There has been a lot written over the last couple months about gamer entitlement. Gamers are becoming more and more vocal about things they don’t like. And some in the game industry don’t like it.
They use the word “entitlement” as a derogatory term. They don’t seem to like the fact that we are finding our voice.
So I feel the need to say:
I am a gamer and I am entitled
I want to be very clear about something before I get started. I am going to make the argument that gamers have the right to push back against things they don’t like. However, as with any relationship, there is a line. And that line was run over, crushed, spit on, and then raced past in the case of Jennifer Hepler.
Gamespot published a story by Laura Parker on February 21 called The Dangers of Gamer Entitlement in response to the abuse leveled at Hepler, a BioWare employee. She made a comment in an interview several years ago about making it easier to skip combat sections for those who are only interested in story. Some people didn’t like what she said and proceeded to demean and humiliate her.
This story is not about gamers acting entitled.
It’s about assholes being assholes.
It is reprehensible. To treat someone like this because you disagree with their opinion is pathetic.
“But BioWare has the right to do so much more. It has the right to pursue legal action against Hepler’s attackers. It has the right to shut them out of its community, to refuse them any kind of service in the future. It has the right to tell them that this behavior has no place in the gaming community, to show them that every sexist, racist, comment only serves to undo years of growth and progress in changing outdated attitudes in the industry.
Like us, BioWare has the right to stand up to each and every gamer who brutalized, harassed, and dehumanized Jennifer Hepler, a game developer who to date has dedicated her working life to making games better for the very same people who turned on her.”
She’s right. BioWare can (and should in my opinion) do all of those things. And we as gamers should support them.
Comments like, “Grow a thicker skin please” and “is anyone surprised” are not helping. Yes, if you express an opinion on the internet, there are going to be those that respond with vitriol and hate. But brushing it off like this ignores two big consequences:
- A fellow human being was deeply hurt by cowards hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. For what? Trying to think critically about how games are created to make them more fun for more people? How dare she! /sarcasm No one deserves this and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the very real pain she felt.
- The relationship between BioWare and its fans was damaged. Do you think BioWare heard any rational, articulate, well made arguments after the abuse started? Of course not.
If we want to have a voice, we have to stand up against this. I know there’s no way to stop it. So we must make our voice of positivity (tell the developers when you love or appreciate something), encouragement, genuine discussion of the issues, and even disappointment expressed constructively louder and more prominent.
Exercising Our Voice
Thankfully, there have been examples of gamers exercising their voice in much more constructive ways. However, it seems to me like some in the game industry take just as much issue with these.
The two examples I’m thinking of are the Mass Effect 3 ending and the Steam group, A Call for Communication about the Half-Life franchise.
There has been a lot said in the last few days about whether a game is a form of art or a product. And those arguing it is art are arguing gamers have no right to demand anything about that art.
“But regardless of the ending’s narrative consistency or emotional impact, there’s a key misunderstanding happening here: This ain’t our story. By demanding the creators change it to suit our preferences, we’re breaking an unstated contract.” J.P. "kincher skolfax" Grant on Gamer’s With Jobs
Grant goes on to compare the relationship between a designer and a player to that of a magician and an audience. The audience is there to enjoy the show. As the audience, you, “aren’t the one in control of the performance. So you play along. You don’t demand the lovely assistant be sawed in thirds instead of halves, because you are not the one performing the trick.”
The idea here is that the decisions the designer makes about a game are theirs to make and the player has no right to demand anything else.
“But players are not creators, and consumers are not designers. We do not have ultimate say over what the game includes or does not include, despite the convincing responsiveness of corporate social media and the panacea of the almighty patch.”
Now he’s not saying that the player has no right to express an opinion about something they don’t like (“That’s not to say we shouldn’t subject games to thoughtful critique”). His argument (it seems to me) is that once a game is released, the story is done. Any critique that is leveled would be in hopes of affecting the next game, not changing the current.
Then there is the issue of Half-Life 3. In his article Opinion: The dangers of gamer entitlement, Alex Wiltshire takes issue with the Steam group, A Call for Communication and their “A Red Letter Day” event. The event called for as many people as possible to play Half-Life 2 on the same day to let Valve know there are people who care about the Half-Life franchise and want to know where things stand.
“Valve won’t have forgotten, of course, about the 2009 protest over the release of Left 4 Dead 2, which gained over 16,000 followers who feared the sequel would freeze development of the first game, insisting that Valve hold "to its promise of free, continual updates to Left 4 Dead in order to build and sustain the community.” It took careful public communication from such figures as one of its lead developers, Chet Failszek, to talk the protesters down, as well as inviting the protest’s leaders to the studio to discuss what could be done. It poured water on the flames of disgruntlement, but it also surely bit into the creative process of actually making games, which is what developers are primarily for.
