I want to take some time to write about my dreams for the next console cycle. We all know that fancy high-definition graphics and innovative game play are going to be present in spades, but I want to discuss some the things we tend to take for granted. That is, if we even bother to think about them at all. Each topic I want to hit in this series is one that has recently come up in the gaming media. Some of them have even leaked into the mainstream press. However, all of these topics are ones that either don’t get a fair discussion or are used as talking points in interviews so much that I think the real meat of the issue is often diluted in an attempt to sound relevant.
Some of these topics can be rather controversial and have caused many a heated debate. So, in order to address these topics and the role of debate in gaming culture, my first topic will be focused on communication:
I hope Microsoft has learned a lesson about this, but the truth is, clear and open communication goes both ways. While publishers and developers don’t have to listen to their consumers, it is generally in their best interest financially to at least consider the opinions of players. On the other hand, we players need to remember that we don’t own the IPs we love, nor do we have any right to try to exert undue authority over game makers. I say “undue” here because consumers have purchasing power, and it is often best for us to NOT buy the latest game from whatever-developer-that-made-us-upset if we want to prove any kind of lasting point.
There are lines in the sand, and they have been crossed. Quite a lot recently, in fact. Microsoft’s PR disaster with Xbox One is a prime example of a company not respecting their customers. I’m not even referring to the licensing and online policies. The smug attitude that seemed to ooze from every statement – official or otherwise – was just disgusting. Why should I want to buy a product from a company that outright tells me they don’t care if I buy their product or not and doesn’t bother to at least fake empathy if I simply can’t purchase or use their product? How a company explains its business moves is just as important as the why that company chose to make its business moves. Companies don’t always have to explain themselves to customers, but when the fate of its new product depends on the understanding and support of its customers, why wouldn’t a company want to make things as clear as possible? Nintendo is suffering under this same problem – a disconnect with its fans.
This is sad. With all of the many ways that companies, creators, and consumers can connect with each other, there is no excuse for such horrid public relations failures and turnarounds like jumping on “Let’s Play” videos, attempting to halt game tournaments, delaying potentially innovative distribution models, and ineffective DRM. At the same time, there is no reason for the gaming community to feel as though it is entitled to anything. Case in point: Mass Effect 3. Despite the incredibly high level of transparency and interactivity that Bioware regularly engages in with its many fans, the level of pure anger and misplaced entitlement regarding the end of that fantastic trilogy was ridiculous. The team of developers had a vision, they executed that vision, and it sold millions before anyone even saw the ending. Regardless of how I or anyone else may feel about the ending (full disclosure: I actually enjoyed the original ending as it was originally released), the game itself is amazing. The ending actually did its job and got people talking about it – praises and criticisms aplenty. We played our own Shepard – and nothing can ever take away that unique experience, but our Shepard exists in Bioware’s narrative. It was Bioware’s story to tell, and we got mad and made them “change” it (news flash: they didn’t really change a thing).
At the end of the day, developers, publishers, and gamers need to start respecting each other more. As much as we all may hate the changes Lucas has made to Star Wars, that franchise was his to do what he wanted. However you remember Star Wars didn’t change and can’t ever be taken from you, and now a new generation of fans are on board with more to come. The same holds true for games. We as gamers may not like the decisions that are made by the companies we entrust are hobby to, but we need to allow them to make those decisions. The companies now have no excuse for not considering our feedback. Markets are fragmenting and competition is fierce right now, and is likely going to get hotter. It cannot be stressed enough how true the formula discussed in the this video really is – music, movies, games – it just works. Connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy will lead to those fans spending money. Fans already want to do just that. Companies just need to learn to encourage the act of purchasing by encouraging the act of engaging. There are examples of this already in the industry such as the various Bioware studios, Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida, and a host of successful indie game creators that found support via Kickstarter.
The more creators and players come together, respectfully working as one to shape the future of gaming experiences across all platforms, the more enjoyable, inclusive, and innovative that future will be. The current ubiquitous and instantaneous nature of communication makes corporate selfishness both obsolete and oppressive. At the same time, consumer ire is more intense, more focused, and more prone to unnecessary snowballing. Anonymity bolsters much-needed courage, but breeds unbridled angst. The infinite expanses of cyberspace too often become vast virtual battlefields as mini wars are fought over DRM, DLC, and any and everything else. There is a place for debate, and everyone is entitled to their opinion and the opportunity to voice that view. Thing is, we can’t all talk at the same time, and not a single one of us is right all the time…
Developers, we play your games and pay your bills. It’s OK to take our ideas and use them from time to time. Publishers, stop trying to fight piracy. You can’t win, and we know you know this. Just release awesome products in the most convenient way possible at the most reasonable price possible. When we beg you to take our money, we want you to take our money. Gamers, you have rights. Feel free to exercise those rights, but stop projecting your hate (or love) on everyone else when they aren’t interested. Trolls will troll, sure, but you don’t have to give them ammo. Instead, be constructive and productive in the gaming community. Developers and other players will appreciate that far more than you fanning a flame war.
Finally, everyone, let’s just get along and enjoy our awesome hobby.