TR Member Perks!

Being a game developer is not an easy job. It’s an industry notorious for overworked and unappreciated employees. To make matters worse, developers are incredibly restricted in what content they can produce. Indie developers often lack the resources to bring their full vision into reality. Although larger development studios have more resources available, they are often at the mercy of their publishers.

This is a major problem within the video game industry at the moment: publishers are too risk averse. They are absolutely allergic to new IPs. That’s why they pump out sequels to popular franchises on a yearly basis. In the rare cases where they take a chance on a new IP, it’s usually meddled with by the publisher, and ends up being a watered down version of what the developers envisioned. So we end up with a bunch of generic, bland, and incredibly similar games being produced. They are technically impressive but lacking in creativity and heart.

Obviously there are exceptions, but in general the video game industry has become stale. I strongly believe that the best way for video games to advance as a medium is to give developers as much artistic freedom as possible. Yes, they will make mistakes, developers are still human after all, but even deeply flawed games with a spark of creativity can offer a worthwhile experience. Dedicated developers with a passion for video games will learn from their mistakes and push the medium forward.

hotline miami 2 screenshot 1

Recently we’ve seen the rise of various video game critics who have appointed themselves as gatekeepers of the video game industry. They tell us it’s very important for video games to mature as a medium, and the only way that can happen is if everything they disagree with is entirely removed from the video game industry. Far from advancing the medium forward, this just makes an already bad problem worse. Like the publishers, these gatekeepers wish to further limit developers’ artistic freedom, and it will only end up making the video game industry more bland and boring.

Now the critics are quick to cry foul. They insist they are not here to censor video games – they just want to make them better. However their actions tell a different story. They attempt to stir up moral panic by promoting debunked links between video games and social problems. Recently we’ve also seen a number of hate mobs being riled up on Twitter, with the intention of pressuring developers into self-censoring their work. And of course we’ve had the petitions to have games removed from brick and mortar stores as well as online retailers like Steam. All these actions have the effect of crushing artistic freedom and further limit what developers can create.

The critics claim they are doing nothing wrong – they are just exercising their free speech. It’s not like they are advocating for government enforced censorship. As much as I disagree with them and believe that intimidating developers in this way is morally objectionable, I do have to admit that they are within their legal rights to do so. The solution is to counter their unscientific propaganda about the negative effects of video games with the truth, and to stand up for developers’ artistic freedom against the raging mobs.

Can adults handle this? I believe they can.

The great thing is people have been speaking up in favor of game developers. And boy are the critics upset about it. Pseudo-intellectual Chris Franklin, aka Campster, tweeted out a message stating that if someone supported the game Hatred being put back on Steam, after it was temporarily removed, it was proof that they were part of a hate group. It’s hard to imagine a more profoundly stupid statement being made on this matter. It seems like a would-be gatekeeper lashing out at anyone who dares to support a game he has judged to be morally objectionable. Steam did the right thing and the game was put back on the store. In this particular case, the critics failed to enforce their will.

Really, if all these critics wanted to do was give an opinion on a game there wouldn’t be any problem. But critics like Jonathan McIntosh are creating unscientific propaganda videos on YouTube, and tweeting Jack Thompson-esque screeds about violent video games on twitter, all for the purpose of getting a mob of special interest supporters to attack game developers. The mainstream press is happy to promote these critics and their ideas, but what was the most surprising thing to see last year was that most of the gaming press is promoting them as well. The same gaming sites which ridiculed Jack Thompson are now fully embracing his ideas because this time its coming from the mouths of self-proclaimed progressives.

The most important thing to do is let your voice be heard. Tell a game developer how much you enjoy their work and support their artistic vision. This tiny group of critics gets a voice massively disproportionate to their number, thanks to the support of the press, so it will take a large effort for average gamers to get their voices heard. The only way the medium will advance is if gamers stick up for developers’ artistic freedom.

In 40 years we went from Pong to Skyrim, which is an absolutely amazing achievement. And every single advance was brought about by creative people experimenting with new ideas. Not a single advance in video games, or any other medium, was brought about by caving to a group who tried to dictate what people were not allowed to create. I hope everyone remembers who has really been pushing video games forward all this time: the developers.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.



