Whilst games development is
not identical to film production, it does share much of the same enthusiastic
public response. Consequently games can appropriate some of the communication
and community-building techniques employed by their celluloid older
sibling. Games too can gain popularity and consumer ownership by opening
their previously closed development processes to increased public involvement.
Halo 3 is an interesting project in this respect, as it is of similar importance and scope to The Lord of the Rings. As one of the most expensive game productions, it had plenty riding on its success for both platform-holder and developer. But how transparent was Bungie about the production of its game?
The developers have always provided updates, artwork and screenshots on Bungie.net. But this information often had a corporate and muted tone to it. They have excelled at providing ways for gamers to interact with each other through forums and strong post-game analysis functionality. However, they have historically made less effort and been less successful at providing access to the internal workings of Bungie and its production process.
Of course, that changed. In a move that is becoming more familiar in the games industry, Bungie has offered greater involvement to key individuals and groups in their enthusiast community. This ranges from adopting popular custom game types into the game's matchmaking, to the recruiting of respected voices from the community itself.
In this light, the move of Luke Smith from editorial site 1UP to Bungie is most interesting. Smith, a leading fan voice for Halo, was also well-known for his robust, direct approach to games journalism. His Content Editor role at Bungie means he is in a position to increase the studio's transparency to their enthusiastic players. He has been part of a greater focus on building, supporting and learning from the Halo 3 community.
Bungie now has a
main tab of its website devoted to community; furthermore, this space
makes clear how important this is for Bungie. The site describes the
community area as somewhere you can go for "the latest news"
and to tap into "the broader family of Bungie fan community sites
all across the internet". Furthermore, Bungie has even adopted
the fan group The 7th Column as its official Halo fan club.
That's not to say that the transition hasn't resulted in the odd teething problem. Sometimes, the transparency one might expect just isn't there -- Bungie has played the field with guarded, even marketing-esque, announcements. When credible rumors broke that the game might not feature a co-op mode, it could have been an almighty setup for an announcement of their four player online mode. It took almost two weeks before the announcement was ready, and Smith had to admit it was "time for us to sack up and tell you what's what regarding online co-op".