IGN just released a video called “Baldur’s Gate 3 is causing some developers to panic.” You can watch it here if you haven’t. The video has gotten a lot of game developers upset, and has gotten a lot of gamers up in arms. The crux of the video is a negative reaction to a series of tweets by Xalavier Nelson Jr talking about how Baldur's Gate 3 isn't a reasonable bar for most RPGs going forward.
I decided to comment on this as a former journalist myself, after few people told me that the video “raises a good point.” I will first say that no point is raised in this video. The video instead asks a rhetorical question that has been posed ad nauseum since the advent of DLC: why can’t triple-A games come out with perfect polish from day 1?
If it were me, and I worked as a journalist, and I had a question, and that question had been asked by players constantly since the advent of DLC, I would attempt to do some journalism to find out the answer. Why CAN’T they do this, if the same question has been floating out there for nearly 20 years? Clearly this is not an easy answer if it has been around for such a long time.
Instead of talking to people and attempting to answer that question, IGN’s Destin Legarie chooses to make a reaction video, multiple times admitting he doesn’t know anything about the subject, but is simply angry. This is not what journalism should be, starting from the fact no attempt has been made to learn to pronounce Xalavier’s name, the main dev who he is criticizing in the video. It is likewise irresponsible to say that Xalavier’s tweets go on to “give a lot of good context” but then not share what that context is or attempt to understand it. (I also feel I should point out that Xalavier is not a triple-A dev, he is a very notable indie.)
Using “angry gamer” language when no research has been done, as admitted by the videographer, along with naming a bunch of game devs and showing their tweets, invites angry fans to go harass them, which is of course what is happening. This reminds devs of 2014 and naturally we Do Not Like It.
But back to the content of the video, Legarie asks why developers like Larian, Nintendo, and FromSoftware can release something so polished while others can’t, but makes no effort to find out the answer. So let’s get into it.
In the abstract, here’s a big part of it: Games release in imperfect states because devs either run out of money or the shareholders of their parent company mandate that a game must come out in a certain window (which devs have no control over). They run out of money trying to make the best game possible in the least amount of time. Devs rarely control their own budget and they are trying to make as much cool stuff as they can with the time they are allotted.
In short, for one reason or another, they are often forced to start selling the game in order to pay for the completion of the game. This has been done through DLC, patches, early access, and yes, even microstransactions for ages, because of rising expectations of triple-A, and because big studios are beholden to financial year results and reporting to their investors. Devs burn through their life force trying to make this happen and it’s upsetting to see this brought up with absolute incuriosity.
How about these individual games then?
Baldur’s Gate 3, which he says launched in a polished state, actually launched in early access, which he mentions but doesn’t question in any way. The game was in early access for 3 years, getting polish and bugfixes as it went. Three years! Now, as someone who spends the majority of his video complaining about people selling unfinished products, why does this not upset him? They sold the game for three years at $60 while it was unpolished and unfinished. Anyone could buy it. The company was able to ship the final, non-early-access game in a more polished state because the game was sold for three years, at full price, in an unfinished state. So the entire premise of our video here, that Baldur’s Gate 3 launched perfectly polished, isn’t even correct.
Tears of the Kingdom - why was this so polished? Because Nintendo has literal billions of dollars in cash reserves. They can afford to take as long as they want on a game because they have the money to do so. They don’t have to sell the game right now to make money for development, they already have money and can afford a longer development cycle. And since they also sell hardware, they know their games must be able to sell more Switches. That is why despite having a lot of money and time, they still crunch massively while doing this.
FromSoftware - their past success has led them to be given a blank check, and a “ready when it’s ready” attitude. Most studios are not given these sorts of timelines, and this only comes after multiple massive successes.
The problem with IGN's video is it’s pure sensationalism. It poses itself as “just asking questions” when, if you actually asked the questions of the right people, or even thought about the question a little bit, you could actually get answers. The point from Xalavier is not that gamers should lower their standards. The point is that, to think of Baldur's Gate 3 as an immaculate polished release out of the gate is incorrect, and if you held other games to that standard it would not make sense - after all, Baldur's Gate 3 took three years from early access launch at $60 to where it releases in a polished state. Put simply, other games cannot be held to that standard because that standard is illusory.
There was an opportunity with a video like this to give players context for why games release the way they do, but instead, it was designed to incite anger directed at a few devs. That was certainly accomplished, as Xalavier is getting harassed relentlessly, but is that really the kind of anger you want? Is that the tactic you want to take in a post-gamergate world?
There are valid questions one could ask of Xalavier’s Baldur’s Gate 3 thread which would’ve yielded a more nuanced discussion, and would have actually informed people. But that’s not what happened. Instead we got an angry implicit incitement to dogpile an indie dev. To me, it’s irresponsible, and a failing of journalism.