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On Gamer Entitlement

On Gamer Entitlement

Gamers are spoiled children. I speak on behalf of myself, my friends who play games, and everyone else who is part of this massive industry whom I’ve never met. We are a fickle, stubborn group of individuals and we don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. So why do we think we do?

The term “gamer entitlement” has been tossed around lately in light of the recent Mass Effect fiasco. Many gamers – again, myself included – felt slighted by the rather unceremonious ending to BioWare’s sci-fi trilogy. This is long passed the time to continue rioting about that, however; the subject of entitlement was a standard in the industry before Mass Effect 3 that it seems almost fruitless to try to label it now. But it cannot be ignored, that’s for sure.

Campaigns like “Retake Mass Effect 3” sprung up immediately following the fan outcry over the ending.

BioWare may have many questions to answer on its behalf, and it’s certainly not the star child it once was in the eyes of gamers; but what about another company, like Valve for instance? The Washington-based PC development team has a long-standing mutual and respectful relationship with its customers, in large part due to its open-door policies and certainly because of the consistent quality of their games. Co-founder and current managing director, and industry darling, Gabe Newell is on record as one of the most personable men in the business, who has gone so far as to directly reply to fans in e-mails and on open forums. Even the not-so-occasional Episode 3 jokes are made light because the fans have come to respect the work of Valve, for however long a game remains in development.

So why am I seeing a rather sudden and spontaneous backlash toward the company? It’s simple: entitlement. You see, Valve’s digital distribution service known as Steam has become a mega-success since its inception in late 2003. Millions of games, old and new, and of every different type have been made available for digital download through Steam. It’s become a rather notorious marketing tool for many publishers as well, offering Steam-specific bonuses if you pre-order or purchase a game through the store. And perhaps its biggest contribution to the industry: the discount sales.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on Steam buying games that in their prime were worth six times as much. Steam’s seasonal sales have opened the doors for gamers to experience thousands of titles they would have otherwise passed by if not for their reduced price. I personally know people who have purchased games through Steam at sale prices simply because they were on sale. Dozens of games sit in backlogs all across the world, waiting to be played, but taking pride in the fact that they were purchased. Valve has done a tremendous service to the independent side of the industry as well, with successes like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Limbo owing a significant portion of their sales figure to the service thanks to crazy-low-and-insanely-frequent discount prices.

One of the more recent Steam sales featuring a number of last year’s biggest titles.

So I ask again: why the backlash? Well, a month or so into this scorching summer season, Valve has yet to open up their annual summer sale. It’s that time of the gaming year when blockbuster retail launches are few and far between: with nothing until at least September, gamers have to remain satiated with the first half of the year, or return to that ever-growing backlog of games. Valve’s summer sales have always been a huge success both financially and commercially: major games of years passed dropping to as low as $9.99, and bundle deals left and right. But so far, nothing of the sort. And we, oh we righteous many, are furious. But what right do we have to get upset? A sale is a privilege, not an obligation.  Valve has done us a great benefit in the past by providing us ample opportunities to appreciate many of these lost or overlooked games, so why hate them for it?

The measure of animosity I’ve seen in the last week or two toward not just the company as a whole, but sometimes even Mr. Newell himself, is outrageous. This was, and is still, a beloved studio in the industry, and is responsible for some of the most iconic figures and moments in gaming history. How a loyal group of fans could so rapidly turn against them isn’t just ironic, it’s downright disheartening. BioWare’s descent into gamer purgatory was gradual, a process accelerated only by their acquisition by and association with EA, the Ebenezer Scrooge of the industry. But Valve has remained largely independent of the big time corporate machinations. People tend to forget that Valve, for all its merit, is still a rather small, privately owned organization.

That sense of entitlement stems from the belief that we as gamers own the rights to the titles we purchase. Because we spend our money to experience these games, they must adhere to our ideals. It’s a strange concept, however, because even in the world of piracy, entitlement exists. 2011’s Dark Souls was a rousing success and my personal game of the year. It led in its wake a legion of fans so enthusiastic about it that they wanted to share their experiences with their ill-forgotten PC brethren. A petition was formed, and within a few short days, it reached a whopping total of nearly 70,000 signatures. Publishers Namco Bandai were so enthralled by the show of support, it didn’t take long for the official announcement to be made that Dark Souls was heading to PC – with additional content.

But then, the caveat: Games for Windows Live. A counterpart to Valve’s Steam, GFWL is Microsoft’s digital rights management that allows users to connect to their Live service and allows for several cross-platform features with the Xbox 360 such as voice chat and play. It was a great concept. Unfortunately, it has endeared itself a reputation for being extremely flimsy and otherwise unreliable (and that’s being nice). The fact that Dark Souls’ fans, a militia of hugely passionate gamers, were savvy to the plights of GFWL only made matters worse. It wasn’t long before these fans, these same precious individuals who signed the petition to get Dark Souls on the PC in the first place, were threatening to pirate the game if a Steamworks version wasn’t included.

A photoshopped version of the PC box art with “GFWL” replacing “Dark.” Clever girl.

