Entitlement, Expectation, Independence, & Transparency
With that, the interview is turned on its head.
“Well, I… I don’t know, Olli,” I asked myself timidly. Harjola’s company, Facepalm Games, is working on a gorgeous platforming/puzzle game called The Swapper, slated to be released later this year. Our conversation about his team and that game’s creation took a hard right when the subject of independence came up.
Harjola says the most immediate problem is that, now more than ever, people tend to have unfair expectations with regards to the games and projects that interest them. When it comes to marketing especially, players have come to expect previews and an veritable avalanche of press, which is where the issue of transparency becomes part of the conversation in the first place.
And there’s one place in particular that’s quickly become synonymous with entitlement and transparency.
“I believe Kickstarter is great for projects that would have problems acquiring funding elsewhere, or that could get the funding only at the cost of creative freedom,” Harjola says. No one would expect the monetary returns associated with a Call of Duty game, he adds, making the platform perfect for creators that value their art and creativity more than the size of their bank account.
Though Harjola is quick to note, “On the other hand, I think it puts too much focus on hype and promises over actually delivering something spectacular.”
The Kickstarter rub is that campaigns have to promise something, and for developers already strapped for cash that something is usually an inside peek at the creative process. Tangentially, other studios who aren’t even part of the Kickstarter equation (read: have never run a Kickstarter campaign) are pressured to provide a similar behind-the-scenes look.
So when a studio fails to give us that look, is it really a failure? Why are some studios more comfortable with transparency than others?
“I’d like to be more transparent, but sometimes transparency is scary,” Harjola admits. Speaking to his own game, The Swapper, he also notes that it’s difficult to be transparent with a linear narrative. Avoiding spoilers and keeping players’ interest would likely force such focus on the least exciting parts of a project.
Adrian Husby feels the same way. Husby and his cohorts at Krillbite Studio are completing work on Among The Sleep, an atmospheric exploration game featuring a toddler protagonist. Just as with The Swapper, maintaining a sense of mystery and intrigue is important.
“Of course we don’t want to spoil plot-related aspects,” Husby says, “and a central part of the experience is curiosity about what happens next.”
Additionally, Husby says they wouldn’t want to commit to anything they weren’t fully comfortable with. The nature of game development itself is exploratory, and revealing something – being too transparent – could potentially lock the developers into a gameplay or narrative path that wouldn’t work in the game’s best interest.
Growing up, there was always a thin veneer of secrecy surrounding the things I loved. Movie-making was a clandestine affair, special effects were black magic, and records just kind of materialized at record stores. Now, in a world where developers send Kickstarter updates every time someone in the office eats at Sbarro, it’s easy to feel slighted when we don’t get that inside look.
After considering Harjola’s original question, yes, there is something unfair about those expectations of transparency. We aren’t entitled to anything; we shouldn’t expect anything. Transparent or not, let the developers make the games they want. Let them build our excitement, or let them build a mystery. And let us keep our distance.