By Gamer_152 2 Comments
When it comes to the presence of games development studios on the web, they generally throw up a flashy website and that’s the end of it. Communication between the people in the studios and the fans is often very limited and it’s usually considered professional and beneficial to keep a fairly large divide between the two. When studios do try to talk to fans directly, it’s usually in a way that’s controlled heavily by PR and there’s rarely a feeling of complete openness in what they’re doing. Even with most games journalism sites, especially the more mainstream ones, it’s considered in journalists best interests to present a glossy, airbrushed image of themselves, instead of a down-to-earth and more realistic presentation of who they are and what they’re doing. Of course this is far from something that originated solely in the world of video games, but on the whole, I’d like to see at least some changes to how prevalent this attitude is.
The internet is a place that lends itself well to people taking a more personal approach in what they make. It has given individuals who don’t have the means for technically high quality productions, a place to freely distribute their content to a large number of people. This has allowed a huge number of individuals to show that even with little to no budget, content that revolves around the honest views of one person or a small number of people can still receive a passionate audience, but it’s not surprising that the mainstream games journalism sites and developers have been reluctant to take on an angle that would seem too personal. However I think those who have been able to do so have done themselves a great service.
Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade said that one of the things they were most surprised by when they first started hosting PAX East, was that multiple people approached them at the convention and complimented them on their honesty. By presenting themselves as a focal point of their comic (albeit accidentally to begin with), making an effort to regularly appear in front of fans, and later through allowing cameras into their offices to film the Penny Arcade: The Series, they were able to not only let fans feel closer to the people behind the work, but also to present work and a company which felt friendly and human. I think this episode of their show is a great indicator of what their attitude towards their fans has been able to achieve, but they’re not the only company who’ve been able to benefit from interacting on such a personal level.
For all the PR work that goes on, I never feel as endeared towards a game developer as I do when they make a personal effort to stay close to the people who enjoy their games. Bungie are one developer who has done a great job at this. Not only do they provide a surprisingly well-written post for their fans every week, but throughout the lifespan of Halo 3 and Halo: Reach they were committed to updating the news feed on their site every day with fan-made content, eventually spreading the word about thousands of fan projects based around the Halo universe. More uniquely though, Bungie have been only too willing to share their office in-jokes with the community and show fans a great deal of the rich internal culture of their company. Because of this, they were able to cultivate a community of loyal and enthusiastic people who not only loved Halo, but were ready to stick by Bungie, whatever their next project might be.
Arguably the greatest games developer when it comes to connecting with fans is Valve. Not only have they been unafraid to let fans and journalists into their studio, ensured their games are rich with developer commentary, and made efforts to present a public image of their company's internal practises, but they’ve gone out of their way to find even more unconventional and amazing ways to engage with the people who play their games. They’ve held two elaborate ARGs for Portal 2 and in the second one included the most prominent players as central figures in the game, allowed player content to become part of Team Fortress 2, handed out two of their most successful games for free, encouraged the modding of their games and distributed tools to help people do so, and not only goes Gabe Newell encourage people to send him emails, he also claims to personally read all of them. This is amazing stuff, and we haven’t even talked about their games here. With this kind of approach it’s easy to see why there are so many Valve fans and why they are so enamoured with the developer.
Of course Valve and Bungie aren’t the only ones participating in fan interaction, they’re just a couple of the best examples. Bioware has shown a particular eagerness recently to listen to fan feedback on their games, for a long time after the release of Burnout Paradise Criterion Games produced a weekly podcast on the game, many indie developers have been eager to show off the inner workings of their development process, the list goes on. In fact one excellent thing that indie developers highlight is that by showing there are genuine people behind your company, it can make the end product more impressive for fans. We’re used to the concept of huge companies being able to create high quality games and games journalism, but when people realise all of that is coming from actual human beings, just like them, it can have a major impact. In some cases, especially with development studios, you don’t even have to present a host of particularly interesting personalities, you just have to show the fans the people creating the content.
Journalists and Openness
To the games journalist concerned with reviewing games and focused on providing their opinion on the quality of games, this openness provides another benefit. While a journalist can write about or speak about a game in a way that provides the public with the kind of information they want to know, they can never provide one opinion on a game which everyone will agree with. However, what they can do is make their personal taste in games open and accessible to the people consuming the content they create. This way, readers, watchers and listeners can match their own tastes against the tastes of the journalists and get a better idea of how much they personally would enjoy a game, based on what the journalist thought of it.
Duder, It's Over
For me the openness and honestly of Giant Bomb and Whiskey Media is a large part of what makes it work. Their content is informative, entertaining and well-presented, but importantly, it also feels like it was all crafted by real, interesting people who want to stay in touch with their fans. Furthermore, they’re not afraid of letting cameras into their personal space, talking directly to their audience on live shows, or any similar interaction. It’s something you rarely see in the world of mainstream games journalism and I think more games journalism outlets could benefit from it.
As for the games development studios, the business people funding them are probably less eager about the idea of the people behind the games representing them, and more eager about the idea of PR people being the link between games studios and the public, or at least keeping a very tight leash on what devs can say. This is a poor substitute for real interaction, openness and honesty between development studios and people. Wherever we can, I believe we should support games critics and games developers alike being as open, honest and inclusive with the public as possible, and I certainly hope we can see more of it in the future. Thank you for reading.