Monday, July 29, 2013

Beer battered Fish

The problem, for me, with Phil Fish's huffy departure from the games industry is that he's too divisive a figure.

If it had been a more reasonable, likeable person who'd been hounded out of the thing they love by an aggressive, demanding gaming media (and public), then I'd have a lot more sympathy.

For anyone unfamiliar with the events, here's the story. Game Informer, upon hearing a rumour that Microsoft were going to make it easier for independent developers to publish on the Xbox One, reached out to Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow, two self-styled Indie Developers, for comment. They're viewed by many as the "leaders" of the indie dev scene, and haven't gone out of their way to disabuse anyone of that notion.

Both Fish and Blow declined to comment; Fish made some remarks on Twitter about how bothersome he found it that he was approached for comment any time there's an indie games story.

On the Invisible Walls vodcast for GameTrailers, a games critic called Marcus Beer called Fish and Blow out as "hipsters", accusing them of using the games media and their indie darling cred when it suited them, but whining about having to deal with the press when it didn't suit their own self-promotion.

His presentation left something to be desired - it was overtly hostile and dismissive of Blow and Fish's creative talents, and didn't address the fact that they're not PR people but creatives - but the core of Beer's comments were pretty simple and difficult to argue with: a developer's relationship with the press is a two-way street.

The media needs developers for stories to tell, and the developers need the media to tell their stories.

But what I don't like is that this is only how the games press acts when it has power over the developer. While Phil Fish needs the games media to help him spread the word about his new game, the press has more than enough to cover with triple-A publishers and even other indies; they're not reliant on news from Polyton to fill column inches.

But despite the way Activision and EA treat the games media and their consumers, you'd rarely see a contributor to GameTrailers calling for a media-wide blackout on big-budget games just because the developer refused to comment on a rumour.

There's an element of this whole story that feels like a power trip, where the media's in a position to harm a developer when they don't get their way, when the boot's been on the other foot dealing with multinational publishers.

I feel like this could be an important thing to have happened. That Phil Fish has abandoned making games is a big deal, but such a divisive figure has people retreating to party lines; the coverage I've seen is split between "Fish was persecuted unfairly" and "Fish is an asshole", with very little in the middle.

But for all the praise of Phil Fish as a genius, we're now only ever going to have one piece of work to judge him on and that's not enough for me to make that call. Yeah, Fez is a great game, but it took him five years to make and he pissed off everybody he came into contact with during that half-decade, in one way or another.

The games industry has lost an auteur with a distinctive and divisive voice, but I'm having a hard time seeing if that's all good or all bad.

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