There was so much anger that another petition was quickly formed to persuade Namco Bandai to remove GFWL from the game. Like those who turned on Valve out of a false sense of betrayal, gamers were turning on their favorite game because it wasn’t to their exact liking. I wasn’t upset with these people. I was confused. How can someone so enthusiastic about a game be so hypocritical? It made me question the integrity of the petition to begin with: did these so called starved PC gamers ever truly desire Dark Souls enough to show support, or was it all a ploy, a trick just to make the game available for piracy? It’s not something I’ll ever be able to answer, but until the day of the PC launch of Dark Souls, my heart skips a beat. If the financial results of this version are not up to standard, this entire effort will have been for naught. The potential for any more future Souls games on the PC is slim to none. And that is a terrible tragedy.

I’m not here to argue that there aren’t some things I have wanted out of a company or a title. And no, I will not lie to you: I am one of the many who was upset with Mass Effect 3’s ending. These feelings are natural, and I take pride in letting people know my opinion. But I never felt deserving, only lied to. It’s on this basis that I expressed my dislike of the ending and my desire to see more – not my right. The deeper you go, the murkier the situation becomes. But in the case of Valve or Namco Bandai, it seems generosity has inadvertently bred a monster. And you wouldn’t like gamers when they’re angry.

7 Comments

  1. Very poignant and a saddeningly true reflection on our culture as a whole; and I am not referring only to gamers. As human nature dictates that the more we get the more we want, we descend along an inevitable downward spiral toward some horrible whining singularity. While I’d abandoned the series long before it hit shelves or even arcades, Street Fighter 3 springs immediately to mind. 2 was such a huge success, and instead of a 3, we kept getting updated versions of 2. By the time 3 was about to come out, gamers were simultaneously saying it shouldn’t jump the shark with new characters, but that they didn’t want to see too many of the old ones; the gaming community at large had decided the game was going to suck before it even came out. We’re one of the worst audiences out there. Even I, personally, couldn’t tell you what I like in a game, but can (and have on numerous occasions) give a long list of what I don’t.

    I suppose, though, partially to blame are “professional critics”, who give nothing below a 9/10 to even an average game (need I remind you of the 8.8 fiasco?), and as high as a 7/10 to a game they absolutely tore to shreds in a review. Imagine picking up a 9.4/10 (that’s six tenths of a point away from perfection) and getting something Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2; essentially the same game as its predecessor and anything but a masterpiece. I’m sure it’s not a terrible game, but it’s not that close to perfect. I know that kickbacks often factor in to that, but with an industry so rife with hype about AAA titles, disappointment is bound to grow. I remember being super excited to see Steven Spielberg’s AI, and nearly walking out of the theatre for the first time in my life. In today’s world of hyperbole, calling everything above kittens playing with yarn “epic” or “amazing”, we’ve lost sight of what either of those even mean.

    So yes, many of us are spoiled little princes and princesses, hurling bowls of hot stew at those who would bring us nourishment, just because it’s less than perfect. Perhaps worse still is that many of us are in our 20s and 30s without ever having matured into kings and queens, and that our culture condones that. If we, as gamers, as a nation, as a planet, wish to gain any respect, we have to turn our attitude around; we should play more obscure titles so we don’t get lost in the comparatively small seAAA, experience some bombs every once in a while to remind us of the difference between good and bad games, and submit ourselves to austerity more often to remind us that, while deep stories and hyperrealistic graphics are nice, sometimes the humble ancient/independent game with low production values can be just as entertaining and fulfilling; if you only ever eat caviar, you’ll vomit the moment even the finest of spaghetti touches your lips.

  2. While I agree with your points on Valve and its , I disagree with your idea that there is a gamer entitlement. As you might have read I believe we think more for the befit of the industry and the gamers and our industry is the industry which constantly robs and abuses its customers. We need more gamer entitlement, not less.

    • I get what you’re saying, but I still feel gamers as a whole think they are entitled without reasonable belief. You say the industry robs us, but it doesn’t. They don’t force us to buy the new Call of Duty, which is exactly like the last game, or all of the dozens of map packs and subscription fees for it. We, or those gamers who play it, choose to buy that stuff. And then they get mad after the fact when they realize it’s all the same.

      If you don’t want to be “robbed,” don’t buy that game. Buy something else. Show support toward things that are innovative and new. Don’t tread old ground. The industry doesn’t rob us, we rob ourselves and then expect to be catered when we find it isn’t to our liking. That was my point: gamers are stubborn and indecisive. We don’t know what we want, but we expect to somehow get it and assume the industry knows.

      • I’m with Mike here; while I’d say we have every right to judge the quality of the content given and voice our opinions on what we’d like to see in the future, we don’t have the right to subvert company policies or assume editorial control over someone else’s artistic project because we don’t agree with it.

        Perhaps it’s the voice of the internet that enables this line of thinking, or that online rallies have recently received some public success with Nintendo’s Operation Rainfall campaign, or DoubleFine’s Kickstarter project. In any case, gamers would do well to calm down a bit when certain projects don’t go their way. Time’s better spent finding games you do enjoy rather than complaining about the ones you don’t.

  3. Reggie Fils-Aime recently said in an interview with Kotaku that gamers are impossible to satisfy, and I completely agree.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/06/25/nintendos-reggie-fils-aime-says-gamers-are-impossible-to-satisfy/

    In his example, he states that people have been demanding a new Pikmin for years. When we finally get one, we want/demand more, or something else. “Where’s Star Fox? Where’s F-Zero? Where’s Mother 4?” It is impossible to comprehend.

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