that 2K didn’t have a clear vision on what they wanted the game to be for most of its development life, and the project suffered from endless reshuffles, departures and reworks as they hit more and more roadblocks and evelopment dead ends, each time desperately trying to salvage assets from what was made before.

        But let’s ignore all that for a second. Even on the presumption that they DID make all these stupid changes in direction not because of the completely ludicrous development saga it’s had, but purely because they couldn’t hack the DESPICABLE fanboy reaction, that in itself would be a terrible move on their part. And it’s also one that notably, Firaxis didn’t make.

        I felt sorry for the devs in every interview I saw. They were always desperately trying to make some kind of links to the original game and they were really struggling to do so. They’d constantly open with lines like “In XCOM… in our rendition of XCOM…”. It was flatly obvious that one or two those guys doing interviews didn’t even really know anything about the original title when they were trying to draw comparisons. Again, compare with interviews for EU. And it was so obvious where Jake Solomon’s passion for the project was coming from, and how he understood not only what he thoroughly loved about the first game, and what made it work, but crucially he also constantly talked about didn’t work and WHAT CHANGES he felt were necessary and why. They trusted their audience with information on what was going to be different and went through the steps of how they ended up there. Any objections “angry fanboys” had on that were basically ignored because the dev team had a clear vision for what they wanted, and they knew what they were implementing was the right way of going about it.

        Even on the presumption that this is all the audience’s directive, that The Bureau’s devs simply mashed together last minute changes because the angry fanboys demanded it, which of those two approaches do YOU think worked out better in the end?

        What happened with the FPS (among other things) is that they were constantly trying to send two simultaneous and frequently conflicting messages of “this ties into the original XCOM’s” with “This is our completely new re-imagining of XCOM”.

        Sorry, either way I look at it, throwing angst at the people that are meant to be buying the game doesn’t cut it with me.

    • d32 says:

      Mass Effect 2 was damaged by it – loading screens, ammo reloading etc.

  2. Paul says:



  3. kwyjibo says:

    It works in some games, it doesn’t in others.

    I’m not sure what open development will do for single player story driven experiences, if anything. But it’s been pretty damn successful in multiplayer, where developers must foster a community. Steam Early Access and alpha funding might be a shiny new thing, but the mod scene has had open development from the outset.


    Also –
    “One of the biggest mistakes of the caring, sharing internet ways of the 2010s is the idea that if you’re creating something for someone, you need to get those someones’ approval as you create it. I can assure people, based on the last few thousand years of creativity…”

    As mentioned above, the mod scene has always had open development. And the last few thousand years of creativity would suggest patronage as being the system that spurs creative endeavours.

    • Orija says:

      I remember CDP changing the lead character of The Witcher 2’s face near about based on what the fans kept asking. I don’t know if that was good or bad.

      • Evil Pancakes says:

        I think it was neither good nor bad, since it was such an insignificant change that I’ve never even noticed it until you mentioned it just now.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      Has the mod scene always had “open development”? (At least, as described here.)

      The best mods I’ve ever played have all been one- or two-man enterprises that just made something awesome. The ones that line up with the buzz-words tend to be less brilliant, perfectly polished so they may be. It’s a bit like Starcraft 2’s singleplayer — achingly smooth and pretty, but completely without substance.

      • kwyjibo says:

        link to

        That’s the earliest Internet Archive backup of Counter-Strike’s official website, dating back to beta 4 in 1999. The updates take into account the feedback from players and server admins. Open development isn’t a new thing.

        The Half-Life era was when I properly started multiplayer gaming, so I’m not sure how it worked before then. But I doubt mods like Action Quake were developed in a vacuum.

        • Cinek says:

          “open development” and “taking feedback into accoount” are NOT the same things.
          Example: Witcher 2. They did took players feedback into account, but it NEVER was an open development project.

    • Archonsod says:

      “As mentioned above, the mod scene has always had open development. ”

      Yes, and it’s a prime example. For every mod that manages to justify the time spent downloading it, you’ve got another hundred which suggest someone is trying to recreate the works of Shakespeare by introducing angry baboons to keyboards. Oh, and another few hundred adding female mammary glands to varying degrees of realism.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      As mentioned above, the mod scene has always had open development. And the last few thousand years of creativity would suggest patronage as being the system that spurs creative endeavours.

      Lets have a look at some high profile, very successful examples to see whether this holds true.

      Team Fortress – created & developed by Robin Walker, John Cook, and Ian Caughley
      Counter-Strike – created & developed by Minh “Gooseman” Le & Jess Cliffe.
      Natural Selection – created & developed by Charlie “Flayra” Cleveland.
      Defence of the Ancients – created & developed by Eul (pre WC3: Frozen Throne release) then developed by Steve “Guinsoo” Feak (until v6.01) and continued development by IceFrog to the present day.
      Garry’s Mod – created & developed by Garry Newman.
      DayZ – created & developed by Dean “Rocket” Hall.

      Meanwhile I could list hundreds of mods developed by committee which got nowhere hence the majority of people will never have heard of them.

      • kwyjibo says:

        No, if you do a survey of why mods fail, listening to their audience is not one of the top reasons.

        Stop looking for lessons learned from mods that fail, and start looking at lessons learned from the mods that succeed.

        Every single mod that has succeeded has developed it in tandem with community feedback. There’s no waterfall model in mod development, particularly multiplayer mods. You release early and often. You don’t have a PR team, you need to foster a community.

  4. buhbuhcuh says:

    The one point where “open development” is valuable: Telling a developer when something is wrong. That being said, it is an acquired skill to parse player feedback and actually distill what is wrong from the noisy feedback on forums, blogs, twitter,etc. So listen closely to learn what is wrong, but don’t bother listening on how to fix it. That is what your players are paying you to do.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I genuinely admire how prolific John has been in the editorial department later.

    • Grape Flavor says:

      He certainly is a very opinionated fellow, but I’d prefer quality more than quantity.

      • mouton says:

        He is quite focused and to the point on this topic.

        • tetracycloide says:

          One supporting example amid a list of generalizations and vagarities does not a point make.

  6. FurryLippedSquid says:

    “people do tend to have a habit of thinking what they think is right, and those who disagree are wrong. In my case it’s actually true”


    • Baines says:

      I’d guess we all already knew that John thinks what he thinks is right, and thinks those who disagree are wrong.

      A bit of an easy target article, though. People believe that they want what they already know, focus groups focus to mediocrity, nothing particularly new there. A lot of paragraphs to knock down something that developers aren’t much doing.

      If, as a developer, you blame your failures on listening to your audience, then maybe you weren’t that great in the first place. Sure, there are horror stories where listening to the crowd made things worse, but also stories where it led to improvements, and stories where not listening made a game worse than it could have been. You have to know where to draw the line on both your own ideas and the ideas of others.

