Thomas Mahler, Creative Director at Moon Game Studios and the designer and director of Ori series recently apologized for criticizing the press attention that No Man’s Sky and Cyperpunk 2077 received prior to launch in comparison to his own Ori and the Blind Forest game. Mahler also took Peter Molyneux of Fable series fame to task and compared them (Peter Molyneux, Sean Murray and Marcin Iwiński) to snake oil salesmen with their outlandish promises.
What Thomas Mahler Said on Resetera
This is something that’s been bothering me for a while and I get kinda riled up about it every time I see it unfold. And every time it keeps happening, people keep falling for it…
It all started with Molyneux. He was the master of ‘Instead of telling you what my product is, let me just go wild with what I think it could be and get you all excited!” – And that was fine, until you actually put your money down and then the game was nothing like what Peter was hyping it up to be. He pulled this shit for a good decade or more with journalists and gamers loving listening to Uncle Peter and the amazing things he’s doing for the industry. It took him to release some pretty damn shoddy games for press and gamers to finally not listen to the lies anymore.
Then came Sean Murray, who apparently had learned straight from the Peter Molyneux handbook. This guy apparently just loooooved the spotlight. Even days before No Man’s Sky released, he hyped up the Multiplayer that didn’t even exist and was all too happy to let people think that No Man’s Sky was ‘Minecraft in Space’, where you could literally do everything (you being able to do everything is generally a common theme behind the gaming snake oil salesmen, cause hey, that sorta attracts everybody!). Obviously there was massive backlash when No Man’s Sky finally released and the product being nothing like what Murray hyped it up to be. But what happened then? They released a bunch of updates, so let’s forget about the initial lies and deception and hey, let’s actually shower him with awards again, cause he finally kinda sorta delivered on what he said the game would be years earlier. Thanks, Geoff Keighley. Rewarding that kinda behavior will surely help the industry grow stronger.
And then came Cyberpunk. Made by the guys that made Witcher 3, so this shit had to be good. Here’s our Cyberpunk universe and – trust us – you can do fucking everything! Here the entire CDPR PR department took all the cues from what worked for Molyneux and Murray and just went completely apeshit with it. Gamers were to believe that this is “Sci-Fi GTA in First Person”. What’s not to love? Every video released by CDPR was carefully crafted to create a picture in players minds that was just insanely compelling. They stopped just short of outright saying that this thing would cure cancer. This strategy resulted in a sensational 8 million pre-orders. What happened then was this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CymqHdNYkg&ab_channel=BeatEmUps. The product was a fraction of what the developer hyped it up to be and on top of that it barely even ran on consoles that it was supposed to ‘run surprisingly well on!’.
I’d argue that all 3 of those are clear examples of you folks all being made fools of. And even the ‘journalists’ in this industry happily played along, each and every single time.
And let me also say, from the perspective of a developer, all of this just sucks. Back in 2014, I remember some journalist from some big publication telling us that Ori almost got the cover article of some magazine I read frequently, but ultimately they had to pick No Man’s Sky cause it was the ‘bigger game’. I kinda agreed back then, thinking to myself: “Ok, I get it, they have to promote the bigger game, they obviously have to go for the clicks. Sucks, but that’s how the game is played.” But then I really felt bamboozled once No Man’s Sky came out and it became clear that all this hype was really just built on lies and the honest guy who just showed his actual product really got kicked in the balls because the lying guy was able to make up some tall tales that held absolutely no substance.
I know this whole thread might come off as me sounding bitter and I’m sure there’ll be some people that see this as me shitting on other devs. No, I’m not. I’m shitting on liars and people that are okay with openly deceiving others. I’d argue that we should all agree that this shit is not okay. If I go and buy a car and the car salesman sells me a car that supposedly has 300 horse power, but on the drive home after the purchase I notice that he switched out the motor when I wasn’t looking, I’d be rightfully pissed off, cause I was deceived.
And yet, gamers and journalists don’t really seem to mind all that much. Yeah, the backlash is coming, but usually you see a ton of people then arguing that they like the game that came out of it anyway. That is so not the point. It doesn’t matter if the snake oil actually tastes fine. Don’t sell me on features that don’t exist. Don’t paint a picture that you’ll not be able to deliver. Just don’t fucking lie to me. You’re fucking over gamers, you’re fucking over journalists (that should know better, so shame on you!) and you’re fucking over other developers.
