As promised, Polish developer Techland put out a video today updating the world on the state of zombie parkour thriller Dying Light 2. It’s actually an extremely concise look at one of the most toxic cycles underlying the video game industry.
In the first half of the roughly three-minute video, various Techland developers read expletive-filled comments from fans demanding the release of the game or at least proof that it still exists. “FUCK THIS BULLSHIT!!! Release dying light 2 or give a fucking demo GOD DAMNIT,” reads one of the messages.
Then the second half of the video begins with one of the developers calmly and earnestly stating, “Okay everyone, we got the message. We understand you are curious about the game because you want Dying Light 2 to be as good as you have imagined.”
The developers than go on to explain that Dying Light 2 is a big game, a complex game, the type of game that’s hard to make (note: they all are), and that the studio just needs a bit more time to bring its ambitious creative vision to life, especially after a year full of unique challenges and tragedies stemming from the ongoing pandemic. The second half of the video is defensive, bordering on apologetic, seemingly in an attempt to placate the upcoming game’s most energized and also virulent fans.
“All of us here are putting our hearts into delivering a game that you will keep playing for months,” one developer says as if filming a hostage video.
“We are proud of having such devoted fans as you, no matter how you express your feelings,” Tymon Smektała, the game’s lead designer, says near the end, completing the sick loop of video game marketing co-dependency.
“Normalizing this crap or playing it for laughs makes the industry worse for everyone,” wrote GamesIndustry.biz editor Brendan Sinclair on Twitter today. He’s right.
We’ve seen this play out dozens of times before. A certain segment of gaming fans love a developer up until they’re bombarding them with death threats because a game was delayed or, god forbid, had the wrong ending. Yet some of the biggest studios and game publishers continue catering to these hyper-online, super-fickle “fans,” because they are also the ones who will spread the E3 marketing gospel on social media and private chats, berate the non-believers, and stand ready to launch a harassment campaign at a moment’s notice if the review scores don’t go as hoped.
Dying Light 2 was first revealed during Microsoft’s press conference at E3 2018, three years after the release of the first game. It looked neat. A hands-off demo I saw even teased that it might have some interesting world-building going on beyond the standard zombie-survival hijinks. But the game never got a firm release date, and early last year Techland announced it would be delayed indefinitely. So some Dying Light 2 fans apparently turned to hurling abuse at the game’s developers, and now Techland is trying to win them back, including with a short new teaser to tide them over until the studio is finally ready to announce more.
We saw this exact scenario play out last year with Cyberpunk 2077. After the game was delayed a third time in late October, senior game designer Andrzej Zawadzki and others reported being harassed over the news. “I will burn you alive if you don’t release the game,” read one of the death threats he shared in a screenshot. This was several weeks after Bloomberg first reported that CD Projekt Red developers were being forced to work mandatory overtime to finish the game, and several weeks before some Cyberpunk 2077 fans would go berserk over insufficiently positive reviews of the final game. The game quickly sold 13 million copies and was just as quickly pulled from the PlayStation Store for performance issues. Despite years of edgelord marketing, it’s plummeted off the NPD sales charts. Who exactly was served by this entire messed-up cycle?
And yet we’re seeing it again with Dying Light 2. Months after it was delayed, Polish outlet PolskiGameDev.pl reported that development wasn’t going well, and that the studio was struggling to deliver on its promise of a dynamic and changing world. Last month, The Gamer reported that the project suffered from a lack of direction, and cited a number of incidents at the studio that pointed toward a pattern of toxic management at Techland. Just last week, the studio tweeted, “We announced the game too early but it’s far from being in a dev hell.” Techland leadership sold a dream for what Dying Light 2 might be to fans years ago and now it’s a nightmare fueling asshole commenters and potentially deeper problems at the studio.
Eventually the game will either come out (the new video says 2021) or it won’t. It might be good, or bad, or just fine. Whatever the outcome, hopefully the very visible, obvious issues around Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2, and games with similarly weaponized fanbases will convince creators to stop relying on the years-long hype circus to promote their games. Or at the very least, stop acquiescing to the worst parts of the fanbase this strategy tends to create.