  • chris perez

    Even if US developers continue to cave to the threats of the moral minority we will always have the Japanese and Polish developers like CD Projeckt Red. Let the developers that succumb to the moral panic fall to the wayside and be forgotten. Developers with a backbone ready and willing to take their place will rise to the occasion.

  • Syndromic

    These gatekeepers don’t even have much credentials to be taken seriously especially when they are the privileged moonbats from upper class families or hypocrites. The fact these devs take them seriously, I can’t have much faith in them either.

  • The statement “I want the video game medium to mature and grow up” has to be one of the most pretentious things I’ve heard coming out of the industry. It’s gotten to the point where if I hear someone use it, I tend to assume that guy is insecure about his hobby. Why else would you say something like this in the context of “these games shouldn’t exist like this, they’re holding the medium back” when that sort of idea would actually *restrict* creative freedom and do real damage to the medium’s growth? If you genuinely believe in pioneering for the video game medium, the last thing on your mind should be the banning or discouraging of any elements in a game, especially if you like to go on about how games shouldn’t be fun and should make you uncomfortable.

  • I agree with the general sentiment expressed here, however I lost count of the times I read the phrase “artistic freedom”.

    Also, about the first two paragraphs, I think there’s too much bad rap on the publisher side. I’m not going to say that they’re completely justified. Indeed, there’s a lot to be said about bad practices on the publisher side. However, long term survivability is more important than artistic freedom. I don’t necessarily disagree with what’s written but there’s a few points that get lost in the need to extol the virtues of artistic expression and the unnecessary “games are art” agenda.

    The AAA games industry has been in a very precarious position since the previous generation, when the global recession hit, while development costs kept going up with a geometric progression. And the reason is the hardcore gamer who kept asking for more technology (more graphics, more framerates, more voice acting) heedless to the cost. With this, comes the pressure to move a huge number of units and recoup costs since one single flop is enough to financially destroy a studio. Cue season passes and other scams to keep hardcore cows being milked for the long term and positive viraling to do damage control about ailing sales (Did you notice how PR announcements changed from “x units sold” to “x units shipped”?). Here’s a little test for those of you with very short memories. Do a little search and see how many studios closed their doors last gen after one game failed. So it follows that, when spending huge amounts of money, publishers think it’s best to play it safe.

    The root of the problem is the mentality that has bred this situation. This is what devs and publishers fail or are too afraid to recognize. A select few indie games are pointing the way, however I don’t see a lot of change being made at the moment.

  • Clemenceau

    Ah yes, Mr. Franklin. The same man who tweeted that TotalBiscuit’s award from TVGA wasn’t legitimate because he wasn’t dead yet. The same man who insists on eliminating video games as consumer product, and replacing it as propaganda. Campster used to do really interesting mechanical analysis of games, but once he sniffed out he could get patreon dosh and a ticket into the gaming pseudo-academics club if he pushed ‘muh ludonarrative dissonance’ and Marxist identity politics, his integrity vanished. Shame on him for his mendacity and his willingness to throw the baby out with the bathwater just to win political points with the San Fran crowd.

  • Max

    First of all regarding the many occurences of the phrase “artistic freedom”, I completely understand. Due to search engine optimization stuff, we have to choose a unique SEO word for each article, which usually is not a single word but actually a phrase. In this case “artistic freedom” was my SEO word. And to help with the rankings we are supposed to use the SEO word as often as possible. This has been a major problem in every single editorial I’ve written, and a fair number of my news pieces, which is the fact that using the same phrase over and over again for SEO rankings runs contrary to good writing practices of not overusing the same word or phrase. Hopefully I can find a better balance in the future.

    Secondly I can see where you are coming from about me being too hard on publishers. Although I think there is a serious problem with them being too risk adverse, I can understand that caution is required when huge amounts of money are on the line. Because I was mainly focusing on another topic with this editorial, I didn’t cover the publishers with much detail or nuance. Looking at why Publishers are risk adverse could be worth an entire article on its own.

  • Jon Snow

    I just googled chris franklin. I don’t care about the opinion of anyone sporting a mullet in 2015

  • Max

    Actually its not the same guy. The Chris Franklin mentioned in this article does not have a mullet. He is also far less notable than the Australian comedian of the same name, so he gets buried in search results. Although he still isn’t anyone whose opinion she be cared about, really.