There, I said my piece, felt like a chip I needed to get off my shoulder and I think this is a wrong that we should set right so that this won’t happen anymore.
Mahler’s opinion did not sit well with everyone, however, and he posted an apology of sorts on Twitter the next day.
Thomas Mahler’s Apology on Twitter
By now a lot of you will have probably read my posting on Resetera yesterday. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder and talked about the downsides of the current hype culture and how developers making false claims about their products hurts not only the consumers, but developers as well. At least that was the intention behind it all.
Now, a day later, I’ve read the responses and I realize I wasn’t thoughtful in the way I presented my thoughts, nor did I choose the right tone or platform for it. After I made this thread, we had a pretty long conversation internally about all of this and I definitely didn’t represent Moon Studios the way I should have.
I’m a game developer, I love what I’m doing and I enjoy nothing more than to make games that surprise people, that put a smile on their faces or that might even make people cry.
But I’m also a passionate gamer myself. I always enjoyed sharing my love for games on public forums and continued to be very outspoken even after Moon Studios and the ‘On’ series became known entities in the games industry. I always really liked the idea of garners and developers alike having an open discourse about games, so that we could all figure out together how to improve the artform. Yesterday I used an overly aggressive tone that wasn’t really suited for someone in my position. My intention was definitely not to hurt anybody, but to offer up a discussion starter on current issues the industry is facing.
We all share a common love for this artform and we should always remain respectful with each other. And I wasn’t yesterday.
And for that I really am sorry, especially to those that I mentioned by name. I promise that I’ll learn from this mistake and wish no hard feelings towards anybody.
Thank you all for lending me your ear,
Basically, Mahler was told internally at Moon Studios to apologize or be fired, or at least that’s what it appears. It is unclear if Mahler was threatened with outright termination if he failed to apologize, though if I had to guess, that was the case.
It is interesting to note that he apologized for the tone and that he was not in a position to say what he did, not for what he said. Honestly, he said exactly what a lot of us were thinking so the forced apology comes off as wrong and a retraction of sorts.
Of course, Moon Studios must be worried about doing damage control in terms of public relations. Not public relations in the traditional sense, of the gamers, no–public relations in terms of their relationship with gaming media publications. Their Creative Director called out gaming publications like Kotaku, IGN and Game Informer. Not directly, no but quite indirectly.
Gaming “Journalists” Let Us Down, Again
See, gaming news websites like those earn their money from advertisements, sponsorships and the like. The majority of money earned for media websites online is via advertising. The more people who visit the site, or “eyeballs” as it is they are called informally in the industry, the more money the news media website makes.
To be fair, Never Ending Realm itself has used and will probably use this same method of income generation itself as there’s no getting around it in digital media, apart from a purely subscription based model, or e-begging via Patreon (don’t get me started on Patreon).
But the point of this is that gaming news/media companies have no incentive to dig deep for the real story, question what they are told by PR people, or even really tell the truth, unlike mainstream news publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times, which are also incidentally probably the three most respected news publications in the world.
It is interesting to note that it took Bloomberg, another highly respected news media organization, to dig deep into the real Cyberpunk 2077 story, revealing all the faked gameplay trailers, unrealistic deadlines, employee complaints, etc. that eventually surfaced. No, not the gaming news media websites covering Cyberpunk 2077 for years, Bloomberg, which as far as I know, doesn’t even review movies, much less video games.
So the real question is, does Thomas Mahler have a legitimate point or should he shut up and be quiet? Let’s dig into that.
We All Knew Cyberpunk 2077 Was Going to be a Shitshow
For those who follow Never Ending Realm, my opinion on Cyberpunk 2077 was quite clear months before launch. I had been looking forward to Cyberpunk for almost a decade but the more information released by CD Projekt RED as the time for launch drew near, the less excited I was.
Let’s see where to start. Ah yes, the delays and delays. Cyberpunk 2077 was first announced in May 2012. The game was eventually released at near the end 2020. That’s eight years. Few games are in development that long (looking at you, Duke Nukem) and don’t turn out to be garbage fests from being created for one console generation (or CPU/GPU generation really) but released for not the next generation, but the one after that.
