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Braid’s Johnathan Blow on Developer Regulations and Certification |

Should Sony force game studios to add specific features like Trophy support to their PS3 games? This is almost a classic left-wing/right-wing, socialist/libertarian issue and this is a debate that’s popped up on this site several times.

Johnathan Blow, the primary developer behind the critically praised Braid that was just released on XBLA (and soon to be released on PC), spoke to Gamasutra about this type of regulation on XBLA games:

“…there are still a lot of requirements, and I believe that, at least for a single-player game like my game, the vast majority of these requirements are unnecessary”

“I put in a tremendous amount of work meeting all these requirements, when I could have put that work into the actual game, and made it even a little more polished, little bit better.”

Regarding the XBLA certification process:

“But I feel like it actually decreases the quality of games, because people spend so much of their energy on these things that users don’t even really care about.”

Despite his criticisms of the regulations, Johnathan Blow was overally very happy about his experience with Microsoft.

“They also bent a lot of XBLA rules, in order to help me make the game the way I wanted, which was pretty cool of them,”

The obvious counter point is that rather than enforce lots of strict rules on developers and then “be cool about it” by letting some of them slide, they could simply have more relaxed rules to begin with so don’t developers don’t need to get special favors in order to build their games.

In general, Sony enforces less rules and regulations on developers, while Microsoft is more strict on these issues. It’s a tradeoff between developer goodwill and innovation vs. end-user consistency. Of course, PC/web/Flash games offer developers the most relaxed regulations of all since there is basically no intermediate company between the developer and the consumer.

Minimalist regulation tends to work well for cutting-edge innovation, artistry, and satisfies the more knowledgeable enthusiast fans, while more corporate regulation favors the more casual consumers and the mass market. Think of food: food enthusiasts generally prefer small, authentic restaurants that tend to be independent, while the more mainstream crowd generally prefers food chains that run each store through tightly written process scripts. Or with music, the knowledgeable fans often have very specific tastes and prefer authentic live performances, while more casual listeners just listen to heavily scripted broadcast radio.

  • I see your point about developing in directions that are a waste of time, especially for a small game. But I still feel there’s a place for collective rules on how things should work in all games. I’m all for developer freedom, but there has to be some consistency in presentation and features where it makes sense. I guess those last words are the stickler. Obviously in a case like this, where it’s just one developer (at least it seems to be) working on a title, guidelines should be different than a case where a AAA studio is working on a bigname title.

    Some examples:

    I expect all racing games to support custom soundtracks. RPGs and other games, through, don’t benefit from them.

    I expect all big budget BD games to include trophies.

    I expect games where it makes sense to be able to have multiple save files using the PS3’s savegame mechanism. Many of this generation’s games only support one savegame, which is retarded.


  • Darrin

    Developers like to add features that their fans want and they also like to add features that they want as gamers themselves.

    With trophies and custom soundtracks, lots of devs are starting to voluntarily add those into new games and we will see those features in far more games. I suspect the slow adoption of those particular features was due to immature PS3 SDKs rather than developer compliance.

    This is only an issue when devs don’t want a particular feature that users want. And in that case, I’d side with the devs. For example, if a particular developer doesn’t like trophies and doesn’t think it would be a good fit for his/her title, I’d rather see that developer build the best game that they can rather than be distracted by being bitterly forced into adding half-assed trophy support.

    And I think trying to raise game quality through specific mandates is a bad idea: Racing games need to support custom sound tracks, but RPGs don’t. Retail games need to add trophy support, but small downloadable titles don’t. I think most devs would find those micro-managing rules oppressive and they wouldn’t justify the game quality improvements.

    Mandating certain things like retail packaging, on the other hand, is a fairly safe and good idea.

    I think we may just have to disagree on this one 🙂

  • I have serious doubts that a simple lib routine like Achievements/Trophies puts much pressure on devs… really… I mean, most of it is handled by the OS anyways (the game just needs to tell the system that the requirements for said trophy are reached)

    But there’s other things (mandatory VSync in PS1/PS2 games for example) in the TRCs that should be adhered to. Not only because it makes the games easier on the eyes to some (no tearing if done right), but emulation on next gen systems (PS4 BC) will also be easier in the end.

    Small devs will always have problems with those rules, as they simply don’t have the monetairy backup needed to solve all of those. Blow said, that he took a huge credit to make this game, and if it his game isn’t successful, he will be broke (and essentielly out of a job) in the end. Those rules surely didn’t help him either.