Nintendo this morning did something that few gaming companies regularly do: share a video that was wholly transparent and honest. Nintendo’s Shinya Takahashi revealed that there would be Metroid delay as a result of a hard reset on the project’s development. The company executive said the game’s development was simply not up to par with Nintendo’s high standards. Instead of letting fans down with a mediocre game release, Takahashi said the game’s development was rebooted thousands of miles away at US-based Retro Studios. Our dreams of playing Metroid Prime 4 this year were quickly dashed.
Almost as surprising as the delay itself was the internet’s reaction to the news. Sure, people were disappointed. That emotion is natural when something you love is delayed for several years. Overwhelmingly, however, I saw positive sentiments across the internet. People were empathetic of Nintendo’s situation. Rather than irritated and abrasive, the franchise’s fans were reflective and positive about the game’s future. For an industry that is known for its toxicity, the news of the Metroid delay somehow escaped the black hole of negativity.
I wanna give a huge shout out to @Nintendo for being upfront and honest about the #MetroidPrime4 development issues. It's great to see a game company willing to reboot development on a game in order to deliver a high quality experience.
— Quigley (@thequigleyman) January 25, 2019
Today’s events gave me a sense of pride in the game industry and its fans. We as a whole are capable of being a positive and productive community at times when negativity oftentimes runs rampant. The greater lesson, however, was that companies should just be honest with their fans. Most of the time, fans will understand that the products they love are difficult to make.
So many game companies run scared of the fans that keep them financially afloat. Oftentimes, they are secretive. They rarely give transparent development updates. When all we see is the polished vertical slices and game trailers to get us excited, flawed products are inherently going to be disappointing. Giving gamers a better look can help set their expectations at a more reasonable level. Remember when Watch Dogs got a visual downgrade following its initial reveal? Maybe if Ubisoft had just admitted it could not get the high-resolution models running on consoles people would not have reacted nearly as poorly when they saw the updated build a year later. Through transparency, game companies can cultivate more trusting and positive relationships with their most hardcore fans. Ultimately, this helps the bottom line. A company with a trusting and dedicated fanbase will naturally perform better than without the committed base.
Learning from indies
It’s a little ironic to write these lessons out because indie developers have known this secret for a long time already. Indies frequently run regularly updated developer blogs. Live streams are likewise common in the indie world. They share half-done animations, half of a composed song, or the beginnings of a level. Indie developers have hardcore fans that are embedded in the game development process. Developers that are good at sharing their development in a viral way are even more likely to see success. As a result, we have had an odd split in the industry. While large companies are hoarding all their secrets from consumers until every last freckle is placed on an avatar’s face, indie developers have been running around with a camcorder over their shoulder.
Today’s events further prove that gamers can handle the truth. Nintendo’s announcement was unique among big game companies, but it is a positive development that will hopefully spur similar behavior from other game companies in the future.
Double Take is a series where we take recent announcements and occurrences in the gaming industry and offer our immediate thoughts on them.