Developers treated abysmally by publishers - Wasteland creator

RPG designer Brian Fargo says developers are "afraid to talk" about "awful" conditions over fears of not getting future work.

Wasteland creator and Inxile CEO Brian Fargo thinks the relationship between publishers and developers is anything but healthy. Speaking to Ripten, Fargo said developers are hurt by the practices of their publishers.

Fargo isn't too happy with the publisher/developer dynamic.

"There is more tension than you can believe," he said. "You would not believe the stories you hear about how developers are treated by publishers these days. It is abysmal."

As for why these issues are not better publicized, Fargo said if developers spoke out, it could result in blacklisting.

"Because they are afraid to talk, because they'll never get another contract if they do. That’s why. You cannot believe…it's awful. It's really bad," he said.

Fargo pointed to Obsidian and Fallout: New Vegas as an example of an unhealthy publisher/developer relationship. He referenced the developer missing a bonus by one Metacritic point, saying bugs in the game were not the developer's fault.

"Look at the most recent one with those poor guys at Obsidian. They did Fallout: New Vegas, the ship date got moved up and, who does the QA on a project? The publisher is always in charge of QA," he said. "When a project goes out buggy, it's not the developer. The developer never says, 'I refuse to fix the bug,' or, 'I don’t know how.' They never do that. It’s the publisher that does the QA, so if a product goes out buggy, it's not the developer’s fault.

"So, [Fallout: New Vegas] goes out buggy and they didn't do the QA, their ship date got moved up and they missed their Metacritic rating by one point. Did they get a bonus? No. Do you think that's fair?"

Fargo admitted that not all publishers are guilty of mistreating developers but that he has heard numerous "horrible stories" about poor treatment. It's no surprise, then, that Fargo turned to Kickstarter for his latest project, Wasteland 2. The campaign for that game surpassed its $900,000 goal in just two days and, as of press time, stands at over $1.6 million from almost 33,000 backers. Wasteland 2 is scheduled to launch for the PC during October 2013.

"I feel so much more connected now to the public," Fargo said, of using Kickstarter to fund Wasteland 2. "Normally, when you're working for a publisher, you're trying to get your own vision across, of course. You're also jumping through hoops to make some guy or group happy, and it's not necessarily what the fans want. It's what we have to do in order to get paid. There's a bit of a disconnect. Now, I'm on the front lines, looking eye to eye with the fans and they're telling me, 'Brian this is what we want. You better deliver.' I like the process better. It's more personal and more intense."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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Discussion

172 comments
Jandurin
Jandurin

i am disliking every one of your posts right now

Baconbits2004
Baconbits2004

what were you going to dislike

was it my post

you son of a bitch

Baconbits2004
Baconbits2004

you would write dead in a weird colory way that makes no sense?

Jandurin
Jandurin

WHERE IS MY DISLIKE BUTTON

Jandurin
Jandurin

like how did this even happen


it's even written in a way i would write it i really don't understand

Baconbits2004
Baconbits2004

I thought you said gamepot's system was better than ours... they don't even have a dislike button

Jandurin
Jandurin

it's okay


Dead Space is a terrible series :)

blue_francis14
blue_francis14

@Scorpion1813 With the knowledge you shared, and I thank you for that, it does look like all is fair. But what happened to the studios that closed down? Like the developers behind Unit 13? Will the publishers manage those people and allocate them to other projects/titles or am I just being too optimistic? To be honest, I like a game if it was advertised that it was developed by dev studios with prominent names like Westwood studios, or Origin systems or Maxis. (I grew up playing their games). Why did they remove such names from their product? For me, it's a way of getting confidence that the games were made by a great dev studio, kinda like brand loyalty.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@blue_francis14: The developers will still get paid even if the game doesn't make a profit. They get paid as they are working on the game (weekly or monthly, just like in any other job). The money for this comes from the load the publishers give the devs. Also, as mentioned before, the publisher will get all the profits until that load is paid back, and after that the devs start earning royalties. So the motivation would be to make a game that is good enough to earn them money too. Not sure how financial targets work. I guess they would compare to similar titles on the market and compare how well they sold, and while taking into consideration how much it will cost them to make their game, and calculate how much profit they predict they will get. Or at least hope to get. This is why you sometimes hear that games make more than the financial target - it sold better than the pubs expected it to (that is assuming the pubs are in control of such things and I'm fairly sure they are the ones that are in charge of all the sales, printing, distributing and marketing side of things). Alternately, if the pubs commission the devs it will work like any other commission - an advance may be given in order to cover any expenses such as wages and buying new gear/tech (essentially a budget). And then the rest is paid once the commission has been delivered.

moonlightwolf01
moonlightwolf01

With a lot of games you can see where developer has been put under pressure stuff that feels rushed features that are buggy trouble is we often start blaming the dev's for that, Obsidian gets loads of bad press for bugs in their games but as this article mentions QA is always done by the publisher. There's never a bug that a dev will see and just refuse to address but if QA is poor then whow does a dev know what to fix. Obsidian gets this a lot because they're a contracted studio rather than an in-house studio the publisher feels less investment so they give a lot less.

aussiemuscle
aussiemuscle

"...pray i do not alter the bargain further".

blue_francis14
blue_francis14

@Scorpion1813 Haha! Very helpful actually. Never met a person comment in such a neutral way and in very detailed way I might add. I am a little ignorant about the developer-publisher relationship and was just assuming that all the publishers want get all what they can from the developers until they are all burned out. I've been under many projects but I am only in the rank and file level and have never been part where we don't get paid because we weren't able to meet our goals. As for the part where the game sucked and didn't meet financial expectations, then the developers will not be paid? So what's their motivation then? Who says that the software met their financial expectation? What if that source is a lie? Do they even get at least royalties if the software is a financial success?

