So maybe you’re not allowed to answer questions like this, but how do you go about expressing your opinion on something in a very critical environment like the Internet? What happens if you *don’t* like something and are you obligated to only say that you do? — anonymous
I’m not certain I’ve ever been obligated to say that I like something when I don’t. This is, of course, only my personal experience (other companies may work differently), but nobody has ever come up to me and said I need to say I like something… or reprimanded me for an opinion I expressed.
There are definitely rules regarding what we can and can’t talk about publicly. We can’t, for instance, talk about unannounced projects. Even with announced projects, we can’t talk about features and things which haven’t been publicly discussed yet. There is a timeline for when these things are to happen, determined by people whose job it is to deal with a project’s marketing, and it would be more than a little disconcerting for them to have others shooting off at the hip without clearance. This goes double for a publicly-traded company.
So nobody tells me I must go public and tow the company line, by any means. Hell, the only time it’s a developer’s job to speak publicly is when Marketing requires it— such as with interviews or convention visits.
On the occasions when I do speak publicly, however, I’m certainly not going to trash-talk decisions made by my company or my team that I happen to disagree with. Not only is that unprofessional, that’s highly suspect behavior. For one, I was there. I know how that decision got made. I’m aware of the issues that went into it, the ugly stuff and all, and once that decision’s made there’s really no point in continuing to bitch about it or airing dirty laundry in public. If we operated like that, we’d never get anything done… we’d be a group of squabbling children constantly pulling the project in multiple directions. Great for fan forums, not great for actually getting the project shipped. Secondly, whoever I’m talking about, whoever made those decisions, won’t be present to defend themselves. People outside the team would be listening to my opinion, getting half the story and bringing their own agenda into their interpretation and leaping to conclusions— which would probably be wrong. Some people might find it informative, but my experience on the Internet has been that a great many posters have the reading comprehension skills and self-awareness of a toddler. So that would be incredibly unfair and back-handed criticism to expose a co-worker to.
Then again, it doesn’t take much for fans to think that anything I speak on involves either my personal support or my personal condemnation (see above comment regarding reading comprehension on the Internet). If I say “this is what we’re doing and why”, that will be taken as me personally thinking it’s awesome, and that it was my idea. And the company is awesome for agreeing. And if you disagree with that, you’re a bad person. That’s actually pretty rarely the case. Sometimes I think these are good ideas and superior to other approaches, and I will say so, but usually I’m just explaining. Most times a given approach will have its upsides and downsides, and whether the upsides make it better overall really depends on the context (both of the given project and its other features as well as the preferences of whomever is reading). But I’m aware of this, and the fact that many people will equate me with BioWare itself regardless of whether what I’m speaking on is even something over which I have any control. I am the big, bad Godzilla rampaging over their sensibilities. Oohhh, run in fear!
And that’s OK. It makes some people feel better to have a Godzilla to rage at, as opposed to faceless people that don’t communicate with them at all. If I wasn’t accustomed to this, I would just do as most and keep my opinions hidden behind a pseudonym.
Insofar as expressing my opinion on other games out there, that’s a little dicier. Why? Professional courtesy, for the most part. I may not know the trials and tribulations that another developer specifically went through to make their game, but I have a better idea than most… so why would I post some rant about how awful their game is and what I hated about it? Even if that were true, it’s going to be taken as much more than just my personal opinion. Many fans love the idea of developer rivals. If a company even makes an implication that they disagree with BioWare’s approach suddenly they hate us and we’re up in arms in rage at whatever they said!
That’s never the case. Developers are generally on friendly terms, and supportive of other teams trying new things. It’s great that there are other types of RPG’s out there, for instance. Not every RPG should be the same, should take BioWare’s approach or even care what we do. If they’re competition, we’re going to be paying attention to each other… but there’s room for many RPG’s to co-exist in the same market. Imagine that.
But I made a recent comment about the sex-card minigame in the first Witcher game, for instance— a game that I said I otherwise enjoyed a great deal— and I had angry emails from fans enraged that I’d dared to criticize CD Projekt, and who clearly didn’t take the time to parse what I’d written beyond the fact it was perceived as a criticism for a game they liked. How unfair it was, how I clearly didn’t see BioWare’s games do the same thing, how CD Projekt should be offended, etc. etc.
See what I mean? In my position, people like to read into what I’ve said and then treat it as if I actually said those things… as if I’d said that BioWare was above criticism, or that the good folks of CD Projekt were sexist jerks and should go suck an egg for offending me so badly. Which I did not. I can only imagine what would happen if I ever posted a list of criticisms of a game like the Witcher, the sort that I might have for any game I play. Would people take that as just my thoughts? Would they see that I enjoyed the game despite those things? Or would it be seen as a condemnation, with every point that someone thought was done equally poorly in a BioWare game being massively unfair as I cannot be allowed to dislike something our games have also done (even if it was done differently), or— far worse— criticism from BioWare itself?
Gosh. Like another developer needs that added to their plate, in addition to the fan-wrangling they already contend with?
But… meh. All this is pretty par for the course. It’s just why developers might be cautious in the things they express publicly… or try to, anyhow. I don’t always succeed, myself. Like anyone, I get pissy or get drawn into an argument despite my better judgement. Or I drunk tweet. And then suddenly I’m personally responsible for whatever someone’s angry about, whereas if I hadn’t spoken up at all I wouldn’t even be involved in the discussion. But such is public life, I suppose.
*cue ‘life of a gangsta’ music*