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Opinion: We overuse “lazy” and “greedy” when criticizing games + game developers

Gamingtodaynews1b - Opinion: We overuse "lazy" and "greedy" when criticizing games + game developers
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I see these two words thrown around constantly when it comes to games and game development: "lazy" and "greedy."

For example, a developer might include an easy mode in a game, and the only difference from normal mode is that the enemies have less health and do less damage. "This is lazy game design," many players respond.

Another game comes out with tons of bugs. It's just in time for the holidays, but clearly, the game shipped before it was ready. "They were just being greedy," some players say. "They cared more about making a quick buck than making something good."

I would argue that these two critiques in particularly are almost always wrong. The issues in the game might be legitimate (the easy mode may truly be suboptimal; the holiday game may have indeed shipped too soon). But to reduce the root cause down to "laziness" or "greed" is, in my opinion, misguided.

"Laziness"

Why? Let's start with laziness. I have friends in game development (a couple indie, a couple AAA), I read all the "crunch" stories, I've read books like Blood, Sweat and Pixels and so on. I have yet to meet a lazy person working in game design/development/QA. It's brutal work, long hours, crazy deadlines. Most of these people could leave and join a corporate, big tech company and make twice as much money working half the hours. But they stay because they love the craft, the creative problem solving, the end product.

So how does that dumbed down easy mode ship? (Or the underwritten plotline? Or the clumsy jumping section? Or the watered down 2nd half of the game? etc.) Answer: budget, resources, human mistakes, poor leadership, and/or corporate directives, etc. The studio didn't anticipate they'd have to rewrite the entire story with 6 months to go. Or they realized that getting the jump mechanics smoother and more interesting would double the development time…all for a mechanic that's not even central to the game. Or they spent the lion's share of their budget on designing the opening 3 levels, and the brass wouldn't approve additional funds.

The point being: it very likely wasn't laziness. And no one feels worse about it than the devs.

"Greed"

I suspect a fair number of people will agree with the "laziness" part. But greed? Surely, many game publishers are greedy. Yes, maybe the gal who did all those sweet character designs isn't greedy. But her corporate overlords? They just want $$$$.

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Not so fast. Is it greed when an unfinished game ships in time for the holidays? Maybe? But the scenario could easily be more complicated, more nuanced. It's possible the game was already delayed once or twice (almost every game ever gets delayed at some point, even if we don't hear about it publicly). Perhaps the publisher has funded development, and already approved going over-budget. Then they came to an impasse: the game was still buggier than they'd like. It would take far, far more money and time to really fix all the problems. So the publisher has to make a decision: scrap the game entirely, approve a year-long extension (thus de-prioritizing or jeopardizing other investments), or release what they have, knowing fans of the genre/series will still enjoy it.

Is that greedy? In some cases, maybe. But certainly not always.

What about a company like Nintendo porting Wii U games for $60. Surely that's just plain ol' greed. Again, I think it's more complicated. Nintendo chooses to invest in franchises based in large part on whether it makes enough money on them. It might seem egregious to a Wii U owner that Pikmin 3 Deluxe will retail for $60 (personally, I'm one of these, and I'm not exactly pleased). But maybe $60 is the only price that could "save" the Pikmin franchise. Nintendo is no dummy. They will price the game in such a way as to maximize longterm revenue, yes—but if they're right, they will reinvest that money to make cool/affordable DLC, Pikmin 4, etc. For what it's worth, I do think this example is more of a gray area, where you could argue an ounce of greed factors in, but overall I think it's a real debate.

(If I were to isolate a case where greed is to blame, I think it's when a gaming company takes an already successful, already profitable franchise and tries to shamelessly milk even more money out of it with predatory tactics, like loot boxes with even worse odds, obscured from the player. This isn't about making a tough compromise or reviving an old IP. It's just shamelessly squeezing players for more money.)

Why this matters

Games deserve plenty of criticism. As players, we shouldn't hold back our complaints. It's part of how games get better and it keeps developers/publishers honest. But certain critiques, like "greedy!" and "lazy!" tend to bypass the underlying issues. They dismiss complicated, thorny problems with a one-size-fits-all label. Meanwhile, the people designing the games see those critiques and either ignore them (because they know they're not accurate) or just feel bad (because they don't know what they could do to fix it). I say we skip the easy labels and jump straight to the deeper, more productive critiques that can really make games better.

Curious to hear if you agree, or if I'm ignoring certain common scenarios where laziness and greed are very clearly to blame.

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