Customer Isn’t Spelled F-A-N-B-O-Y
Generally I try not to post stuff on my blog when I’m angry, it only leads to a boring rant that nobody wants to read, and when I look back at the post six months later I cringe at being so self-indulgent. I’ve tried to continue this rule when writing for TheGameJar too; already it’s saved you from multiple posts about things said on the DBR podcast, for example. Today though, I break that rule. One opinion piece on Edge Online’s site has lit the blue touch-paper, and I can’t hold my response in any longer. Brian Howe’s article entitled “Video game designers: ignore entitled gamers” is a well written, entertaining piece on how developers of the future have been subjugated by “entitled gamers” who demand changes to everything they don’t like in their favourite games. Like I said, it’s well written, but at the same time it’s managed to piss me off. Whenever this subject comes up, and whenever it’s commented on by someone in who believes gamers do have too much say, they seem to conveniently forget that gamers are also customers.
Almost inevitably now when discussing whether gamers do indeed wield too much power over developer creativity, the example cited is the fan outrage surrounding the Mass Effect 3 ending. Those in the pro-developer camp will tell you it’s the perfect example of how bad gamer pressure can be for a creatively based industry such as game development. Of many things written about this in the gaming media at the time, one or two had some balance and attempted to understand where the unhappiness was coming from, but most went with tired old clichés. “Entitled gamers are whining about nothing again!” or “This is an attack on the artistic integrity of the industry!”. Both of these arguments miss the point entirely to my mind, mainly because games journalism seems to be hung up on tired stereotypes of gaming essentially being an immature pastime.
Sadly we still seem to be part of an industry that is permanently stuck in its teenage years. Whether it’s gamers that think that racism or homophobia is fine when trash talking on Xbox Live, parents that don’t stop their fourteen year old son from playing Call of Duty, or publishers who haven’t quite worked out how best to make money from games, the whole damn industry doesn’t seem to be able to mature into adulthood.
I mention this because Mr Howe’s piece seems to perfectly reflect my point above. In his future world, gamers are emotional tyrants with game developers at their beck and call. He describes a world where all manner of unthinkable changes are made to iconic games, with the very start of the whole process being traced back the ME3 ending controversy. In truth his piece is pretty funny in places, but he still doesn’t seem to be able to do without resorting childish name calling eventually. Sure enough it’s not long before he breaks out the traditional put down for shutting gamers up; Fanboy. If I had my way, the word fanboy would be erased from everyone’s brain. It’s become shorthand for dismissing criticism out of hand. Can’t think of a coherent counter to an intelligent point of opposition? Call me a fanboy and have done with it. I’m a grown up, I have two children and a mortgage, I’m not an anything-boy. Here’s the thing everyone seems to have forgotten, you know all those “whining, entitled fanboys”?, they’re paying customers too. The money they spent in 2007 on the first game ensured that there was a third game ending to be pissed off at. In short, gamers money is what makes the gaming industry possible at all, without it there’s no Mass Effect franchise.
I hate to go over the ME3 thing again after all this time, but when people cite it as an example of gamer power gone bad I can’t keep quiet. Particularly if they’re being disparaging whilst doing it. The people so quick to put down the unhappy fans still seem cling to the idea that making games remains a cottage industry. That the latest blockbuster is still made by a small group of friends who came together to create cool things. Outside of indy devs, those days are gone. The harsh reality is Bioware’s right to artistic integrity was sold to EA along with everything else. Bioware’s sole purpose now, like any developer bought by a publisher owned by shareholders, is to make money for the investors. Cool games are a means to an ends, a happy by-product of the business that gaming has now become. When EA’s CEO John Riccitiello stands in front of investors to give them the latest progress report on money made, not a single one of those investors will say to him “making millions of dollars is fine John, but what I really want to know is how Bioware’s artistic integrity is holding up?”
Where some saw all this ME3 hoopla as a terrible precedent, I saw the first glorious shoots of gamers finally realising the power they have as consumers when they band together. I’ve been a gamer for a long time now, I’ve gone from asking my parents to buy me the latest game to being the parent being asked. I’ve grown up as a consumer and it’s about time games journalists did the same. The gaming industry has matured into one where profit is the sole metric of success, and some of us have adapted to it. It’s high time that those that haven’t dropped the insults, and catch up with the rest of us.