What’s that past the end of my nose? Nothing.

I like writing for a couple of very practical reasons. First, you can do it alone. Waiting around for other people is an inevitability of life, so I appreciate that I can splurge something out privately at the back of the bus should I choose to. Second, it’s quick. Short form writing doesn’t take too long — the clue is in the name. You can usually get a couple thousand words out on a topic of interest if you just put your mind to it. The words are already there, after all, the trick, as a wise man once said, is putting them in the right order.

This isn’t because I’m lazy. No, I like the quick turnaround because it gives me freedom. A failed experiment only holds you for a matter of hours, then it’s consigned to the festering research log. The penalty for failure, especially when the spotlight of the zeitgeist isn’t shining on you (me), is almost nonexistent. If I write something inflammatory and nobody reads it, did I actually ever say it?

But this is good, because if you’re lucky you’ll improve quickly. Like learning a guitar riff, do it enough and you’ll probably get better. You might never develop the skill to write one of those riffs yourself, but you can still make a decent living in a good cover band — there’s truly is no shame in that. After all, going to watch The Beattles (sic) can’t be any worse than seeing a septuagenarian Paul McCartney, can it?

So what does all this mean? I’d like to think it gives writers — columnists, reviewers, James Patterson, whatever — a degree of necessary distance from their work. I’m not suggesting people don’t care about what they write, simply that it helps us to not be too precious about it. A 1000 word bimonthly bit for The Guardian would be dream come true for me, but I’m sure that by the second year I’d remember my early pieces about as well as I do my own childhood. The constant forward motion of writing unshackles us from ugly defensiveness.

Once upon a time a game was released as an early access product — it was done, but changes were still being made and things were still being added. Shortly after that, reviews began to appear on the Internet. One of the people who made the game read some of the reviews and didn’t like them. So they verbalised their disdain for the words, the people and the outlets wot had talked about their game. It wasn’t pretty.

“Why do people read anything [Journalist X] writes? He’s a jaded game reviewer. My game is a brand new thing. [Journalist X] can’t handle games like that — read their other reviews and you’ll see — if it can’t be easily pigeonholed it’s cack.”

“Don’t mix up my difference of opinion and a personal thing. I don’t know [Journalist X] at all or their work.”

“It makes me dejected that five years’ work ends in a "4/10", I mean, that's a really, really ridiculous score. It rubbishes the unique and beautiful experience. Look at Metacritic. I don’t even understand how you’d get to 4/10. I mean, it’s an insult.”

“[Outlet Y] gave us a 3/10 lol. Looking forward to a 1/10 from someone now, it's almost funny. I mean, our analytics show players coming back again and again. Clearly we’ve made a game a load of people really like.”

(These quotes were rephrased, btw, but the content is pretty spot on; emphasis my own.)

I think the biggest standout for me is the mention of time. Five years is ages. It’s about as long as I’ve been writing, and I was atrocious when I started. This isn't to state that a game started years ago will pop out bad, that would be ridiculous. All I’m saying is that in the same timespan I’ve written well over 100 pieces, totalling something like 150,000–200,000 words. I’ve jumped around, experimented, failed, and hopefully improved. But that’s all by the by. The most important thing is that I've not had to look at any one of those bits of writing for more than a few days at the most.

When I’m drunk I go searching through my archives. I read back over my past exploits, things I was super proud of a couple of years ago, and I often cringe. Sometimes the ideas are there but the execution is terrible, sometimes it’s the inverse. Sometimes it’s actually quite good, but more often than not it really isn’t. Occasionally, when I’m writing something I already know its meagre worth but plough on regardless, just to excise it from me so I can move on. Most of the time, though, I think what I’m committing to public record is pretty great. It’s only later I can see its true worth, and it’s the distance that helps me look at things more objectively.

Now, imagine I didn't have that luxury. Imagine I was forced, through circumstance or choice, to sit on the same thing for five whole years. Reading and rereading; tweaking sentence structure, word choice and subtext, until everything was just perfect. In the end, I’d still have produced a short piece of prose The Guardian no longer wanted (“we thought you were dead”), but to my bleary eyes it would be the greatest piece of cultural commentary wot the world had, and would, ever see. The labour of love doesn’t validate the end product — it just makes it harder for us to judge it on its own merits.

I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is to hear that something you’ve worked on for a long time is, to some people, utter rubbish. I reckon it'd feel pretty bad, though. Still, the worst thing you can do in that situation is to just petulantly discount the critique in public. Shout and scream in private all you want; tell friends, colleagues and loved ones Journalist X is wrong about everything (even if you disingenuously purport to not know of him (srsly?)). Do it: you’ll feel better. But don’t stand on a roof calling out a critic's views as being wrong, ill-informed or simply bs just because you disagree. It’s a really bad look.

I think this is a symptom of a larger issue, however, rather than isolated put-upon developers having mini public breakdowns. Early access, with all its ‘behind the scenes access’ and ‘help decide the game’s direction’, has fundamentally changed the act of making games. I’m all for the money up front aspect of it (it’s expensive to make stuff, I geddit), it’s the allowing people to shove their fingers in your pie that I can’t understand. The letting armchair designers have a say in how you make your game. Why would anyone want that? (And no, I’m not confusing this with QA.)

Playing a game before it’s done attracts three types of people: those who want to see you fail, those who are curious, and those who are already sold on your concept. Group one will tire and leave quickly. Group two will also leave, or they’ll join group three. Group three will likely dwindle over time, calcifying into a contingent of diehards.

If, after a few years in early access development, there are early-adopters left with you upon your soft-release, they will have nothing useful left in them. They are far too emotionally invested in the project to say anything objectively useful. Too many hours spent playing a work in progress has rendered them incapable of rational thought. They will make do and mend; they’ve been doing so for months, if not years. You might get tidbits like “maybe you could let me carry more stuff, but, having said that, it might break the balance, so actually I’m happy to just walk backwards and forwards for 10 minutes, k thx”, but really, what’s that worth?

Early access throws open the doors to all the yes-men you’ll ever need. Those who don’t like your game left long, long ago and might, of you’re lucky, swing back around to watch your baby disintegrate — if, of course, they still remember who you are. Listening to your remaining early access audience is like listening to your initial pitch idea: great, but far from what you’ve ended up with. Don’t listen, it turns you into this guy:

I don’t really like sliding puzzles, especially lots of them and with a time limit.

The time limit is there to stop you getting in other players’ way. You’ve plenty of time to complete them, though.

Nope, not even going to acknowledge that concern. Nobody’s ever mentioned not liking the sliding puzzles before, so it can’t possibly be an issue.

And nobody really wants to end up this shortsighted, do they?

Also, sliding puzzles are the worst.