There was also the vague specifics on gameplay and the size of the game. CD Projekt kept touting up the game but wouldn’t explain what the game really was. The this is bullshit meter started beeping. And all the while, the fanboys’ screams of praise for the game, without having even played it, grew louder.
Then there was Keanu Reeves. His addition to the game and reveal at E3 in 2019 was cool, no doubt, but for a game delayed this long, it signaled that the game needed a big star to be a blockbuster success instead of relying on its own gameplay merits. This of course turned out to be true, and even Keanu’s voice work was sub-par, as I explain in my review of the game.
CD Projekt Showed Us Faked Gameplay Footage
In case you didn’t know by now, all of that gameplay footage CD Projekt RED showed us (including in that Keanu Reeves Presents Cyberpunk 2077 video embedded above) was actually pre-rendered fakes, intended to trick the viewers into thinking that that was a beta of the game being shown, not videos that CD Projekt CEO Marcin Iwiński personally oversaw the production of.
This faked gameplay footage even went as far as those Xbox One X and Xbox One S gameplay footage videos CD Projekt released just a month before the game’s launch. Those were actually the PC version running on lower-end hardware configurations, not the X1 and X1X versions AS WAS SAID RIGHT IN THE VIDEO CLEARLY IN TEXT THE ENTIRE TIME.
I believe all this faked footage was clearly intended to deceive people considering pre-ordering, had pre-ordered and were thinking of canceling, or people on the fence about buying the game. I don’t see how you can come to any other conclusion. This is a one strike and you’re out scenario as far as I am concerned, but it keeps getting worse.
There was the infamous “crunch time” PR bungle by CD Projekt where they made a big announcement that they would not force game developers to work overtime every day, for months, to meet a launch deadline. Then they turned around and said oh, we’ll do that next game, mandatory overtime for everyone! Ridiculous and offensive to everyone involved.
There are also the allegations of meetings being held only in Polish, despite English speaking contractors being at the meetings. I could go on and on, without even getting to the buggy mess of a game CD Projekt released.
In regards to CD Projekt and their Cyberpunk 2077 game, I think Mahler has every right to bash them, and especially Marcin Iwiński, and say this it is bullshit that gaming news outlets, for the most part, kept their positive coverage and didn’t question obvious hints that we were going to get a buggy mess of a game and possibly the biggest disappoint of a decade, to the detriment of press coverage that would have greatly benefited arguably much better games. Before that, some would say the title of overpromise (lie) and underdeliver (also lie) was held by No Man’s Sky, another game Mahler took a shot at.
Did No Man’s Sky Deserve Thomas Mahler’s Wrath?
No Man’s Sky by Hello Games was held as the gold standard for overpromising and underdelivering until Cyberpunk 2077 was released. Unlike CP2077 though, NMS was not made by a multi-billion dollar company but rather a small studio on its way up. Until this point, the crown was probably held by Peter Molyneux, the guy behind the Fable series.
At Hello Games is a guy named Sean Murray. He would challenge Molyneux for that title.
No Man’s Sky was so hyped that even I was anxious to play it, and I’m usually pretty jaded about buying games before serious reviews come in these days. Sean Murray’s numerous, documented lies built that hype, the hype that Thomas Mahler railed about in his original post on Resetera, hype that probably bumped Ori and the Blind Forest from more press coverage, lowering sales and taking money out of Mahler’s pocket.
Here’s a collection of Sean Murray’s lies:
When the game launched, I’m thankful I didn’t buy it. What we actually got was more in line with what you would expect from a free-to-play game in terms of actual things to do in it. The experience was greatly watered down from what was promised, there was no multiplayer, and most people got completely bored with it in a few hours.
The numerous, free DLC type updates to the game have added things to actually do to the game since release, and this model is being held up by Cyberpunk 2077 apologists (what else can you call them?) as how CD Projekt RED can fix the game over time.
Unfortunately, I have played No Man’s Sky recently for the first time, and I still got bored within about four hours of play, as there is still basically nothing to do in it except mine materials power your ship, fly around, rinse and repeat.
It’s like Minecraft but without the fun parts and still very underwhelming compared to what Sean Murray promised in his numerous interviews, backed up by gameplay footage from a version of the game that was not released (could we call that fake gameplay footage too?).