      As for the evil Kickstarter doom and gloom, as others pointed out, a lot of crowd-sourced bits are rather controlled. Contributers are asked to pick their favorite out of a limited set of pre-determined choices. Backers might get to name a character or city, and even then the developers can reject the initial name. A high paying backer might get to design a character or monster, but any such design will be changed as the developers feel necessary. (We’ve seen consumer submitted character designs for games in the past, and sometimes the final product is pretty far from the initial concept.)

    • Laephis says:

      If by “nice” you mean to say “that’s a nice bit of dry British wit”, then I’d have to agree. If you meant anything else, well then, I’m afraid things went a bit over your head.

  7. pierrot says:

    Getting fan input and responding to it with changes dilutes the artistic vision and disappoints me every time I see it, from umpteen kickstarters to remakes like the new Abe’s Oddysee where the developers seem to hang on every word of the awful fan forums.

    Also this seems a serious problem with projects like 0AD, where half the new ‘fans’ are only interested to try and push their idea for a new or changed gameplay system, which would completely spoil the original excellent design. For open community freeware projects like that, you really need a strong lead designer with a focused vision.

  8. AngelTear says:

    Now, this feels weird, cause I tried to argue as much, already, in the comments of a few articles here on RPS in the last few months. So, I agree, I guess.

    Also, disappointed to see this is the only post with the “People are idiots” tag.

  9. SominiTheCommenter says:

    Poe’s law is in full effect here.
    I’m not really sure if this article is pro or against open development, since it raises good arguments (IMNSHO) on both sides.

    • subedii says:

      I suspect this is another one of those deliberate “two part-ers” designed to court controversy, similar to the “Games aren’t for telling stories!” “Yes they are!” pieces.

      • SominiTheCommenter says:

        And the second one will be just like this, defending both sides of the “conflict”?

        • Arren says:

          “Brilliant” might be going a touch too far.

        • Nogo says:

          It’s your mistake for thinking there are ‘sides.’ These issues aren’t armed conflict, they’re difficult problems with no broad answers, and RPS is merely providing multiple perspectives and opinions on why these are issues are and what potential solutions could be.

          All the people bandying on about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are missing the point (even though John seems to go to great pains to take the piss out of that notion). The only controversy here is the one you’ve manufactured in your head.

      • skalpadda says:

        That was my immediate thought as well.

  10. bglamb says:

    Yeah, I’m watching this happen with Hex at the moment. It looks like a really exciting new TCG from a lot of old Magic devs and pros, and I’m really looking forward to it, but every time they try and make a change (for example, they tried to make creature abilities not use the stack, and not to allow priority in upkeep – pretty small changes considering), the alpha community goes mental because it’s different from how Magic does it and they all play Magic and don’t want anything changed.

  11. mR.Waffles says:

    Tabala Rasa is the most obvious example of a game that was destroyed in its beta stages. I wish I had an internet archive of those shitty forums to use as a case study in bad ideas.

    • meilers says:

      I just made an account here, after about a year of lurking, just to HEARTILY AGREE and GIVE EVIDENCE to your claim. I was an early, early tester of TR (I was invited in by a friend who was an Origin employee) and I watched the game degrade from day to day as the incredibly poisonous, rancorous forums totally went batshit over every single tweak and change to the game. What began as a fast-paced, dynamic third-person shooter with really huge story goals slowly turned into a WoW clone loaded down with crafting, skill trees and a completely schizophrenic mix of instanced combat and clunky town interaction.

      I was there when Garriott gave a talk at GDC (back when it was in San Jose) about the failure of TR; mostly he discussed problems with the management team, as they tried to split development between Korea, the US and the UK, but he came very close several times to pinning the game’s identity crisis on the constant pushback from the forums on anything that did not resemble World of Warcraft’s signature systems or classes.

      For example, TR in its original form did not have the (now standard) “tank” or “healer” classes; this was a conscious choice. As a result, players constantly moaned that they died too easily in combat. The devs said “well, we gave you really good movement in combat, there is no lock-on, so just jump around and use cover, play it like a shooter” — which did actually work extremely well, to the point that combat was almost exhausting. No, the forum brats wanted lock-on, and they wanted to be able to stand still and spam power moves until all the little progress bars were empty, and then have someone standing behind them fill all the bars again. It was pathetic. And unfortunately, the devs listened, and caved in, and the game lost everything that made it special or unique.

  12. daemonofdecay says:

    The will of the people: plaguing the world since (insert witty date here)

  13. SRTie4k says:

    I barely pay attention to who writes what on RPS, but I can’t help but notice that John Walker bitches about EVERYTHING under the sun. It might be entertaining for the first few articles, but the persistent attitude that everything in the world would be better if he were in charge that pervades his articles is getting really old.

    • amateurviking says:

      It’s right there at the top! And if you read it you can exercise your right to not read a word that Mr Walker writes!

    • Grygus says:

      To be fair, he does have first-hand experience in this particular arena.

  14. RebelSigma says:

    This article is just genius. I really hope a lot of people, and devs, read this.

  15. morbiusnl says:

    me? agreeing with John Walker. Whats next, cats &b dogs living together?!

    • Alexander says:

      Cats and dogs already live together in many households. Also, all kinds of mammals live together when they don’t have to fight for resources. Exactly like humans.

  16. amateurviking says:

    I’m taking bets over whether we’ll be able tune in for a compelling antithesis, same time tomorrow, also by John.

    Also, someone should do a sweepie on the number of spittle flecked, burst blood-vein responses that will be appearing in this here comment section.

    • Snidesworth says:

      Only a fool would take that bet. Waiting patiently for the “Why Open Development Is Rad” article myself.

  17. Megakoresh says:

    Gotta love the self-parody, but otherwise it’s difficult to determine whether this article is just one big joke if the OP is trying to make some sort of point.

    Community-centered development is most assuredly one of the best things in recent years and most assuredly not the same as crowd development.

    If you want to see crowd development, go to (not condemning it, just showing the difference, mods are great, even though the nexus site and it’s moderators are awful). Something like Loadout is community-centered development, and it would be a far inferior game have it not been such.

    Community development is something you as developer include in design. Of course if you fail at doing it, the game will fail, like Firefall keep slowly and painfully failing. But so will any game with a major flaw in one of it’s core design philosophies. Designing community-development environment from creative and professional standpoint is not different to designing combat system or physics engine.

    • iainl says:

      The community will tell you very well when something is wrong. If nobody wants to play as the Tank, it’s probably because his role is either unnecessary (and needs beefing up to be worth using) or is boring to play.

      If they then tell you “fix it by making the one I play more powerful”, or “look at how Popular Game X does it”, then stop listening.

      • Megakoresh says:

        I know this, you don’t have the tell me. The point was that implying that community development of a game is bad is just plain wrong. This article should be edited to emphasise that it was a joke, I think, since it can otherwise cause a negative effect. RPS have, I am sure, already negatively affected several games with some of their earlier preachy articles.

        This one isn’t quite as bad (well it’s actually quite funny considering), but still, many people read this site, it can actually negatively impact community development, with how it might resonate with developers who are already doubting if this is indeed a right road. It’s as good a road as traditional development, so long as you do it well. In fact for Multiplayer games is almost always going to be better than original model.

