Overwatch’s director, Jeff Kaplan, wrote a post detailing potential, maybe, no promises!, future additions to the game.
Kaplan was highly reluctant to disclose specifics about this new content because of one very good reason: gamers on the internet.
I can’t stress this enough: some of this stuff might not happen,” he continued. “The reason developers usually don’t give insight like this is because if something changes or doesn’t happen, players get very angry at us. I would like to change that dynamic but we need to do that together. We’ll share more information with you guys so long as you understand none of this is a promise and things do change throughout the course of development.
In between the lines of his comment we see the silent struggle of treating game makers as artists or as service providers. Eventually one has to succumb to the other and in the case of the volatile and Joffrey-ian nature of passionate gamers, it’s safer for the dev to go with the latter. Consumerist myopia perpetuates the “dynamic” Kaplan describes. Change could maybe occur if the consumer was given insight into the hard work of game making. But probably not.
Game development is as much an artistic process as it is an engineering one. Things will inevitably change because of budget, mis-scope, or redirection. These changes could be for the best or worst, but there’s little empathy for the creator that showcases any type of transformation. Veering from expectation is perceived as failure. The game developer is better off saying or showing nothing because the gamer can’t tell the difference between a concept/experiment and a finished product. We’ve seen this with Bioshock Infinite, DayZ, and maybe the least forgivable—Ubisoft’s infamous “downgrades.”
Many question remains: should a medium whose audience considers it an art form be treated as a service? The question probably deserves more than a yes or no answer. But gamer demands have become similar to asking for improvement in an enterprise (read: $100k a year) software product. Sure $60 is a lot for the average consumer, but games are not a Salesforce CRM. Service expectations undermine the creative control and Blizzard’s capacity as a group of artists.
Should multiplayer and single player games be treated differently? It would appear so, but where do we draw the line? Are character poses off limits, lore, or are we only allowed to critique balancing issues?
Does the strong interactive nature of video games justify a service model? Are the demands of gamers an integral part of the medium itself like an editor to a book? Forums and feedback make games unique in that the collaborations with the audience are not only expected, but welcome. Player influence has become part of game aesthetics. I’m simply wondering if there should be any boundary in place to protect authorial integrity. Does that even matter?
There’s really no hope of resolving this tension and gamers will continue to ask a lot from developers. “It’s their job!” after all. You can read this is as a good or bad thing. But the troublesome part is that creative process is misunderstood, undervalue, and oversimplified. Player involvement in the creative process could be greater if gamers let developers openly create, never forgetting that what is shown is subject to change.