Broken Toys: Size Doesn’t Matter

Lum posted articles about two GDC talks, one by Mythic’s Paul Barnett and the other by Blizzard’s Jeff Kaplan. While the articles themselves are interesting, I found the comments sections even more enlightening.

In the former, you have a number of commenters saying what a blowhard Paul is, some of them implying that WAR’s subscriber numbers are an indicator that Mr. B doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

In the latter, you have a number of commenters saying what a blowhard Jeff is, some of them implying that despite WoW’s success it’s clear that Mr. K doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Which to me is yet another amusing example of Why Devs Can’t Possibly Win. Because if you fall below some community-perceived bar of success then you are a clueless failure, and if you’re above that bar you’re out of touch and too afraid of losing profit to innovate.

Despite the occasional exaggeration or bluster, neither of these guys is trying to put himself atop a mountain proclaiming he has the answer to the mysteries of the universe. Ultimately, they state their opinions and observations in public forums because people ask them to. As attending or reading such presentations is an entirely optional undertaking, I find it odd that some folks seem to get angry that these guys are even allowed to speak.

From the mighty intellectuals to the lowly bloggers, we’re all just trying to inspire discussion about what works and what doesn’t so that those of us lucky enough to work in the industry can keep doing this for a living and hopefully get better at our craft. If there’s any value to be had in GDC and its ilk, it’s that. Sometimes you just have to look past a lot of bullshit to find it.

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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

10 thoughts on “Broken Toys: Size Doesn’t Matter”

  1. The only thing I took away from these talks is that Blizzard KNOWS IMPLICITLY what they’ve done wrong, yet keep repeating their mistakes because people keep paying. That’s it. They say they know and they never change anything for the better.

  2. I also noticed the dissatisfaction in that comments section regarding Barnett and Kaplan. However, I think that might be more of a symptom of the crowd that hangs out there. I occasionally read Broken Toys when I have a bit of down time, but I am often left speechless by the “hate-EVERYthing” vibe there, especially its anti-Mythic-ness.
    Imagine having everyone who posted there on your dev team. That level of overall negativity and lack of enthusiasm for … well anything, is what Barnett was talking about in his “heretics” article a while back.

    It’s hard to know exactly how the talks went without being there (I wasn’t), but some other commentators seemed to like them well enough.

    I agree that it puts us developers in a weird position when there’s a portion of the “community” that is just predisposed to hate anything you do. And I’m really not sure why.

  3. Lum also made comments about the articles and I found them to be sarcastic and taken out of context, so I don’t feel hes really completely innocent here. I feel his commenter’s are feeding off of what he gives them and just going with it. I’m all for discussion I enjoy listening to podcasts and reading mmo blogs, and sometimes I’ll disagree but I try to do it respectfully I think that is what people need to understand.

  4. I thought what Kaplan was saying made a lot of sense, personally. He came off a little harsh with it, but I’m glad he realizes that it might be worth exploring other ways to tell a story in MMOs than gobs of quest dialogue. I made a post on my own blog about his presentation if you’re interested in my thoughts on each point.

  5. People tend to post when they have a strong reaction to something they see. Often the strongest reactions are negative. I personally posted on the Barnett thread because I feel that he embodies one of the worst traits in upper level team members these days. Namely the propensity for certain producers and designers to be too busy flitting from tradeshow to conference to interview pretending to be marketing/PR/diva/wannabe rock stars to actually do any quality producing or designing. Additionally his hypocritical “management” style really bothers me. He’s an interesting and charming man but not in my opinion a good designer and so his giving advice on the subject offends me, thus it spurred me to post.

    I read the Kaplan post and while I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said I did agree with most of it. It didn’t provoke enough of a response in me to post anything since all I had to say on the matter was “Yeah, pretty much”

    So through negative selection you’re naturally getting the worst of people on any given subject. It may be heightened by the venue and by the legion of disillusioned WAR fans or burnt out WOW fans respectively but I think the biggest culprit is simple humanity.

  6. I think you’ve got the reasons wrong:

    Paul Barnett is a blowhard, not because of the success or failure of the game he worked on, but because many of the things he talked very loudly about, were either not as described or didn’t even make it into the game.

    Jeff Kaplan is a blowhard because he did not design World of Warcraft, yet often happily takes credit. Nobody had ever heard a peep out of him prior to the game’s launch, but we’ve heard plenty since he took the reins. To be fair, at least this talk for a change was about quests when he was a quest designer, some of which he actually worked on. Also in fairness, many of the comments address what he said in his speech directly, so I don’t think too many people attacked him just saying he’s a blowhard (even though in his case as in Paul Barnett’s, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable argument).

    There are specific reasons why these two devs get roasted and it has more to do with their oversized personalities than the perceived success or failure of their games.

    Not every developer spews hot air, so I think the conclusion that devs can’t win is incorrect.

  7. The main difference between Barnett’s and Kaplan’s talk was that Kaplan was frank, blunt and getting to the core. I did not agree on everything he said, but he said something you can talk and discuss about. Mr. Barnett’s talk left a rather negative impression on me, like someone forced to say something supposedly witty and intelligent while he actually does not want and does not have anything to say.

    I found the WOW > WAR, so Barnett is an idiot by default comments quite dumb, but his talk was really not the highlight of GDC, to say it friendly.

  8. I’m going to followup my own comment with the paradox that while Jeff Kaplan as a personality is an easy target, this particular speech is the most honest I’ve heard or read from him. Normally I would say yeah, he does put himself on a mountain, but here he’s even self-depreciating. The title itself Cruise Director of Azerothgoes right against my own assertion that he accepts credit for WoW’s creation.

    That said, I still feel you’re applying transitive logic by selecting polarizing figures to prove comments are negative toward any devs. All oranges may be fruit, but not all fruit are oranges. I don’t recall anyone calling Rob Pardo a blowhard for his speech at last year’s GDC.

  9. I have to agree with Rog when it comes to this. I don’t think everyone who commented negatively on Barnett and Kaplan would necessarily be so towards all developers. Of course it is fair to say a large margin would be.

    Now I have no real experience with Kaplan so I can’t say anything regarding him. I will, however, say that I don’t the the criticism of Barnett, in general, was unfair. Barnett, unfortunately, is a dynamic and excited individual. He loves his product and a talks a lot about it. It just seems that sometimes what he is talking about didn’t exist in reality. In this industry making “promises” is dangerous.

    That said I think every developer should have to suffer a bit of customer interaction like that. This is why I’ve always felt that developers who were previously community coordinators or customer service GMs make the best content. They’re more in tune with the customers. In my eyes they live “in our world.”

    Who hasn’t done content or listened to a veteran designer that never had a customer facing job and then went, “Um… you can say that, the code can say that, but in the physical plane, that is dead wrong.” Simply put, they’re insulated and disassociated.

    I saw it with one developer in EQ2. I saw it with a couple in AoC. Then I saw it once more in Warhammer from a couple of very visible and vocal designers and producers. It cheapens a lot.

    To me it all goes back to the original (at least in my mind) “us vs them” situation: EQ1 2H damage. We had literally parsed over a years worth of data that showed it was wrong. We wrote up beautiful essays on the subject. What came of it? Brad just said, “Nope, that’s wrong.” It took, what, a year to finally get traction on that and I think he had already been forced out at that point.

    Anyway! Long story short. We’re not all in the game of “Dev’s can’t win.” I point out what is hokey, I praise what is good and I appreciate a good developer!

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