Gamers Whiny Crybabies Because Game Developers Suck at Games

Long before the proliferation of Internet forums, there was a time when a friend of mine looked at one of my other friends, and then punched that bastard in the face. Why? “Because”, that’s why. Oh certainly he’ll say it was because we was defending the honor of the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, which towered in superiority over the Genesis version. However, blood cheat code or no, 16 bit sound or no, each side in the argument all boiled down to which version was mentioned in which kid’s affected, stilted pre-teen letters to Santa. But still we’d fight to the death to defend it, or at least fight until we were easily separated by our mothers.

Those with Atari Jaguars needed extra protection.

Our generation of gamers is now older and generally more enabled to buy games without the aid of our parents, but have the arguments gotten any better? As Treyarch Community Manager Josh Olin artfully put it in a recent interview, probably not. He calls out video game culture as arbitrarily “contrarian”, calling negative gamer attitude one of the biggest hurdles facing the games industry today. The gaming site The Armchair Empire was quick to respond, deftly dodging the point while defending gamers at large. The author maintains that people are “forking out” more for games than ever before (“often $60 a pop, then paying even more for DLC down the road”). In the editorial’s opinion “If $60 games didn’t get released so often with bugs still in them…, gamers would have one less reason to be upset”. Yet the article never actually addresses Olin’s original point, that negative attitude stunts creativity and innovation. He says “gamers seem to forget what this industry is all about.”

Now now children. I’m more than happy to settle this issue. You’re both right; and you’re both dead wrong.

It may be anecdotal evidence, but just about any gamer that has long since popped his last zit probably remembers paying $79.99 for a new copy of Chrono Trigger for SNES. We could adjust that price for inflation, but that seems like overkill. And that’s without delving into the world of the rich kids, the guys rocking a 3DO or NeoGeo, sometimes paying well over $100 for a new cart. And what did those early ‘90s dollars buy you?

8 playable characters? The future starts today.

They bought you games that were made in the early ‘90s. Often unbalanced, difficult, and narrow in scope, classic games were still great for many reasons. Those early pioneers shaped creative building blocks that modern games are built on. Indeed as a game developer I’ve worked with designers that say “I’m looking for a feature like that old game X had. They really nailed it, if we can get it at least as good as game X I’ll be happy”. So we go off of memory and iterate and fuss over it, all the while saying “it’s still clunky, we really just need to do it like game X”. So finally we bite the bullet and boot up game X and find…

Nothing. The game doesn’t even have a feature like that. That’s because game X is an ancient game made by a team of four and plays like a bus piloted by ROB the Robot.

Next stop: the bottom of an endless pit

What it actually did was create a feeling that sparked the imagination, leaving dormant creative seeds that led us to invent features that we assume must have been there.

Old school is archaic and bare bones, and don’t let the lying fugue of nostalgia tell you differently.

The fact of the matter is that gamers are getting an unbelievable amount of content and creativity for their dollar today, and they’re not even really paying more. In addition to that, digital distribution is enabling the attitude that games should be free or nearly free, meaning that consumers are more enabled and listened to than ever before. And yet this exponential increase in content and scope comes with a loss of perspective thanks in part to the power of nostalgia and a newfound sense of entitlement.

What, no HD?

To put it more succinctly and in the words of stand-up comedian Louis CK, “everything is amazing and nobody is happy”.

But don’t get smug over there Treyarch Community Manager Josh Olin. You either “games industry at large”. Anybody else notice that we skipped our last hardware generation, trading an increase in processing and rendering power for waggle controls and brazen pandering to the casual gaming segment? What was that all about?

The fact of the matter is that sometime since the release of Doom 3, the games industry has been producing software that cannot meet the demands of new hardware. And yes, this is partially due to the unprecedented level of expectation being put on new games. The sheer size of the problems that game developers are forced to solve has been growing exponentially, and old ways of game making just aren’t working anymore. And indeed, as The Armchair Empire pointed out, quality is slipping, even if the bar is set much higher than it ever has been before.

So what is the solution? I can tell you what it isn’t, and that is a call to consumers to tell them to stop being so damn demanding, and that is only partly because that kind of tactic is pointless and unachievable. It’s unfortunate that the games industry is now in the business of keeping up with gamer’s demands, because at one time it was about shattering their expectations. That role and responsibility of the games industry hasn’t ended just because the job suddenly got hard.

Gamers, “game industry”, I’ve been meaning to sit you both down. I only say this because I love you both. Gamers, I hate to sound like your father on a car trip trying to get your eyes off your Gameboy and onto the beautiful scenery. But take a look around and smile for God’s sake. Games today rock. You have no idea how much awesome is bleeding through your fingers while you invent new emoticons to express impotent rage. Trust me, your angry Kotaku article comment thread will wait. And “games industry”, reinvent, renew, and create new ways of working. Don’t whine needlessly about a fanbase that doesn’t appreciate you. “Gamers seem to forget what this industry is all about”? It’s you, “games industry”, that has lost your way.

Are we clear you two? Don’t make me come back there and separate you. I swear I’ll turn this car around.