Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Home > Features > Op-Ed: We Need To Stop Calling Indie Developers “Lazy” Over Console Exclusivity

Op-Ed: We Need To Stop Calling Indie Developers “Lazy” Over Console Exclusivity

We need to put a stop to labelling indie developers as “lazy” when they’re developing a platform exclusive game:

“What? It’s not coming to Xbox? Go F**k yourself. Lazy devs”

“What about Switch? No Switch version, no sale. Even if this comes to Switch, I won’t buy it now. You’re just being lazy. Snub”

“All your other games came to PS4 at the same time as Xbox One. Why isn’t this one? This is lazy”

Maybe comments like these have existed since the dawn of consoles. Perhaps there has been a recent rise in comments like these as more and more developers opt for a single console (as well as PC) launch or maybe it has just increasingly crept into the edges of my social bubble. All of the above comments are real and are taken from the replies to an announcement of a game on Twitter. All of these games were launching on PC and either PS4, Xbox One or The Nintendo Switch. There are scores of comments like these that get fired at developers like bitter salvos when they aren’t currently targeting a platform for their game. Thousands of them. The more I see of this, the more it irks me.

Let’s just clear up a few things first – It’s not the port begging that irks me – nor does it bother any developer I’ve ever spoke too. It’s a minor annoyance to some for sure but some developers find the polite “If you bring [X game] to [Y Platform], you’ll get a sale from me” emails/tweets/comments helpful to gauge interest from other platforms.
And I’m not saying that all developers aren’t “lazy”. There are a number of studios flipping store bought assets into the a game that already exists then launching them hopefully onto Steam Greenlight under a different name in the hope of turning over a quick buck. If you ever watch any of Jim Sterling’s Best of Greenlight videos, you’ll likely be familiar with the culprits I’m referring too.

No, what irks me about these comments is the “lazy” part. I mean, it’s never right to call anyone “lazy” without justification, but in this instance it’s infuriating. It’s the insinuation that because a game isn’t coming to a platform that these gamers want it on, the developer is somehow not putting in enough work, not pulling their weight. The thing is, at least for every game developer I’ve ever met (which is probably in triple figures now), the term “lazy” couldn’t be any further from the truth.

There are a load of reasons why a game might be releasing on only one console platform. It could be that the development team is small and they only feel like they can manage one console port at a time. It might be that they’re being funded by a publisher (such as Sony’s Pub-Fund). It might be that the developers have come to an agreement with a console manufacturers in return for marketing and PR. It could be simply that the money for development has run out and plans for a multi-console launch have to be put on the backburner while the game is launched to recoup costs. In some instances, the developers might be burned out and just need the game to be out there. It might be that the developers just don’t think their game would run well on another platform or that the work involved to get it to run well wouldn’t be worth it. It could be that the developers are aiming for a staggered console release to increase the sales tail of a game. There are hundreds of reasons – and none of them are laziness.

The fact is, the abuse that developers receive over this is entirely unjustified. There isn’t a single developer out there that I’ve met that I think would say “Nah, I can’t be bothered to port this game to other platforms, potentially throwing away thousands in earnings”. Making a game is tough and developers are constantly having to make difficult decisions. Releasing on the wrong platform/s might be the difference between studio profit and studio closure and they don’t need “armchair publishers” filling up their twitter notifications with claims they’re being “lazy”…

Now, I started to write this op-ed almost a month ago when Three Fields Entertainment announced Danger Zone, their spiritual successor to the Burnout Crash Mode, for PC and PS4. Right on cue, replies to their announcement on their official account as well as on any media coverage started to fire in filled with “Lazy dev” accusations because there was no announcement of an Xbox One version. This led to studio founder Fiona Sperry releasing a statement on twitter to the reasons why Danger Zone won’t be on Xbox at launch (small studio, self-publishing with own money, hopefully release on Xbox One later), defending her team as best she could. Even then, Fiona received abusive replies.
I couldn’t believe that gamers would send a wave of abuse at someone when provided with incredible reasoning as to why that a decision was made – I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised by this kind of stuff by now, this is the internet after all, but it did – and this series of events evoked a pretty powerful response from me and I did something I probably shouldn’t have done…

A day later I sent an email to as many developers that I could find, scrolling through every indie game console exclusive since the release of the Xbox One, filling out contact forms on websites and trying to contact as many developers as possible. I hunted down those developers that had come under fire for the same reasons as Three Fields Entertainment (reaching out to more than 40 developers by the end) and I asked them, under the promise of anonymity if they so desired, how being called “lazy” about their game launching as a console exclusive made them feel.

Since then, I’ve had 2 replies. Here they are:

“We knew we would get a reaction about launching first on Xbox One but we didn’t really anticipate the sheer number of replies we got. At the time, we didn’t have a choice because we wanted to have [game name] on as many consoles as possible and to do that we had to launch on Xbox first or not at all. When the Facebook replies started to the trailer, we met up and talked about whether we had made a huge mistake. People were angry and we understood why. They wanted to play our game and we couldn’t come out and talk about a Playstation version yet. It was disheartening and there were some harsh times but we made enough from the Xbox version to hire and we got [game name] onto the Playstation 4 quickly.”

So at least some developers sympathise with the situation. On the other hand, this second reply…

“[game name] is still not and will never be on the X1. I hope that answers your question”

…Not so much.

The Moral of the story: Please, for the love of all things Bleszinski, stop abusing indie developers about exclusivity. By all means, let them know that you’d be interested in purchasing their game on a platform should that opportunity ever arise, but we need to stop calling developers “lazy” over the difficult choices they have to make to survive.

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When I first reached out to indie developers, I did so from a Gmail account set up specifically for that purpose because FingerGuns.net had not been born yet. This will have affected the reponse rate (because who replies to a random Gmail account, right?). If you are an indie developer and have something to say on the above, you can now contact me on Sean@fingerguns.net with the promise of anonymity should you wish it.

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