VarietyMage
VarietyMage

Plans are like anything else...optional if you choose not to follow them. If you're a publisher, you sometimes see an opportunity to make money. Like in a case where bumping up a release date to ship a buggy game might make you more money in the long term, because the sales you lose are less than the employee salaries and benefits you would otherwise have to pay the extra time for (assuming you lay off the studio after a certain number of weeks past launch). "Greed is good"...my ass. :(

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@blue_francis14: Not sure what you mean by "overpromises and over estimate" I'm assuming over promise means that they promise more than they can deliver (which would be under-estimating the project). All companies both in the gaming industry and otherwise should have a Project Management Plan (PMP). This includes what is asked of them or their targets and goals; a schedule with estimated completion dates; budgets and what is required in terms of resources and staff etc; and risk management (prevention and fixes if things go wrong). If a PMP isn't made, or the project is under-estimated then lots of things can go wrong. Depending on what goes wrong depends on who suffers but it's usually the developer and the customers that get screwed over. I hope I've been helping and not just rambling nonsense. haha.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@blue_francis14: Well if a publisher is pushing for an unfinished game to be released then both the developer and the customer get screwed over. The gamers get a buggy game and the developers get a bad reputation for putting out such a buggy game. Also, if sales are bad enough then the devs and pubs will suffer - more-so the devs because they don't see any money until the pubs debt has been paid off. For example: If a publisher grants a dev 1 million dollars to make a game. Then it sells for 2 million dollars. The first million will go directly to the publisher and then the rest will get split up between the 2 companies. But it the game only sells for half a million - all that will go to the publisher and both companies will be at a loss.

blue_francis14
blue_francis14

@Scorpion1813 With that kind of agreement in the real world, who almost always gets screwed? The guys who overpromises and over estimate the project? Or the guys who keeps pushing that it needs to be released even if it's still half baked?

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@blue_francis14: If the Pubs commission a game, ask for it to be delivered by a certain date, and the devs don't feel they can produce wahat is being asked of them in that time - they will say so and refuse the contract. They could be given more time or less work to do (the project made smaller to fit into that time-frame). They may also be presented with a "must have" and "extras". So they would produce the must have in the time given, and if they have any time spare they will add in any extras. If the devs own the IP, then could always find new investors. But that in itself could cause huge problems: investors will be hesitant to invest in something if they see the devs as unreliable. Publishers are very unlikely to invest in a game that has already lost one publisher. Some devs that have already made a few games and earned enough money may be able to support the development costs of a new game. Negating the need for investors - but they may still need a publisher to print and distribute the game (unless digital distribution is used).

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@blue_francis14: It depends on the publisher I guess - if they are willing to listen. If a games truly isn't good enough / ready for release then there will be no choice but to delay it. But the way Publishers see it is that the longer the game takes to make, the long it will be before they start earning money. So they will try to get it out as soon as possible while still having a working product. It also depends on the contract. Like the examples before: did the publishers commission the devs? or did the devs get the pubs in as investors? If the Publishers own the IP, when they commission a developer - that developer will have an estimated time to make the product and the overall commission price for the project. If the devs don't finish on time they can request for more time - but they don't always get it. This is when you need a good project plan from the start and a good team to keep up with the workload. So you plan ahead to have a little more time than you may need just in case.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@calum1984: A problem with something like the Kickstarter is that the consumer becomes the investor - each person having their own ideas of what the game should be like. They don't come together on a collective decision like a publisher would. Then the developer has to think about pleasing everybody otherwise they end up loosing investors, funding and sales once the game ships. The devs could end up with something like Mass Effect 3 and the audience will demand a change, claiming that their investment gives them creative control. And the devs will bow to their whim for fear of loosing future investment.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@shantd: Look at it this way: The devs only get a bonus if the game is good enough to get a specific score. The publishers force certain features upon the game (since they have creative control), and then also force the game out before all the bugs have been fixed. The game suffers because of this and gets a lower score. The devs miss out on their target score by one point through no fault of their own. THAT is when it is unfair on the developers.

blue_francis14
blue_francis14

Ugh, I can't believe that some are blaming the developers. Yes, some developers hire junior developers and might screw the codes or create bugs but it doesn't mean it can't be fixed. Given time, they can be trained. Given more time, the senior and junior devs can rest their tired eyes and recheck their code with fresh mind. Developing codes isn't copy paste like everybody seems to think.

blue_francis14
blue_francis14

@Scorpion1813 Thank you Scorpion1813. I learned something today. Here's a question, can the developers fight back? Not fight like kick their asses but fight to save their asses. Especially if the publishers' demands are too high, time constraint too tight, unreachable goals and all that it management nightmare. Do they do that?

