Please note that this is a message from Fred. I am posting it on his behalf for use as part of the greater Northwind FAQ.
Here’s a quick essay explaining why I’m not nearly as active as I should be.
As you all know, I’m still in university to this day, and I cherish every single second that brings me closer to graduation day. It is true that my responsibilities as a student in software engineering keep me mostly busy on a day-to-day basis, however I must admit that it does not keep me as busy as it might appear. As a matter of fact, I spend the rest of my time working on myself and on other projects that are completely unrelated to game development.
Now an obvious question arises, why am I not using this little time of availability to work on NW? This might sound shocking and overly dramatic, but I think that (almost) every second of work I put into NW is a source of misery and dread. As a developer who has worked with a few game engines and in other unrelated fields, working in the Roblox ecosystem simply comes across as a non-rewarding experience after all these years. To put it simply, Roblox’s engine is basically a black box with which you have to constantly fight in order to get anything done. It’s an incredibly efficient tool for anyone who wants to learn game development or release and globally distribute games in a record amount of time. However, as soon as your game introduces a minimum amount of complexity, your productivity curve takes a huge hit. Endless battles with the physics engine, lack of control over back-end infrastructures, obligation to adopt cheap first-party storage solutions (datastores) to have a profitable product at the cost of lack of control and transparency, the absolutely dreadful development experience with Roblox Studio, the client-server model (most importantly character replication) that quickly become an almost unfixable technical debt, ongoing elementary issues that plague certain aspects of the game that would only require a few minutes of work from engineers at Roblox to fix (hint: night sky), these are some of the things that are starting to make my hairline look like a graph of NW’s player count over the years.
I’m aware this sounds a bit harsh. While there’s definitely some elements of truth to it, I’m thankful for the work that Roblox employees have put into their service to allow me to have a source of revenue. I’m sure developers who have put years of their life into other engines like Unity, Unreal Engine, Lumberyard, etc. can attest to some of the thoughts I shared. However, the last thing I want to do after class is to boot up Roblox Studio and fix the dumbest bugs ever for the 57th time. It could push me right off the edge.
I think it’s important to mention what kind of impact the community has on me. I am thankful for the support our most loyal players have shown us after all these years, and I’m still baffled that we’ve managed to amass something like this. I didn’t think I would ever make a game (starting with TNF back in 2018) that would have such a major impact on my life. However, if you want me to be honest, I feel like this has become a curse. This level of responsibility in such an environment is extremely stressful to me. Releasing something novel to the community is supposed to be fun, but most of the time it ends up being somewhat unrewarding and painful. I understand that working on a game like this brings high player expectations, but I’m afraid I’m not always able to live up to those expectations. Truth is, I would rather scratch something that might sound cool rather than risk being met with disappointment and anger. I hate disappointing players. I do not think this is a sentiment that is so prevalent in other software engineering sub-fields. I think it’s also important to mention that toxicity is extremely prevalent around here. My surroundings and I have received threats of all kinds over the years. I like to think I’m above this kind of stuff and that I can avoid it, but it seems like it’s an integral part of the “game” around here. Maybe I’m just not built like that.
With all that being said, throughout the years, I have not put in so much time and effort into Roblox because I believe the monetary rewards are outweighed by some of the pain points I’ve previously mentioned on top of my existing responsibilities. This is a different story when I don’t have to worry about university and other things, and I think this can be proved by the periods in the past years where I’ve condensed a lot of effort into developing this game. If you’re worried that this is a quitting letter, I can assure you it’s not. I still plan to work on this game once I graduate.
Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning that I’m aware of the state of the game. To this day, this game feels to me like a collation of all my attempts to turn this game into something that it isn’t, but littered with bugs. Call that a lack of vision or being dreamy and oblivious, but it’s clear we’ve managed to attract differing playerbases without fully satisfying the expectations and needs of one or another. House building is a good example of that. Anyways, this has an impact on my motivation to work on something new - what’s the point of doing that if the other half isn’t going to enjoy or even care about it? While we have some concrete ideas to make the game more fun, playerbase prioritization is definitely a conversation to be had. I think I’ll just leave you to this inconclusive thought.
– Fred (Voile)