        • tormos says:

          so wait players are allowed to give negative feedback that changes thing but when critics do it’s “negatively affecting games”? Alternatively can you give an example of when an RPS article did damage to a game that was in development?

          • Megakoresh says:

            Comment just below me, open your eyes.

            Alternatively, if you read the article, you’ll see, it does not provide any and all feedback to any game, constructive or otherwise.

        • Cinek says:

          “The point was that implying that community development of a game is bad is just plain wrong.” – nope, it’s not. It’s actually a perfectly valid point. All of the most innovative or successful games in recent years were done in closed development (even if they did react to some of the community feedback during open tests further down the development). Meanwhile community-driven games recently released well mostly… “decent” at best. I can’t think of a single community-driven game that I could possibly call “brilliant”. Meanwhile I can call several closed-dev games that I do call “brilliant”.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        On the other hand, the tendency to constantly reinvent the wheel is idiotic and wasteful. If a different game has solved a problem you’re having perfectly, USE THEIR SOLUTION MORON. Don’t try to come up with a clever way that’s almost-as-good-but-still-worse – that’s a waste of time. Use their solution and if it’s not perfect, iterate on it. But don’t start from scratch every single time.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          That’s an absolute statement to a relative problem. There rarely is a one size fits all solution, you can rarely just take a solution from another game and apply it to your own, and that sort of thinking is what lead us to all modern shooters looking and playing alike.

          Experimentation is good. The only thing that matters is being able to, after you’ve created something, accept that it might suck and need tearing down. This should not however stop you from trying new ways to solve existing problems. Not doing so would just make you yet another game instead of something unique and interesting.

  18. JayG says:

    Isn’t RPS as guilty of this as anyone? The X-Com/Bioshock game became the Bureau in part because of articles here. The Witcher 2 was edited so as not to cause offense. And the new Thief seems to be crucified.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      IIRC those games were criticised because they were already veering towards the generic. The point being made in this article is FOR originality. When RPS crusaded against those games you mention, it was because of a failure of originality in changing a loved title into a standard blockbuster type affair.

      Its more difficult with sequels though. To take the example of bands who reinvent their sound with the second or third albums – they can take the creative risk and alienate people. They will also get new people who like the new stuff. Thats cool if they are doing something original. But if they just decided to sound like some other band who is selling well, thats kind of rubbish. Turning XCom into a third person shooter or Thief into Splinter Cell are IMO examples of the latter.

    • vorkon says:

      X-Com: Enemy Unknown may have been made in response to articles such as the ones here and other fan outcry, but literally no one wanted them to turn their shooter idea into The Bureau. That’s not so much a case of listening to fan feedback as it was them not having a clear idea of what they wanted to make in the first place, despite putting out a kinda’ cool trailer.

  19. Alexander says:

    So, what’s up with John? It’s great that he’s so prolific, but it seems RPS has started 2014 by trying to deliver quantity over quality – except the King business, John is awesome with subjects like these.

  20. geerad says:

    As a developer, what I’ve learned is this: if playtesters say something isn’t fun, they’re almost certainly right; if they tell you how to fix it, they’re even more certainly wrong.

    • psepho says:

      This is a great dictum! John — you should add it to the article.

      Also, I wonder if the image is a reference to Henry Ford: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”.

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      Yes I agree, most of us gamers don’t know anything about game design, despite what many may think otherwise.

  21. Orija says:

    What is Natural Selection 2?

  22. NathanH says:

    It depends on how you do it. Going by what the majority want is typically dangerous and wrong. But at the same time there will be people in a game’s community that understand the game and indeed games better than developers. Those people are important and identifying them and listening to them is a very very good idea.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Absolutely. Maybe everything shouldn’t be a poll, but engaging in a series of conversations with your fans can help you avoid some very stupid mistakes and help you work out your creative thinking. If you check out Project Eternity’s developer posts [ link to ], you can see that a lot of stuff gets worked out, which is neat.

      I think the biggest potential pitfall of public development is not the crowds stifling creativity (which is minor), it’s that the slightest delays and setbacks are seen as huge character flaws and tragedies (like Broken Age).

  23. Laurentius says:

    On the other hand is pretty easy to make counterargument. Open development could have saved numerous of games from horrible problems, often toppling whole projects because devs excited about their ideas couldn’t see horrible issues growing right in front of their noses. So why cuting an open devlopment can ultimatelly led to breaking free from medicority, it will almost certainly lead to a lot of disappointments both from players and game journalists, i can almost read those reviews in my minds eye: ” What a brilliant idea for a videogame, unfortunatley XYZ Studio have not solved this mess of a issues here, how come they not see this problems is beyond me, etc..”

    • pierrot says:

      You don’t use any examples but it sounds more like you’re making an argument for good playtesting (which no one disputes as far as I know) rather than an argument for the type of open development John is arguing against.

      • Laurentius says:

        Yeah, in a perfect world it should work out in the end but in this world there is often situation that unles you have big crowd of people ( or supposed idiots ) shouting at you to not take that step you end up falling from the cliff.

        PS. Play testers often tests what they are given to tests, and that can leave to huge ommisions.

  24. haafie says:

    I think I agree. I want more Mount and Blade because it’s not like anything I had played before. I want more Crusader Kings because it’s so unlike anything I’ve played before. But..I don’t want to spend every moment playing those games…

    The question is, what else have I never played before?!

  25. Zetetic says:

    Importantly this was, and is, just as true when developers have to deal with traditional publishers. Perhaps crowdfunding actually makes the process of negotiation harder to direct, but the principle – that you as well as asking, you’ve also got the chance to convince seems similar.

    Playtesting is probably the most obvious solution – let people actually try what you’re suggesting – but also massively costly. Perhaps more upfront asking actually reflects tighter budgets and – quite reasonably – a desire to take fewer risks with development time.

    (Edit: I’ve assumed, I suppose, a particular view on why people create games – to express something to someone, or at least to engender various effects on someone (like them having FUN).)

  26. Jason Moyer says:

    “If you’ve got some incredibly brilliant ideas for making a video game, then here’s an idea: go make a video game.”

    QFT. And to be honest, when developers make changes to a game because of consumer backlash, I always find it disappointing, even if those changes appear to be something desirable to me personally. To give a current example, everytime I see that Eidos Montreal is changing something about the upcoming Thief reboot because of community feedback, I just want to pat the creative director on the head and tell him to make the game he wants to make and let everyone else deal with it. Maybe it will be great, maybe it will suck, but in the meantime I already have Thief 1 and 3 to replay if I want something familiar that I enjoy.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      I haven’t been following whats been happening with Thief at all (dunno why, just haven’t), but is it really changing that much because of articles and community pressure?

      • derbefrier says:

        no not that much at all really. From what i have read our bitching has pretty much just given us the option to turn all the bullshit hand holding crap off if we choose.

        • Nogo says:

          Quick RPS search shows they’ve removed both QTEs and an XP system because of fan backlash (features that were probably implemented for similar reasoning.)

