For those that haven’t heard, an internet slapfight took place recently between Marcus Beer (aka the Annoyed Gamer) of GameTrailers.com and Phil Fish of Polytron (the indie company that created Fez), which ultimately resulted in the abrupt cancellation of Fez II and left a lot of onlookers blinking and staring. I hesitated to write about this right away in the hopes that it was going to blow over once the heat of the moment passed, but as time has passed, there’s no sign of change.
So, let’s take it from the top.
Like a lot of drama in the gaming industry lately, it all started with a leak from our friends at Microsoft about the Xbox One. Game Informer prematurely popped the lid on the new console’s plans for the possibility of self-publishing, which sent news outlets looking for ways to report on the matter that would stand out from the crowd. Quotes always help to spice up an article, so indie developers Jonathan Blow (creator of Braid) and Phil Fish soon found themselves in the spotlight. Both of them declined to comment on the situation, allegedly until more concrete information had been released.
For some reason, this offended Marcus Beer, and he gave the two developers a scathing reprimand on the Saturday episode of Invisible Walls.
When word of this reached Fish, the Twitterverse witnessed a meltdown rarely exhibited by professionals in full view of their consumer audience. Fish launched into a barrage of tweets varying from calm and level-headed to flinging insults to demanding an on-air apology to suggesting that Beer kill himself (although I’ve heard that one was a Futurama reference, but still). As the outpouring of raw emotion climaxed, Fish set his tweets to private and announced that Fez II was cancelled. (Note for non-Twitter users: Read from bottom to top.)
It didn’t seem serious at the time; it just looked like a classic dick-waving contest gone awry. No one honestly considered that Fez II, a game that was such a huge reveal at E3 barely a month ago, would actually be scrapped due to an ill-handled internet tiff. However, Polytron’s official website and Twitter feed have both confirmed the project’s cancellation, and so far there hasn’t been any hint on the horizon of this decision being overturned. Even now after the embers of rage have cooled, I’m still sitting here thinking, “What the fuck did I just witness?”
It’s a bizarre incident because none of the actions in question seem even remotely deserving of the responses they got. I don’t understand why Marcus Beer was so put off that neither Fish nor Blow wanted to offer comments on the Xbox One’s policy, I don’t understand why Phil Fish’s response escalated as severely as it did, and I don’t understand why Fez II of all things got caught in the crossfire. The content of the argument reads like middle school gossip, but the consequent actions are mind-bogglingly widespread, and a lot of people are still trying to figure out who was right.
Spoiler alert: It’s neither of them.
Beer’s beef with Fish and Blow is the fact that they refused to offer feedback on the Xbox news. Refraining from commenting is not only a common response to the press, it’s probably THE most common response. Sometimes it’s just wiser not to say anything rather than to run the risk of saying something that turns out to be wrong or gets taken out of context. Sometimes people just plain don’t have an opinion to give, or may have an opinion but choose not to share it to avoid getting involved in a situation. Whatever the reasoning, people do in fact have the right to abstain from conversation. In Fish’s case, it was probably all the more important that he not comment, since he’s still being haunted by that snipe he made at Japanese games.
This does not, however, let Fish off the hook (no pun intended). While it’s certainly within his right to post what he wants on his Twitter feed and shut down whatever projects his company is working on, that does not automatically mean he’s justified in doing so based on this situation. Beer’s comments were hurtful, but so were several of Fish’s replies — and nothing in the situation had to do with Fez II in the first place. In his zeal to ‘get back’ at Beer for what he had done (or what he refused to do, in the case of the on-air apology), Fish has actually punished everyone else: His staff, his audience, and in many ways even himself.
I would never posit that Fish didn’t have a right to defend himself, but in situations such as these, the method he chose almost never pays off. In the end, all it does is damage your own credibility. Anyone that’s been on the internet longer than 5 minutes knows that one of the first rules to online arguments is not to engage your trolls. If Fish had made a couple of public statements clearing the air on what he felt was the inaccurate information, and treated the rest of the comments like water off a duck’s back, Fez II might’ve still been in development today.