But most game players don’t know – or fundamentally care – about the realities of game development. In a market awash with high quality cheap entertainment made by developers running over themselves to show their dedication to their audiences, it seems inconceivable to players that the realities of funding a studio might get in the way.”
The idea here is that game development is hard and all events like this do is distract companies from making them.
The feeling I get from these and many other articles and tweets is that gamers should be passive consumers of games, that it’s ok to have opinions as long as they are not expressed too strongly and aren’t expected to change anything. Just take what the developers and media give you and be happy with it.
The problem I have with this idea is that it misses the most important point.
The game industry exists for gamers.
There are 4 major players in the game industry:
- Developers – Create the games
- Publishers – Market and in a lot of cases fund the development of the games.
- Gaming Media – Report about the games
- Gamers – Purchase and consume the games
With a few exceptions, developers and publishers do what they do to get gamers to open up their wallet and buy games. Developers create games they hope gamers will buy. Publishers fund games they think gamers will buy and then market those games to convince gamers to buy. If no one buys, no matter how critically acclaimed something is, studios shut down.
The gaming media is also looking for gamers to pay, although with attention instead of money. Most sites are funded through advertising (publishers trying to convince gamers to buy). They can only sell enough advertising space to stay afloat if they have enough of attention. And so they write about things that gamers are interested in so the gamers will give them attention.
If gamers are the point, why shouldn’t gamers have a voice? Why should we not be able to hold developers, publishers, and the media accountable for what they promise and produce?
For example, the promise of Mass Effect is that the choices the gamer makes matter. That’s why it imports saves from 1 into 2 and then 3. That way the whole experience ties together.
Gamers feel like that promise was not fulfilled. We have every right to demand that it be fulfilled. And we have every right to take our money somewhere else if we don’t feel BioWare has responded sufficiently.
The promise of Half-Life is even stronger.
“Valve®, developer of the blockbuster series Half-Life® and Counter-Strike™, announced Half-Life® 2: Episode One debuted at #1 on retail PC game charts across Europe, including the dominant markets of Germany, UK and France.
Episode One, released at retail outlets and via Steam® on June 1st, is the first in a trilogy of episodes that will conclude by Christmas of 2007.” First In Half-Life Episodic Trilogy Debuts at Number 1, June 8, 2006
So an announcement on Steam from 2006 told us we would see Episode 3 by Christmas of 2007. We were told Episode 3 would be out, not announced or in the works, over 4 years ago.
Again, we have every right to demand better communication from Valve. You’ll notice that’s all the group wants. We aren’t demanding that Half-Life 3 be released tomorrow.
“The lack of communication between Valve and the Half-Life community has been a frustrating experience. While continued support for current and future products is greatly appreciated, fans of the Half-Life series have waited years for a word on when the franchise will return.
So, Instead of focusing efforts in a negative and disrespectful way, we have decided to gain Valve’s attention by delivering a basic message:
Your oldest and longest running fanbase would like better communication.”
No vitriol, no hate. Just a simple request for any kind of communication about a game we can’t wait to play. We want Valve to talk to us.
Now, I want to make something clear. I have said gamers have every right to make demands of developers, publishers, and the gaming media. However, I have NOT said that they are obligated to listen to us. It is perfectly acceptable for them to say, “We hear you but no”.
A recent example of this is Diablo 3. Blizzard decided to require a constant internet connection to play Diablo 3, even in the single player campaign. This upset a lot of people, myself included. And we let Blizzard know.
Blizzard’s response? “We hear you but we feel this is best for our game.” (my paraphrase from different sources)
I don’t like it. I wish they would change their minds. But they won’t. They made a business/design decision to go in this direction.
Fair enough. I just won’t be going with them. I’ll wait for Torchlight 2 instead.
BioWare, on the other hand, seem to be taking a different approach.
“Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April. We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received.”
Obviously we don’t know completely what that means yet but it seems like they are going to be adding some of the things gamers have been demanding.
What It Boils Down To
As a gamer, I have choices. In fact, I almost have too many. I listed 24 games in my FPS Blitz that I want to play, 20 of which I haven’t more than started yet. I own 220 games according to Steam. And there is a new one on sale EVERY DAY.
And that’s just on Steam. There’s also Kickstarter, The Humble Indie Bundle, and free to play games like Age of Empires Online, Everquest, and DC Universe Online. There are so many places for me to spend my money and attention that I can be picky.
I can tell developers and publishers what I want and I can take my business elsewhere if they don’t provide it.
I am entitled to my voice. I’m entitled to let developers, publishers, and the gaming media know what I love, hate, and everything in between.
I am a gamer and I am entitled