    • aldo_14 says:

      To be fair, you can absolutely fantastic ideas, but it doesn’t entail you have the ability, resources or the hours to implement it; it’s not always unfair to nitpick or criticize in that context.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        I dunno if such a thing exists, but the state of “having great ideas and being unable to execute them” should be known as Walter Mitty Syndrome.

        • DatonKallandor says:

          Oh come on. Does Molyneux not even credit for not being able to deliver on grand promises anymore? Molyneux-Syndrome!

    • Merry Hell says:

      Thief 1 and 3 are the Thief games you replay for fun? High five me, bro.

    • Grygus says:

      Thief 1 would never have existed had they asked gamers what they wanted. Stealth gameplay? We’d never heard of it. Sounded boring.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      Wow, I was thinking of nuThief as a great example of why not listening to feedback is a stupid idea. Do you really think the game would be better with all the QTEs and the XP system which they have now removed?

      Besides, that game has had such a high developer turnover over the years that it probably helped them to get fan feedback so they could take stock and understand what Thief is all about. Sounds like they’ve still fucked it up, but maybe it’ll be slightly less fucked up now.

      • HadToLogin says:

        To tell truth, it doesn’t sound like they deleted whole XP system – it felt more like they “just” exchanged XP for gold – more gold you spend, more powerful you become (by getting quieter shoes or longer ropes etc.).

        But I don’t really know what first XP-system had, but new-one sounds much better.

  27. Stragman says:

    I totally agree. The idea can apply to other media also, like movies, TV, etc…

  28. Garfunkel says:

    I heartily agree that developers have to stop asking others how to make their games. Design by committee very often results in average bland things. The heart is missing.
    However, with open development would you also go so far as to forbid exposing the decisions that were made? Because any comment on that could influence the future decisions of a developer. Where development basically becomes a black box?

    I should point out I am a developer. I feel it’s hard to make sweeping black & white statements regarding the entire development process. Throughout there’s often room for choice, and in a lot of cases a number of options will fit into the design quite well. So I wouldn’t argue against it there.
    But I have seen appalling lack of creative fuel in many cases. And there is a lot of blindness when you’re working on a game for a number of years, it’s hard to step out from that perspective into that of a player. The process isn’t easy. Which is where the dangers of corruption and offloading of decisions start. And that’s a point that’s definitely taken from your article.


    As a side note, wasn’t the wisdom of crowds based on an overwhelming amount of perspectives instead of on averages?

    • Charles de Goal says:

      As someone who often participates in open source software, I’d like to point out that a community-friendly development process needn’t end up in design by committee. It’s a bit disheartening to see the author of the article fall for that kind of stereotypical, lazy cliché.

  29. Viscera says:

    Certainly, being completely open is a horrible idea. However, that doesn’t mean that open development is always bad. The devs have to be careful and use their own brains. Weed bad ideas out, consider the good ones, implement the good ones when you think they are good, don’t leave everything to the crowd (if you are so uncreative don’t have any own ideas, you shouldn’t make games at all). Use wisely, open development can make a game better.

  30. hairrorist says:

    John, this may be one of the dumbest things you have written, and that is said as someone that is a staunch defender of your editorial soapboxing.

    It’s lazy thinking and its a lazy article with not even a shred of evidence or even an attempt to provide it.
    The crowdfunding revolution has liberated game creation from the publishers and their relentless populism that has slowly eroded the creative form of the video game. Not four years ago everything was FPS, RTS, RPG, or very narrow deviations from these established tropes. We’re in a creative renaissance right now. The freedom developers have in creation and the plausibility of success for more niche or risky projects is unprecedented.

    When did you just stop thinking and become a contrarian? You used to be provocative in a smart and snappy way with sass and class to spare.

    • derbefrier says:

      yeah seems like hes took to an extreme and ran with it(as he seems to tend to do) Its obvious that implementing any idea joe 6 pack types on the internet is a bad idea. Show me a developer that does this and I’ll show you a developer who wont be in business long. But community feedback is an invaluable tool if used correctly and I am sure we could all find games this has helped out tremendously or find games this has backfired on. Feedback is another tool at the devs disposal and like any tool its only useful if you use it correctly.

    • khomotso says:

      When the lazy thinking is that transparent, leave room for the possibility it’s not entirely in earnest.

    • John Walker says:

      I find your response peculiar. I don’t for a moment criticise crowdfunding, and I entirely agree that it has allowed wonderful opportunities. I am arguing about something entirely different, which is to not then let those backers start having creative input.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I’d actually argue that crowdfunding has some of this effect inherent in its nature – you’re promising to make something, which constricts you to what people think they want ahead of time, which is especially risky for new concepts that will need heavy prototyping and a lot of going back to the drawing board to figure out what’s fun and what’s not. It also seems that the people who make the most money are people who already have studios or a legacy of making games remaking old ideas or licenses. Kickstarter has funded some cool new ideas, but it’s also dumped a whole bucketload of money at nostalgia. Ultimately, it’s harder to take a new idea and say “this will be cool, some concept art says so, give me money!” than “this *is* cool, a bunch of reviews say it is, give me money!”

      • Kadayi says:

        So are Obsidian wrong to make pillars of eternity? Because they basically canvased their fan base for the sort of game they wanted to see made?

        • Nogo says:

          Can’t speak for John, but there’s a big difference between “we should do this to appease vocal fans” and “let’s get our fan’s input on what to prioritize in the plan.”

          I would be curious to hear John’s specific thoughts on something like NEO Scavenger’s poll. Although the disclaimer at the bottom of said poll probably says it all.

      • hairrorist says:

        The point is that the more exposure the ignorant crowd has to the developers and the more interactive the process is, the more creative and divergent games are created.

        This is a trend that is clear. We are watching it happening. Your article claims the opposite and does nothing more than make that claim.

        It is a sloppy article.

        • Nogo says:

          It’s not that clear to me.

          I mean, I was around for Project Ego..

          • hairrorist says:

            One game sucking does not mean the explosion of creative gameplay concepts, artistic expression, political and social commentaries, etc, etc, etc, we have seen in the last few years did not happen.

          • Nogo says:

            Oh, nonono, you misunderstand. Project Ego was the original open development game. The first time we saw the sausage being made, so it were.

            And the game was hardly creative and divergent. It’s not really a new thing. Devs get scared away from the model for a reason (that reason being: games change. A lot. And a hyped fan’s imagination will wreck your game any day of the week.)

            Now mods, on the other hand. That’s the way to get your community’s input involved without fucking up your game.

      • hairrorist says:

        You never criticized crowdfunding? Do you even read what you write?

        “Kickstarter is making this so much worse. This ghastly expectation backers now have that they should have some influence over the game itself: NO. NO NO NO. You’re a wallet, and that’s it. Hand over your money, accept the sheer unbridled stupidity of developers then showing all their promotional materials only to the people who already bought the game, and keep your mouths shut. If you’ve got some incredibly brilliant ideas for making a video game, then here’s an idea: go make a video game. But you don’t – you’re just going to loudly crap on about how important it is that there’s crafting. So shut it.

