I 99% disagree with Rob's point that developers should listen to fans. I'm a big fan of developer transparency and some level of community outreach, but if developers take more cues from fans then fans will feel MORE effacious and entitled (an effing disaster) and the analogy of the inmates running the asylum could apply.
Now, developers should 100% listen to sales (which they always do) and professional journalists and critics (which they sometimes do). I just think that fans should stay in the audience and not be a part of the creative process. Like, at all. Again, we don't want the inmates running he asylum.
I agree with your first paragraph, but not your second. Critics and journalists are just fans who get paid to write about games, and their opinions are just as subjective as any other fan. And I actually enjoy some degree of audience participation in the creative process. I agree that the developer needs to have a firm vision for their project and can't buckle to every bit of community pressure, but on the other hand, listening just to critics and, more importantly, sales means we'll get nothing but Skyrim and CoD-knockoffs for all eternity.
I should probably clarify - I don't think developers need to listen to fans because fans are awful as a large group. Fans are whiners who always want everything to be just like their favorite old games, while insisting that they still want to see innovation in new games (I totally count myself among "we" by the way, I don't want to say I'm above all this). HOWEVER, I agree that acknowledging, understanding, and addressing good criticism is valuable to developers, so I said that they should listen to professional critics and journalists. I won't disagree that said journalists are basically fans with more access and larger audiences for their discourse, but they're also paid professionals who are much better at providing insight as to why a game is good or bad than a "toxic forum environment."
So basically, if a game creator panders to its fans, it is likely to end really badly. But if a game creator maintains their vision throughout game development, keeps a sound business model, and listens to advice from professionals who have a good understanding of what makes a game good, well, then they're probably going to make a pretty good game.
And for the record, I think the best example of a team listening to its critics is the Ubisoft Montreal guys that worked on the Prince of Persia trilogy from 2002-2006. Sands of Time was an acclaimed game whose major shortcoming was awkward combat. Warrior Within took that criticism to heart too far, making the combat and weapon progress really interesting, but losing the voice and storytelling methods that were part of what made Sands of Time great. Two Thrones, the final game of the trilogy, was the ultimate example of meeting halfway - it used time travel shenanigans to team up the more sarcastic, lighthearted Prince from the first game with the darker voice of the second game. Tried to get the best of both worlds. Sands of Time is still the best of the trilogy, but there's an obvious evolution of themes with each subsequent game.
But let's not talk about the 2008 Prince of Persia. Don't make me justify that ****. I'm not going near that one with an eight-foot pole.