Jaffe: “This is business”, so stop blaming publishers for lack of creative control

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 00:19 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Former Eat Sleep Play boss David Jaffe has said developers need to stop whining about the evils of publisher interference and instead get good enough to avoid it all together.

“At least 50% of the time the developer just isn’t good enough to make the great game they think they are capable of making, regardless of how much creative freedom they have.”

“I reject the tired accusation that it’s the publisher keeping game developers down. And I reject that accusation because of the classic line that I am sure you’ve heard before: you are worth what you can negotiate. Period,” Jaffe wrote on his blog in an disappointingly curse-free post.

The God of War creator argued that developers shouldn’t sign deals with publishers they don’t like, and shouldn’t agree to anything unless they are completely satisfied with the contract.

“If your studio is not good enough to demand better deals and is not clever enough to secure alternate forms of financing thus allowing you to bypass the publishers all together then you deserve what you get,” he added.

The outspoken designer expressed his sympathy for developers trapped by pressure beyond their control, but compared blaming publishers for all the problems to expecting every kid to win a trophy.

“This is business. You want to be treated better? Sign a contract demanding it. You are not able to get such a contract? Then improve your team until you can demand in the real world what you think you are really worth in your mind,” he said.

“Because at the moment the real world is making something very clear to you. And that is this: for the time being anyway, you are not as good as you think you are.”

While acknowledging that some games might have been more successful or artistic without publisher interference, Jaffe said it’s not as common as many people seem to think.

“As a guy who has worked for the publisher and for the developer I can tell you that at least 50% of the time the developer just isn’t good enough to make the great game they think they are capable of making, regardless of how much creative freedom they have,” he claimed.

Developers can either waste time complaining about it or accept it and do one of two things, Jaffe continued. They can leave games development, or they can “put the effort into getting so good that they can pretty much write their own ticket”.

In a footnote, Jaffe said that most triple-A boxed products won’t be backed up by deals developers enjoy, because at that price point, marketing and brand matter too much – consumers will mostly buy sequels and known quantities. He expects the digital revolution to change this for the better.

Jaffe created both God of War and Twisted Metal and founded Eat Sleep Play, which he has since stepped back from in order to pursue non-traditional development; we’re expecting a free-to-play shooter of some kind, but he’s also got a collaboration with Jenova Chen.

It’s worth noting that Jaffe makes two references to the fact that talented developers have the chance to “write their own ticket” and “secure alternate forms of financing” – as, for example, the famously disenchanted Brain Fargo has done, turning to Kickstarter to fund two old school RPGs publishers wouldn’t touch. Steph spoke to Fargo at GDC and found him perfectly happy to answer to 70,000 of you instead of a bunch of suits and focus groups.