Starfield Developer gets Defensive with Players, and yes, it is Offensive

By Todd Russell Dec18,2023

We don’t do this with every new game at PGM, but Starfield got its own Discord discussion thread, multiple posts here (see: Where/When/If You Will Be Playing Starfield Launching Wednesday 9/6/2023? and Uh Oh, Some Starfield Constellation Edition Watches Are Breaking … After One Month) and was a game I was interested in checking out. Bethesda worked a long time on it and they have released some good games in the past.

And, bonus, we could check it out day one on Game Pass without spending any additional money. Those that have a sub to Game Pass, anyway.

Ultimately, it fit a long list of games that I’ve played and wasn’t taken by. Did not dislike right out of the gate, and planned to return to it someday, but here we are months later, and haven’t gotten back to it. Now, after what follows, that interest level has been reduced from some to none.

PGM member Gamer_Nix shared the following article in the Discord on 12/15, and here’s a curious quote:

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Starfield lead and Bethesda studio design director Emil Pagliarulo laments “how disconnected some players are” from the realities of game development, and encourages passionate fans to avoid making assumptions about how and why design decisions are made. 

“Funny how disconnected some players are from the realities of game development, and yet they speak with complete authority,” Pagliarulo begins. “I mean, I can guess what it takes to make a Hostess Twinkie, but I don’t work in the factory, so what the hell do I really know? Not a lot.” 

Starfield design lead says players are “disconnected” from how games are actually made: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking you know why it is the way it is” | GamesRadar+

So, gamers are supposed to be connected to the development process to understand and appreciate games now? Huh? Pagliarulo’s analogy of the Twinkie is more straw man than meaningful. We know if we like Twinkies by their taste, we don’t need to understand, appreciate or be connected to the manufacturing process to enjoy them.

But now we need to do this with games? If we don’t, then it’s our fault if the gameplay experience is underwhelming?

In Pagliarulo’s defense, he does add this:

Pagliarulo acknowledges that consumers have a right to complain about the things they spend money on, though he doesn’t publicly complain about games because of “respect for my fellow devs” and because “it would be uncool and unprofessional of me to do so. But sometimes I want to. Oh boy.” 

I didn’t stop writing book reviews after writing multiple books myself, but do know authors that have, so kind of get that part of what he’s saying, but he’s losing me on the connection part being necessary for critical analysis for what is largely subjective.

It doesn’t end with this one article. Bethesda was also going into Steam reviews and responding to negative reviews. I’ve had developers reply to negative reviews I’ve left on Steam and that can cut both ways.

I don’t like the concept or actual reality of blaming gamers for bad games because of a lack of understanding of the development process.

Here’s my initial reaction in Discord when Gamer_Nix shared the piece, and it’s more geared toward the massive amount of money and time spent making this game:

Asmongold responds with a lengthy deep dive and it pretty much slays the tedious nature of Starfield. You don’t need to watch the whole thing, you can jump around at random spots and see a bunch of very specific reasons why multiple gamers didn’t enjoy Starfield.

(Sidebar: should we be concerned that GTA 6 could be another game that has spent too long in the oven? Too much development time that expectations for this game might be too high? I hope GTA 6 blows me away, but … the time spent working on it, and teasing us that it’s coming and will be great, uh oh.)

Bottom line: something smart game developers need to realize: if we don’t like your game, we don’t like your game. If we are generous enough to share specifics, take them with a “thank you” and if there are things that can be fixed/patched, then fix them. ASAP. Don’t deflect, defend why you did X, when what we care about is playing a fun game.

If what we say in our review is wrong, incomplete, misunderstood, etc, don’t correct us. Just say nothing or thank us politely for taking time to play your game when there are literally more games in the world than we could ever play in a dozen lifetimes.

The Rolling Stones were wrong, time is not on our side. Not when it comes to playing every game as thoroughly as the developer might want us to in order to “get it” with what they are trying to do with their smarter than us game.

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