Game developers are notoriously bad at archiving. In fact, Kotaku wrote a whole piece about how some games are in danger of disappearing forever, partly because of just how bad game developers are at archiving. Nintendo loses code. Floppy disks decay and crumble. Long-lost prototypes lie in dusty drawers of filing cabinets sent to landfill. There are some things we will never be able to get back, barring random games getting unearthed in some attic 50 years from now.
But this lack of preservation and documentation doesn’t just affect consumers and historians. It often comes back to bite the devs in their disorganised bums, too. Tim Schafer, the designer behind Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, Broken Age, and Grim Fandango, tweeted yesterday that he wanted to “thank fan sites and fan wikis everywhere” for both their support and their unwitting contribution to the development of games.
“I wonder if you know how often game developers pull from your sites,” Schafer said. “When you’re making a sequel, and you want to make sure something matches the original, it’s faster to get the information from a fan site than from my musty, disorganized, and possibly-on-a-zip-drive archive. Or, god forbid, my brain.”
Games, especially huge ones that span a whole series with more lore than a single human could ever feasibly read in one lifetime, are impossible for any one developer to keep track of. Imagine you need to know Sonic‘s height for some piece of key art that you need to make for the Switch eShop page – do you scroll through hundreds of pages of (often poorly-organised) documentation, or do you open up the Sonic wiki, where you’ll find out that Sonic is exactly 100cm tall, with a head to height ratio of 1:2.5? We know which one we’re more likely to do.
It raises an important question, though: should these fan sites get credit in games? Most, if not all of these wikis are run and edited by volunteers, so game developers are profiting off their work and knowledge without acknowledgement. It’s a tricky thing to get right, since no one person is responsible for the work of a collaborative wiki, and it would be even harder to figure out how to pay them.
Do you think wiki writers and editors deserve more dues? Have you ever used a wiki to remember something about a game you made? Let us know in the comments.