  • Parrikle

    I think we need to draw a distinction between gatekeeper and commentator. Critics such as Anita Sarkeesian are not gatekeepers, as they do not have an real power to decide what does or does not get published. Generally, the role of gatekeepers in game development has fallen since the expansion of online distribution, but the gatekeepers of the industry are the publishers and major distributors. If the concern is that the gatekeepers are preventing artistic visions from being published (which I tend to disagree with, in the sense that indie development is now relatively open, but may hold in the AAA industry), then the targets should primarily be publishers and distributors over commentators.

  • ShitBiscuits

    “It’s not like they are advocating for government enforced censorship.”

    And let’s be clear here, if they’re smart, they won’t even try. Gamers will straight up destroy them at the federal level. Why? Because we’ve witnessed this kind of horse shit before, twice, and we know what to expect. These morons have no idea what kind of shitshow they’d be stepping into if they took this to the government.

    The first time, they tried to censor music, and Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider marched straight up to congress and told the PMRC to go fuck itself.

    The second time, they came after video games. Namely, Mortal Kombat and Night Trap. The only thing they successfully got was a voluntary ratings board, developed by the industry itself, that most people pretty much ignore because no one ever really cared.

    Make no mistake, these are the same people, of the same mindset and cut from the same cloth. The only difference is that this time, they come from within our own industry. And we need to be reinforcing the notion that these are the same people in the mind of the public. Because linking the two will drive home the point that these people do not care about our hobby. They care about their agenda, whatever that may be.

  • Jon Snow

    Oh thanks for that. Found the right one. His twitter description…

    I discuss games and the nature of interactive system design. A lot. I also spew pretension

    Somehow I don’t think that’s exaggeration.

  • I’m an indie dev myself, and I can tell you that game developers don’t care about the credentials. We care about the audience. It often seems like all the gaming press all have the same idealogical position. A developer can make a game that criticises that position, but you can bet your boots that they press won’t promote it. There might be a large potential audience that wants to play that game, but they will never know about it.

    At least, that was the way things roughly were until #GamerGate erupted.

    Those of you that want to help developers feel free to create what they want, the most important thing you can do is to promote and share the games that the games media won’t. Not just the ones that they hate, but the ones they refuse to talk about. The more that developers see that the ‘gatekeepers’ can’t actually block success, the less mind they will pay to their pronouncements.

  • Max

    I have pretty similar thoughts. The main difference between mcintosh and thompson, is that mcintosh is much smarter about picking his battles. I don’t doubt for a moment that they would pursue actual legal censorship if they could get away with it, its just obviously not going to work at this time.

    Another way they are clearly smarter than the previous batch of moral censors is the way they tailor their message. On twitter mcintosh will make statements about the supposed links between video games and violence and other nonsense, but that doesn’t really seep into the feminist frequency youtube videos. The videos are carefully tailored for a wider audience, while twitter is mainly for people in the clique to circle jerk.

  • BasedLink

    McIntosh? Smart about picking his battles? If he was, he wouldn’t have picked a fight with gamers and had his shit rekt.

  • Max

    Fair enough. I mean they clearly had no idea who they were messing with when they picked a fight with gamers, and it was a pretty big mistake. But I still think they are carrying out their agenda at least more intelligently than Jack Thompson and his ilk.

  • Max

    My usage of the term gatekeeper was prefaced by the term self appointed to indicate that its more of an aspiration than a reality. I even refer to one as would-be gatekeeper indicating a lack of actual success. These people look to the old media as their inspiration, where tiny groups can act as gatekeepers, and they wish to hold that role in new media. So far their actual success at limiting creative freedom of developers has been mixed. But if everyone remains silent and the larger gaming sites only present the views of these critics, its easy for developers to think they represent gamers as a whole. People speaking out with differing opinions is the solution to prevent them from becoming actual gatekeepers.

  • Parrikle

    Unfortunately, your wording doesn’t seem to match your intent – you seem to present the critics as gatekeepers, rather than people who aspire to be gatekeepers. In the second paragraph the real problem is identified – risk averse publishers. They are the real gatekeepers, and are going to remain as such for the foreseeable future – at least for AAA developers. Therefore the target should be encouraging publishers to take greater risks, rather than focusing on commentators who have no real power.

