This is just my opinion, and I don’t have all the information:
I don’t know Phil Fish personally, but I do follow him on Twitter. I have yet to play Fez, I’m sad to say, but it’s obvious to anyone who watched Indie Game: The Movie that he poured his soul into it.
The impression I get from his appearance in IG:TM and his twitter feed is that he’s an emotionally high strung guy, rather sensitive, and prone to lashing out in anger when he perceives that he’s been hurt or slighted. The most lasting impression I came away with was the part in IG:TM where, on camera, a very upset and overworked Phil Fish stated several times that he would kill his former partner if he did not release his share of Fez and allow Fish to finish and release the game. While I understood very well how deeply angered Fish must have felt, having sunk so much of his life into a game that he was depending on to do well, only to be left hanging by the legal fallout of a broken partnership that might prevent him from releasing it at all, it really did not seem like a wise thing to be saying stuff like that, certainly not in front of a camera. It just made Fish look bad, at best a temperamental artist, at worst a loose cannon who might actually go off. It didn’t matter that I felt that he was in the right and getting screwed, he was handling it badly.
Yesterday, it seemed like the whole indie developer world was talking about the latest Phil Fish meltdown. Fish was quitting game development. There would be no Fez II.
The last major meltdown that I’m aware of dealt with Microsoft’s treatment of Fez. Fish wanted to release an update on XBox Live, but Microsoft’s policies were getting in the way, and for a solo developer getting through the red tape hurdles and costs were tremendously burdensome. Fish’s outrage was as righteous as it was epic. I felt like he was on the side of every small developer who wanted to put out a major release.
This time it seemed that he had few friends or supporters, and lots of haters. At best it seemed his fans were mainly expressing disappointment at the announcement of Fez II being canceled, or expressing hope that he’d cool down and come back to the project. But Fish was spewing profanity about the abuse he’d been on the receiving end on, and it didn’t seem like anyone sympathized.
What was it all about? Something to do with “Annoyed Gamer”. Who? Some guy on YouTube with a following, who likes to give his opinionated opinions on games and the game industry.
Apparently, “Annoyed Gamer,” aka Marcus Beer, had gone off on Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow on an episode of Game Trailers’ Invisible Walls for not wanting to give a reaction to a recent Microsoft announcement that the XBox One would allow developers to use a commercial XBox One as a development unit — no need for a special developer’s version of the console.
My opinion on this is that Annoyed Gamer is entitled to his opinion, but is wrong to call out Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow for not giving comments on demand. If the media covering the game industry seeks an opinion on an industry development and asks someone who’s a big name in the industry says “No comment,” THAT IS THEIR STATEMENT. Sure, you can be an asshole and continue to press the issue until you annoy your interview subject and provoke them into blowing up at you, but when you do that, YOU are the asshole, not them. Being an indie gamer is stressful enough without having to deal with goddamn papparazzi who won’t take no for an answer. “You have to suck it up and talk to the press whenever we want, about whatever we want, because it’s an honor for us to want to talk to you,” is simply arrogant. Calling people names because they don’t want to answer your question is bullshit.
Yes, game developers have something to gain from media coverage, and many of us need it in order to promote and market their projects. No one has to give an interview if they don’t want to, or answer a specific question if they don’t want to.
At the end of the day, Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish give us games. That’s more than enough.
Marcus Beer, and his ilk, on the other hand, give us opinions and information. This is also valuable, but it’s information and opinions about the games that developers make. We can come up with these on our own, easily, although there are a few who are unique voices well worth listening to, and I’m glad they’re out there contributing to the conversation.
Without the developers developing, there’s nothing to talk about. We might need each other, but one of us comes before the other.
It’s certainly possible to gain a name, a following, and influence in the industry — whether you’re a dev or a reporter. There are powerful people on either side of the symbiotic relationship. But however much influence you might have, you can’t always get your way. Ultimately, the media coverage exists because the game industry exists. Everyone should be entitled to respect and basic decency, especially people who have given us a celebrated magnum opus like Fez or Braid.
The industry is bigger than any one person, and there will be no shortage of good games to fill the void that Fish will leave behind him. But it’s still something that shouldn’t have happened, and because it did, we all lose out on the games Fish might have created. I don’t mean to defend his personality or the way he handles being in the spotlight, but frankly, to the vast majority of us who don’t know him personally, those things are secondary to his works, and aren’t really of concern to me as a gamer. Leave him alone and let him make games, the gamer in me says. I don’t care what he says in an interview, or if he gives an interview. I want to interact with his creations, not him.
In deference to those who do know Fish and care about him as a person, and to the man himself, he deserves to be given his space and the right to be left alone. With some exceptions, journalists should respect a person’s wishes to be engaged with on terms of their choosing. Game development, particularly as a solo dev or small team, is incredibly stressful, demanding, and difficult. Everyone needs to recognize that, and acknowledge the sacrifices and dedication that are required of game developers, and give them the respect that they deserve.