Game developer Thomas Mahler from Ori developer Moon Studios has published an impassioned forum post where he rips into “snake oil salesmen” in the video game industry who, he says, have a history of overpromising and underdelivering.
Writing on Resetera, Mahler started a thread with the explosive title, “Why are gamers so eager to trust and even forgive the snake oil salesmen?”
He said he’s been bothered by this for some time. In Mahler’s eyes, it goes back to Fable designer Peter Molyneux, who is often cited as a prominent game developer who overhyped his games.
“He was the master of, ‘Instead of telling you what my product is, let me just go wild with what I think it could be and get you all excited!’ And that was fine, until you actually put your money down and then the game was nothing like what Peter was hyping it up to be,” Mahler said. “He pulled this sh** for a good decade or more with journalists and gamers loving listening to Uncle Peter and the amazing things he’s doing for the industry. It took him to release some pretty damn shoddy games for press and gamers to finally not listen to the lies anymore.”
Mahler also called out No Man’s Sky developer Sean Murray. In Mahler’s eyes, Murray “learned straight from the Peter Molyneux handbook.”
“This guy apparently just loooooved the spotlight. Even days before No Man’s Sky released, he hyped up the multiplayer that didn’t even exist and was all too happy to let people think that No Man’s Sky was ‘Minecraft in Space’, where you could literally do everything (you being able to do everything is generally a common theme behind the gaming snake oil salesmen, cause hey, that sorta attracts everybody!)” he said. “Obviously there was massive backlash when No Man’s Sky finally released and the product being nothing like what Murray hyped it up to be.”
Mahler said people forgave Murray and the team because the studio released numerous updates that improved and expanded on the game in significant and meaningfully positive ways. “They released a bunch of updates, so let’s forget about the initial lies and deception and hey, let’s actually shower him with awards again, cause he finally kinda sorta delivered on what he said the game would be years earlier,” Mahler said.
Mahler also singled out video game veteran and presenter Geoff Keighley. No Man’s Sky was announced on one of Keighley’s programs years ago. Mahler said, “Thanks, Geoff Keighley. Rewarding that kinda behavior will surely help the industry grow stronger.”
Mahler then turned his attention to Cyberpunk 2077 as another example of what he believes is a game that promised more than it delivered.
“Made by the guys that made Witcher 3, so this sh** had to be good,” Mahler said. “Here’s our Cyberpunk universe and–trust us–you can do f**king everything! Here the entire CDPR PR department took all the cues from what worked for Molyneux and Murray and just went completely apesh** with it.”
According to Mahler, CD Projekt Red led people to believe Cyberpunk 2077 would be “sci-fi GTA in first-person,” with each marketing video carefully designed to leave a good taste in players’ mouths. “They stopped just short of outright saying that this thing would cure cancer. This strategy resulted in a sensational 8 million pre-orders,” he said.
When Cyberpunk 2077 came out, it was underwhelming to some portion of the audience–this much is clear. But Mahler went further. He said, “The product was a fraction of what the developer hyped it up to be and on top of that it barely even ran on consoles that it was supposed to ‘run surprisingly well on!”
Mahler said these are all examples of how the developers he cited are examples of developers overhyping their games and making gamers feel like fools. Mahler also called out the gaming press for going along with it.
For Mahler, he sees this as a terrible situation. “From the perspective of a developer, all of this just sucks,” he said. Mahler acknowledged that writing these words might make him come across as bitter and that he’s “sh**ting on other devs.”
“No, I’m not. I’m shi**ing on liars and people that are okay with openly deceiving others. I’d argue that we should all agree that this sh*t is not okay,” he said. “If I go and buy a car and the car salesman sells me a car that supposedly has 300 horse power, but on the drive home after the purchase I notice that he switched out the motor when I wasn’t looking, I’d be rightfully pissed off, cause I was deceived.”
In summation, Mahler said he believes this is a non-starter of an issue because gamers and press don’t really care anyway because games can, and often do, improve over time with patches. But that’s not enough for Mahler.
“That is so not the point,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the snake oil actually tastes fine. Don’t sell me on features that don’t exist. Don’t paint a picture that you’ll not be able to deliver. Just don’t f**king lie to me. You’re f**king over gamers, you’re f**king over journalists (that should know better, so shame on you!) and you’re f**king over other developers. There, I said my piece, felt like a chip I needed to get off my shoulder and I think this is a wrong that we should set right so that this won’t happen anymore.”
Moon’s latest project was Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which was released in 2020.
In response to Mahler’s forum post, prominent and outspoken industry developer Rami Ismail wrote a thread on Twitter taking aim at some of the points. You can see the full thread starting with the tweet below.
OK, so, holy shit where do I start with this one. Game director of Ori takes aim at Molyneux & Cyberpunk 2077 & No Man’s Sky as “snake oil salesmen”.
Molyneux was repeat, sure. Cyberpunk was a AAA with intent, sure. NlMS was a dude out of his element.
— Rami Ismail (رامي) (@tha_rami) February 4, 2021
“It sours me a lot on a take that I otherwise somewhat agree with. There’s already a semi-antagonistic relationship between gamers and devs, and massive corporations lying without accountability, or indies misrepresenting their work without making up for it doesn’t help there,” Ismail said.
“But No Man’s Sky? An indie suddenly in massive spotlights, a designer suddenly in the public eye, an ambitious game that’s punching way above their weight, and almost half a decade of free updates to make the game what they promised, a tiny next project that’s exactly what it is.”
“Let indies grow, please. It’s OK to be annoyed by it, but equating an indie being blasted into the spotlight to a story of corporate leadership & misleading communication toward audience and board and suggesting equal levels of intentional malice seems a step too far for me.”
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