    To be honest, the core problem with gaming today is a series of bland, AAA games – predominately sequels – aimed at the same core demographics, using tropes and game mechanics that have barely changed in the last decade. I’d tend to disagree that the new critics are damaging – if anything, they seem to be encouraging developers to try different things in character design and development. What we’re seeing now is a push for increased options in game design, often reflected in the indie scene, which might help the bigger publishers to try new things.

  • Ajt

    The oft complained about risk averse nature of the big AAA publishers and the stifling effect it has on game creativity is thankfully a wholly organic self correcting problem. In short it will fix itself to our satisfaction just as the normal course of business. This is that “creative destruction” that you always hear conservative and libertarian economists going on about. That “invisible hand”. By playing it safe the AAA’s will leave openings for challengers to find a market. And the most succesful of these will be the types of things we the consumers want. Watching EA’s failure with Simcity contrasted with the over the top success of the small team developed Cities Skylines is a great example of how this happens.

    We talk a lot about these ultra small hipster Indy devs too busy going for lifestyle over substance, that we often fail to appreciate the real game changers. Things like Minecraft, League of Legends, FTL, etc. even the success of B list projects from otherwise AAA developers such as Blizzards Hearthstone help change the environment. We won’t see all the brown shooters disappear overnight, but change will continually happen. The trick is buy what you like, not what they tell you to like. Don’t buy what you don’t like, even if they tell you you should or should not like it. Make valid consumer judgements and the developers and publishers will respond. It really is that simple.

  • marcusmaximus04

    “the last thing on your mind should be the banning or discouraging of any elements in a game”

    To play devils advocate: does that include day 1 DLC, paid “get ahead” packages for multiplayer games and free-to-play casual games?

  • Jesus Zamora

    Indeed. We’ve already seen this in AAA, where reviews rarely influence sales either way. It’s up to us to make sure the old games media is just as ineffective in indie.

  • Jesus Zamora

    Pretty much. I also disagree that this is a recent phenomenon. Trends have come and gone since the beginning, from platformers to fighting games to Doom-style FPSes, to over-the-top violence, and everywhere in between. People act like copy-cats and bland cloning is a new problem, but in reality, it’s plagued every creative medium since the dawn of time, and in gaming, I don’t see a difference between the shallow Call of Duty imitators of today and the shallow Mario imitators of my childhood.

  • Viredae

    Actually yes, that should include day 1 DLC, pay-to-win packages and so on.

    The solution? Don’t buy that DLC, don’t play that free-to-play game that offers pay-to-win, don’t pre-order your games.

    If there is a segment of the market that DOES enjoy playing those games and dishing out money to play them, then far be it for us to stop them.

    Instead, purchase the games that DON’T resort to such cheap tricks, show those developers that you prefer good game design over hollow marketing strategies.

    After all, if you’re so opposed to these principles, you should have no problem not playing those games, seeing how you don’t like them.

    Conversely, buying a game DESPITE having such components should be an indicator that the game is good enough to overcome such weaknesses.

  • Fenrir007

    It’s the kind of drivel spoused by those who resent their craft and their failure in securing a position of importance in journalism proper (no offense, techraptor) or in other fields, like making actual games.

    Perhaps they find frustrating to explain in parties and gatherings to your friends and family that “yes, I’m still writing about videogames. No, I can barely pay my rent”, so they try to make the field artificially more important by adding value through their made-up academia babble.

  • Fenrir007

    I agree on some points, but I do believe the publishers put themselves into an unsustainable position due to seeking an artificial growth that was needed to appease their ever-hungry shareholders.

    By moving away from exploring niches into concentrating their efforts into all-or-nothing blockbusters, they put too many eggs in their basket. Since they had fewer games out, they had to make sure those that they had attracted a big enough audience to compensate. To do that, they needed marketing, and over time ended up with inflating budgets that, by now, may even dwarf the developmen cost of the games in some cases. They also needed to churn them out fast, and this makes them inflate dev teams and lose control and focus in the process, while making the budget even fatter. This over-reliance on a handful of overfunded titles makes them unable to diversify their portfolio or strategy, and this leads to stagnation – a bubble ready to pop. Big enough studios like EA can absorb the eventual drough (especially with their perpetual sports licensing deals), but others just can’t.

