February 22, 2006

[Development] The Dark Side Of Transparency

I like transparency. I like it when people can talk to me and I can tell them what I'm working on. I like it when I can share what I'm working on with people before it even comes out. I've participated in beta programs for versions of Windows dating back to the original Windows 98, development tool betas, game betas (obviously), hell, I've done it all.

As a result of my experiences, I have no problem whatsoever saying that probably 80% of what I've encountered as "beta" shouldn't really use that word. Calling them "alpha" would be generous. If there were characters farther to the left in the Greek alphabet, you might get close. Some were so far from beta, the Phoenecian alphabet might be considered more appropriate. In other words, I understand going into a beta what I'm getting myself into. I don't generally put beta software on production machines. I have backups of any mission-critical data. In other words, I practice safe computing.

However, there are some people who just don't get it. Chances are, people like this will never get it, and unfortunately, these guys are the dark side of transparency. I'm talking about kneejerk reactionaries. Let's look at a recent comment on "Blue's News" regarding the Quake 4 v1.1 BETA patch.

This patch is crap you cant play your recently saved games thats a load of bulshit plus its only a beta dont even instal this patch till the real thing comes out.

First off, id warns players that if they install the beta patch, their recent saved games won't work. They flat out tell it to you. He gets indignant about it. There may be valid technical reasons for this, and thus id is informing people ahead of time to stave off any major issues. Transparent, but the less-informed will jump to conclusions.

Second, he knows it's a beta! He flat out says that it is "only a beta" in his own James Joyce stream-of-consciousness style. Of course, he knows that it is a beta because id called it a beta in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS multiple times in the press release.

Kneejerk reactionaries can poison a community and can in severe cases lead to products that are weaker than they could potentially be because the people who are managing the community place too much emphasis on what they say. It's even harder to handle a reactionary like this because the more information you give him, the more ammunition you give him to throw back at you.

While transparency is better than obscurity, there are times when the reactionaries make me long for the days when developers didn't say anything until the product was released from their ivory towers...

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