Marketing is the evil demon of publication. When games are released too early, we blame the marketers. When games crash to the desktop or randomly reboot our computers, we blame the marketers. “They were forced to push it out the door,” is what we hear whispered behind closed cubicles and chatted over the scuttlebutts. Those damned publishers and their market watching fiends. Why dont they just go back to tying women to railroad tracks and leave the developers to just develop games; to let the creative process be, well, creative.
What is a marketer? The simple blue-collar explanation (which is the kind of explanation I always prefer anyway), is someone who watches the market, notes the trends, charts the changes, and graphs the results. They take this information and use it to explain to publishers why releasing “King Kong Komedy Kapers III” in October is absolutely imperative because by January, people will probably figure out that it has nothing to do with giant apes swatting at bi-planes. Well why not keep fixing bugs and release it in November? Well, marketers will tell you that if you miss September, then you’ve missed Christmas. Even if you finished it in November, you’d be better off sitting on it until the next year. So more often than not, publishers, at the urging of their market watchers, will call up Joe’s House Of Development and say, “ship now or pick up your severance.” Joe’s House of Development, already working 20 hours shifts and eating cheese sandwiches, eagerly burns the latest build of King Kong Komedy Kapers III and ships it to the publisher.
And then the Seven Headed Whore of Babylon (also known as public relations) begins to rear its ugly head(s). One head speaks on behalf of the developers (“We released because they forced us to. We didn’t want to do it. We’re going to bust up a soda machine to prove ourselves to you.”), one head speaks on behalf of the publisher (“We were forced by our parent company to publish it now, or cancel the project. We knew that you would rather endure a fuzzy release than never see King Kong Komedy Kapers III ever.”), and one head speaks on behalf of the consumers (“fuck!”). The loudest head speaks on behalf of the ‘parent company’ but I don’t have a Dutch or French translator to post a pseudo-quote for you. Even if I did, it would simply blame the developer or the publisher or the consumers. It is a giant game of hot potato and ultimately, it is the guy who shells out $49.99 at the register who gets burned.
But guess what, folks. Marketers watch the market, and they advise publishers when to move and when to sit based upon that market. Do you know who that market is? It is you. It is me. It is the guy with his $49.99 at the register. They watch us and they make these decisions based upon what you and I have done in the past. We’ve purchased the Outposts and the Ultima IXs and any given sports title by Sierra – and waited for the patches to come. So how can we blame them when we ourselves, are the enablers. If we as consumers are the abused spouse, at what point do we pack up and move out of the house? World War II Online is still plugging away after what is easly the run-away winner of the big “have a cluster-fucked release” sweepstakes. Derek Smart is still DEVELOPING GAMES AT ALL after his stellar offerings (/sarcasm). Companies crank out deershooter clones faster than blue noodles from a Play-Doh Fun Factory(tm), while Dynamix gets shuffled into the coals. Why? Because we dont reward innovation. We reward speed. You’ve seen the posts on development boards, “Just release what you got. I want this game sooo bad!” – Marketers, Developers, Publishers; they see that. It is a safety net they greatly appreciate being given. Basically, we say to them, “I’d rather have your piece of buggy crap now than have a well tuned and smooth running gem six months later.”
And when they give us what we ask for, we want to skewer them on a greased spear and display their carcass for the rest of the industry to behold and tremble. “Release your game now, but dammit it had better be good.” If only this were possible; and knowing full well it is not possible, we keep sending out these vibes, and they keep sending us their betas for $49.99 a pop. We’re like the little mouthy girl in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I want a goose that lays golden eggs, daddy. And I want it NOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.
“Yeah I remember Dynamix. They went under early in the 2000’s I think. They had some great games back in the day, didn’t they? I wonder what happened – they just started releasing buggy crap after buggy crap and I guess they got what was coming to them.” This is what legacy will be attached to Dynamix ten and twenty years from now. Lost to history will be the fact that they were simply reacting to a market; to the consumers, who told them to just give us what we want today and don’t worry about tomorrow.
I’m not excusing bad business practices and I certainly am not supporting underhanded business tactics. We all have the right to get what we pay for.
Just as long as we stop getting what we ask for.