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  Article: Developer Myths #3
On 08/13/03 by Sam 'Freejack' Brown

It is inescapable. Reading forums or comment boards or news sites, one is bound to come across them, the developer myths. Like urban legends, these myths surround the mysterious art of game development. Most of these myths spring from a misunderstanding of how the development process works. Some, unfortunately, spawn from the bad experiences of gamers. Then there are those that come from the deepest recesses of imagination. My intention with this series is to dispel some of these myths and provide some insight into the often mystical world of game development.

3. Developers lie about a game's features just to get sales!

There's this consistent belief that developers intentionally lie about a title's features in order to generate sales and interest. These "lies" usually occur during early interviews and previews and when gamers don't see those features there's an outcry of false advertising. The questions this raises are, why would a developer talk about features that aren't in the final game and is this actually false advertising?

I will respond to the latter question first by saying no, this is not false advertising, it's marketing. Marketing occurs early on in the form of developer and producer interviews and media previews early in a title's development. These are generally not desired by the developer and not in the developer's best interest, but are instead, things the publisher has to do in order to market the title. I won't say they're a required as there are some products that successfully release with little early publicity (Half-Life comes to mind), but not many and most that do, fail miserably. Marketing is one of those necessary evils. It's important to get a title's well, title, out there in the minds of consumers. It's also good to give the gamers some idea of what the game is and what it intends to do. After all, it's those features that separate one title from another.

Developers don't generally like this sort of early marketing and the reasons should be fairly obvious, gamers tend to hold developers to every feature they promise. No developer wants to be caught in the position of delivering a product different from what was promised. Gamers become attached to the marketed feature list and tend to get rather vocal when the released product doesn't closely match the features that were presented throughout development. Put another way, their words come back to haunt them. It's a horrible situation, but nearly unavoidable.

This is something we repeatedly ran into during development of a project I was working on. Our original intention was to avoid discussing the game. The only information released would be in the form of teasers, small bits of non-information to interest people, but not disclose anything. Naturally, that was an impossible dream (cue the Man of La Mancha). Our parent company set us up with magazines to do covers, which also require articles. The publicity from landing a magazine cover is something that is very difficult to turn down. Of course, you can't have a cover without some corresponding coverage so there had to be some preview and/or interview in there somewhere. Unfortunately, the project was still fairly early in development so there was little actual time tested content to discuss leaving most attention on features that were merely in planning. This is bad. Discussion of features coming right out of the design document without any consideration for the state or future state of the title is a sure way to have your words come back to haunt you, or to put it more graphically, bite you in the arse.

I don't want to place blame here, our designer was doing his best to give the magazines something to print, it's just that such things really shouldn't be talked about so early in a title's development. As I am sure you are familiar with, gamers latch on to these features and discuss them into the ground. They hypothesize, they develop their own mechanics, they develop their own plots and much more. The point is, these early features are the basis for how the title is perceived. To come back two years later and not have those features is in a way, pulling the rug out from under them. They lose their grip on the core of the game and perceive this as an attack on THEIR game and therefore, an attack on them. Look at any forum for a newly released high profile title and you will see no end to the vitriol slathered around over missing features and lying developers and developers out of touch with the game they should be making, and in particular, claims of false advertising. How many times have you seen or even made statements yourself that some title was released without that super cool feature that everyone was looking forward to because the developer SAID it was going to be there (two years earlier)?

The fact is, it isn't false advertising. Advertising is what you see on point-of-sale displays, in magazine advertisements and on the game's box. If those are false, then you can claim false advertising. Publicity for a title prior to the title's release is marketing, and there's no requirement for that to be accurate, in fact, it's nearly impossible for it to be accurate. You pay for the product on the shelf, not the product talked about two years prior while the game is going through its prototype phase.

The problem is, the public has a difficult time separating previews from the final product. I'm not sure this is entirely the fault of the gamer, to be honest. I read a preview and I get just as hyped about a title as the next guy. All these cool features, all these neat effects, all these promises´┐Ż it's great stuff, but you need to keep in mind that it is designed to be "great stuff". The information given is intentionally positive and always glowing. The whole point of it is to get you interested in the title and they're going to say whatever they have to to get you psyched. As a gamer, you have to understand, that is the goal. Keep an open mind and remember that the released title may be different, even dramatically different than what was previewed a couple years ago or even a month prior to release.

Related Links:

  • Myth #2 - Developers push unfinished games to market so they can make more money.
  • Myth #1 - The developer exists only to bleed every gamer of all of his hard earned money.

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