Early this morning, after giving up on actually sleeping after a few hours of shitty restless sleep no doubt caused by the unavoidable anxieties and frustrations involved in developing games, I stumbled upon this interview Rock Paper Shotgun just posted with Peter Molyneux.
Now I'll preface here by saying I do not have respect for Molyneux like I have for other industry giants. I missed out on playing any of the early games he gained his reputation for, and my entire experience with him has just been all the crazy unfulfillable promises and staged demos and controversies that have defined his career since Fable. Godus looks like a pile of shit, and what happened with the winner of Curiosity is pretty dissapointing.
But this interview did something that surprised me: it made me side with Molyneux. That's quite the accomplishment since its the exact opposite of what the interview was obviously intending. I don't mean I agree with Molyneux, far from it, but the agressive, accusatory, and frankly rude tone of the questions being asked really grated on me while reading it, because I felt like the questions were way more about general things that happen to EVERYONE while making games, and less about specific things Molyneux did wrong. Every game goes over budget, takes longer than expected, has to trim and refine features during development, and has to deal with unexpected changes halfway through a project. This stuff is almost inevitable when making games, especially when you're not making sequels or games in established, popular genres.
All of this was pretty invisible to players and consumers before the recent rise of kickstarter and early access. Sure, games got delayed, and features were overpromised and underdelivered, but nobody really got a full view of it. And this is terrifying to me, because I know what a long development cycle is like, and the thought of people being able to peer in and watch as you rip apart your game and spend months in an motivational slump just trying to figure out WHAT to do, questioning if a game is worth making or not while worrying about money and contracts and deadlines and contests at the same time its just... not something I'm really savvy to the idea of.†
I know from experience (what relatively little of it I have) that during the middle stages of development, progress slows down a LOT. I've gone months without making really any (visible) progress on my games. That is the most demotivating part of game development to me, and its the part that is most difficult to pull out from, especially when working on a super small team or by myself. The thought of thousands of backers criticizing and complaining about progress during this stage of development, it would make it even worse. I've elucidated my thoughts about this on twitter before, but this is why as long as I can support and fund myself, I will not use Kickstarter, even if it means continuing to live like a college student for years to come.
I had a small bit of hope that the influx of kickstarter and early access and game dev documentaries and open development would give fans and players and consumers a bit of symphathy towards devs about the shittier parts of game development, but so far its just served to make people angry and sometimes vicious when development inevitablly and unavoidablly goes through difficult speed bumps. I had hoped people would learn that, as this continues to happen with almost every game on kickstarter or early access, that this is a natural part of game development and not developers actually trying to screw over fans (most of the time) or "taking the money and running".
Anyway, that was a whole lot about me and a not really all that much about Molyneux and Godus and that interview. But those questions and accusations felt like a big punch to game developers and game development in general, regardless of how much Molyneux "deserves" it for dropping the ball so hard on his last few games, and having the audacity to take fans along for the ride. Going over budget, over time, and trimming features aren't things Molyneux speficially got wrong, they're things EVERYONE gets wrong. Which is probably why so many devs feel weird about this interview.