A short list of the video games that have helped shape the industry and bring it to the mainstream (and to center stage at both Microsoft and Sony’s E3 presentations) — would surely include Fez.
The 2D platformer that allows the gamer to shift to 3D to get a different perspective of the world, Fez has won multiple awards and sold more than 200,000 copies on Xbox Live Arcade alone.
But the saga of its creator shows what’s wrong with indie game development these days.
Last month, Fez creator Phil Fish released a teaser for the sequel, Fez 2. But after a heated fight on Twitter this weekend, Fish posted this on his company Polytron’s blog:
FEZ II is cancelled.
i am done.
i take the money and i run.
this is as much as i can stomach.
this is isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign.
Fish’s Twitter account is now protected, and Fez 2 has apparently been scrapped. While the move may seem like a shocker to some fans of the game, Fish’s antics, particularly his relationship with critics and even gamers themselves, have put him on precarious footing all along.
Fish sprung from obscurity at the 2008 Games Development Conference, where he won Excellence in Visual Arts for the debut of Fez. But for five years, the game languished, as Polytron lost its funding, and Fish’s business partner quit and threatened legal action.
Part of this story was detailed in the 2012 documentary film Indie Game: The Movie, which looked at Fish’s bitterness and angst as Fez failed to get out the door.
As Fez finally neared release, Fish began showing a taunting side to the public. For example, he openly mocked a Japanese developer during a panel at GDC 2012, saying that the country’s games “just suck.” There was a backlash, and Fish then declared that gamers are the “worst f*cking people.”
A number of blowups followed, but this weekend was Fish’s breaking point. The developer got in an all-out Twitter war with a gaming journalist Marcus “Annoyed Gamer” Beer, who writes for GameTrailers. Beer had called Fish a “tosspot” on the website’s video podcast “Invisible Walls” for being indignant as media critics asked him about his opinion on the Xbox One’s indie development policies. Fish fired back by telling Beer he should kIll himself (that tweet has since been deleted).
Fish’s blog post saying he quitting gaming followed, and Fish’s statement has been confirmed by Polygon.
Fish’s behavior is a symbol of what’s wrong with indie gaming: the rise of celebrity developers who have disdain for just about everything around them. The indie business is in its infancy, and now rests on the backs of these few “stars,” who have made games with cross-genre appeal. Fish’s behavior, though egregious, is not unique: Braid creator Jonathan Blow, whom Beer also called out during his rant, has called modern game developing a “f*cked up den of mediocrity.”
All of this perpetuates the stereotype that the gaming industry is full of sniveling children — and it detracts from the fact that the games that Fish, Blow and others have made are actually wonderful. If Fish’s behavior (and that of his cohorts) continues to be tolerated, then great games like Fez 2 stand little chance of being developed.
Fish could change his mind, and if he does, there’s still a big crowd waiting for Fez 2. But perhaps his exit is better for the indie gaming community — it’s not ready to handle celebrity developers and their crazed egos.