Should developers worry about audience expectation?

18 Jul 2012  by   John Robertson
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It’s a question that has no right and wrong answer, no magical piece of insight or wit is going to solve it.

Should a developer worry about audience expectation? Or, should they follow their own path and make exactly what it is that they want to make? It’s a question that has been around long before videogames, with the theatre, the big and small screens, musicians and classical artists.

Ron Gilbert, creator of Monkey Island and current Double Fine employee, believes that the creator should not take into account what the audience might want. He believes that the idea of self-censorship based on a responsibility to the audience can negatively impact the game’s creative components and the goal of the creator.

“The answer that anybody creating anything will give is that you should have no responsibility to [the audience],” said Gilbert.

“You have to do what you want to do, and you have to do what you think is the right thing to do and what you think is the best thing to do. People who like what you do and are fans of your work are just going to like what you do as long as you do something true to yourself.

“You can get into a lot of trouble when you start to worry too much about what people are going to think because then you start to get into this weird self-censorship cycle. You do something that might be interesting and different and unique, but you become too worried what people are going to think, and you censor it.”

The little quirks in a project that are often conceived as imperfections are the very things make a game interesting, continues Gilbert.

“Creative things, no matter what they are – books, video games, whatever – if they’re really good, they have lots of pointy little edges, and that’s what makes them interesting.

“It’s all these pointy little spikes and all these little things you can cut yourself and prick yourself on, that’s what makes creative work interesting. If you get into self-censorship mode, you start to pound all those pointy edges away because you’re very afraid of offending somebody or worried what somebody will think of it.

“And then what you’re left with is kind of blah, just not interesting. I think you just need to do what you think is the right thing to do, and hopefully people like it.”

Personally, I agree with what Gilbert has to say. From my own perspective, if I worried too much about what the readers of my articles were going to think about my opinions then I wouldn’t write half of them. Expression, not expectation, is the goal here. If a creative person didn’t stick to their guns and express themselves they’d be attacked for being weak, afraid, a sell-out, conformist, or whatever else.

That’s one of the reasons I became so angry with the fans that blasted BioWare over the Mass Effect 3 ending, BioWare’s job was to express themselves. Their job wasn’t to give every player exactly what they thought they deserved. Whether EA went too far with their advertising was another matter, but BioWare shouldn’t be blamed for that.

Rant over.

Source (Gilbert quote): Gamelogical

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