Clarity is a multifaceted sword. I asked the ‘What would X prefer’ because it was an unanswerable question. You’re right; the game industry could use some more clarity. And, at the same time, less as well. It’s a mix of technology, PR, law, and the internet and not a simple problem.
First, I think it would be beneficial for development studios to share more in general. We’re a young industry and the industry, as a whole, is still trying to figure out how to make video games. Almost any project has a mix of veterans, which is generally considered to be anyone with more than 5 – 7 years experience and about 3 shipped titles (although these numbers could be wrong; I’m not sure what the ‘official industry-approved’ number is). With all the projects being run by people with different experience levels, and different past experiences, rarely does one find a studio where all of the senior leadership can absolutely agree on ‘this is how to make our video game’ from Day 1 of the project. More often, they bring lessons of what not to do, and the rest is made up of the best of intentions with the hope that this time there won’t be as much crunching (or insert other dev priority). Compare this to other entertainment fields; tv, movies, books, where there’s a long history of ‘how to make a…’ and most of the people involved will know what has to get done to achieve the project’s goal. Sure, there’s still some learning, and there are still technological advances that people are still creating and applying to the industries that can change the ‘how’ the project is made. But for video games, new technology is the rule rather than the exception, and since the platforms change and the tech changes constantly, even will a full suite of veterans, the ‘how’ can still remain largely unknown.
I like to think that if there was more cross-studio talk and knowledge-sharing, that some of these difficulties might be reduced. Eliminated; unlikely, but we could use a reduction. But of course, this easily turns the conversation towards the law. Imagine two employees of two different competing development studios working for two competing publishers. Sure, they may understand that emailing code to each other violates their companies rules about private information. But what about ‘how long it took to program the changes to the game’s save systems’? Is that a safe conversation to have? And how would they know that it’s safe? The litigious culture in America and the fact that most video game developers are eventually beholden to a publisher, which means a serious legal dept with serious money behind it means that these conversations generally just don’t happen. What hope does an individual developer have against a publisher’s legal dept in court? Let’s presume they don’t get sued; they just get fired. When they interview for new positions, I would expect it to be very difficult for them to get much farther past the ‘why did you leave your last position’ question. And if we’re not going to talk to each other like this, goodness knows we’re not going to talk to the public.
Add to this, that all out-ward facing communication has to go through the PR dept, and now there’s yet another wrinkle to sort out. These companies want to protect the public view of their company, and the products they put out, and so the people who get to say/share information are hand-picked. In the age of the internet, especially with products that are covered primarily on the internet, and where your target demographics have a high internet usage and are internet-savvy, well, it’s even harder to undo any damage that putting the ‘wrong’ person or the ‘wrong’ information out there might cause.
Which at last brings us to the internet. I think something like the recent Far Cry 4 narrative director video is a really nice example of exactly the kind of thing you’re asking for before a game release. And game postmortems are I think exactly what you’re looking for after the fact. But for every one of these, there’s also another side of the coin: developer harassment. The internet can be a blessing or a curse, and sometimes both at the same time, and I think more so for video games than other forms of media simply because the audience is maybe? the most familiar with the internet compared to movies, tv, or books? Suffice to say, the internet is unpredictable; and I think this is the most difficult part of the problem to crack.
Last, I get the impression, and I could be totally wrong about this, is that I get the impression that video games; more than movies, tv, or books, but video games seem to have an expectation around them that they are more obliged to tell their fans things than any other media. I can’t recall any particular movie shot where the internet complained ‘why didn’t you shoot batman from a lower angle in that shot’, or ‘why don’t you use the oxford comma’ in your book, or ‘why didn’t you shoot that on location rather than on a soundstage set’ for a tv show. Sure, there’s criticism and outspokenness for these fans for those media forms. But only video games seem to carry an impression that developers are beholden to respond to the audience about things like ‘why did you do checkpoint saves and not save anywhere?’.
For a developer to come out and actually answer that, the options are few: talk to the Publisher’s PR people and see if you can respond? Probably not. Do it anyway and risk being sued, fired, and banished from the industry? Ok, even if they do this, what next? Will the ever-unpredictable internet gods bless or curse the response? There’s just too much risk to the ‘everyday’ devs to do this.
So B McP; I, like you, would like more clarity from video game makers both in terms of professionally sharing information to make our jobs easier and better, but also from an audience standpoint, where I’d like to have more contact with them and share the things that we get excited about. But there’s just too much of a minefield to walk through currently.