        • Cinek says:

          Did you even bother to read the quoted sentence? He does not criticise crowdfunding, but rather approach community has (and the one that some developers agree on) TO THE GAME THAT ARE ALREADY FOUNDED by them.

          • HadToLogin says:

            I like that quote. Last time, John said “you’re an investor (who have some kind of say into result of what they invest in – sometimes minimal, sometimes big), you don’t make pre-order”. Now he practically says “you make pre-order, shut up and wait for your game”.

            I just hope first article will be read by people who knows how to help develop something, while second will be read by masses.

          • hairrorist says:

            “Kickstarter is making this so much worse.”

  31. st33dd says:

    As a developer I’m going to take this article at face value – telling me not to listen to people.

    Therefore: I should not listen to it and continue doing open development.

    At home and at work, when someone tells me I’m wrong, they’re an idiot. If several people say I’m wrong then I open myself to the very small possibility that I may have erred. My dev-logs are pretty much full of me cock-blocking suggestions. Very rarely however, some bright spark will come up with a brilliant suggestion – like Michael Brough telling me to remove buttons from the bottom of the touch screen – because that’s bloody irritating to play with.

    It’s like panning for gold. You might be standing in a river of shit doing it, but you’ll be a lot richer for the effort.

    • c-Row says:

      As a developer I’m going to take this article at face value – telling me not to listen to people.

      Therefore: I should not listen to it and continue doing open development.

      Well played, Sir.

      • Gap Gen says:

        The distinction being, of course, to know who to listen to and when to trust your own instincts.

      • Nogo says:

        Might want to re-read the article, because it’s practically oozing with this very joke.

        • c-Row says:

          If the last paragraph is what you are refering to, I would call that more of a trickle.

    • hairrorist says:

      Hahaha, you win.

      The hilarious thing here is that this article presumes that is not what happens in the most ‘open’ development processes.

    • Don Reba says:

      dev-logs are pretty much full of me cock-blocking suggestions.

      The suggestions in your dev-log are trying to pick up girls, and you get in their way? What?

  32. Gap Gen says:


  33. Wret says:

    My spidey senses say this is one of those articles where John first infuriates the rabble as a means of triggering intelligent discourse, only to follow it up with an article refuting everything Mr.Hyde argued.

    That said, maybe the problem isn’t the feedback from open development but developers not knowing how to handle it.

    • Gap Gen says:

      A cynic might argue that an opinion piece after a piece decrying sexism is like a candle to a moth for the swarm of bigots who flock to the comments to nobly defend the patriarchy, and a good way to score hits from people who like to click on things while accusing them of being clickbait.

  34. khomotso says:

    I think you’re only half-serious, but it’s a shame that the part you do seem serious about is just a recycled argument from the 90s about why OS software was always doomed to fail. Makes sense! Also clever to define open development down to just that thing you don’t like: a model of strawman editorial writing, which is what makes me think you can’t really mean all this. But I’ll bite.

    Once you get past the glib intuitions, a few challenges do remain:

    – good design has always called for user research that isn’t merely doing what the user tells you to do. It involves listening, empathy, observation, but then at the end of the day not taking what people say literally. Why isn’t it possible to follow an ‘open development’ approach that strikes this kind of balance, for crowdfunding communities to feel like they can have an impact without designers abdicating their role? I suppose that kind of nuance would make this editorial harder to write, so we’ll have to call that kind of approach ‘something that isn’t open development.’

    – Does the market research that has driven the industry long before Kickstarter lead to better results? Is Kickstarter making it worse? Are Kickstarter games leading to less breadth and more mediocrity in the gaming ecosystem than we had before? Maybe open development could be like democracy, awful but better than the alternatives.

    – where is the real creativity coming from in this era of gaming? The boutique independent developer? Are these games really better, or are they just the things that professional critics want to see more of? If they are really better, is there a way of better supporting that kind of creativity? Should we instead be talking about game-producing systems that lower the barrier to entry, which may draw in more creative people otherwise put off by technical hurdles?

    – is it good to have open development on *part* of the game software, i.e. more basic structural bits to work out system kinks, but leave the more front-end, design-y elements to solo auteurs? This seems to be the model that powers modding, for example, or Unity. Does this lead to better or worse games, or just a larger number ‘pretty good’ games?

    I look forward to editorials that have something to contribute on the harder questions.

    • hairrorist says:

      And tragically, this is a post that he would never address.

  35. thegooseking says:

    I know when I like a game, the value I place on it is inversely proportional to my certainty about why I like it. The frozen chip analogy is good, because it’s not that I don’t like competently assembled games that slavishly check all the enjoyment tickboxes, but I don’t get very excited about them either. They don’t surprise me, and surprising me is a prerequisite of greatness.

    The irony is that that’s how I see nostalgia. It’s not harking back to a time when games were “better”; it’s harking back to a time when games were more surprising and full of new ideas. But where the nostalgists go wrong is assuming that repeating those then-new ideas will somehow still be new. That doesn’t make sense, but it’s what Kickstarter is based on.

    • Gap Gen says:

      There is a modicum of logic to nostalgia for games that appeared to be an evolutionary dead-end – a lot of games at the turn of the millennium were great but didn’t inspire many games like them, like Deus Ex or Alpha Centauri or the space sim. There’s less impetus to Kickstart old licenses from genres that are still very much alive, for example. I’m not completely disagreeing with you – there is a lot of pleasing the mob rather than striking out and doing something completely new – but there are some ideas that I’d be happy to see resurrected from the late 1990s.

  36. Tychoxi says:

    I largely disagree. In fact one of the best things I saw in kickstartered games was that the backers were in tune with what the game was supposed to be and denounced the things that would bring mediocrity into the title. At the same time I’ve seen almost every developer take feedback in without compromising their vision or removing gameplay mechanics just because people complained.

  37. craigdolphin says:

    Normally I agree with John on most stuff. But I think I’m more equivocal on this one.

    I agree that the example of TOR is a good one to support John’s argument. I suspect the only real flaw here is in the assumption that a narrative-driven MMO premise is a valid concept to begin with. Personally I think that narrative driven games really want and deserve to be single player experiences by their very nature.

    But the larger issue, I think, is that John is approaching this from the inevitable viewpoint of a games journalist. Rather like a food critic who would lament the common mans choice of ‘fish sticks’ instead of the infinitely more nuanced cuisine created by the best chefs in old blighty’s nearest neighbour to the south. It’s my observation that people who focus on gaming day-in, day-out become (perhaps inevitably) fatigued with the familiar over time and eventually place ever more value on the novelty of experiences above all other concerns. Whereas gamers that have far more limited exposure to the endless conveyor belt of the game industry’s output are more discriminating about games based on their perception of the likelihood that they’ll enjoy their limited time in it’s company.

