Access Denied - Giving gamers a say is generally a bad idea
Like anyone else who's so much as stood near Half-Life 2, I love Valve. As one of the few big studios out there that can successfully rake in billions of dollars without shafting creative freedom, it's a company that deserves the upmost respect and admiration.
More than that, actually; Valve is the one remaining organisation in games that can still bring out the fanboy in me, like a couple of weeks ago, when I followed Gabe Newell around for about half an hour at the BAFTAs.
But pristine reputation aside, I feel like Valve has dropped the ball on this one: Steam's new 'Early Access' initiative is, as far as I can see, an absolute ideatastrophe for videogames. It allows budding game developers to upload unfinished versions of their games to the public, letting players buy them, play them and feedback on any bugs or problems.
Ostensibly it will give studios a clearer picture of what consumers make of their game while also drumming up some pre-revenue to fund the project itself (game makers set their own price for unfinished versions of their games on Early Access).
And that's good; that's healthy. Even with crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo up-and-running, finding investors for new game development can be difficult. On the contrary, there's so much choice out there for players now that finding exactly what they want beforehand might be the best, or only, way to make money.
I understand why Early Access is good for small developers; I can see what Valve is thinking.
But, the romantic in me finds it really depressing. I'm not an idiot - I know how much bearing metrics, profit and marketability have on the game industry (hence industry) - but I'm put out by the idea that gamers are getting a say on what developers are creating.
I don't know if you've read Brian Howe's terrifying and prophetic article 'Videogame designers: Ignore Entitled Fans' but in it he imagines a future world where fanboys have game designers chained to workstations, endlessly churning out Final Fantasy 7 remakes, Zelda sequels and Call of Duty games.
The Terminator 2: Judgement Day-style turning point in Howe's dystopian world is the Mass Effect 3 debacle, when, if you remember, angry gamers got so cross at the ending Bioware had written that they demanded it be changed. And got what they wanted.
This is a dangerous precedent we're setting, and I think Early Access, by letting players wade in with feedback on games that aren't even finished, is sucking creative authority away from the people that really deserve it.
I imagine the set of the latest Marvel film, or even something like a Kubrick movie, and how the writers, the producers - especially the directors - wouldn't dream of letting fans come in and tell them what to do. It pangs of low self-esteem. Imagine, I dunno, John Lennon trying to write a song or something and 400 Beatles fans stood over his shoulder saying "No, don't play that note, play that one; no THAT one."
Admittedly it might have spared us Just Like Starting Over, but we probably wouldn't have got Beautiful Boy either.
I don't want art designed by committee. I understand that creating anything, be it films, games, music or even novels is a collaborative process, but it's collaboration between professionals; it's collaboration between people who have studied, learned and perfected their craft and worked to get into the position where they can express it.
Playing videogames on the other hand, even if you've been doing it your entire life, isn't a qualification; rarely will the people giving feedback on Early Access be certifiable
And I know this sounds stuffy and old-fashioned and not very Shoreditch, but, yeah, I like paying deference to the people behind whatever it is I'm playing. I like autuers like Hitchcock and Orwell and Nick Drake; I like giving artists the space and trust to make their art.
It might be rubbish when they've finished and then, as a critic, I can remark on it somehow. But until then, I want creatives to create, ignorant of some 10-year-old in Milwaukee who thinks the game should have bigger swords.
So, yeah. Early Access is a good move from a financial and marketing perspective. But in a medium absolutely plagued by consumer pandering, feature creep and a total disrespect for the artist, I think it's a bad idea.