Update: Moon Studios director Thomas Mahler apologised for his "overly aggressive" outburst on ResetEra in a statement on Twitter last night.
"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 the developers as well," Mahler wrote.
"Now, a day later, I realise I wasn't thoughtful in the way I presented my thoughts, not 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.
Mahler explains that he simply hoped to "offer up a discussion starter", though admits that his hostile language wasn't befitting someone with his public position. He expressed his apologies to anyone he mentioned by name.
"We all share a common love for this artform and we should always remain respectful of one another. And I wasn't yesterday."
Original story: In an angry forum thread posted Wednesday, Ori and the Will of the Wisps director Thomas Mahler said that the developers behind Cyberpunk 2077 and No Man's Sky are "gaming snake oil salesmen" who misrepresent what their games actually contained. Mahler compared them to Peter Molyneux, who earned a reputation for talking about exciting features and ideas that never actually made it into his games.
"From the perspective of a developer, all of this just sucks," Mahler said, explaining his frustration when No Man's Sky beat out Ori and the Blind Forest for a magazine cover in 2014 because it was a higher profile game. "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."
Mahler pointed to games that promise you'll be able to "do everything" as perpetrators in a repeating cycle, citing No Man's Sky's nonexistent multiplayer at launch. His criticism of Cyberpunk 2077's contents was less specific, outside its poor performance on consoles. "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," he said.
"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," he continued. "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."
Mahler's post doesn't touch on the nuances of how games change during development or what constitutes advertising going too far—for some players Cyberpunk 2077 was compelling, despite its many problems. Cyberpunk 2077 does resemble a sci-fi Grand Theft Auto—just not a very good one, if you care about things like functional police systems.
Mahler suggested that despite the backlash games and creators get in these situations, "gamers and journalists don't really seem to mind all that much." Many posters responding to the thread pushed back against its title—"Why are gamers so eager to trust and even forgive the snake oil salesmen?" by pointing out that it took years of work for Hello Games to win back trust in No Man's Sky. Some pointed out that Molyneux's career has largely ended in disgrace, and that people were willing to believe his radical promises for years because he had delivered on groundbreaking games in the past.
Other commenters in the forum called out the danger of invoking "gamer rage" as a response to lies or disappointing launches. Even before release, No Man's Sky's and Cyberpunk 2077's developers received death threats just for delays. Hello Games then lived through months of death threats, bomb threats, and misery in the wake of No Man's Sky.
"The internet is really good at knowing when somebody has made a mistake," Hello Games' Sean Murray said in a 2018 interview with The Guardian. "It’s not necessarily the best at determining the most appropriate response, but it’s really good at knowing when somebody has messed something up. We definitely messed up a whole bunch of communication. I’ve never liked talking to the press. I didn’t enjoy it when I had to do it, and when I did it, I was naive and overly excited about my game. There are a lot of things around launch that I regret, or that I would do differently."
Mahler said that inspiring anger wasn't his intent. "Gamer rage is fucking bullshit and none of these companies should get hassled," he wrote. "You vote with your wallets." Still, it's a naive response given the ample evidence of how frequently developers receive harassment.
"The problem of pre-release hype is real, but it is much more complex than devs or even pubs just lying," wrote one poster. "After all, for some people, hyping and discussing games before release is even more fun than playing games themselves." Just look to the Elden Ring community, which started creating fan art last year during the long wait for any scrap of new information, as an easy example.
Mahler tried to refocus the thread on the problem of misleading marketing for the sake of pre-orders, arguing that working post-release to fix issues didn't excuse lying. "It doesn't matter if the snake oil actually tastes fine," Mahler wrote at the end of his original post. "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."
That's an easy sentiment to get behind in theory—publishers obviously should not lie about what's in their games—but it still overlooks how rarely the situation is that cut-and-dry, as games change in development and legitimate criticism can be buried under an internet pile-on. It also ignores the fact that almost all publishers today try to entice players to pre-order games (including Ori and the Will of the Wisps (opens in new tab)) in ways that are subtly manipulative rather than outright lies.
As we wrote in our exploration of what it means for game companies to actually be anti-consumer: "Pre-orders remove your ability to fully judge a game before buying it, and pre-order incentives are often designed to capitalize on players' fear of missing out."
Mahler's right that we should all look at pre-release material and interviews with a critical eye, but in the end games are rarely disappointing because of a few statements made by developers. Games can inspire out-of-control hype even without deceitful marketing. Developers don't always reach their goals, but a small comment made in good faith can be twisted into damning proof when the internet is out for blood. If anything, the years Hello Games spent expanding No Man's Sky instead of disappearing with the profits seems like it should make us optimistic that developers almost always want to make the best game they can.
This story has been updated to include Mahler's statement of apology.