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Dyack takes on the world

posted on July 8th, 2008 by john

Recently, Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights appeared on the 1up Yours podcast to discuss the current state of forum accountability, specifically citing the popular forum NeoGAF as a place that requires change before “something bad happens.”

The crux of his argument (though I recommend anyone interested listen to the entire podcast, because there are several layers of smoke and mirrors before he really gets to his point), is that the anonymity of online discussion leads to a lack of accountability, and that, coupled with the attention that such boards get from journalists and marketing organizations, is bad for the industry in general and society as a whole. It should be noted that Mr. Dyack also seems to think that message boards are “not for profit organizations,” when in reality they are simply giant internet water coolers where word of mouth propagates.

Denis made some good points about the subject, citing journalists who gave nigh-review level previews of his company’s Too Human based on unfinished code, a practice that is, to put it very mildly, irresponsible. Next he began railing against Metacritic, comparing the practice of score aggregation to IQ testing and then saying that both are arbitrary and useless (tearing down this argument is well beyond the scope of this article). The next stop was a recent post he made at NeoGAF (and the subsequent backlash). This is where he got to the heart of his rant, and where he started to go far off the reservation.

To give a little background, recently Denis called out the members of NeoGAF to “stand and be counted,” and give their absolute positions on his upcoming game Too Human. Of course the thread reached epic proportions, with everyone and their mother giving their two cents on the predicted success or failure of the upcoming title.

In the podcast, he went off on a tirade claiming that he wrote that post purely as a “social experiment,” then accusing forum goers of judging his game without having any basis for doing so. He additionally implied that no one should post their opinions of a game that they have not yet played. In this, I don’t think he could possibly have been more wrong. When you put information out there about your game- screenshots, footage, etc- you’re doing it in the hopes that it will generate positive buzz. Denis’s tirade, once you strip away the babble about anonymity and accountability, has very little merit at all. Particularly when you consider that he baited these reactions by asking for people to state how they felt about his game and then complaining that they shouldn’t be able to speculate without having played it.

He argues that people should play the game before they are allowed to express an opinion of it. This works out great for Denis, since this scenario features thousands of people buying his game in order to have the right to discuss it. Unfortunately for Denis and Silicon Knights, the average consumer doesn’t have the time or money to buy and play every last game that comes out just to have the pleasure of satisfying Dyack’s conditions for entering the conversation.

If he wants to complain about journalists acting improperly or marketing companies being lazy about their research and scouring forums for data, then those are the parties he should be consulting. Instead he’s flailing wildly, trying to prevent word of mouth from spreading.

One has to wonder if Mr. Dyack would feel quite as strongly if the forums were generating positive hype, the way he had intended.

PlayPlay

8 Comments

  1. jay said on July 9, 2008:

    This is a complex subject. Let me get the fact that Dyack is an insecure, odd guy out of the way. Done.

    On the subject of previews, I think Dyack learned the wrong lesson. He came away with the idea that next time he needs to show them something amazing and not the correct conclusion that previews are done poorly. Game journalists should have seen enough unfinished games to recognize what core mechanics exist and if they are potentially fun and then all the rest of the crap that is in constant flux, like frame rate, graphics, sounds, etc.

    Cautiously optimistic but truthful previews would be useful for readers, as opposed to the usual fluff piece about how everything coming out looks awesome.

    As for expressing our opinions on games we haven’t played, there is a smidgen of truth in the idea. We shouldn’t judge books by their covers but we also shouldn’t entirely dismiss every other persons opinion. You don’t need to see Gigli to know it sucks, you can really just take my word for it. There is a balanced level of informed yet open minded that we can achieve – I get Dyack having a problem with people who absolutely hate a game that doesn’t exist yet (though as a variation on John’s point, Dyack would be happy about people loving his games that don’t exist yet).

    The bigger problem with not forming opinions about things that aren’t out yet is that if we didn’t have positive feelings for upcoming games why would we ever buy them? Our impressions of unplayed games doesn’t just keep us away from titles, it drives us to spend money on others. If I didn’t already think Eternal Darkness was a good game I wouldn’t have bought it.

