It’s a well-known fact that publishers and developers have a simple if effective manner of dealing with discontent with their player bases: if they don’t say anything, eventually the ire will ebb away. Players will be distracted by other releases, placated by out-and-out bribes, or simply calm down and just be bitter. It’s not that these publishers and studio’s don’t deserve to be forgiven for things like Aliens: Colonial Marines, Diablo III and Duke Nukem Forever- they need to do things to earn that forgiveness, forever. If they don’t, players need to remember the actions of studios when making their next purchase.
So what does any of this have to do with one of the strangest, loudest communities in gaming?
I’m not saying that the BioWare Social Network is a bad place. It’s not anything like turning on your headphones during a game of Call of Duty or League of Legends– but it’s a strange, zealous, loud place where things like Garrus body pillows aren’t considered particularly strange. Most of its denizens are the most hardcore fans of their franchises, and said franchises often deserve the kind of accolades that the players heap on them. However, the people of BioWare Social Network are often counted amongst the whiniest groups in gaming, which is something I find a touch unfair. They are the first to suggest content, and their enthusiasm for their franchises as well as their seemingly depthless pockets has helped series such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age grow. When a group of dissatisfied customers (henceforth referred to as Retakers, after their unfortunate group name) complained about the poor ending of Mass Effect 3, virtually the entire gaming community derided them without so much as bothering to listen to their complaints or requests, least of all BioWare or EA. The people in the Retake movement were labeled as ‘entitled’ and ‘spoiled’- something I find strange. If customers are dissatisfied about something, shouldn’t they stand up for themselves?
But wait a minute, all they did was loudly and clearly voiced their displeasure at a product they considered not up to their standards. I’m not going to reopen old wounds, but when even Jim Sterling begrudgingly admits that the Retake movement had a point, there may be something to it.
In fact, despite the smears and name-calling certain parts of the industry engaged in, they managed to beat the EA public relations machine. Silence was ineffective- the less BioWare and EA said, the louder and more public they became. Retake Mass Effect members drew attention from all sides as they (mostly) constructively lobbied BioWare and EA to deliver on their promises. Over 80,000$ was donated to charity as a form of protest. Some members even sent the BioWare headquarters cupcakes in an effort to make themselves heard. They even received attention from Forbes as their campaign continued- no less than five articles have been written about the ongoing saga of Mass Effect 3. What happened with SimCity and Aliens? EA slipped customers a free game, and everyone was happy. Blizzard sat down and shut up, and the fiasco regarding the lack of PvP and always-on DRM simply faded away with Diablo III. No major changes have occurred to the games, despite the fact that all three were shipped in a state that qualifies as ‘non-functional’. Diablo remains unimpressive more than six months on. Simcity has become something to shrug at. Where is the outrage? You dropped sixty or more dollars on a game that doesn’t function. Worse than that, it wasn’t an isolated incident- for you, or for simply that game.
The unwillingness of gamers to hold companies responsible, to agitate for what they were promised (namely a game that works) is at least partially responsible for the state of the industry today. EA and others know they can get away with murder, and do. BSN was thrown into an unrelenting fury that saw real-world good come from disappointment at an ending- not an issue of function. They brought EA to their knees over that- reams of content, including the Extended Cut DLC were released as a direct result. SimCity and Diablo players took it lying down, which is why those games are in the state that they are. Mass Effect has been improving since the public relations disaster; has Diablo? There are no ways for gamers to advocate for themselves, besides kicking up a fuss. Largely, by the time the average consumer figures out just how badly they’ve been fleeced, it’s too late. The sixty dollars has long ago been traded for a game that gives you a server error, something overlooked by reviewers playing on private servers.
We as gamers need to stand up to publishers and developers, or they’ll keep publishing crap and lying to consumers. I’m not saying that developers and publishers act maliciously or deliberately, but none the less they occasionally fail to follow through or support their products. The Mass Effect fiasco put a dent in EA’s stock prices, and only then did they start listening. It’s sad it’s come to that- I personally would rather not have to harm a company to get them to listen to perfectly valid complaints. It boils down to a matter of respect, and it seems that when it comes to dealing with most triple-A companies, they prefer to play by prison rules over civil discourse. The industry can’t stand much more of being battered between fans and publishers, and it’s sad. I hope that there can be some level of compromise , otherwise, it seems that our only recourse as consumers is to kick up as much of a PR nightmare as we can.