Thoughts on Professionalism in the Video Game Industry


I actually consider most people who are in any way related to video games to be part of “the industry”, even us fans.  After all, we help drive the market by our purchases, both in the actual handing-over of money and of our preferences being part of what helps decide what games will be published.  However, I hold some people in the industry to a higher standard, and it discourages me when they don’t live up to it.  Even someone like myself, a random blog-writer, I feel should be held to a higher standard than the average gamer; after all, from us mere bloggers on up to publishers, we interact with the gaming fandom at large with an attempt at authority and, one hopes, neutral yet intelligent discourse.  As such, I find it disheartening when someone in such a position lets those expectations down.

There’s been a lot of articles written about the incident, but I find this one by the folks at The Escapist to be the most complete, and the best-updated.  Give it a read and head on back.

The short form is that over at High Voltage Software, a company with quite a list of games under their belt, Creative Director Matt Corso released an e-mail that was, put mildly, worded poorly, after feeling slighted by a review.  Read the linked Escapist article for the details.

I can see why Corso would have felt slighted.  This is quite possibly the nicest thing said in the review in question:

The creativity of the level design is … well, it’s non-existent. […] Conduit 2 [has no real variation in the maps] and has the guts to comment on it three-quarters of the way through. Ford asks, “Hey, wasn’t I just in here?” and your little metal ball gives a big explanation about companies saving money on construction by making rooms very similar, “like they sometimes do in modern video games.” Ha-ha! It’s okay as long as it makes fun of itself, right?

Again, that’s arguably the nicest thing said, put the most congenial way.  Put simply, T. Michael Murdock, the reviewer, rips into the game the way a lioness rips into a gazelle.  The response, however, I felt was unwarranted.  The relevant bit is this:

Michael was kind enough to recently provide us with a Conduit 2 review. And so in turn you should all feel at liberty to (of course read it first) and then return the favor by writing a reader review for Michael’s book for him.

Sure, it’s been argued that, technically, he’s not saying to “bomb” the Amazon page for the reviewer’s book.  It’s been argued that, technically, Corso is saying to read the book and give an honest review.

The thing is that that’s crap.  There’s too much circumstantial evidence—posts that went out right after the e-mail, the damning book reviews showing up in a short period of time, and such—to say anything but, if he didn’t actually intend for it, he should have thought about such a possible response and abstained from the reaction in the first place.

As I said before, I hold people in the “industry” above the average gamer to a higher standard, and also again that includes myself.  Yes, I’m some random blogger, but I hold to ideals of professionalism and decorum.  I don’t curse on this blog or otherwise offer material that might be above a PG-13 rating, and when I link to things that might I try to make it clear so readers can know what to expect.  I do that because even a random blogger who claims to hold any authoritative position, I feel, must.  This especially holds true for the people who put in real work, the developers.

Making and publishing a video game is not easy, as I’ve tried to show through other posts.  I’m also a big fan of developers and publishers and think they deserve more respect than they get.  Yet this doesn’t help my case any.

Again, sure, it can be argued that, technically, Corso did nothing wrong—but he did, by writing such a reaction in the first place.  I can’t honestly believe he meant nothing by it, but even if he did, writing that e-mail at all was simply bad form.  Better to, as they say, put forth a stiff upper lip and shrug it off.  All the reaction did was get people to talk about it.  Even those still in his camp admit it was a bad idea.

Said Eric Nofsinger, Chief Creative Officer of High Voltage Software:

Sure, it’s a tad unprofessional but if you knew Matt personally as I do, you would know it was nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek jibe at most. And for that, I apologize on behalf of High Voltage Software.

An upper-echelon member of the company publically apologizing for something his subordinate did.  On the face of it, it’s fine enough, but Nofsinger and Corso have both said that wasn’t his intent.  If that’s true, I still say Corso himself needs to make a public apology—a real one.  It’s one thing to make a mistake, but it’s another to hide behind “But that’s not what I meant.”

Yet that’s what Corso is doing.  It can almost be imagined as him mumbling the apology, then saying louder, “But that wasn’t my intent so we’re all good now,” and giving a double thumbs-up.  What I feel needs to happen is a public apology, but, and again, a real one.  As a gamer, I came away with the feeling that High Voltage Software was more concerned with covering for its people than doing right by the fans, and I really don’t think that’s the feeling they would want to engender.  It wasn’t a concrete belief or anything, but it was more a question—a question of if, were I to give them money, whether or not I’d really be dealt with fairly.

Making a mistake in and of itself is fine, more or less.  Trying to dodge and reflect the reactions is simply unprofessional.

Also, while the argument can be made that—if, again, he sincerely wasn’t trying to “bomb” the book reviews—he couldn’t know what goes in in gamers’ heads and so shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, that’s simply fallacious.  No, he shouldn’t be punished for their actions, but he should have thought of that beforehand.  When one is in any kind of position of authority, it behooves them to actually think about the ramifications of their actions.

This debacle smacks of a decided lack of that forethought.  That isn’t just a mistake, but it betrays the responsibility inherent in the position.

I am nowhere near as important as a game developer.  Not by a long shot.  Yet I expect to be taken to task if I were to reply to a critic of mine—even one as colorful as Murdock—in such a fashion.  It’s unprofessional.

The reason why I keep pointing that out is because professionalism, I feel, is one of the most important things for someone claiming to be someone to be looked to, for whatever reason.  That comes with responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to their target audience.  When someone falls short of that responsibility and fails to recompense that target audience, it affects us all.

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