It’s no secret that gamers are an opinionated lot. Over the years, we’ve perfected the art of looking critically at developers, publishers, and the games they produce. Of these entities, more criticism tends to end up at the feet of those behind the games, rather than the games themselves; after all, a game is bad because it was created or published poorly, right? As it turns out, this isn’t always the case.
Phil Fish is a French-Canadian indie game developer, known for his game Fez, which many expected to become vaporware after its release date was repeatedly pushed back. Fish has gained a certain notoriety in the gaming community for being a contentious guy, particularly after he was featured in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which outlines his difficulties in getting Fez to the development finish line. If you’ve seen the documentary, then you know that Phil Fish isn’t afraid to speak his mind, especially when it comes to responding to his critics.
Fish’s propensity for public venting and controversial remarks (like when he said that modern Japanese games “just suck”) has landed him on many a gamer’s sh*t list. It doesn’t help when some of those gamers write for news websites and headline their stories with unflattering photos that serve only to make him look even more contentious. Fez, a commercial and critical success, is catching fire because the man behind it is perceived to be a jerk.
At the time of this writing, Fez is set to release on Steam tomorrow morning, and it’s been doing very well in regards to pre-order sales. With this in mind, Fish took to the Steam forums and commented on a thread calling for a boycott of Fez: ”…it’s #1 on Steam right now and it’s not even out yet. you should boycott harder, nerds… [sic]” Personally, I think it may not have been in Fish’s best interest to poke at the wasps’ nest, but I also think it’s pretty funny at the same time. When it really comes down to it, what is anyone accomplishing by boycotting Fez?
The short answer is not much.
Typically, the purpose of a boycott is solidarity: we boycott those who provide goods or services when their business practices are morally corrupt, or when they express harmful or problematic views. This shows that we don’t support them or their practices, and shows those wronged that others stand together with them. Sure, nothing’s stopping you from boycotting someone you think is a jerk, but when that’s the only reason, all you’re doing is potentially missing out on a good product. On top of that, you’re not just harming Phil Fish by boycotting, you’re hurting the other guys who worked on Fez, too.
While Fish had creative control and is generally the face of Fez, guys like Renaud Bédard (the game’s programmer) and Rich Vreeland (the composer) had just as much to do with the game making it to completion. Ultimately, this is a small group of developers who worked on a labor of love, and their efforts are only rewarded through sales of the finished product. This brings me back to my overarching point, which is that Fez is a good game that most definitely deserves your $10 ($9 if you pre-ordered it).
For context, consider companies like EA or Activision, who are champions of business at the expense of the consumer. When I mention DRM, day-one DLC, micro-transaction, and online-only, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Get where I’m going with this? Now give me a list of indie titles that you can attach to any of the aforementioned concepts. Not much of a list, right?
Put simply, AAA game companies are burdened by the need to monetize and meet sales goals so they can churn out sequels and stay in business. Indie devs just want to make the best games they can, be it for the sense of accomplishment, to provide entertainment, or a combination of these and other factors. Some of us may be convinced that Phil Fish is just an antagonistic egomaniac, but fewer are willing to consider that he’s just an outspoken guy whose pride in his work leads him to take offense as his defense.
Fish is prone to lashing out against his critics — lots of us are — but Fez shouldn’t be held accountable for that. It’s a beautiful little game, and it owes its life to more than just Phil Fish. Sure, it has its share of problems, and those should be taken into consideration when formulating our opinions of it, but a deliberate boycott of the game just seems like a waste of energy. Gamers would do better to focus our outrage on the companies and games that perpetuate harm and extortion of us as consumers. Let’s boycott the big titles bogged down with DRM and harmful stereotypes, the companies that bleed us dry with micro-transactions and superfluous DLC, and the publishers who flood the market with shiny new versions of games we’re already playing every 6-12 months.
I’ll bet you the $10 it costs to buy Fez on Steam that this would be a better use of our time, and we’d all be a lot happier.