Gamers shouldn’t be afraid of the developers. The developers should be afraid of the gamers.
Recently a number of high profile situations have brought up the issue of entitlement with gamers. In days of yore Nintendo and Sega would bring out new consoles and you’d know very little about it until you saw one for yourself. I can’t imagine anyone petitioned Nintendo about region locking the N64 by having oddly shaped cartridges or Sega for the limited battery life of its handhelds; they were simply facts about the products and either you bought them or you didn’t. This year every little detail of the upcoming console launches (particularly the Xbox One) have been poured over by thousands of fans worldwide and then much of it has been used as ammunition for campaigns and quests to try and get things changed. Oddly enough, it actually worked – but is this a good thing?
I’ve commented before on my disappointment with Microsoft’s u-turns about the Xbox One but they still keep coming. When they announced the machine I was looking forward to being able to forget about discs once the games were installed, having a chance at a competitive online market that isn’t destroyed by used games and a Kinect that’s actually supported by a wide range of developers. Unfortunately I was in the minority it seems as people flocked to sites like Reddit to express how they can’t possibly connect to the internet every single day they want to play games or how important to them a right to sell-on games is (although Microsoft never said you wouldn’t be able to trade in games). The movement picked up momentum and quickly other sites including Eurogamer started publishing editorials with an obvious spin against the Xbox One, lines were drawn and they made quite a noise. Microsoft have slowly backed down, first abolishing the ‘connect once a day’ requirement, then saying all disc-based games will work exactly as they always have (no more playing from the hard-drive without the disc) and even announcing that Kinect won’t be required, so I’m sure a bundle will come out sans-Kinect and it will receive the limited support it always has due to low adoption rates. This public outcry brought a next-gen console firmly back into line with the current-gen so what we are getting is a more powerful version of the Xbox 360 with a few fancy TV-based features and a new controller. That sounds to me exactly what people didn’t want to get while we were waiting for the next-generation to be announced. At TPReview we will of course be getting both consoles, but it’s hard to get excited about either when there’s no real improvement in the way we’ll be playing the games and both consoles are easily outperformed by mid-range PCs already on the market.People rebelled against what was different and now we’re going to be getting more of the same.
What’s interesting about that whole episode is how Microsoft actually listened to the loudest voices. I don’t believe they are the majority, but they certainly caused the biggest noise, and Microsoft backed down. This was seen by many as a victory for the internet masses but it could represent something much scarier, are we entering an era where the people who shout loudest get what they want from artists and designers? This is simply going to push designers away from risks as gamers seem to only want what they’ve seen before, but then most of the time they don’t want that either.
The reason I started to write this article is due to a conversation while playing the excellent Payday 2; some of the players in our game were complaining about design decisions Overkill had made and then another player was arguing that we should just enjoy the game for what it is. On one hand, we need to be vocal about the things we don’t like or they will continue to be made. Hopefully developers are aware that we can’t stand escort quests where the NPC can die or retracing our steps through levels already cleared, and they factor that into their game design. If we all kept quiet then some of these abominations would continue to be made. However the idea of responding to what gamers want is an impossible task as the goalposts are constantly moving. Some players of Battlefield want more realism with ammo counted by magazines and realistic jet physics. Others want the insanity of Bad Company to be brought back with bigger explosions and more destruction. Some Forza fans want more realism in the handling while others want more accessibility and a level playing field. You can’t please everybody so who should you listen to?
I feel the answer is that the developers need to trust their own judgement. It comes back to the idea that gamers should vote with their wallets. Complaining is an incredibly lobsided way to get a point across as whoever shouts louder gets the most attention. If a big news outlet holds one opinion it’s going to overshadow the opinions of thousands of people who don’t have access to that kind of audience. The conflicting voices in those arguments (that rarely turn into discussions with anyone shifting their views) will simply average out into something that is incredibly bland and won’t please anybody. Instead developers need to be able to take risks and then be judged on the outcome. Some always have done that, and they tend to be the more popular ones. Miyamato has never been one for backing down over an unusual idea, but then his games tend to be amazing. When Journey was pitched to publishers I imagine it sounded awful, but they had the passion to carry it through into the spectacular game we have today.
The problem is exacerbated by the trend of letting players pay for games before they are released. Once a player has handed money over they feel they are entitled to a product, if that product isn’t clearly defined they’ll simply define it themselves and then complain when the final version doesn’t conform with what they’d imagined. Many of the gripes surrounding Payday 2 focus on the fact that gamers had been promised 17 heists, whereas there’s really only 11. If they’d never been promised anything, would they have complained at all? If you pay for a product that you have the full facts about, you have only yourself to blame if you feel cheated by that purchase. It’s interesting that with the next-gen consoles Microsoft have been receiving most of the flack because they’ve been more open about the features and limitations of the Xbox One. Sony have kept relatively tight-lipped and therefore what is there to complain about? Once both consoles launch people will know much more and then they can decide whether or not each machine is worth it to them. Sites like ours will offer our opinions and thoughts as more information is released but ultimately it comes down to the gamer. If you don’t want a console with a heavy online bias and motion sensing, simply don’t get it. If you don’t want the next-gen consoles at all, nobody is forcing you to.
Unfortunately gamers go beyond this and feel they are ‘entitled’ to something that they have imagined. They feel that due to their past connection to a company, if the company does something they don’t like they are being insulted in some way. It happens in other industries but not all. I can’t imagine anyone complaining when a car manufacturer releases a model they can’t afford or is not available in another country, but try making a new Star Wars film and suddenly you’re beholden to the ideas of an entire generation. The fans will pass judgement as if they were forced to buy the product due to their loyalties, but then should those loyalties be betrayed, they are entitled to try and force designers to make changes. Developers that do respond to this kind of pressure are then equally derided for backing down, rather than for listening to their fans. As soon as a campaign starts against a product, it’s almost impossible to turn into something positive, leading to those who actually liked things the way they were being alienated or ostracised from online communities. Try talking positively about a new console or big-franchise game in a public forum and see how long it is before someone insults you personally for liking said product.
We live in a world where it is easier than ever to express your opinions, and there is also a wider choice of entertainment than ever before. Of course you have the right to express your opinion, but where I have a problem is when that opinion is in some way forced upon others. Making claims that only idiots would buy such and such a game or you’d have to be ignorant to enjoy this or that show is appalling. If you don’t enjoy something, feel free to explain why and then move on, but let other people enjoy what they want. If the product truly is terrible, no-one will enjoy it and the designers won’t make anything else like it.
Ever the eternal optimist, I’m incredibly excited about the next generation of gaming, and I’m hoping for more, rather than less, change. We head out to Gamescom tomorrow and can’t wait to get our first hands-on impressions of the new consoles. If we don’t like something, we’ll let you know and explain why, but if you happen to like it, that’s fine too – we just won’t be spending our money on it.