A friend of mine pointed out an article about how gamers are now threatening the lives of game developers. The meat and bones of the article talk about how game developers have occasionally risen to a semi-star like quality in the gaming community. But upon assuming the new found stardom, they also receive notoriety…ironically from the people they are apparently trying to please.
While death threats can be extreme, I think I can understand and even appreciate the gamers’ viewpoint in this. The article mentions that gamers in general are a very passionate group and it’s true. Gamers evoke a certain stereotype. In Japan, they’re labeled as “otaku” which is more or less an overzealous fan of something. With games these days, the whole system has a lot of stakes involved because it’s a huge industry and has moved away from your average nerd with thick glasses, buck teeth, scrawny pencil-like arms who spends his free time beyond reading trivial fantasy fiction and partaking in these games to a huge broad class of people. We have seen industries evolve from gaming where it’s now considered a sport in some cases and the top of the top receive huge prizes. Add the anonymous internet with extremely vocal people and numerous outlets, you’re going to end up with those who aren’t the most pleasant.
But let’s take another viewpoint in all of this. I was reading over in the Blizzard forums the discussion of this issue. Many people seem to get behind the developers. One guy though pretty much stated what I feel in, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the fryer.” Another person repudiated him saying that’s now how things go and that it’s our choice whether to give our money to these people or not and that these products are being built for our enjoyment. You see, that’s all fine in theory but in practice it’s not how life goes.
The thing is that any product that exist is going to get an intense amount of feedback. You need that feedback loop to constantly evaluate it’s performance and, of course, improve upon it. In development terms, we call this the iteration cycle. Despite how people who create products will always feel that they are above the population, the truth is that you’re always going to expose yourself to feedback once your product is out there.
When it comes to games these days, most no longer are finished products. You rarely see finished products that get shipped since most are tied to some online resource. And it’s actually a great thing in many ways because providing the the online aspect allows for constant updates. Take for instance, the horrible Ultima 9, a game so bad that pretty much it wasn’t playable when it first came out. Although the game had some patches, it wasn’t really meant to updated in terms of content, which is an aspect that many people (e.g. Spoony) disliked with the lack of a satisfying ending. But a game like World of Warcraft can be patched up pretty quickly if a bug gets out of hand.
But one problem about having games that require an online connection is that many are designed so that you can’t cheat anymore. Okay, let’s all be honest here: I believe many people do cheat on purpose. There might be hardcore gamers who don’t attempt to exploit and enjoy the challenge. But most people just don’t have the time to deal with circumventing all the stupid puzzles and crap that game developers might feel are fun to them. Some people just want to get through as fast as possible to do something else. Yet if you’re online all the time, there’s a good chance you can’t run exploits or cheats to let you move past a massive obstacle.
Another thing is that games these days attract extremely competitive players. Naturally, to get high ranked you need to understand how the game works and possibly figure out how to make the game work for you. A lot of high end players end up being some of the most vocal (and occasionally obnoxious) people when it comes to relationships with gaming companies. Depending on the type of game, this situation might create opposition with casual players. Take PVP in World of Warcraft and see how the primary issue with constant class changes is a result of constant imbalance in Arenas. The moving target of abilities and whatnot drastically can affect PVE content (such as lowering the proc rates for Starsurge on Balance Druids when they multi-dot). In this situation, if the game split the PVE aspects from PVP in terms of abilities and talents, perhaps this imbalance wouldn’t be as striking. But the net result to a casual LFR PVE player can be pretty annoying at the very least.
In the end, the people who have to contend with these issues are going to be the game developers. They might cry foul but realistically, they have to eat the shit that came from their asses. Even more so if they’re a public face (e.g. Ghostcrawler, Jay Wilson, etc.) I can’t feel sorry for them because they did choose their career path and for whatever reason might end up staying. But as a developer, I know what it’s like to be on the criticism side. It’s not fun but it’s all part of the job. To me it’s even more important because it’s something you also have to believe in. You have to look at what you’ve done and how you affect other people’s lives as a result of your thought process. There has to be some social responsibility on these game developers’ behalves as well. It’s not just about having these passive customers tossing money at you; they buy your product because you’re trying to guarantee a satisfying experience that meets a certain level of expectation.
I was watching an interview with Brian Fargo and he perfectly understands the gamer’s mind. He talked about the idea of Kickstarter and how he’s using it to build Wasteland. He mentioned how there’s a back-and-forth agreement that goes on between those who donate and the game designers. Here, the fans will make suggestions about the things they want in a game like Wasteland 2 while it’s up to the game developers to create enough mystery and have the freedom to try and match those expectations. To me that’s a great design mind when it comes to games. In some ways, the situation harkens back to an episode of South Park where the children attempt to prevent Steven Spielberg and George Lucas from re-releasing Raiders of the Lost Ark. The kids placate George Lucas in how he slowly destroyed the Star Wars franchise and said that once something like that enters the public, it becomes owned by the public at large as well. I feel that this situation is quite true with large titles in gaming like a World of Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft, Sims, etc. The only way around a situation like this for a game developer is if the person in charge is building something for themselves and intends to sell it to others down the road. In most cases though, this isn’t true as companies like a Blizzard or EA focus their attention on their consumers.