I’ve been advocating for developer transparency for quite some time. I’m a firm believer that most companies would benefit from transparency but there is something about the relationship between developer and player that calls for this more in video games than in other businesses. Unlike most products, games are updated over time and adapt to the needs of both the creator and the user.
The users want an experience that is enjoyable and free of bugs. The developers want to create a specific vision of an experience that sometimes doesn’t mesh with the expectations of the players. While it isn’t their job to balance these two views, many developers choose to do so and the only way to accomplish this is to find out what the players want. This is why we have beta testing, post launch updates, and user forums. These are the ways that developers acquire feedback from the user. However, why do we always wait to gain user opinion so late in development?
Developers can get feedback for a game as early as prototyping. This is rarely seen with large companies and big name indies but it is a trend that is popping up inside of the crowdfunding scene. It isn’t uncommon to see an update post talk candidly about the development process, visual upgrades, or even massive overhauls.
I believe this is necessary to forming a strong bond between the user and the creator. I’ve spoken before about how robotic many developers seem and this is another way to humanize the people who make games for us. Through this method they are essentially starting a dialogue with the players. They may not expressly ask for opinions but I guarantee there will be many in the comments and these can be used to gauge interest in the current direction of the product.
Take for instance Iocaine Studios’s recent update on their Steam Bandits: Outpost campaign. Not only did they go into details regarding the new scope of the game, but they also detailed how it was being broken up into several smaller titles. The update also explores the staff and their financial situations, explaining how some staff have left, some have joined on, and others have taken up day jobs to keep the project afloat.
As expected, not every backer was happy about this change to the game but this route is infinitely better than the consumers discovering it after the game has been released. None of these topics would be discussed with the public in a AAA environment, even when games go through massive overhauls. Remember the backlash that Ubisoft and SEGA received when Watch_Dogs and Aliens: Colonial Marines, respectively, weren’t as good as their promotional builds showcased prior to launch? Some of that could have been avoided if the consumers were actually told about the changes instead of finding out after they purchased it.
Transparency is a great tool that can be wielded by any development team. While being transparent can cause potential fans to become upset due to the news of the update, they are usually more forgiving in these instances than if they found out about the changes when they loaded it up on launch day. I believe that most projects benefit from keeping their user base up to date on changes with the team or project as it can create an ongoing process of feedback that can help fine tune a product through all of it’s stages, not just the last 90%.