    If I visit a restaurant where I know I love a particular meal then my likelihood of ordering that meal is inversely proportional to the frequency at which I visit the restaurant. If I visit once every year or two, then screw the rest of the menu. I want what I know I will love because it’ll be a while before I get back to try it again. If I order something that ends up disappointing my palate, I will have foregone a pleasurable experience. If I order something that also turns out to be wonderful, then great. But to offset the risk of disappointment, it would have to be truly astonishing to be worth risking my only chance for that guaranteed ‘I love it’ meal for the next year. The odds are not good that the alternative would be THAT amazing.

    On the other hand, one disappointing meal carries very little opportunity cost if I visit that restaurant daily. I can simply order my preferred meal again tomorrow.

    A good parent would indeed tell the kid to shut up and eat the fish sticks because they feed the kid many times a day. But if the kid were visiting their non-custodial parent once every few weeks, then a smart parent would make damn sure that their limited time with the kid was not spoiled by fighting over an unpopular meal choice.

    John, you’re a games journalist. A bloody good one. But this time round I think you’re coming at this with unacknowledged privilege.Games journalists crave novelty in games because they play so damned many of them, and because it gives them something new to talk about in their articles. Gamer’s love games for themselves. Sometime novelty is awesome. Sometimes it really is just change for change’s sake and it is actually a devolution from what came before. Just look at DA2 vs DAO.

    I get tired of seeing people lambast games as being ‘generic’ and label novel elements as ‘evolutionary’. It’s all just Bollocks.

    One person’s ‘generic’ is another ‘classic’. One persons ‘evolution’ is another person’s ‘mutation’.

    Crowdfunding and participation breaks the industry away from being enslaved to the ‘averaging’ that favours generalist games paid for by risk-averse mega publishers, and allows games to find their specialist niche in the market. A mature and stable environment supports both generalist and specialist species. Similarly, a mature and stable gaming industry should support both generalist and specialist niches in game development.

    No one is arguing that game devs should not follow their vision or have the last say in the game they make, but niche developers need to ensure that their audience is happy with their direction to be able to harmoniously benefit from that relationship in the long run.

    Historically and creatively I think there’s a case to be made for that too. The likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci are generally regarded as pretty fine artists. But they worked under a system of patronage where their works were commissioned by the people who wanted them. You can be sure there was a creative trade-off associated with those funding relationships too. But that still seems to have worked out pretty darned well in retrospect.

    I think that the wisdom of crowds is the same as the wisdom of evolution: entirely illusory but still instructive. Traits that are beneficial in the long-term tend to survive. Traits that have only transient benefits tend to vanish. Maybe there’s a damned good reason why narrative-driven mmo’s didn’t work out. Maybe there’s a damned good reason why generic/classic fantasy world aesthetics endure. Maybe there’s a reason endless strings of FPS clones of each other tend to dominate sales?

    Look, I like fish sticks. And I like sausages. But I bloody hate spaghetti bolognase. I’ve tried it and I don’t need to taste every possible variant on the spaghetti bolognase theme to have a good idea that I likely won’t like any of them. Same with FPS, Same with MMO’s. Same with tacked on MP to SP experiences. Same with DRM.

    You are welcome to exalt novelty in game design as your own personal idol, but I’ll stick to spending my limited gaming time playing games in the genre I know that I love. And if something different comes along that I think I might like? I’ll give it a try if I have some spare time. :)

  38. nimbulan says:

    You also can’t forget the fact that what people say they want, generally isn’t actually what they want. There’s plenty of other reasons to oppose open development but this is a very good one.

  39. altum videtur says:

    You can bring up the case of Bioware, who folded to fan demand and released the extended cut (my ass, they just made a fuckload of cash by exploiting the occidental idiocy of people) and it “diluted their anus vision”. If you got 7 quadrillion NANOMACHINES SON working on a single project, your vision is going to be bland no matter what and can only ever shine through some funny quirks left in the system. Jellyfish, for instance. Or eating people.

    And then you can bring up Valve, and people did so, and then maybe the argument is less strong because it is commonly accepted that Valve = God But With Videogames (maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just the internet circlejerks)
    Or any number of people working on multiplayer games (though I guess changing it in post doesn’t count).
    Or Minecraft (perhaps a slightly different case, maybe).

    Community “participation” and feedback during game development can go many myriads of ways in many myriads of forms. I’m sure it turns into a proper shitshow sometimes and other times it’s just fine. So don’t go ranting about it. If you do some serious and EXTENSIVE research, then you might have a well-reasoned point to make. Otherwise it’s just ranting. Which is fine, I guess… but will be brushed off as ranting.

  40. bitbutter says:

    “One of the biggest mistakes of the caring, sharing internet ways of the 2010s is the idea that if you’re creating something for someone, you need to get those someones’ approval as you create it.”

    Can the author find any examples of devs doing ‘open develpoment’ for the purpose of getting audience approval? Because as it is this sounds like a big straw man.

    “A good parent will respond by telling that child to shut up and eat his fish fingers.”
    Nah. Just in case this wasn’t a joke, or was only a half-joke: A good parent would never tell a child to shut up, nor force them to eat anything against their will.

    In general this article misses the mark because it falsely equates open development to ceding creative control to the audience, while ignoring the benefits that testing early and often can bring.

  41. imhotep says:

    Personally, I never thought of SWTOR as a good thing to begin with, but sure, so what. Real creativity and vision seem a bit like unfulfilled or secondary aspects of the seeming Kickstarter liberation, and also one that is not easily understood by the “masses”, and it’s just a part of the current culture to find a middle ground in everything, Kickstarter or Indie or mainstream. It’s far from terrible, there is great promise, and I think gaming looked much bleaker for a few years before it, but there’s always something to improve and many different forces involved.

    • soulblur says:

      Indeed. I’m sure most people preferred a KOTOR 3-8 over an MMO at all.

      • drvoke says:

        They couldn’t get away with charging people every month for playing a single player KotOR game, though! Just turn every single player game into a bland “balanced” MMO so that devs can take a monthly stipend out of your wallet. I’m sick of all of these parasites who think they should only have to pay once to get a complete game experience.

  42. GSGregory says:

    Genesis AD a game where the devs ignored all feedback, attempted to make it a cs clone and failed even outside the us.

    Sorry but I have to many games where I have to ask myself has the dev ever played it or any game.

  43. Devan says:

    At first I thought this was sarcasm, but then it kept on going. John, surely you realize that there is a happy middle ground between the two extremes of “ignore all feedback from outside the studio” and “let the fans design the game for you”.
    I think Riot Games has an excellent system where they pay quite a lot of attention to the requests, complaints, and suggestions of the community, particularly in the persistent testing realm where players can try out unreleased content and the feedback there is recognized as extremely valuable to the developer. At the same time, they ensure that the designers have the talent and expertise to evaluate this feedback and make the calls on what gets implemented and what doesn’t.
    They discuss openly with the community and will usually explain why a proposition is or is not a good idea for their game. They maintain control over the creativity and direction of their game while at the same time made many good decisions or new features based on community input.