    Honestly, when you have an industry where a million units sold are considered a failure by a studio, you know things are simply unsustainable. This could have all been avoided by proper budgeting, better focus on art direction instead of the graphical prowess of individual art assets and lowered marketing budgets. Just look at CD Projekt – they made The Witcher 2 with a fraction of the budget other studios used to make their more mediocre-looking AAA games.

  • dasCameo

    >The same man who tweeted that TotalBiscuit’s award from TVGA wasn’t legitimate because he wasn’t dead yet.

    that was a reference to how he claimed A.S threats were not credible and worded his reasoning unfortunately (because to make the story short, she is still breathing).

  • We don’t actually disagree here. The only point my opinion differs is the artificial growth part.

    I believe it was actually necessary for the audience to grow, considering the dominant mentality of the industry. The niches that were being serviced and the money they generated was very inadequate in proportion to the costs required to create the games hardcore gamers like to play. When you cater to a niche, you have to manage your budget accordingly, but common sense didn’t happen. Therefore, compromises were made because the hardcore consumer demanded cutting edge, shiny games instead of actual good games. It’s why the Wii got such a bad rap in hardcore gamer/developer circles last gen.

    If publishers and developers had realized that Hollywood mentality (i.e. more smoke and mirrors, more special effects, screw the actual content) is bad for them, things wouldn’t have come to this point. At least gamers are finally beginning to take baby steps in this regard.

  • Robert Grosso

    I disagree.

    First thing’s first, the big problem is simply the lack of a defined video game subculture. The “gamer” moniker is the closest thing we have to it, but it is still odd because it’s referencing only certain types of games, which is always problematic to me. Almost all of these phone games we keep reviewing, the iOS titles and free-ware games, would not be considered “hardcore” enough by some, and likely not in the eye of most “core” gamers out there either.

    You also have the curious issue of cultural appropriation. Now a days we see gaming art, gaming themed movies and documentaries, TV shows,art and music; all of this shows how we are mainstream already. The debate over games being art is already over due to the Smithsonian showing off gaming art as an exhibit. The question now is how to make it acceptable?

    Do we rely on stereotypes though to turn gaming into kitsch? That is the real problem to me, not creative freedom. Some games should not be made, mostly because it’s subject matter is too controversial. This is mostly due to time; gaming is still new, in maybe a decade if were lucky, we will hit a point of cultural acceptance vs a curiosity, it’s getting there but we are not there yet.

    This is why there is a subculture of Z-grade exploitation movies; people ignore it but they exist. Same with underground gaming, yet it is these games that get the spotlight because gaming is in the eye of outsiders as being that curiosity. This is why we have the problems we have now, the hard left and hard right constantly attacking the medium.

    Compounding that is the fact that the entire industry has a PR problem. Like it or not, the #Gamergate movement is a hindrance to long term progress. Changing ethic policies are token nods to the masses instead of widespread changes from within. TechRaptor, if I can be bold enough to tout it’s horn, is doing a good job at marking articles as advertisements and is not afraid of asking questions. Other sites are not so lucky, and a majority of these sites do not have actual professionals in their midst.

    So there is a lot that needs to be changed, but frankly, developers need to be conscious of this. Don’t shy away from content, but be ready to have content censured for it’s subject material and move on from that.

  • Niwjere

    Objection. The “hardcore gamers” never pushed better graphics. The hardcore gamers pushed better games. The push for greater and greater visual fidelity has been spearheaded by the mainstreamers, not the actual enthusiasts. We hardcore folks know visual fidelity is just window dressing — it’s nice to have, but it’s hardly necessary. The mechanics are the most important part (and if you ever hear anyone say they won’t be buying a game because it doesn’t have good graphics, you know you’ve found yourself a mainstream gamer). Sadly, as the hardcore demographic is small potatoes when compared to the massive mainstream gaming audience, mechanics have been largely ignored in triple-A development in favor of forever making things prettier (or as I like to say, “vapid, flashy, and hollow”).

    Other than this point, you’re spot-on. The graphical arms race is largely to blame for both the bloated state of triple-A development and the bevy of anti-consumer business practices being employed to keep studios afloat. Lean, mean development that focuses on producing a mechanically-sound and -interesting game is and always was the proper course.

  • Niwjere

    The Wii got a bad rap last generation because it had good games and not cutting-edge games? I’m sorry, what?

