The Two Sides of Consumer Rage

The Two Sides of Consumer Rage

A little late, but when am I not?

pocru by pocru on Sep 29, 2017 @ 12:24 PM
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Twitter blew up last weekend when a game developer - a former employee of Ubisoft and BioWare named Charles Randall - went on a long Twitter tirade discussing matters of transparency in game development. Namely, how game developers wish they could be more honest and candid about the kinds of games and projects they're working on, but aren't because the community is so toxic that revealing anything to anyone could result in a great deal of stress, drama, and of course, threats. He points to several recent controversies, either by name or through obvious allusion, to support his argument: the Cuphead thing where people started talking about if being good at video games is a requirement for being a good games journalist. A recent Twitter thread where game developers talk about the little tricks and secrets they used to help make their games good. Gamergate. The Shadow of Mordor controversy regarding re-using code and animations. How games are constantly in a state of flux and change and how the community simply can't handle that.

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He's right, of course. To deny that gaming has a toxicity problem makes you either willfully blind or blisteringly stupid, and for as much as journalists, YouTube personalities, and fellow gamers get caught up in the bile, its publishers and developers themselves that wind up getting the majority of the hate. And why wouldn't they? They're the source, the beating heart of this massive industry and culture. Without them, we're nothing, and it's only natural to reserve the most hate for the things you need but hate to rely on. And if he really has worked for BioWare (a company working under EA) and Ubisoft, then he's got way more experience with this than most, given how hated those companies are even at the best of times (even though I've long argued EA has redeemed itself plenty of times).

But if I were just straight-up agreeing with him, this wouldn't be much of an article. No, what makes this worth discussing is what immediately followed, pulled directly from his Twitter feed:

Next time you don't like a game, maybe consider just... moving on? What is the value of helping spread hate and toxicity? If you are posting extremely negative things about a game you don't like, even with good intentions, you are contributing to this ethos. Being critical and explaining why you don't like something is fine. Dwelling on it, calling out the dev, or just talking crap is not.


And then, this:

ADDENDUM: If you argue: "some developers deserve it" or "there are two sides" or "not ALL gamers" congratulations! You get muted. Because either you've chosen to willfully ignore the points I'm making, or you are arguing in bad faith. I suffer neither. Ah, and it looks like a certain well known group of dumbasses has latched on. As expected! Thanks for proving my point.


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The latter of the paragraphs is problematic for all the most obvious reasons: for the first thirty-or-so tweets, I was 100 percent on this guy's side. He was being rational, sound, honest, and perfectly reasonable about the trouble with game development. He had the higher ground and was using it to communicate a point that most of us couldn't have seen from our position outside the industry. But then he falls into the very toxic trap he was rallying against all that time, off-hand dismissing any dissenting voices because they missed his point. As if his point is unassailable, which, I would argue, it's not.

Which is to say, I think he's absolutely right, 100 percent, with the thesis of his opinions. Harassment is bad. We should stop that. It's costing us an open and transparent game industry. It's his conclusion, or the former of those two quoted paragraphs, where I take issue. If not for the idea behind it, but for its execution. And his proposition that no game developer deserves it.

Well, he's right in some respects: no game developer deserves to be harassed. Nobody does. Harassment is never okay. But funny thing, as your other tweet nicely illustrated: concise, polite criticism followed by moving on doesn't ever work in this damn industry, which I'm quick to point out, has only thought up new and innovative ways to screw over customers ever since games got the ability to go online. If people had been polite and concise about the Xbox One being always-online, do you suppose Microsoft would have been quite so fast to get rid of the highly unpopular, controlling mechanism? Do you think this money-focused industry would be in a rush to do anything if people weren't passionate to the point of boiling about it?

Here's the thing, my dudes. I know there's a distinction between publishers and developers, and a lot of the hate people have in this industry is planted squarely on the shoulders of publishers. They're often the ones who mandate things like Season Passes, Microtransactions, in-game stores, etc., etc.. And given that you've worked for two developers who either work directly with a publisher or publish their own games, I can see why you think the hatred is uniform. And while I won't defend toxicity, I will say that for as much as you hate it when gamers are whiny and angry at developers, gamers have plenty good reason to be angry when publishers decide to add friggin' loot boxes to their single-player game.

See my article from two weeks ago on that subject. It's never, ever okay to do that.

That's where you're losing me, man, because while I agree with you, I don't agree with your assertion that there aren't two sides to this issue, because there very much is. And I know that's not an easy thing to swallow, per se, because I'm sure most of the hatred a company receives can be more precisely blamed on the decision-makers up top and the marketers who have no idea what they're really shilling. It's not fair that an individual coder will get an equal amount of blame for the microtransactions their $60 game has as the person who actually made the call to add it in.

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But then that's just how it is. An informed consumer is a good thing, but there are limits to exactly how informed you can expect a consumer to be. People were mad at United for beating up a passenger, they didn't specifically call out the people who landed the blows. You, inevitably, represent the company you work for. Don't like it, get a different job.

God, that came off pretentious. But you get what I mean, right?

And again, I am 100 percent behind the idea of not harassing anyone. The tricky part now is making sure we're on the same page as to what constitutes harassment. Threats to individual people? Bad. Threatening violence? Bad. Finding and violating someone's personal space or life? Bad. Attacking someone based on their sexuality, race, gender, etc.? Obviously bad. I'd like to think we can all acknowledge those as bad things to do.

But is - say - leaving a 0 on Metacritic and leaving a long-winded paragraph about why the game was terrible harassment? Or telling all your friends to avoid a game because it's awful, is that harassment? Or pointing to a specific feature of a game, say, the friggin' loot boxes, and calling those out as greedy and needless skinner-box techniques designed to trick us into giving something our money, is that harassment?

Is showing uniform dissatisfaction with an individual part of a game harassment? Calling out the buggy gameplay in Assassin's Creed Unity, or the weird-ass animations in Mass Effect Andromeda, does that count?

Look, it's true, Gamers overreact. Like I admitted in my post-mortem for Mass Effect, for all the flaws the game had, it was nothing worth shutting down the series for. But I don't actually mind that we overreact. And I don't think the games industry minds, either. It's interesting he pointed to No Man's Sky in his Twitter rant (which you should have read by now, if you've gotten this far) because that, as well as Peter Molyneux, are prime examples of how oftentimes publishers and developers take advantage of a gamer's obvious passion and exploit it to further their sales. I know, those were all cases of one man making promises the company behind him couldn't keep, but again, by working for those people, you volunteer to be represented by them. So you're being represented by liars who will stoke the flames of fandom for a quick buck and easy publicity. People who churn the waters now even knowing that one day it would turn to toxicity, that would be karmic if it werent for all the innocents caught up in the boil.

Toxicity that you, of course, invited when you decided to shut out dissenting opinions and called everyone who disagreed with you assholes. Because as critical as you are of gaming culture, it seems you're every bit a victim of it as you are a perpetrator.

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Well, not EVERY bit, it's not like a 50:50 ratio, but there's certainly some toxicity in there.

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