Welcome to another round of GamerNode’s Counterpoint, where a handful of our editors come together to discuss and debate a controversial gaming topic.
coun·ter·point n \kaūn-tər-pōint\
1. The technique of combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.
2. A contrasting but parallel element, item, or theme.
This week: Is the gaming community too hard on game companies, perhaps pressuring developers to make comprised, hurtful game design choices? As once-beloved triple-A franchises release new installments, the gaming community has been subject to more controversies. From EA being voted as the worst company in America to the recent decrying of Capcom’s Resident Evil 6, the void between what [the most vocal] gamers want and what developers provide has only grown. We take some time to explore the “why?” behind it all.
Jason: “Intelligent discussion and thought-out criticism are essential”
Resident Evil 6 has been released, and critical reception says that it’s a bona fide mess. While I expected some issues with control and story elements, there’s one common piece of criticism that I did not expect: too much fan service. As Polygon’s Phil Kollar puts it, “Resident Evil 6 is a compromise – a desperate, ugly bid to appeal to as many people as possible.” While I have yet to venture into this latest RE foray, the impression I’m getting is that Capcom was so worried about NOT appealing to everyone that they overcompensated, losing focus in the process, and still released an underwhelming product.
What could cause that kind of reaction?
BioWare’s two founders, Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk, decide to leave their posts and retire from the gaming industry entirely. Both say their goodbyes via the BioWare Blog, but one line from Dr. Zeschuk sticks out
“I’ve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation. For the people I have had the privilege of working with, however, my passion burns as brightly as it did the day we started.”
A man whose company has produced some of the best video games in history, like the Mass Effect trilogy, Jade Empire, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, all of a sudden loses his passion for the business?
What would make him feel this way?
The answer is simple: both of these situations are caused by the wrath of the gaming community, namely those who frequent the message boards and comment threads. Normally one would say “oh, well that’s part of the job, they need to make their own decisions and not worry about the fans” or “it’s a free country, we can do what we want” or my personal favorite “that’s the internet, deal with it *puts shades on*.” While the third one is akin to a drunk driver crashing into a pole and blaming the pole, I agree with the first two… to a point. Intelligent discussion and thought-out criticism are essential, as they keep those who make the games honest. However, it’s when that criticism turns to vitriol and hate that situations like the ones above start to form.
For example, on a ScrewAttack.com news article about Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono being hospitalized in March 2012, one commenter wrote, “I hope that bastard dies in there. He deserves to after SFxT.” (Street Fighter X Tekken). It’s perfectly fine that this commenter didn’t like the game – he or she certainly doesn’t have to – but to wish death upon the creator because of said game? When is that ever an appropriate response?!
Posts like this can be found all around the gaming industry’s internet presence, damning the creators of a game for their decisions. The Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco spawned more hate-filled forum threads in one place than I’ve ever seen, and also led to a group of people calling themselves “Retake Mass Effect” (which is erroneous in its own right, because you can’t “retake” what you didn’t already own, but I digress), petitioning BioWare to re-make the ending and release it as free (of course) DLC. The Extended Cut DLC was BioWare’s compromise, and while it expanded on the original endings more than sufficiently, people still weren’t happy.
Even developers at the top of their game, suffering from an issue completely out of their control, are met with awful backlash. When the third episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead was delayed on Steam, those reading the Telltale forums would have thought that Telltale was delaying a cure for cancer. “I’ll never play this game again! Telltale is the worst company of all time! We deserve a discount or something for free for this injustice!!” Those are the clean ones.
Now, with Resident Evil 6 and the BioWare exodus, the wrath of the fan is starting to directly affect the gaming industry. A storied franchise’s latest installment is a muddled, confused mess because the people behind it tried too hard to appease those who have dragged their name in the mud. Two of the most brilliant minds in the business walked away from the company they founded 20 years prior. Who knows what other decisions are being made, decisions we’ll never know about, because of fear of backlash from the gamers.
It’s high time the gaming community started really thinking about what they say and how they say it. We can’t keep verbally beating the hell out of the developers, the publishers, the writers, or each other this way. The longer it continues, the more hate-filled and vitriolic the speech will be, and God help us if someone out there decides to ACT on these words…
But who am I kidding? It’s the Internet, right?
Mike: “People are going to speak out about it eventually”
While yes, it is a sad tragedy that the good doctors at BioWare have departed and that RE6 is, apparently, a complete mess, that doesn’t mean you should fling the blame at the community at large.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the shadow of New York City, constantly visiting family in the Bronx, being a frequent traveler to the five boroughs, and witnessing both the good and bad they’ve had to offer in recent years. Maybe it’s the few years in my youth spent as a social outcast. But to me these are just two examples of harsh reality at work. People can be real jerks, and life can be cruel to good people, but crying foul to those who really don’t give a crap or letting them get to you isn’t going to help anything. I hate to say it, but both BioWare and Capcom should have had thicker skin and not given in, or at least not expected a warm welcome after their compromises.
Let’s face it, the ending to Mass Effect 3 was not good. But it did leave things up to interpretation and allowed me to eventually be at peace with it. The Extended Cut, which Jason says was more than sufficient, to me was mostly garbage. It added information and closed plot holes, yes, but not all of it was helpful nor provided clarity, and the production quality of a lot of what was added was weak. It all felt akin to throwing white paint on a goose and calling it a swan.