    The Wii’s library is pitifully thin once you’ve weeded out all the shovelware that targets gullible soccer moms and Christmas-shopping grandmothers. Nintendo was deliberately pandering to casual gamers with the Wii — go back and look at their ads, or hell, just remember the reason the console is named “Wii” and not “Revolution”. Their first-party offerings were mostly stale, save for a few titles that genuinely put their gimmick to good use (Metroid Prime 3/Trilogy comes to mind) — Twilight Princess was technically just a ported Gamecube title, and Skyward Sword was not exactly the rousing success it tried to be. Miyamoto openly admitted their mistake with that angle and promised to go back to making games for the core audience. This is all a matter of public record. How can you possibly state the exact opposite?

  • Fenrir007

    I think the demand for shinier graphics and such was actually caused by the arms race consoles started around, and that conditioned players into expecting huge graphical leaps with each generation starting with the 32 bits era, especially players that were new to gaming. This trend was not largely observed with PC gamers until much later, as in the 90’s “crudely looking” (by these players standards) games stood side by side with more graphically advanced counterparts, and weren’t shunned for it. Maybe the inexistence of “new plataforms” and the organic evolution of PC hardware slowed down this, but perhaps with the increasing importance of GPUs, I suppose graphic card manufacturers started pushing towards putting graphical prowess at the forefront of the marketing and this ended up putting PC on the same wavelenght as consoles, and ultimately completely screwed it when console parity became a common thing.

    The media is, perhaps, partially to blame in this ordeal by reducing the technical achievements of each new generation as mostly leaps in the graphical department, especially since in a magazine (and later on a website) it is much more noticeable to plaster pictures of a graphically advanced game than any possible description of other advances, such as in AI or game size, could hope to be (that and pretty pictures sell on covers may lend itself more to sales than a statement).

    They conditioned players to expect shiny new things, so players did just that. And this spiraled out of control.

  • You missed the point I was making. I know what Nintendo was aiming for and what they eventually did with the Wii and I’ve spent more time than I should talking about it last gen. I’m not disputing that fact.

    I was mostly referring to the mentality surrounding the machine when you talked to a self-proclaimed hardcore gamer (in real life or on the internet) or you saw a developer interview. What you got was “Wii can’t do HD, therefore it’s not worth our time”.

    The Wii, in my view, was the console with the most squandered potential in recent gaming history. So many things could’ve been done, but so many decision makers made the wrong decisions about it, Nintendo and the successor they released included.

  • Brauni

    Sure she is a gatekeeper and not a simple game critic. She instructs the other gatekeepers. You yourself know this very well from the whole debate about Bayonetta 2.

  • Julie Shaw

    Absolutely awesome article. 😀

  • Max

    Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the article.

  • Parrikle

    Bayonetta 2 is a good example of why they are not gatekeepers – commentators can criticise the game, but ultimately they don’t have a say over whether it is published or not. The gatekeepers are those who have the power to decide what does, and does not, get published.

  • Niwjere

    “The Wii can’t do HD, therefore it’s not worth our time” was an attitude espoused by developers who were going for the most sales possible, not the best game possible. You (and most self-professed “hardcore gamers”) are misusing the term “hardcore”. Hardcore gamers are games enthusiasts, not graphics enthusiasts.

    Making things as shiny as possible and sacrificing good gameplay to do it is a blatant attempt to appeal to the mainstream gaming crowd (see also: pretty much any triple-A release in the past two console generations — and note that most of them have terribly bland mechanics and a crapton of handholding, because mainstream gaming is interested in flashy power trips and cinematic stories, not skill-based challenges). Hardcore gamers, such as myself, don’t give two shits about how high a game’s visual fidelity is. We will happily play games with aesthetically-pleasing pixel art so long as the game itself is enjoyable. My library is littered with games that have extremely low visual fidelity but whose mechanics are superb. The graphical arms race is and always was stupid to me — it’s nice to have good-looking games, and I’ll sing the praises of Crysis any day, but high graphical quality is by no means inherently necessary and certainly shouldn’t take precedence over mechanical quality.

  • DUME85

    if we had an easy way to find all of these games that are good but ignored by gaming journalist, without having to go through all the bad games.

    Like a site by unnoticed devs for unnoticed devs.