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TSG Asks: Should questionable development practices affect game reviews?

The games industry “culture of crunch” has truly gotten out of hand.

Making video games is a difficult business. From one-man passion projects to small independent studios to massive, international development teams, it doesn’t matter how many people you have working on a game it will always be a struggle to make great art. This difficulty often leads to unreasonable work hours and inordinate amounts of anxiety, causing the stress of making games to spill over into people’s everyday lives. The questionable development practices that push people who make games to the edge of sanity have been of increasing concern lately, especially in the realm of AAA game development. Knowing that a game you’re playing was made with unreasonable sacrifices on the part of the developer can really put a damper on your enjoyment of it, but how does that conversation fit into the broader realm of games journalism? This is what we pondered when posed the question:

This is a difficult question, but I ultimately have to land on no, it shouldn’t affect how a game is received. Differentiating between art and artist is always an important mentality when dealing with any medium, even though they should never be entirely separated. It’s a bit tougher with AAA games because of how many people and how much work is often put into them. This frequently has a negative effect on employee’s lives, but using that against the game itself is unfair. This is especially true because a lot of times the reception of a game weighs heavily on the size of employee bonuses, so rating a game negatively because of that would often punish employees even more rather than help. Developers need to be held much more accountable for treating their workers well, but it’s important for game criticism to be focused on the game itself. There are other, more investigative forms that are better suited for exposing questionable development practices.

I don’t think questionable production should completely overshadow the critical reception of a game, but I think completely divorcing the process from the product results in an incomplete, and at worst, misleading, perspective. It seems valid to credit games for *positive* notable development details, like the fact Spelunky or Minecraft were created by a single person, so it seems equally valid to (dis)credit games for negative development details. Reviews, especially in formats that result in a numeric score, may not the best place to detail these factors, but as more and more people in the industry experiment with more nuanced ways to discuss games, I think these details are important to bear in mind.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an almost overwhelmingly remarkable game and deserves to be discussed and appreciated for years to come. It is an amazing achievement and I have loved nearly every second I have spent playing it. But it’s possible to hold the art in that high a regard while also acknowledging the questionable practices that created it, and at the end of the day, I do think such practices should impact the games critical reception. If we ignore harmful, avoidable practices because the product that results is good, we send the message that such practices are justified, and rather than contribute to improving those practices, we may encourage them. Companies measure a game’s success (and therefore the means in which they are made) by their review scores – period. If there are no consequences to be found there, there is no real, pressing incentive to improve conditions.

RDR2 is an OUTSTANDING experience, and every person involved – the Houser brothers included – deserve acknowledgment for their work. But if we let the ends justify the means, the industry will never change.

Jumping off of Devin, it would be a great disservice to all those working ridiculous hours to not enjoy the game they slaved over. It doesn’t make what they went through okay, and the game’s achievements are not an endorsement for these labor practices. However, as someone who works very hard to provide quality content, the last thing I want is for someone to take a dump on it because I didn’t get enough sleep producing it. If anything, I’d want that validation more that my hard work was worth the anguish it took to get it there.

It’s tricky though. I’m more willing to let my opinion of Bill Cosby’s actions affect my views of his work. Maybe the difference is that he is a single person who acted of his own accord. In many cases, these developers’ hands were forced or at least manipulated.

Written by TSG Staff

Top Shelf Gaming is a platform where gamers can share their unique stories and perspectives in a welcoming environment. If you would like to submit an article to us or join our staff, please send an email to submit@topshelfgaming.net.

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