This also isn’t the first time BioWare didn’t fully deliver. Dragon Age II was seen as a disappointment and The Old Republic was just the same old MMO mechanics with better production. The developer’s shining reputation was already starting to fade when Mass Effect 3 was released, so it’s not like this anti-BioWare sentiment came out of nowhere. If you keep making mistakes or coming up short, people are going to speak out about it eventually.
This isn’t even something that is exclusive to the videogame industry, so I think your argument should be on a bigger stage if anything, Jay. If a band decides they want to experiment and go in a new direction, its fans call the members a bunch of sell-outs. If a general manager of a professional sports team fails to make a trade regardless of how rational his reasons are, he’s a bum who has driven the team into the ground. If a politician says something out of place or that a certain group of people doesn’t want to hear – and no, this is not a reference to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama – they get death threats left, right, and center.
Despite all of this sounding like I’m in support of the backlash and threats from the gaming public, I certainly do not condone it. It’s perfectly normal to voice your complaints in a calm manner and hope or ask for changes. I even find it acceptable to not buy products or support the person, place, or thing you complain against. To turn those complaints into demands blinded by anger, however, is immature and counterproductive.
What I do ultimately realize, though, is that no matter how bad you want them to, these people are never going to go away, especially if you give them attention. Hell, even this debate is giving them the attention that they feel justifies their actions. The best method, as I’ve learned personally countless times, is to ignore these so-called “fans.” If you own a forum that they are harassing you on it, punish them. In return, reward those who actually give constructive feedback or aren’t acting like the world is over. If that’s not the option you want or don’t own the location where this criticism is coming from, then turn the other cheek. Say a situation gets serious and can no longer be ignored, like with Mass Effect 3, take it into consideration. That doesn’t mean you have to cave in.
Any creation is going to have its criticism. Complaining about or pandering to the most vicious of critics won’t help. As the saying goes: Don’t feed the trolls.
Jason: “All I want is for people to realize what they’re doing”
I know this argument belongs on a grander scale; we’re just talking about video games here. Those sports fans/music fans/political followers that you mention ALL need to get their heads in check. I’m also not exclusively blaming the community either, as I’m sure there were plenty of other factors that influenced the decisions (marketing strategies, corporate deadlines, etc).
I’m not asking for radical change. I’m not about to travel to every forum in the industry posting War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” on every thread. I know those efforts would be futile. All I want is for people to realize what they’re doing. Every creation on Earth is going to be criticized, as you can’t please everyone, but as long as we agree that constructive criticism is better than the vile things that some may have to deal with, then I feel a whole lot better.
Oh, and the Mass Effect 3 endings were just fine. Just because the meaning of a story isn’t completely, 100% obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t a great ending. There’s a film critic online that was asked to give his take on the ME3 endings, and he summarizes my feelings on it far better than I can. Take a look here.
Eddie: “Do game companies give a damn when something other than what we want sells?”
I feel like Capcom will laugh at all the recent criticism… all the way to the bank. Perhaps gamers – veterans, critics, and comment-posting
fanatics enthusiasts – are upset by the direction taken in recent Resident Evil games (I’m as big an RE fan as I know, and was very disappointed with RE5, even), but why does that have to mean Capcom was afraid of not appealing to everyone? Maybe they just wanted to sell the most copies possible.
I know we all think we have the refined gaming palates of distinguished connoisseurs, but do game companies give a damn when something other than what we want sells? I’m inclined to think not.
That said, a commenter saying that he hopes someone dies because a game, made by a team of people, was bad, is despicable. I’d like to see him say that in front of Ono’s family. I bet his big internet balls shrink REALLY quickly.
Perhaps Google’s approach of changing usernames to real names on the internet could dull some of those audacious, disrespectful tongues out there.
Greg: “Gaming culture is very protective of what it loves”
I agree with Eddie on this one. I’m not sure if gamers’ online discussions have a major influence on developer choices for game design. I’m sure game companies read the comments and criticism, boil it down, and try to build something from it, but I don’t think it changes the dynamic of their multi-million dollar projects.
Having played many of the even-more-many hours Capcom crammed into Resident Evil 6, I will say I’m surprised by the hate. The game is exactly what I expected it to be: nothing more, nothing less. I’ve provided a more detailed dissection in my review, but my main takeway after playing the majority of the game is that Capcom put its awkward goth child into some football pads and threw it into the action. It can deliver a blow, but its delicate, brilliant horror elements are buried deep beneath. And that appears to have upset a lot of people.
Gaming culture, and nerd culture in general, is very protective of what it loves. Those who complain the loudest about a game’s ending or design or plot are those who cherish it. And from what I can understand, the reason so many gamers complain about the drastic changes to their favorite franchises is because they were changed in the first place. Mike brought up Dragon Age II, which was criticized for its excursion to Casual-FriendlyLand. Same for the Mass Effect trilogy for streamlining its RPG elements before washing them away with a door 1, 2, or 3 conclusion.
The vitriol and malign are spurred by altering something cherished. Zack Snyder shot the Watchmen film almost panel-for-panel relative to the comic. This was homage, of course, but also because he was dealing with precious cargo that needed to be respected. When you compromise, or redesign to appeal to the masses, your property disrespects those who followed it when it was unpopular, so those people lash out and call it “trash” or “uninspired.” Like Mike, I believe the best thing to do is ignore them if they bother you.
This is a difficult beast to tame in a short argument, but the point remains: making something easier or more accessible takes away from the prestige and grind that was initially present. In other words, and not to sound hipster, the “knew-them-before-they-were-cool” mentality is alive and well in video games. The ironic part is it seems to be held by the majority.