Of course, No Man’s Sky apologists will point out the flood at Hello Games’ office that delayed work on the game, hard external deadlines, and the numerous death threats the staff and Murray received after the game’s release.
My response to that is they had backups so the work lost was minimal, the patches that have come out since make it clear no amount of time will fix the game, and while death threats are always wrong, there was bound to be some insane, angry backlash to such a big lie.
So, does Mahler have a legitimate point, taking a shot at Sean Murray and No Man’s Sky? I think so, because as he points out, Sean Murray and Hello Games are now being lauded again and there was no real, lasting consequences. Mahler also was directly affected by what Sean Murray did and No Man’s Sky is still a disappointment, even years and gigabytes of patches later. People paid $60 for the game.
Did Peter Molyneux Start the Trend with Fable?
Ah Peter Molyneux, the master. Molyneux is quite the character and has been caught exaggerating and overpromising so many times, he is an avatar of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. How someone so prone to lying could ever be actually in charge of a AAA game was something of an anomaly, until Marcin Iwiński at CD Projekt came along.
For some of the younger readers, Molyneux’s name might not stir strong emotions of anger and disgust. For people old enough to remember his numerous interviews about the Fable series, Molyneux’s name might be a trigger to sharpen the pitchforks and light the torches.
Molyneux’s lies are well documented, and in fact “Molyneux lies” used to autocomplete on Google when you typeed in his name. Here’s just a pinch of them about Fable in an interview:
In fact, some would argue Molyneux’s career is a lie:
Of course, people have been lying to the press and gamers about the games they are making since the first vacuum tube was created. However, Molyneux, as Creative Director of Microsoft Game Studios, Europe was quite a unique case. His hype and promises for the Fable games was not expected coming from someone employed by Microsoft itself and working on AAA games.
So Thomas Mahler is quite justified using Peter Molyneux as an example and saying he started the nonsense. Molyneux however ultimately delivered solid games that were praised by fans and critics alike, despite the fantastical exaggerations (lies) and gameplay/game mechanics promises (also lies). This is how he got away with it for so long. Cyberpunk 2077 and No Man’s Sky were pretty much universally hated on launch.
All this background brings us back to the ultimate question of if Thomas Mahler was right in what he said, which forces us to look at his own work, even though that is actually a logical fallacy (a chainsmoking doctor telling you to quit smoking because it is bad for you does not make what he says any less true).
But Ori is Just a 2D Platformer, Not a AAA Game!
Yes, the Ori games are 2D platformers made by a small developer that Mahler works at. However, Ori and the Blind Forest received great reviews, has a unique art style, and is all around an excellent game.
No Man’s Sky and obviously Cyberpunk 2077 took many times more man hours and budget to make than Ori did. They were also more ambitious games. But they are not good games, and nothing like what was promised for $60 on launch.
That Ori was a much smaller project however, does not detract what Thomas Mahler said–the unchecked lies and press coverage of No Man’s Sky and Cyberpunk 2077 hurt people who actually made great games instead of lying to what some would argue is a complicit press to drum up fantastical PR.
So What Next?
Mahler finished his apology tweet with “We all share a common love for this artform and we should always remain respectful with each other. And I wasn’t yesterday. And for that I really am sorry, especially to those that I mentioned by name. I promise that I’ll learn from this mistake and wish no hard feelings towards anybody” but that really takes the bite out of what he said.
Is there any other way to call out blatant liars than aggressively? Molyneux, Murray and Iwiński have told so many lies that you would think they were either professional politicians or compulsive liars. Is there any other way to call that out?
What about the gaming “journalists” who didn’t question, didn’t research and ultimately let these guys off the hook?
It’s both amusing and disheartening that we live in a world where Thomas Mahler is the one forced to publicly apologize, and not the liars who tricked us and took our money.
Hopefully, people start waking up to this nonsense and stop being apologists. We all wanted No Man’s Sky and Cyberpunk 2077 to be good. We could have forgiven them if they had released a bad game. We can’t forgive them for lying about it.
Agree with the author? Couldn’t disagree more and are frothing at the mouth to tell him? Leave a comment here, on Facebook or send an email and make sure to follow Never Ending Realm on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!