I’ve been a lover of gaming for around three decades now. Starting off on the Amstrad CPC 464, up through Master System, Game Gear and onward into a bright digital future. Over the years, it’s been wonderful to see the leaps and bounds which gaming has taken. Gone are the days of vector games and the pixel perfect likes of Pong and Lunar Lander. Now we consume immersive and realistic VR experiences, as well as beautifully crafted console games. Not only is gaming much more accepted as a hobby now, the rise of casual and family gaming has boosted the industry with untold millions.
As we covered recently, the rise of casual gaming has in turn given birth to gatekeeping and elitism. Sadly, while I’ve been happy to see the new continuous improvement in games, I’ve also witnessed gamers themselves becoming progressively entitled and hyperbolic. Many seem to be remembering a golden age where “games shipped and they just worked” (I do not remember this time myself). Others complain that developers are now lazy and don’t care, or worse are actively exploiting gamers.
Overall, it just seems like gamers have fallen out of love with gaming.
I put forward that the biggest problem with games these days, is the gamers themselves. There are of course games out there which I believe suck, some because of bugs, but mostly because they just weren’t made for me. I disliked and was very disappointed with Greedfall. I don’t really get Halo. There are a number of games which have released over the years which were a buggy mess. The important thing to remember is that, whatever our rose tinted gamer shades might remember, these games have always been there.
Look, while we may well disagree on some things, I’m certain there are things we do agree on. Bugs aren’t great. Some are funny, but some are annoying or downright game breaking. This does happen and when it does, as paying consumers, I absolutely do believe in the right to moan about it. There are a small number of developers out there who “don’t care” and I imagine some who “can’t do anything right” but these are few and far between.
This isn’t the sort of thing which I’m really poking at here. What I am writing about, and frankly am very tired of, is the unsubstantiated, hyperbolic and entitled negativity which has become more pervasive over the years. This is things like believing there’s no new content if there’s been nothing in new development which you personally enjoy. Shouting about how development teams are crooks because a Beta test has high prices (and then shouting again after they lower the prices by 85%).
If you’re being overtly negative and have to peddle information which is demonstrably false to tell people they shouldn’t play a game, chances are the problem isn’t the game, it’s you. If you have over 4,000 hours in a game and are bored, that’s fine, the developers aren’t stealing the sweets from your picnic. In short, if you get angry that other people are having fun, and because developers are uncaring criminals, this article is for you.
Games Just Worked
This is the most frequent argument I see around the subject of gamer entitlement. Again I’ll mention that yes, bugs are bad and I think that developers should be a lot more free to delay, rather than quickly release titles. Most mention that games these days require a day one patch, and a longing for the good old days when games shipped fully working. On the whole though, this just isn’t the case. Games have always had bugs, some entirely game breaking. Going further than that, some games not only broke themselves, but also other games and on occasion your entire PC.
Take Donkey Kong Country 2 for example, which released in 1995 on SNES. This was a great title and received many positive critical reviews. DKC2 included a bug which not only wiped your save data, but could corrupt your cartridge so entirely that the game was literally (literally literally!) unplayable.
In 2007, EVE Online released the Trinity Expansion. This had the significant danger not simply of making your one game unplayable, but removing the machine’s C:\boot.ini file. This made it impossible for your machine to boot up at all before the file was fixed.
Duck Hunt in 1984 and Pac Man in 1980 both included glitches where if you got to a certain level – 99 and 256 respectively – you’d simply be stuck and unable to progress any farther (with that bloody dog laughing at you all the time!). These glitches came about simply due to storage and programming restrictions. Can you imagine the outcry now if gamers were stopped from accessing their content simply because they were too good?
There are a huge number of examples through the ages. Both from games which were bad overall, and those which were good or great. The golden age of gaming, where developers cared more and worked so much harder, simply did not exist. You can bet that if Square had the option to release a day one patch for Final Fantasy VI’s sketch bug which wiped all of your data, they surely would have.
The Game is Dead
This is one that I see quite often in various community groups. It seems to be prevalent with Elite, Sea of Thieves, and every game with ongoing content, and I’m really not sure where it’s come from. It usually begins a few months after release. The game is dying, the game is dead, it’s been forgotten. I’ve even seen it mentioned today within an Elite Dangerous group, even though Steam Charts shows that the title has had an average of just over 7,500 concurrent players within the last 30 days. For a “dead game” that’s pretty good as this is the highest it’s been since April 2015. In fact, the overall average of average players over the game’s lifetime is just 4357.53.
