There used to be a disconnect between gamers and developers. When you were excited for a game to come out, you sat and waited patiently (or not) until you were able to bring home that big black box with an ugly gray cartridge that contained all your heart’s desire. There was a satisfaction in the discovery of what you found in the game. In many cases you were delighted to dig through all the things that the new game had to offer, you played it the whole way through, then sometimes you played it again just to see if you missed anything or if there is a better way to beat a level or a boss. Then, when you were done, you were done. You got all you wanted out of that experience and now you were back to flipping through the pages of Nintendo Power to see what was worth getting that excited for all over again.
There was also a chance that when you got done playing the game that you weren’t happy about it. The controls didn’t make any sense; this one boss was impossible, etc. When this happened, you would likely go to your friends and complain. Tell them not to even bother renting the game, that it would be a waste of their time and money. That was as much power as you had to influence the game market.
This, to say the least, is no longer the case. Now, I would imagine that those developers long for the days of that disconnect. Where they were able to work diligently on their game until they thought it was ready, or until the publisher enforced a deadline that pushed the game out faster than they intended. But when the publisher enforces a harsh deadline, at least they can say that they have some stake in the game, and therefore have an inherent influence on its production.
Now developers announce a game’s existence and the very next question is “so, when does it come out?” And if the answer isn’t an exact date within the next few months, the internet forums begin to quake with the rumblings of trolls leaving their dens to start lighting torches and sharpening pitchforks. The entitlement generation has strong roots in the gaming community, and things have, quite frankly, gotten out of hand.
In the last few weeks alone, we have seen examples of what can happen when gamers continue to prove that anonymity in a comments section is nothing more than a guilt-free pass to say terrible things to people. Often, the people under attack have a public Twitter account.
Just one month after the announcement of Fez 2’s development, temperamental Fez developer Phil Fish has claimed that he is done in the video games industry after a Twitter rampage about his experience with Microsoft as his publisher. Parts of the rant have since been deleted, but included explitive laden tweets describing gamers as “the worst f****** people.” The validity of that statement is in question, as there are all kinds of evil people that do worse things than troll internet forums.
That being said, what inspiration do people have to become video game developers if they know that this is the audience they have to please? At what point in our internet culture did it become routine to threaten the safety of a person’s family because they made a few balancing tweaks to Call of Duty. David Vonderhaar is the design director at Treyarch, and he received just such treatment from his “fans” last month.
These kinds of violent outbursts make shocking headlines, but they only happen every so often, so don’t necessarily tell the story of what is wrong with the gaming community. In Vonderhaar’s case, I would say that’s the kind of nasty vitriol we see all over the internet, and is hardly gaming specific.
Speaking more realistically, following the fan reaction to the development of DayZ Standalone has been somewhat of an embarrassing circus that lead developer Dean Hall has done some simple, yet impressive Twitter jiu-jiutsu to tame. If you don’t know the game, DayZ is a mod of the open-world shooter ARMA II. Fans of the bug-riddled, tremendously fun mod have been chomping at the bit to see what the game can be like when it is played on its own engine.
Hall made the mistake of giving what people like to call a “ballpark timeframe,” and said that the team was shooting for Christmas of 2012. They missed that date, and people have since been whining about the delayed launch ever since. They’ve kept an inconsistent devblog that goes weeks without updates. While more and more gameplay footage makes its way out to the public, followers of the game keep saying that it “looks done.” To combat these types of complaints, Hall has gone to Twitter with a calm demeanor and a sense of humor.
Just in the last week, Hall tweeted this picture of a rather awkward glitch and included “#WhyDayZIsntReleased.” Showing off game breaking bugs to your consumers probably shouldn’t be a part of a developers business model, but being forthright seems to have paid off for Hall at the moment. It would seem that the fire and brimstone DayZ community has cooled for the moment.
This level of transparency continues on Hall’s Twitter account through his use of the hashtag #DayZDaily, in which he fills in his followers on exactly what he worked on that day. It’s not much, especially for people that won’t totally follow the computer programming lingo, but it’s an admirable approach to communicating with your audience that has a tendency to be as harsh with their forum posts as they are with their reflex to shoot-on-sight when playing DayZ.
Fans of games, particularly ones that are being built by one person or a small independent team, need to understand that the updates they receive on a games development are a privilege, not a right. And until gamers realize that games are probably going to be a lot better if they’re done.
It wouldn’t seem that many gamers have the patience, or the open-mindedness to sit through a 1,000 word article. So, I will have to better explain my point through my generations most wonderful form of communication: the internet meme. Credit to Dean Hall’s development team