There’s been a lot of drama lately for online gaming. One could think there’s nearly a popcorn shortage, what from all the gamers out there trying to keep up with the constant soap operas wheeling around and around. There’s a lot of words that could be used to describe some of the commentary that is being posted over the past week or so, but for me, the word I want to concentrate on today is “hate”.
Now, this isn’t the typical, burn in eternal hellfire and damnation level of “hate”, to be clear. This is really more of the “OMGWTFBBQ!!?!!!11!” type of hate that gamers seem to live for. Honestly, if there’s one thing that gamers seem to love more than playing games…it’s got to be trash talk.
Even getting away from the Brad McQuaid emo meltdown or the juicy bits regarding Jeff Butler’s steamy office romance or Tseric’s very public professional suicide, there’s still a lot of drama out there. It’s not normally the type of drama that involves designer’s personal lives though…but typically more of the drama involved in actual, well, game design.
There’s a lot of us out here in the ether that fancy ourselves de facto game designers. We spend hours slugging it out by commenting on forums or blogs, or we go so far as to actually create forums or blogs where we can really be heard.
We’re not really designers though. We’re critics, really. Some are really interesting or intelligent critics, but critics none-the-less. It’s easy for us to criticize…and criticize we do. As a community, we run the gamut of criticism. From the aforementioned intelligent commentary all the way down to base personal attacks, we players can be a passionate bunch.
Now, it’s that last group I’ve been really interested in lately. I’ve always made it known that I prefer to keep arguments about game design focused on the actual design decisions themselves, not necessarily about the designers making the decisions. Obviously though, not all players feel the same way and direct personal attacks are often the choice du jour for quite a few of my fellow gamers.
Right or wrong, I’m not really debating the methods here today. What I’ve been really curious is how most developers handle such criticism in the first place.
Let’s face it. If you design something, there’s bound to be some level of personal involvement there. You’ve put some thought and emotional investment into that design. Whether it’s a quest, a story arc, a zone, or some art asset, I can’t imagine this is a job that one just puts away at 5 PM every day and doesn’t pick up again till the next morning.
Development involves creating something. Game development involves creating something relatively creative. This isn’t traditional software design, where you’re putting together a new back-end for an internal CRM app, after all. This is something that people will be caring about, too. After all, games are a form of art, after all – and as with all art, there’s an element of emotion to the craft, from both the artist and the audience.
So what happens with the audience rejects the art. What if they only reject some aspect of the art?
Obviously, we all have our favorite SNAFU’s we can point back to and assign blame for. Some of us probably twitch when certain names are brought up. I’m sure others might feel their hackles raise a bit when certain decisions are mentioned.
But I wonder what it’s like to be on the other side of that directed hate. I wonder what it’s like to be the dev reading posts that call for firings and terminations when you’re that dev. How would you respond? How could you?
Obviously, not all design decisions are good ones. If this were the case, we’d never see changes in design philosophy or direction. Developers can’t exactly see the future and don’t have the luxury of the anonymity of the internet to hide behind most of the time. When a decision is made that ends up coming back ’round to haunt, I’d imagine developers realize that their names are right out there in brightly colored, bold font.
How do developers do it? How do they deal with the inevitable hate that crops up regarding their design decisions. This isn’t just consumer criticism here, but sometimes outright calls for vengeance and terminations. Some players act as though their monthly subscription gives them the right to call for a say in everything from hirings to organization (I’m not kidding - I could quote posts from most major MMO’s where players have requested that Developer X be reassigned from project Y to feature Z).
It would be amusing if it weren’t so serious to some players. Recently, I participated in a forum post over on Everquest 2′s forums where a player claimed to be physically angry over a particular spell’s lack of usefullness to him. Mind you, this is a level 13 spell that’s been in the game since launch, but he’s “physically angry” over it. On the FOH forums, there are players who aren’t just angry about Sigil’s internal implosion, but who are filled with a level of vitriol and vehemence that would compel me to leave any room I was in where someone shared such thoughts publically.
As a high schooler many years ago (more than I’d care to admit, actually), I once had a player (we’ll call him Jason B.) in one of my pen-and-paper Battletech games stand up and throw his dice at me because he didn’t like the fact that his character had just died due to (what he felt) was just a bad dice roll. Stood up. Threw dice. That’s not just frustration or anger. That’s rage. Over a game.
In Evequest 2, we play with these people every night, by the way. You’ll mention something about tradeskills, and they’ll tell you 18 different ways in which Beghn was the worst scum of human existance to ever step foot behind a keyboard. Ask about raiding or betas, and you’ll find at least one or two players who have choice things to say about Akil “Lyndro” Hooper. Bring up class hats around certain players and you’re in for an adrenaline fueled rant on how Chad Haley needs to be fired from his position as character art lead. Don’t even mention Frogloks and Moorgard in the same breath around certain players.
Most of us can discuss these topics without too much of a problem. Many of you probably have no idea who does what at SOE in the first place. You know there are “devs” and that they “design”, but most of you wouldn’t know your Higby’s from your Silverfrosts and that’s ok with most of you. If you don’t like something in the game, most of you would probably just complain about “what” you don’t like – and the “who” wouldn’t even enter into the equation.
But for the rest of you (and you know who you are), why the directed hate? Why the rage for specific people? Why get phyisically angry?
Every time I see one of those posts asking for someone to be fired, or claiming so and so doesn’t know how to do his or her job, all I picture is Jason B. across the table, standing up with a contorted look of sputtering rage, his face red, while he threw his 6 sided dice at me with what he must have felt would be the force of all righteous fury behind it.
Maybe at that point, it’s time for the player to be shown the door. That’s what I did for Jason B. Sure, he paid for the pizza that day, but that didn’t give him the right to come into my house and attack me directly, did it?
I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now. Obviously, he kept coming back. He kept rolling up characters and he kept dying due to “bad rolls”. But he never threw dice again. He knew what would happen if he did.
Maybe it’s just that easy in MMO’s, too. Maybe more developers need to be more willing to remove the really angry players sooner. It’s not to stifle criticism (which, of course, will be the immediate response from some players), but to show players where the line is.
Because there has to be a line.
When players start to become “physically upset” over level 13 spells in an online game, it’s only a matter of time before dice start to fly.