We also see regularly that development teams have “given up on the game” if there’s no new content or big announcements within a few months. Sadly though, this brings us to another bone of contention. I’ve lost count of the times players have shouted “there’s no new content” when what they actually mean is “there’s no recent content developed specifically for me”. Of course players with thousands of hours in a game are not going to want new tutorials. We can assume that you know the basics after so many hours in game. In addition, it makes sense that new players aren’t going to benefit from developments made for hardcore long-term players.
I’m lucky enough to fall into neither the new nor hardcore players for most games. Typically, I have experience enough to not need new tutorials, and have nowhere near enough cash in the bank to take advantage of high-cost in game ships. When we get right down to it, we simply have to remember two things. Firstly, these games aren’t made for me, or you, or for any one person. Secondly, development takes time. Even with ongoing content drops if you want big developments, you have to give a long lead time.
Gamer Exploitation (Gexploitation?)
Generally speaking, I’ve found that most of the comments of boredom and a lack of content comes from players with hundreds or thousands of hours in game. While a number of titles do provide ongoing content, after racking up these huge numbers boredom is natural in any game. This isn’t a slight, it’s not exploitation, and it’s not developers not caring. The people I know who work in games care on an industrial scale. Not only are these games something which they often pour their soul into, it is literally their job to care.
I would, in fact, say that the main problem is exactly the opposite. Instant feedback over social media and forums means that developers now have a much harder time keeping up with their communities. This, for me, is one of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the years, and it’s akin to having your very own focus group active every second of every day. People love to give their opinions (why not leave yours in the comments!) and do so in their droves every day.
Far from providing the benefits of focus groups or closed beta testing however, I’m starting to think that this has a negative effect on game development. With new players, old players, hardcore and casual all shouting for what they want, developers have the unenviable task of making and keeping everybody happy. Instead of focusing on creating something they think will be enjoyed, they’re dealing with communities who themselves can’t decide what good looks like.
So what’s our conclusion?
It’s really hard to nail down “the problem with gaming” these days, or even confirm that there’s a problem at all when it comes to the games themselves. Ultimately, I think we need to pull back from overly emotional and unreasoned responses. Could some teams talk to their communities more frequently and in more detail? Absolutely they could, but that’s something to cover without a 20 minute YouTube video screaming about how they are worthless crooks. It’s this kind of attitude that simply divides developers and communities further apart, as well as often splitting the fan base itself.
Bugs suck, I completely agree, and they can be the difference between a great game, and bargain basement software. But we cannot complain about long development lead times and “no content droughts” at the same time we are berating developers for rushing to push out games and expansions which may require further patching. If we want games and expansions which work right first time, then we need to give developers the time and space they need in order to truly get it right.
It’s also important that gamers recognise the difficulties with games development these days. When Elite and Dizzy first released, titles could be crafted by two friends or brothers in their bedroom. Often the code for games was printed in magazines where you could enter it yourself. The difficulties of programming have increased exponentially along with the possibilities that new technology has brought.
The biggest thing where I would like to see change, is the understanding that developers do care. They aren’t trying to rip you off because they made content for other people, or are taking time to develop content. Getting worked up about a game does show a passion, but stalking developer’s personal profiles and harassing them does not come from a place of love.
Developers aren’t perfect, and some do need to work on how they approach games and their communities. But guess what, Gamers aren’t perfect either. We’re a loud, proud and overly critical bunch where the tiniest mistake has the potential to become 5 months worth of Twitter ranting. Maybe, just maybe, if we worked together rather than shouting at each other and complaining of exploitation and shady morals, things would get along a little better.
Be kind. Be supportive. Give feedback, a lot of this can help games and developers, but don’t barrage each media post with demands. Welcome new players to a community, they don’t have your thousands of hours in game. Let them love a game in the same way you used to. Recognise that behind these games, everything is built on people. They are pouring their hearts into titles, only to hear consumers saying they are corrupt and don’t care. In honesty, they are listening, even when you are shouting that they aren’t.