    It’s silly and arrogant to write off external feedback entirely unless you know exactly what you want to make and you’re not worried about other people liking it.

    Also, I don’t buy the excuse about SWTOR. I’d wager it would have ended up very similar to WoW even without that beta feedback.

  44. sinister agent says:

    YES. Oh my fucking god, yes. This is why I’m dismayed by the prevalence of endless open betas and alphas and crap like this now. Especially for a mulitplayer game – if you wait until it’s releaed, it’ll have become exactly the same as everything else, because it’s exactly the same people who play these things and make a fuss about them for years on end while they’re being tested. And you have to play with these people, who already know it inside out and have no appreciation or sense of adventure or novelty. It’s just depressing.

    And if it’s a single player game? A bajillion people will demand MULTIPLAYER PLS NOW as the top priority. Blargh.

  45. jorygriffis says:

    We agree to disagree then, eh? Broken Age (though I think it’s a wonderful game) is a contentious example, so I want to point to two of my other favorite games: Nuclear Throne, first, has hugely benefited from its open development and wide base of passionate players/testers. And participating in the process has been a blast. And second is Sir, You Are Being Hunted (a game by some dude) which has had a really fun open development. It’s been great seeing the game grow.

    I can dig the point you’re trying to make, John. It just doesn’t bug me.

    (Unless the last two sentences of this post are supposed to reveal the entire text as satire. I’m not sure about that, though, so I went with the earnest approach.)

  46. Big Murray says:

    I could kiss you John. I won’t, obviously (and couldn’t, physically) but I could.

    I said the exact same thing on a popular gaming forum a couple of months ago, only I specifically said it about Early Access games. As a guy who prefers to play games when they’re finished and not have my first experience of them be in the middle of development with half the features missing, I expressed how perturbing I found it that by the time games were finished and released, they had already been passed through the hands of hoards of people shouting their “feedback” at developers and having their opinions about the game taken on board. I’m not the majority, and I don’t want all these promising looking games being affected by the opinions of the majority and taking away those quirky unique qualities which games I love have.

    I got shouted down by people saying “If you don’t like it, then don’t input your opinions. Stop trying to restrict other people’s freedom, man”.

    • Grygus says:

      You are the majority. Even in early access, most players don’t participate; for every game it’s a small core of people yelling loudly while everyone else either stands by or isn’t even in the room. This is one reason that listening to these people is a mistake.

  47. soulblur says:

    I feel as though John is attempting to make a point by going far over what is reasonable. That’s not an illegitimate technique. But his whole argument is premised on an assumption that I feel is incorrect, and which is summed up in the first paragraph:

    “if you’re creating something for someone, you need to get those someones’ approval as you create it. ”

    I just don’t think most content creation on the internet (or elsewhere) is about this. Clearly, some is. But the last few years have been a way for developers, and content creators in general, not to gain people’s approval, but to create awareness, build buy-in among a potential audience and create new ideas for their content. This is no bad thing. It can certainly lead to bland, flavourless games, but plenty of those are being made where the community isn’t getting a look-in anyway. It’s not as though crap games suddenly became a thing in 2010. The most influential element to a community’s involvement with a product is whether they buy it or not, and literally every company in the world pays attention to that.

    No, crowdsourcing at it’s best (and even it’s average) is a pretty good thing. It allows games to be made with reduced financial risk to the developer, which always them to take other kinds of risks: creating games that otherwise wouldn’t be made. Even if those games aren’t always (or usually) amazing, that’s OK: mainstream games are hardly immune from sucking either.

    For small teams, crowdsourcing also allows groups with limited budgets to take advantage of the expertise of the wider group. Numerous times on projects I’ve kickstarted I’ve seen commentators make suggestions for ways to create technical fixes to issues the developers were having. Castle Story, for example.

    And sometimes developers should listen to their community when it comes to choices about what to do. Paradox are particularly good at this.

    Finally, your assumption seems to view developers as gods, creating content from the lofty peaks. But developers are just people. Sometimes, they’re people in an insular environment, and they make bad choices about how to develop content because they’re blinded to different points of view. A diverse, invested community can help counter this. One of the reasons I like (well, probably love) RPS is because it has helped create such a community. I mean, we’re probably mostly 20-40 year old white English-speaking men, but we’re typically polite and attentive when someone who isn’t decides to speak. That’s a start. And we’re bloody passionate about games, and frankly we’ve got damned fine taste to match. We should be listened to.

    Maybe I’ve overreacting. But I feel I’m only compensating for your overreaction. Regardless, it’s a mighty fine time to be loving games. When you’re next in north London, John, I’ll buy you a pint.

    You sound like you need one.

  48. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    This is not how open development works. Feedback is information, not instruction. Just because someone makes a suggestion doesn’t mean you have to follow it.

    As an avid watcher of various open projects and as someone also creating a thing, the point of open development in my experience is this:

    1) to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t

    2) to build awareness of your project over time (especially important for indies)

    3) bonus: recording progress + encouragement = extra motivation to keep going

    Getting feedback is not about letting others design your game, or even make any decisions at all. Feedback is just that: feedback. Some of it is useful, some is not. If you’re making a game odds are you have clear goals and some very specific ideas on what you’re trying to accomplish and feedback only helps refine that.

    Never met a skilled creative who got anywhere without listening to criticism.

    • subedii says:

      I’m not sure I’ve met a skilled anything who got there without listening to criticism.

      It’s curious really, the author starts off the post talking about the “experience of thousands of years of creativity”, and they throws this out there.

      You’re a wallet, and that’s it. Hand over your money, accept the sheer unbridled stupidity of developers then showing all their promotional materials only to the people who already bought the game, and keep your mouths shut. If you’ve got some incredibly brilliant ideas for making a video game, then here’s an idea: go make a video game. But you don’t – you’re just going to loudly crap on about how important it is that there’s crafting. So shut it.

      The line of “If you think I’m making a mistake or could do something better then MAKE ONE YOURSELF or stop whining!” has basically been used to shut down any and all criticism of any product since time immemorial. You cannot improve in this fashion.

      The article seems to stem from what I can only interpret as some bizarre idea of authorial intent and “artistic purity” sullied by the shoddy masses and their wiles. But leaving aside the fact that games are made by dozens-to-hundreds of creative inputs (and frequently combating interests) to begin with…

      Feedback is important. It’s funny he talks of Valve as the ‘splendid’ model, because they do way, WAY more than simply bring in random dudes to play the game and then kicking them out again. Their multiplayer games, ALL of them, have had extended, lengthy betas (which if I’m reading the article right, is apparently what killed The Old Republic? That’s the only real interpretation I can get from the TOR paragraph). For the more hardcore games like CS:GO and DOTA they canvased for opinions and ideas from the community, both hardcore players and complete new players. And it’s obvious that they get a lot of dross. But this, for some reason, has NOT killed their games.

