Excerpt from the Debate- Transparency or Secrecy in Video Game Development? (Provided by moi)
NOTE: I will first branch each question in its own right and talk about each side of the argument- complete transparency in the video game medium, and complete secrecy or non-transparency. I will also broach many a key point for each, as well as provide key examples that are both recent and up to date with current times, as well as excellent past samples of gaming history on mark with this cause… Here we go!
Complete Transparency of the Video Game Medium:
Transparency in the gaming spotlight is nothing new, and has in fact been happening ever since video games began, or at least- roughly since the early 80s. As long as there have been developers behind projects, there have been producers trying to appeal solely to one group or audience, although not always to perfection. While it is great and respectable that these developers attempt to capture a certain viewpoint or image in what they seek to design or create for a certain community or group, it also limits both the impact and excitement behind their projects. Normally, this can be a very bad thing with video game design as well as mere consulting, however in smaller doses, it can also turn things the right way, especially from a PR standpoint on issues. Some examples of too much transparency of the medium can be found easily today in stagnant (albeit great, for most are indeed on par with what we seek) series’ such as the Call of duty franchise, which recently released its seventh major game and has another sequel slated for release this coming November; the Guitar Hero series which ultimately shut down after its umpteenth iteration due to questionable quality on Red Octane and Harmonix’s part; and also the Syndicate reboot, which dismantled the original RTS and strategic 1990’s release and opted for a current, up to date FPS thriller instead, reminiscent of nearly every story-less and action driven title we see nowadays.
Some good examples? Well, when used in the correct amount (which varies of course depending on many factors, often changing in degree and variable as well), games such as many arcade thrillers that give free updates for the benefit of the benefit of the community, or even games designed to be built for their community- such as created content and UGC games like Minecraft and Terraria, prove that happiness doesn’t need complete control by one side or the other. There are many other fine and not so fine examples of transparency and its occasional usefulness, but I would like to say that- although the Voxelus developers themselves do share with us the occasional picture or update video, this does not mean they are taking away the surprise completely. I am sure that they have much more going on, and that they will continue to aid and update us without ruining our eventual and inevitable grand experience.
Non-Transparent Gaming in the Video Game Industry:
Complete secrecy on video game projects, or truthfully any projects for that matter, can be almost as bad (if not worse) than letting your loving and adoring fans have everything they could ever want or need. Not updating your community or following, leaving them in the dark as to release dates and/or dropping surprise content and features on their heads is a great way to tick off many of your fans as well. While surprise content can be great, don’t get me wrong- its not exactly a great show of faith when you let it be made known the day of or before releases, and that you never bothered to let them know something would or wouldn’t be in your game… Of course, as bad as this may sound- it is normally not that big of a deal, and usually communities can be forgiving enough to accept your sincere apologies and move on to test that content. Another small item that can play out to be very important as well is secrecy and the disappearance of betas and testing. Hosting betas not only offers some inciting and helpful information on the developer’s part, considering that it gives feedback on enjoyability, playability, and other key features found within beta builds of games, but the lack of it can even prove detrimental to the game as a whole- as well as to your fan base should they go too long without their insane hunger being sated for the time being, or at least until the actual game releases…
If you want some great examples of games that were completely on the opposite side of the spectrum from the transparent ones, look no further than Risen 2 which has shared little to no information on its soon to come release or the game itself other than a few trailers and footage in game; the originally announced XCOM reboot that was supposed to release last year has been pushed back even further, and aside from a few screenshots and conceptual designs, not much has been heard from it either. These are merely two examples of what secrecy can do to dull your designs or wrest a few otherwise stoic and staunch fans away from your loving caress, but too much transparency can do exactly the same as well- which is why you must try to balance the two as finely as possible at times. Just like how there are times to run and gun or use stealth methods in games such a Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid, there are times to release some update podcasts and new concepts to the community or surprise them with a free downloadable cinematic or new action packed maps. Reward your players, and make them appreciate your efforts to benefit them all the same…
Some good examples of utilizing semi-secret development to your advantage would be anniversary multiplayer in Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary; extra designs and quests within games such as Fable 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution; and the surprise semi-last minute traded content between both Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Mass Effect 3.
Now, since I’ve covered both topics here- you may be wondering what my actual intent or main point is on the subject. I shall not disappoint. What I’d like to get across to you as my main thesis (for lack of a better word here) for this snippet of thoughts is merely that developers need to try to find balance between transparent approaches to game creation and appealing information, and leaving their fans in the dark or completely canceling/announcing projects out of the blue when it is apparent that none are wanted nor warranted. Developers in many mediums fall prey to these two tacts all of the time, but many more use them to their advantage and show off their talents throw the PR cesspools they successfully navigate as well, merely because of two simple concepts.
It doesn’t have to be exactly fifty-fifty and break even on each side of the chain here, however it merely needs to fit your design process well enough that you can sacrifice some things in order to gain so much more. For example, Black Pony has done great with allowing us to see some new builds of the game thus far, as well as many a developmental progress image, but they have also tactfully navigated treacherous terrain by not quite telling us every single gamemode that will appear thus far, as well as by not giving us an exact play by play on all of their thoughts or wishes for the game. This is great merely because we don’t truthfully deserve to know everything anyhow. Not only do we not physically own the company (I’d assume), but we also have no right to ruin our own, and others’ experience by knowing what will happen in advance. That would be like producing a horror movie and knowing where every scare and jumping demon will be in advance.
Regardless, Black Pony has done pretty good thus far, and as developers go- they manage to both impress and appease their fans and loving community, as well as to hold a few trump cards back to wow us at the end and drag us back to them in the long run, should we ever for some reason feel the need to leave. This is why I feel my thoughts can perfectly reflect my fears and assumptions on transparency and secrecy, as well as examples of their current and past effects on gaming. I hope you’ve stuck with me for the duration of this speech, because now that I’ve cleared up a few points- its time to get back to designing myself, as well as a game of some Half Life later should anyone feel the need to join me… ;-)