  2. Christian said on July 9, 2008:

    The one idea I like to discuss, but Dyack does a poor job of addressing, is how sites like GAF and Kotaku have too much influence over a game’s sales and acceptance. You could say that the power these user’s have is a good thing, that the customers finally have a voice. But that voice isn’t simply retarded nine times out of ten. It is also likely to be following whatever script/meme/idea is popular among the internet hivemind. You can’t tell me that users whining about online co-op in games that don’t really need it is a shining example of the internet at work.

    Someone needs to show these people that they, in fact, are not part of the industry, and they need to stop posturing like they are.

  3. Wesley said on July 9, 2008:

    Listening to Dyack try to explain these ideas to the messageboard-posting, Kotaku-reading demographic, to quote someone else on this topic, is “like trying to explain to a group of teenagers why Chaucer is more culturally relevant than Fred Durst.” He’s got good ideas, he’s got a good point, but he sucks at articulating it coherently and a hivemind of adolescents like NeoGAF isn’t suddenly going to say “Oh ok! I get it now! Thanks, Denis!”

  4. bruce said on July 9, 2008:

    Just
    make
    good
    games.

    The rest will come. Maybe not in the time frame you want, but Double Fine is making another game, Behemoth is working on their second game, and Beyond Good and Evil 2 is in the works. Your good work today may not make you a rockstar (if that’s what you want), but it WILL be recognized, and you will need to be on the good side of all people like those on the NeoGAF forums to ensure that it gets that recognition.

    So remember,

    Just
    make
    good
    games.

  5. Christian said on July 9, 2008:

    Bruce, here is (I hope) a good question for you. When it comes to making good games, time seems to be a potential issue. Some games that take a while come out great because they had all the time in the world to simmer. Others, like Daikatana or other flops end up being in development hell for so long (and switching platforms so many times) that they end up being less than it should. Too Human seems to be in the latter category, and much of that seems due to Dyack’s unwavering vision of what the game should be. When developers do this it often seems the case that the end product is hardly like their vision, as compromises have to be made in order to ship a product. These games also often fail with current gen technology and design concepts because they were meant to have come out years before, and everything was shoehorned onto the current platform. At what point should the team say “we need to wrap this up”, and when does it seem appropriate to push forward and achieve the vision?

  6. bruce said on July 10, 2008:

    That’s a very good question, I will attempt to answer it in a cogent manner.

    No amount of time, months or years, will produce a great game if there is not a strong creative driver behind the project. This ‘creative driver’ can be a person or it can be a process. Sometimes a long development can be due to vanity (Battlecruiser 3000AD being the most notable example) which, generally, results in a poor game because someone doesn’t know how to listen to constructive criticism.

    But neither a good designer nor process will produce a great game without a great cohesive team behind the vision. People love to focus on personalities (Miyamoto, Inafune, etc.) but the truth is those guys wouldn’t be where they are without a LOT of supporting cast turning their visions into code and data. I suspect that in the future we’ll see more development get the ‘process’ down to a science, as Valve and (probably) Blizzard have done. They consistently produce great games with multi-year development cycles, but a ‘rockstar’ never seems to come forth to soak up all the acclaim. Which is I think for the better. I’d rather Valve the entity be known for making great games than some particular employee of Valve getting the big head and thinking they alone were responsible for the game’s success.

  7. Christian said on July 10, 2008:

    Good observations about Valve and Blizzard. While there are people in each company that will rear their heads at times, it is often for business and development purposes. Gabe Newell will tell you how the company is doing, but he isn’t going to do a photoshoot pose and make a hyperbolic statement about a Valve product (like half the staff at Epic seems to like to do). This is the way more companies should go towards, especially considering the success Valve and Blizzard have. Why they instead go in the opposite direction? Perhaps it is easier.

  8. TrueTallus said on July 13, 2008:

    Maybe having someone attached to a developer who is well known enough to turn heads is too dependable a pull from a marketing perspective for publishers to resist, particularly when they are dealing with a project that seems risky. 2K Boston isn’t as recognizable as Ken Levine, and in an era with so much corporate reshuffling, expecting potential customers to keep track of any one company and its history (outside those like Blizzard or Valve) might seem like too big a gamble to the people footing the bill for a game’s release. To some extent, it seems like a good idea from a customer perspective as well: I can say I’m happier to know Chris Avelone will be writing for Alpha Protocol than I am realizing it’s being created by the same company that couldn’t finish Kotor II.

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