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BackDoor's Ramblings: Ethical Decisions

In the previous BackDoor's Ramblings, I covered the issue of 'Does game length matter when our $$$'s are on the line?' At the end of that editorial, I brought up another, even deeper issue that not too many people talk about, the ethical issues behind the length of a game. I said, "…that is another article for another day", and this my friends, is another day.

I know a lot of people get caught up in the hype of something that's got a lot of potential, or even in the simple hype that the mass media throws at the consumer even if the product doesn't have potential. Before I go any further, let me say that I mean 'potential' as in potential to be a quality product that consumers are looking forward to, and one that they don't mind spending their hard earned dollars on. A lot of the media will hype up any game or product just to try and sell another one of their own magazines or newspapers. Just in case you're not quite catching my drift yet, let me give you a prime example. PCGamer printed an interview in their January 2001 edition of their magazine with Michael Crichton, the author of a book known as Timeline. He is a very well known author who tried to turn his latest work into a PC game. In their interview with Michael, PCGamer states, "He may not know it, but Michael Crichton's leading a quiet crusade with his new game, Timeline." They also go on to say, "…the multi-talented creator has views on gaming that are nothing less than revolutionary." This is hype to get you to go out and buy his one hour and thirty minute long game called Timeline. That's right, the whole game is one whole hour, and thirty minutes long, for a suggested retail price of $39.99 (according to theEidos Store. Eidos is the Publisher of Timeline). Now mind you, the game supposedly ships with the novel in the game box as well, but does that make it worth $39.99. Better yet, does that make it right to mislead the public into thinking they're going to get a decent game, or even JUST a game, but wind up getting ripped off instead. Heck, what if the patron doesn't even read, or simply can't read? What use is the book then? They thought they were getting a PC game, not a book. According to PCGamer, "…Michael Crichton's leading a quiet crusade with his new game." How? By showing us gamers, fans, and consumers that we can be had for $39.99 because you're hyping up a product that you know nothing about? PCGamer is simply using the name game here. They figure they can lure people in to buy their magazine because of their interview with 'Michael Crichton', a well known author, but instead, they are really giving the public bogus vibes about a product that they themselves know nothing about other than what they are told by Mike, or screenshots they have seen of the game. As you can see, there are ethical issues that the game Developer, Publisher, and even Media have to weigh in their everyday lives, and as you can see, there are some of each of these types that frankly don't give a damn about what they are doing ethically, because it comes right back around to putting that almighty dollar in their pockets.

As the almighty dollar raises its hand as the premier ruler of the Earth, many people oblige it, and take it for granted that quality should always over-ride quantity. Instead, it's as if they are in a trance of some sort that is telling them, "Greed is good, greed is good, greed is very good. Ship the product now, who cares what they think, we just want their money." While some of these ignorant decisions are made by corporate figures that know nothing about their product, or their fan base, some of them aren't. Some of these decisions are made by people like you and me, that have worked their way to the top of the industry, but now could careless about the fans, because they are money driven. Some of these people don't even care about the money, at least not in a direct form. Instead, they're known simply as cheap. They believe 6 hours of actual game play is well worth $40. Either way, both types of people have some deep seeded ethical standards that are not up to par and they don't deserve to be in the position they're in.

First there's the Developer. The actual company that plans the game then creates it from head to toe. They develop all of the content of the game such as the graphics, story, characters, sound, music, voice acting, and even game editors. The Developer is the one determining the game play and game length from the restrictions put on them from the Publisher. Whether it's time constraints to ship a product, or budget constraints with how much money they have to spend on the project. The sad part here is, Developers use the Publisher as the scapegoat when things go bad. Sure, it is the Publishers fault sometimes for rushing the Developer, but sometimes it's not the Publishers fault, but the Developer will still place blame on them. If the Developer knowingly does not finish a game, but allows it to ship unfinished, that Developer needs to take the blame, because ultimately, it is their fault. They didn't have to sign that contract that said you have 2 years to do such and such project. When they sign that contract, they are putting their name on the line in more than one way. Also understand that not all contracts are set in stone, and don't have specified dates by which a product is due. In this case if the Developer ships an unfinished product, or even a very short title, then they need to get out of the business and do all of us a favor by not producing anymore junk. The Developers will always sit there and say, "Hey, I've got to feed my kids. I've got to pay my bills." So? You think I don't? If I gave my boss a half-assed product, I wouldn't expect to get paid, and they shouldn't either.

Now lets turn our attention to the Publisher. The Publisher wraps up the product, includes the manual (not all the time though), and provides support for the Developer (this too doesn't happen all the time). It's also the Publishers job to play test the shipping product and to iron out any bugs they find. This more of a joint effort between the Developer and Publisher, but it's the Publishers ultimate decision when and if to ship the product. Publishers are well known for hurrying the Developer, which in turn puts out a buggy product. Have they not figured out that the gaming community wants a quality product yet? Give the Developer time, and let them complete their job, then you can rake in the cash. I guarantee you'll make more money off of a quality product any day, than one that is rushed and buggy. Take Seadogs for instance. This game had so much potential. I don't know if it was necessarily rushed by the Publishers or not, but I do know that this game scored a lot of low marks in reviews, and lost a lot of sales, including mine, because of a buggy product. Imagine if they had taken a little extra time with the product and worked out more of the bugs. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, you've got Daikatana. Over 3 years in development, millions and millions of dollars later, and you get a shady, buggy product. You also have to keep what happened in their studios in perspective. Their team changed over 2-3 times, and every time that happened, they faced a setback. But still, the Publisher has to draw the line somewhere and say, "Enough is enough, and you my friend, have taken too much time and money." Eidos deserves a good swift kick for pouring that much money into one company, knowing what was going on in their studios, and giving them so much time to finish. Daikatana soaked up so much money that a lot of people blame Ion Storm and Eidos for Looking Glass Studios demise. I feel all three of them are to blame, but that's not the subject here. The bottom line is the Publisher needs to be more ethically conscious than any other party involved since they are the ultimate authority on when, and if a game ships. For them, it has to be a fine balance of time and money, and if they don't get it right with every product they are supporting, then they are doing the gamers out there an ethical injustice, because they are going to ship a knowingly bad product and take some ones money for it.

All we can do as gamers is hope we have more companies out there like Ion Storm Austin, or even the former Looking Glass Studios, who are willing to ship quality products, with quality game play, and who are knowingly, or unknowingly, ethically correct even when it comes to their business decisions by doing what's right.

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