Are Developer Diaries Destroying the Magic?


posted 7/13/2006 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
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The small Oregon town of Gold Hill settles near a whirlpool of inexplicable phenomena.  Tennis balls roll uphill.  Brooms stand on their bristles at non-linear angles.  And people shift in height as they walk around.  Local Native Americans labeled Gold Hill the "Forbidden Ground" because their horses refused to enter the area.  I took reams of photos during a visit over the Fourth of July weekend, and—despite studious application of light-bending theories, magnetic pole distortion theories, and molecular shrinkage theories—I'm still puzzled over the evidence.

A geologist and physicist, John Lister, performed over 14,000 experiments in the Oregon Vortex in the early 1900's.  He took copious notes and photographs of his findings, even corresponding directly with Albert Einstein regarding his hypotheses.  But just before he died, Lister declared "The world isn't yet ready for what goes on here," and subsequently burned all of his notes.

Either Lister found something absolutely amazing, or he found absolutely nothing.  We will never officially know.  But since Lister was also an uncanny businessman (opening the site for tourism in 1930) the loss may be for the best.  This dubious lack of information keeps thousands of visitors pouring into the rural backwoods town of Gold Hill year after year.

There are many industries that require a sense of mystery to support and sustain them.  A magician never reveals their secrets.  A chef never gives away his recipes.  Even a good stripper knows how to leave a little something to the imagination.  This mythical aura—no matter how scantily-clad the profession—keeps people curious long after skill and creativity run dry (witness the lasting power of the reclusive Wachowski brothers, despite every botched project before and after the original Matrix). 

Just like magicians, chefs, and strippers, video game producers need to implement a similarly calculated sense of mystery to their advantage. 

The constant onslaught of developer diaries is the gaming world's equivalent of reality TV.  America's pop culture fascination with the 'process' more than the 'product' spawns an artificial need for moment-to-moment highlights and updates during every step of production.  Consider: It takes longer to make an American Idol than to make a studio album.  In America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks withholds verdicts longer than it takes to finish a photo shoot.  Even the producers of Dancing with the Stars know how to stretch an hour's worth of drama out of a three minute dance routine.  And America eats it up, with appetizer after appetizer before they ever get to the main course.

This demystifying process, this peek behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain, is only hurting the game development industry, which is indeed becoming a Hollywood-sized industry itself. 

Gaming companies are pushing their public relations agenda and adapting a "more is more" philosophy when it comes to putting out product information.  As a result, instead of creating a buzz, they're creating a clamor.

It's hard to blame the small developers in this regard: Any amount of exposure for their product is an obvious godsend when competing with the big dogs.  But on the other hand, big-name productions do themselves a disservice when they give away too much too soon. Reading months of developer diaries before a game launches is like watching "The Making of" DVD extras before watching the actual film itself.  The movie-making (and game-making) magic is irrevocably dispelled.

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