Developer Appreciation Overthinking – Blaugust 18

830 wc

The Blaugust theme of the week is Developer Appreciation, but I’ll be honest, I have no idea how to write on this topic. It’s one of those situations where I have to decide whether to write what I think everyone expects, or write what I actually think.

I’m sure the intention here is to simply state, “I think games are great and I don’t think developers should get death threats on Twitter!” But that sounds a lot like “Sky Is Blue Week” or “Water Is Wet Week” to me. Of course I appreciate the developers of the games I play. I wouldn’t be buying or writing about their games if I didn’t! Of course I don’t think developers should be getting death threats, because I’m a normal human being who understands cause and effect, and the consequences of my actions.

So while at first it seems like it should be really easy to write a post about games I like, then I start to think, what does it actually mean to “appreciate” a game developer? Who is the “developer” in this context? Is it the person writing the code that makes the launcher work? Is it the person writing the text for the email marketing campaign? Is it the person painting a texture for a shield design? Is it the person painstakingly reviewing spreadsheets to decide how often something good comes out of a lockbox? Is it the person translating all of the quest text into Swedish? Is it the employees, or the sub-contractors, or the families who play-test early versions of games for free?

I guess I don’t think of most games as products of individuals anymore. They are large-scale productions from massive, nameless, faceless corporations, with pieces and parts that probably span the entire globe. What I see in a single screenshot could be the product of thousands of individual people’s time over the course of decades. Software in 2018 is usually just a massive ball of third-party libraries glued together, and each of those third-party libraries probably depends on a dozen smaller third-party libraries. Some of that code could be twenty or more years old, written by people who aren’t even alive anymore. (For example, any usage of the JPEG format in a game-ie. probably every game ever-is probably “based on the work of the Independent JPEG Group,” and that goes back to 1991.)

Even a lot of so-called “indie” games are fairly big productions. Kingdom Come: Deliverance, for example. Most of the crowdfunded productions coming to the MMORPG space “someday:” Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Ashes of Creation, etc. Their marketing departments would love for us to believe they’re made by a scrappy team of misfits in someone’s garage, but they’re still corporate productions, relatively speaking. Small, perhaps, compared to World of Warcraft, but pretty massive compared to something like Dungeons of Daggorath, which even in 1980, involved three people, not counting the publishers at DynaMicro.

And what is a meaningful form of “appreciation” anyway? Spending money on games seems like a big vote of confidence to me. I typically don’t buy games that I don’t think that I’ll like. It’s the most direct way I can show my appreciation to any developer, and it also happens to have a real, tangible, measurable effect. (The reverse is also true-I don’t spend my money recklessly in ways that I think will reinforce negative industry behavior, such as pre-ordering, or lockboxes.) Spending money is certainly the best way to show appreciation to any corporate game development conglomeration.

Now if we’re talking about tiny indie developers, that’s a whole different story. Here I mean the games that someone develops all by themselves, or in teams or two or three. (Like Dungeons of Daggorath.) Things like Project Gorgon, or the handful of games I’ve seen mentioned recently written by one person, all of which, naturally, escape my mind at the moment. Stardew Valley? Yes, that was a rare solo effort. Discounting the game engines, of course, and however many assets were purchased from contractors or web sites.

In those cases, buying the game is actually not enough to truly help the developer. It’s similar to self-published authors. You also need to tell everyone you bought it and even more importantly, you need to tell everyone you enjoy it. Maybe even write one of those new-fangled user reviews all the kids are talking about. Those are actually far more valuable to the developer than a purchase.

And this is where I’ve run out of steam on relaying this long, complicated, half-finished thought with no real point, except to illustrate how far I go into overthinking things, and normally I would leave it in my Drafts for a couple years. But since it’s Blaugust I have no choice but to post it. It’s the law!

The photo has no relevance to this post whatsoever. I think I took it at King’s Dominion sometime in the 2000s. It looks like it might be the Volcano.

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