      Gabe Newell (not to mention other Valve regulars) have constantly talked about the value of feedback from the community. The crucial thing being, you have to be capable of understanding it and interpreting it. Simply yelling “SHUT UP!” and ignoring it all for the sake of an ideal of artistic purity is something they specifically have not ever done.

      Seriously. Let’s even leave multiplayer games out of it for a second. Portal 2 was one of RPS’s games of 2011. And John certainly seemed to have nothing but pure praise for it in his Wot I Think, AND the end of year piece. But here’s the thing:

      Portal 2 changed MASSIVELY as a result of player feedback. Portal wasn’t originally about Chell again, it was some other random person. It wasn’t about Portals, it was going to be about Aperture’s other wacky experimental stuff. GLaDOS wasn’t going to be reactivated by accident, the player would do that deliberately. It goes on. Heck they even subtly (and not so subtly) broke some of the in-game logic rules specifically to aid the player instead of keeping that “consistent” interpretation.

      All that and more changed from the original vision. Those are not small changes, they are COMPLETE game and story changers. And whilst I don’t trust most developers to have the skill necessary to do so and still come out with a great game, I don’t think John disagrees that they made a really freaking good game. And it’s not because they did everything players said. But they sure as heck listened, understood, interpreted, and then implemented. The players might not even understand what changes were made, why they were made, or anything of the sort, but what I’m finding it hard to escape from is that Valve’s listening and understanding is what helped make Portal 2 what it was. And critics like John seemed to agree with the implementation.

      • Cinek says:

        Both: DOTA2 and CS:GO are closed development projects. The fact that they take user feedback into account doesn’t make them open.

        “Feedback is important.” – noone said it’s not. But there’s a difference between taking feedback into account while having your own vision, and leading open development project where every step of developing a game is being done with constant attention from the community and full openness.

        “Portal 2 changed MASSIVELY as a result of player feedback” – yea, perfect example of game that got worse. Portal 1 was by far better and it had next to no player feedback.

        “The article seems to stem from what I can only interpret as some bizarre idea of authorial intent and “artistic purity” sullied by the shoddy masses and their wiles.” – as far as I see: this article points out that averaging the game for the will of community can lead to… average game that otherwise could be by far better, if every major decision wouldn’t be done by listening to the 1000 of voices.

        • HadToLogin says:

          Portal 1 is better only because there was nothing like it.

          Even Valve knew that – that’s why boss-battle looks like it looks.

          They improved everything they could, they added some stuff, but in the end, people who played Portal 1 before 2 will always prefer it because it had TWIST.

        • subedii says:

          Going to have to disagree

          To be frank I found Portal 1 overrated, and Portal 2 to have been a far more interesting game, both in terms of characters / writing, and in terms of puzzle design.

          But then, I’m leaving even that aside, because it’s John Walker who was the one that gave it effusive praise even whilst, by your own admission here, it had a lot of changes made from the original plan as a result. This isn’t something I’m making up, you can read all you want if you care:

          link to

          I’d be hard pressed to find a more glowing review. For that matter, you’re also mistaken if you think that Portal 1 didn’t have player feedback either.

          As for the DOTA and CS:GO, their lengthy beta’s (which Walker seemed to be lamenting when referring to The Old Republic) were for more than just balancing, and in particular had heavy input from the pro scenes of both well BEFORE the open betas started, because they wanted to get the feel right and make sure they understood what does and doesn’t make the competitive game work, in theory and in practice. This input from the hardcore is something that Walker is seemingly lamenting as having killed The Old Republic because “People are idiots! We shouldn’t ever listen to people!”.

          Now here’s the thing, both of those games were emphatically built for and around their hardcore communities, and with feedback from them. And at some point, almost every major gaming website I read made the same comments in the run up to release: “Why is Valve sticking so close to the hardcore community? This is a legendarily impenetrable game! Surely it’ll limit the game’s popularity.”

          Valve on the other hand, continued to create a game that the hardcore wanted without making massive simplifications to its systems that ‘the voice of the wise-folk’ dictates (you know, the one that says “Don’t you DARE listen to those idiots! It’ll be your doom!”), because that would have killed the game. Instead what they did was far more intelligent, in that they created an entire infrastructure around DOTA 2 (and to a lesser extent CS:GO) to make the games more accessible without removing what was hard but fun about them to the hardcore, and that made them enticing prospects in general.

          Quick, go here:
          link to

          What are the top 2 games on Steam currently? I don’t honestly believe they’d maintain that position today if Valve had taken the other route. The one that so many armchair experts said they should by ignoring their respective communities.

          Take it back further, one of the core reasons that Valve hired IceFrog and decided to do this whole thing in the first place was because IceFrog molded DOTA into what it eventually became, through years of community interaction and feedback, and he understood how to use it and how not to.

          Heck, in both those cases, community involvement is arguably greater than a lot of MMO’s now, simply due to the integration with things like Workshop and the way they contribute and rate items. Then there’s even things like managing the welfare of the community, which has been turned over in some pretty large ways to… well… the community, via things like CS:GO’s video system and DOTA’s player reporting system.

    • Cinek says:

      “Getting feedback is not about letting others design your game, or even make any decisions at all. Feedback is just that: feedback.” – easier to say than done. As someone said – if you hear one voice – you can ignore it. If you hear 1000 of voices: you are inclined to listen to it, analyze, and change based on that. After all: a million flies can’t be wrong.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        If a 1000 people are saying something is broken or should be different either they have a point, or your game is not for them (ie what they want doesn’t line up with what you’re trying to do). If you have clear goals it’s usually pretty easy to tell which suggestions fit, and which do not.

  49. aliksy says:

    People are idiots. If we listened to the crowds every game would have level ups, unlocks, and other stupid skinner box tricks so people can feel like they’re progressing.

    • jkz says:

      There are plenty of developers who manage to put that stuff in their game just fine without help from an open development process.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Second that. Modern game developers, please, stop using worthless upgrade systems (Absolution, The Last of Us, Thief 4) that don’t add anything really new to your experience because they don’t add new quality or features to gameplay but only change simple numerical characteristics of player character to make false feeling of progressing.

  50. andytt66 says:

    “One of the biggest mistakes of the caring, sharing internet ways of the 2010s is the idea that if you’re creating something for someone, you need to get those someones’ approval as you create it.”

    Like Dickwolves?

    • Gap Gen says:

      “As” you create it, rather than after. I doubt John is arguing that people can’t call something shit after it comes out.

    • Nogo says:

      Additionally, it’s one thing to ignore your detractors. It’s quite another to rub their noses in it.

      • vorkon says:

        Pretty much this, exactly.

        I’m broadly on Penny Arcade’s side on that whole debacle, but regardless of who you think is right, it’s important to remember that most of the complaints aren’t about the original strip.

        Pretty much any reasonable person will tell you there’s nothing wrong with the original strip. Most people wouldn’t have any problem with the follow up strip either, though you’ll get a little more argument there. But even Mike Krahulik himself will agree that the problems (on their side, at least) started with all the twitter wars and shirt fiascoes that came afterward.