Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Do customers, developers, and press HAVE to be at each other’s throats?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 26, 2013

So are gamers, game developers, and the gaming press really becoming increasingly hostile towards each other? This article suggests as much:

 Entitled Gamers, Corrupt Press, and Greedy Publishers

My original comment when dozens of game developers and press-types began sharing this article was, “Thank goodness I’m an indie… I haven’t seen much of this.”

And it’s true. Over the last several years, I have been paying less attention to the mainstream press. I mean, thank goodness for Rock Paper Shotgun and The Escapist for helping heal the hole left in my heart by Computer Gaming World.

I don’t get it. I mean, yeah, I understand the reasons, and I see them in action when I’m paying attention. And I can also see how it can become a vicious cycle. That kind of hostility can cause all camps into even more of a bunker-like mentality. As they hunker down with more anonymity, less mutual discussion, and less transparency, it can exacerbate the problems. We’re simultaneously too familiar with each other and yet not familiar enough to have a mutual respect. Or something.

But I still don’t understand the mentality. I mean, this is the games industry, right? All about fun? It should be a happy place!

In part, I think it may be because the gaming “industry” has grown so large and there’s so much money involve. Back when gaming was still largely a hobby.  When I first started subscribing to Computer Gaming World – back when I was a student and had trouble paying the subscription cost, not to mention new games – the gaming “industry” felt like it was hitting its stride, emerging from the shaky widespread hobby status of the 1980s into an actual industry. I remember the big discovery that the games business was finally bigger than Hollywood (if you constrained measurements to things like Box Office and video sales).

The thing was – we were all on the same side. Game developers were making games for gamers, and the press was a cheerleader for the hobby if not for individual games. News cycles were slower, games distribution channels weren’t so saturated, and it was okay to wait a few weeks for the reviews to come in before picking up a game. And gamers – well, they didn’t actually have much of a voice, other than letters to the editor and to the publishers, or by becoming game developers themselves (but who in their right mind would do that?!?!). It was too much work to be a troll. And I think there was more of a recognition of the limitations of games and game developers. And really, games and the underlying technology were so primitive that I think gamers knew there were limitations to their expectations. Finding a bug was more of a source of amusement than a source of nerdrage (unless it really screwed up your saved game, in which case full hulk-out mode was still an option).

If things are getting much worse, as an indie, if I’m not paying attention, it’s easy for me to ignore it. Instead, as an indie, I get to “enjoy” the downside of those more “civil” times – tiny budgets, obscurity, etc. And all I can do is try to be optimistic and model the kinds of behavior I wish others would also exhibit.  And yeah, this probably dooms me to a career of (relative) obscurity.  And it doesn’t stop me from launching into an occasional tirade. But there are a few things I think we could do better:

Publishers – respect your customers. Don’t treat them as wallets with legs. Don’t throw so much B.S. around with your hype and excuses that you begin to believe it yourselves. The more impenetrable you seem, the louder people are going to shout in hopes that someone behind your walls might hear. And those will drown out the moderate voices.

Press – respect your audience. While I certainly understand your need to strike the iron at the hottest and the dot your site with linkbait articles, focus on the service you provide to your audience, not just on how you can get the most number of eyeballs to your ads. I’m really glad that Rock Paper Shotgun and The Escapist have done well, because those sites tend to model what I’d like to see in gaming journalism better, and it seems like much of the industry has taken notice and has started to follow suit. At least things seem better now than they were five years ago, when it was getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a fanboy’s rants and a ‘professional’ article.

Gamers – depending on how thin-skinned they are, one negative comment has around five to twenty times the weight of a positive one to a developer. The end result of too much negativity (and out-and-out trolls) is that the ones you most desperately want to listen to you will begin to tune you out completely out of pure necessity. The Internet gives you a bigger voice than ever, so use it to provide as much positive and constructive feedback as possible, and do your best to police the trolls (and, for that matter, the useless fanboys) as possible. Shame the hyperbole, praise the efforts to keep things down to earth and constructive. And try to remember to comment when you are pleased with things as much as when you are pissed off about something, because most of the time the people who are motivated to write are the ones who are angry about something. Help provide balance.

Developers – it can be hard to provide transparency when you are desperately meeting deadlines and bound by publishing contract restrictions and wary of undermining marketing efforts by admitting that maybe your upcoming project really isn’t the biggest thing since the invention of the light bulb.  But do what you can. While there’s a certain percentage of the population that are real-life griefers,  I believe that when your average (grown-up) gamer sees the effort that real human beings are making on products, they tend to be more empathetic and understanding.

Respect. And keeping it real. That’s really what it comes down to.

Filed Under: Biz, Mainstream Games - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Albert1 said,

    When I was young my budget was very low (well, nowadays the situation is much the same…) so I used to (at least) take into consideration game reviews on maganizes I thought were trusted, especially when publishers released no demo at all – furthermore, my connection was sooo baaad! Well, I can’t come up with percentages, but quite a number of positive reviews turned out to be questionable, to say the least. On the other hand, thanks to portals, in the last few years I risked ~5 $ on titles that received bad reviews 10+ years ago and… surprise, while not overworks, they were quite good, and a couple of them, in my opinion, even deserved to be bought at full price back in the day.

  • McTeddy said,

    I’m with you on Developer Transparency. It’s easy for people to blame the faceless monster EA… or pirate from that evil company.

    With all of our NDA’s and secrecy people don’t realize that most developers are just normal people trying to put food on the table.

    It’s scary how often I’ve told someone I work on games they suddenly think that I’m different. Game Development is just like living a normal life… with a few too many zombies.

  • Anon said,

    The problem with the whole situation (all parties included) is that is too industrialized – which is by all means no new development and not restricted to games at all. On the contrary: The gaming industry only copies what has been done successfully with other products like movies, music or books.
    This also includes controlling the press and spoon-feeding “news” to their potential customers to build up hype.
    In the eighties we also had fights in court over IP theft and plagiarizing but today it seems to be on a much larger scale.

    The problem with this situation isn’t that there is too much money involved but that it moves into too few hands. The mainstream publishers are either too big (EA, Activision, Ubisoft) or too unsuccessful (THQ, for example) – add to this the behemoths that control the console game market and you have only a few key players that can practically steer the market any way they like.
    Sony doesn’t want a 2D RPG on the PS3? Then there will be none available! Microsoft wants to have the newest GTA as an exclusive for a time? Then it will a few millions and get it! Bad luck if you only have a Playstation…

    As for the media – what exactly is the media today? Most mainstream gaming magazines (web or paper) are products of large communication corporations who arranged themselves with the game industry. The one party losing out here is the actual gamer who has to believe what filtered and censored information he gets from them.

    But some customers aren’t happy with the situation at all. With all the talk about Web 2.0 where he allegedly can “interact” he isn’t content with using it to consume newsbits and game trailers.

    It’s no wonder that there are more and more choices to participate – at least from smaller, more agile companies:
    Beta programs, competitions, even Kickstarter campaigns where the gamer gets the illusion that he is a valuable part in the creation (well, his money is).

    Yes, the indie market is thriving – at least creatively – but let’s wait and see how it gets perverted by the mainstream to extract even more money…