Recently, Ska Studios announced that the PS Vita port of their title Salt and Sanctuary has been delayed. It was originally released for PS4 and Windows PC in March. The game is being ported to Vita by Sickhead Games, while Ska Studios (a team of only two people) ports Salt and Sanctuary to other regions.
While this seems normal enough, the developer James Silva (in explaining the delays as being a result of middleware issues), attempted to cut off any toxic reactions. “Sanity policy: I’m going to delete any post berating us for not having the Vita port done,” said James on Facebook. “Another studio is working on the Vita port. Yelling at either studio isn’t going to speed up anything.”
“As a general plea, I wish everyone could be civil to developers. In my nine years of professional indie game development, I’ve seen attitudes go from 95 percent supportive/5 percent meh to 50 percent supportive/50 percent angry, impatient, and downright hurtful,” they added. “Not only does it really turn a good mood sour fast, but I just hate to see the industry becoming such a toxic place.”
This has been an observed phenomenon, this toxic negativity, and it can be hard for any developer to deal with. There are a few things which have been observed to cause it, and developers would be wise to know what they are so they can anticipate any negative reaction.
1. Delayed Release
In our society of immediate gratification, having something scheduled for a particular time and then being delayed is perhaps a larger shock to the system for some people used to getting what they want when they want it. Video games, being a medium of immediate gratification, suffers from this perhaps more than any other medium.
Mighty No. 9 was a crowdfunded game that, due to its inspiration from the beloved Mega Man series, was highly anticipated. The original release of April 2015 was delayed to September 2015 to add extra voice support and to make sure the retail release would be simultaneous to the digital release. After a second delay into early 2016, the mood around the project started souring, particularly after a botched release of a demo. By the time the game got a third (and final) delay to June 2016, the anger was palpable. While the delays were hardly Might No. 9’s only issues, they definitely exacerbated the negative appraisal of the game from the internet at large.
No Man’s Sky instantly became hotly anticipated when it was revealed at VGX 2013. When the game was shown off at the main stage during Sony’s E3 2014 press conference, it attracted even more attention… and anticipation. Some fans were devastated when Kotaku reported that the game would be delayed two months and issued death threats to the reporter, and when the developer Hello Games confirmed the day, the rage and death threats shifted to Hello Games’ founder Sean Murray. Passion about the unreleased game was so thick as to prompt this sort of coarse response, a tribute to the game’s potential and the sort of emotions that can evoke.
2. A Slighted Port
People can be very tribal about their gaming system of choice, whether that’s a particular console or a Windows PC. People’s passion about their respective gaming systems means that any slight (or perceived slight) by a developer is often met with extreme criticism.
When Batman: Arkham Knight released on PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC in June 2015, the latter version was cited for major technical flaws and performance problems. It caused a backlash of negative reviews on Steam. The issues were so bad, Warner Bros. suspended sales of the game on Steam and offered refunds. The game was eventually patched in October, though not all of the issues were resolved, causing Warner Bros. to offer refunds until the end of the year. The game was eventually patched to a much more satisfactory state, but the kerfuffle was enough for Giant Bomb to name it the hottest mess of 2015.
A game that also released in 2015 and also involving Windows PC in some controversial capacity was Mortal Kombat X. When the game’s second “Kombat Pack” (featuring four new characters) was released, it was implied and later stated it would not be coming to Windows PC. A complete version of the game called Mortal Kombat XL, which featured all the DLC characters plus improved netcode, was also excluded from a Windows PC release. The game had had difficulties on Windows PC from release, delaying the release of the first Kombat Pack. This has made the game’s Steam page awash in negative reviews.
3. Graphical Downgrades
While lots of elements go into video games, the graphics are the most immediately apparent and are extremely important to any gaming experience, conveying the tone and rendering the environment that the player will explore. Because of this, any perceived alteration from what’s shown promotionally to what is actually released
When the first gameplay trailers of Dark Souls 2 came out, the environments made heavy use of shadows and vibrant lighting, The release version of the game has far less dynamic lighting, in addition to what seems like some lower-definition textures in some areas. While developer From Software attributed this to issues of “resource management”, it didn’t stop some people from knocking the game for the less saturated lighting.
Watch_Dogs is perhaps one of the most famous examples of a “graphical downgrade” this generation. The game really impressed at E3 2012, not just for it’s hacking components but its impressive display of a near future Chicago. When the game released, a breakdown of the graphics revealed far less use of vapor, mist, fog and general atmospherics, harsher lighting and some reduced detail in the environments. It was confirmed when some unused graphics files were found in the Windows PC version of the game. The negative response to this was such that Ubisoft changed their internal policies to make sure when a game was shown, it better resembled its final form.
Aliens: Colonial Marines also had noticeable graphical downgrades from its early gameplay demos, though that was frankly the least of that game’s problems.
4. Delayed Features
Most games these days ship and are later patched and changed. Sometimes parts of a game are released later, but most of the time when that happens it’s explicit that the game is in an incomplete state, and if it’s sold at all, it’s via Steam Early Access or some other paid beta program. This was not the case with Street Fighter V.
When Street Fighter V was released, it did not have a much touted story mode, which was delayed until June, and there was no “Arcade” mode. It had a significant negative effect on the review scores of the game, who argued that it was very bare-bones for a $60 product. Capcom is attempting to right the ship with a major patch they recently released in addition to a positive showing at the EVO 2016 fighting game tournament. Still, it’s an uphill battle fighting against the negative first impression the game made with many people.
Immediate Feedback + Bad News = Instant Hate
While some of the responses to these situations are more reasonable than others, they all tend to get exaggerated attention in the crucible of the internet. People get emotionally attached to video games, even video games that haven’t released. Thus, we see the raw emotions of people encouraged to like, comment and subscribe in the reality of Web 2.0.
Our social media laden society enables (and in many ways encourages) immediate feedback. Because our first reaction to many things can be laden with emotion, often in the extremes of positive and negative, kneejerk reactions to bad news are the reflection of the darker halves of people’s id. They can immediately share their anguish and rage; others see it, the reaction feeds on itself with often extreme reactions TO that reaction.
There’s no reason to think that the way people converse on the internet is going to grow any more cordial. Until then, developers should try and keep all parts of the game in front of them, not exaggerate any part of the game (even in an innocuous way) and maintain open release schedules with release dates can be made.
David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.