Hurvl
Hurvl

That system works perfectly, why change it/sarcasm. Sweden, my country, has a long tradition of labour unions, but it's always difficult when it comes to these matters. There is no magic trick, like "labour unions, that'll fix it!".

adamdiran
adamdiran

Too bad Toys for Bob got bought. A kickstarter for a new Star Control game would raise any possible development budget in days.

ggregd
ggregd

If devs are responsible for their own QA you would have conflict of interest and dishonesty issues. (I'm speaking a a (non-gaming) developer.) The responsibilities have to be segregated. That said, the publisher knowingly releasing a buggy product instead of having the devs fix it is dishonest and unethical.

jhcho2
jhcho2

Is it really the publisher's responsibility to monitor the amount of bugs in a game? That's like saying the quality of a movie or its editing is solely the responsibility of a movie producer, and not the director. A bad director edits a movie poorly. A bad developer makes a buggy game.

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

This is the era of digital distribution and marketing, not to mention a TON of "word of mouth". SCREW the publishers -- just self-publish, self-QA, and only release online. "AAA" is a term created by publishers to attempt to edge out indie publishers, and fortunately it's starting to backfire. Naive? Perhaps. But take a look at all the crowd-sourced gaming initiatives out there.... The timing looks right to me.

collingtonuk
collingtonuk

So i take it then EA are responsible for bug-ridden BF3 then and not Dice. I didn't know i could despise EA more but it seems I can.

franzito
franzito

The pressure and disrespect must be absurd considering their work environment and deadlines...

GreyViper
GreyViper

@ydnarrewop But the point is, I think its possible to ignore the unfair hierarchy and developers can make money for themselves. CD Project and Valve being example. But yes it involves digital distribution, thus you can skip the middle man.

ydnarrewop
ydnarrewop

So there's an unfair hierarchy in the game biz that creates an atmosphere of schoolyard bullying? Welcome to the 90% of professions that are the same ;)

ShirkDawg
ShirkDawg

@Mark07041971 There's no honor in invading countries.

GreyViper
GreyViper

@xenocide90 Blizzard is not a option, they belong to Activision/Vivendi. Recall the Infinity Ward incident and Koticks vision how company should be run. Use them up and cast them aside, there is no lack of new blood who will replace the old coders. Hell we should be asking Tim Schafer about this, he should have long term experience how publishers pull the rug from under your feet.

Shawndox
Shawndox

Marketing and art do not mix very well. It's understandable that publishers want a product at some point, but these are things you cannot push if you want something solid.

FatmanAB
FatmanAB

all my respect to take two interactive and rockstar games ... best game publishiers in the history of gaming

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

@Jessica_M_C Those were actually the days when publishers sometimes worked closely with devs to build a game. This was the case with Fallout 1&2. , none of this sounds far fetched or surprising. What little insight into the industry we get points in this general direction anyway.

shantd
shantd

hmmm...so what if Fallout: New Vegas went above the metacritic score by 1 point, rather than below? You think the publisher would be saying "that's not fair" because they had to pay the devs their bonus? If you agree in writing that the metacritic bonus kicks in at 85 and it only gets an 84, you don't get the bonus and yes, that is perfectly fair. It's called the real world. Not taking sides with either the pubs or devs, but if that's his best argument, he's failing to make a good case.

calum1984
calum1984

@robfield nope as mentioned before im on a game design course the devs do an inhouse test to try find bugs BUT development offices are not equipped for the kind of testing needed the final say on whether a product is ready goes out to publishers who have better means to test the product (open beta's they have the clout to distribute them, devs dont) and essentially its them who are supposed to make sure the devs fix the issues before release (its the pubs money they are using after all). Clearly if a game goes out in a buggy state then the laast check failed which falls squarely on the publishers

calum1984
calum1984

I agree with everything this guy says im on a games design course right now and most of it seems to be about sucking up to publishers to sell the game to them -_-. I much prefer the way intersteallar marine, minecraft, and now wasteland 2 is doing it by bascially getting the public to fund the game and to actively take part in discussions and idea throwing for the game. The public gets a game they want or at least get explanations of why what they want isnt possible

xenocide90
xenocide90

May i suggest they go work for blizzard. Their publisher seems to have no problem delaying games for years until they are ready.

LjBeaumont
LjBeaumont

@jhcho2 Not entirely true, if a publisher is pushing for a release date without Q&A being done properly then the publisher is at fault. However yes there are devs out there that have issues coding a game and filtering out bugs.

LjBeaumont
LjBeaumont

@Pyrosa It will be interesting to see where devs go from here, the gaming scene is producing devs more than ever now, especially with all the indie games being produced (good or bad). What will happen with all the publishers over the next 2-3 years.