“Everyone has a right to their opinion, but more and more I see negative comments on news articles dealing with MMOs. It’s not for me to say whether they are justified or not and I can be just as guilty as the next person; I just wonder what you guys think about the way our genre is talked about. If I were a developer reading all the negativity, I think I would create a different type of game. What do you think? Are we at least sometimes doing more harm than good? When gamemakers slow down or decide not to make MMOs, could we be at least partially to blame?”
Let’s hash it out.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Oh man, where to start? Maybe with my own guilty admission: I’ll often be the first to note that MMOs as many of us remember them are pretty much dead, and I can’t see them coming back in the same form.
That being said, any developer who quits because of our feedback probably isn’t in the right line of work. In fact, I’d argue a lot of devs are working in voids, almost unaware of their competition and the history of the genre, especially outside of their nationality. While it may be negative, a lot of readers smack their heads in our comments section because they’re on the ground seeing how disconnected some devs are. It’s frustrating. Sometimes the devs are right and make something awesome, but it’s uncommon.
On the other hand, raw positive commentary isn’t helpful either. I hate bringing it up, but I remember being one of the first people to publish my doubts about Wildstar, even among colleagues who vocalized similar opinions. Earlier criticism may have helped… or not. We’ll never know, but unmitigated hype can blind devs to how things may be perceived outside their circles. Just look at Fortnite. The game it originally was received some positive feedback. It seemed like something our readers might really enjoy. Then it became a “PUBG clone,” and clones always sound like horrible cash grabs. And maybe that’s what it is, except it’s certainly a major competitor.
My point is that criticism, positive or negative, isn’t a major factor. It’s how the devs use it in their decision making process, if that even matters. What criticism does do, however, is bring attention to the game. Nothing is worse than making something no one knows exists. Good or ill, don’t be afraid to critique!
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I don’t think Threespeed is wrong. I think the negativity in comment sections (and Reddits and forums and social media) about some games has definitely amped up. As I am typing this, somebody just sent MOP a tweet saying he hoped all the devs at a studio lost their jobs, as if most of those people weren’t just trying to make a living and had nothing to do with the studio’s management screwups. That didn’t really happen five, six, seven years ago. Yeah, it’s amped up.
It’s frustrating because while hoping people are fired and rendered destitute is awful, I’m not actually sure negativity in general is the wrong take, and the two often get conflated. The MMO industry is having issues – design, boredom, community, culture, crunch, crowdfunding, toxicity, scams, you name it. It’s not entirely new, of course; trust me, people were angry and mean on MMO forums 10 and 20 years ago too (you guys would be amused to see what Crossroads of Britannia looked like back in 1997 on Ultima Online’s patch days). But let’s also not be blind to how discourse has changed, how cultural permission to be cruelly edgy and the amplification and immediacy of social media make it way too easy to be an effective jerk online rather than just somebody shouting into the void.
And yes, over these long years, the genre’s innate problems and unforced errors have taken their toll on gamers tired of waiting, tired of being taken advantage of, tired of being outright lied to, tired of paying for half-assed games, tired of watching the genre dwindle to five or six big titles still worth playing, or what have you. And they get bitter and lash out. And pretty soon, as MOP’s MJ quipped this week, every single MMO studio is the worst studio ever according to our commenters.
I don’t necessarily think it’s particularly worse for MMOs than other online genres, for what it’s worth, and I don’t think that studios are shying away from MMOs specifically because of that, not when the clear market rationale to avoid expensive/slow/hard genres in favor of cheap/fast/easy genres is so much more obvious and pressing. If anything, some studios seem to be attempting to harness the toxicity intentionally. If you’ve ever seen a fanboy brigade for one of the old-school or hardcore indie games at work, you’ll know what I mean. But I do think the negativity poses a unique problem for any online game where the community is actually a core selling point.
As writers, we’ve got an extra burden to not sugarcoat but also not provoke. I’m not going to squelch a news post that’s going to go negatively just for the sake of protecting a studio from hearing painful truth. We have to be honest first. Buuuuut I’ll probably make sure we also have some palate-cleansing editorials and feel-good puff pieces on the docket too. (This was one of the reasons we started the Warm Fuzzies tag, for example – to serve as a counterweight for Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.)
As readers or commenters – here or anywhere else – you can report and ignore trolls and maybe more importantly make sure that you’re piping up too so that their voices aren’t the only ones being heard. And then make sure you’re supporting the happy, positive articles and streams and roleplaying and communities and charity events such you’re saying you want to see instead!
And hey, look. Real life sucks for a lot of people right now. Gamers aren’t immune. “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows” and all that. But sometimes it is. Try to have some balance and don’t use the comments, gamers, devs, and video games as your punching bag.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’ve written about this very idea on my own blog a couple of times – about how being just as aggressive about things you like as those you dislike – and I’m pretty sure I’ve read about subjects like this on other blogs like Contains Moderate Peril. Some MMO communities and multiplayer sub-genres certainly can strike as the sort that would make me shy away as a developer, and there definitely seems to be a greater onus on us as a community to express things we don’t like in a far less vile way. However, I believe devs should perhaps provide more ways to collect actual insightful input than just leave a forum open and wade through chest-high text-based muck.
In the end, there needs to be a greater emphasis on being genuinely, unabashedly appreciative of the MMOs you like. Even if being happy doesn’t get as much “action” metrics-wise as those who like to post their hottest, most unfiltered takes. So in other words, yea, I agree we as MMO fans are kind of shooting ourselves in the foot. Or at least slowly stepping on broken glass, willfully ignorant to the pain it causes.
Oh, we need more? Taken as a whole, MMORPG players are far more cynical, jaded, and disgruntled than they were a decade or two ago. Look to Reddit. Look on official forums. Read global chat. There is so much negativity out there that it creates a lethal feedback loop for MMOs. It seems like we can’t be excited about anything; we just have to dump on the studios, on the games, on every patch, on every decision, on every developer note, on the future, on the past… just everything. I keep seeing the vocal community acting like spoiled brats that can’t give anything a real chance without comparing it to impossible standards or demanding absurd feats on behalf of the studios.
Of course, we can’t over-generalize here. Lots of us are still enjoying games and ignoring these sour pusses. But we’re not being as loud about our excitement as the “MMOs suck” crowd is, so the perception is that it’s tilting the other way. It’s wearing down the developers, it’s pushing away potential players, and it’s not constructive at all.
Be critical. Be analytical. But also be an outspoken fan of the things in which you delight. Give praise as well as criticism. Stop living in the past and stop feeding the trolls. We can help make this genre better, but it’s got to be a concerted effort not to be drowned out by the negative Nellies out there who will never be satisfied or happy.
Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): I mean, yeah, I think when people take to forums, or Reddit, or the comments sections of certain news blogs and websites to just put a game or a developer on blast, it definitely does more harm than good. I think that much is obvious. The problem is that people, by and large, don’t really want to put in the time and effort required to provide constructive criticism — it’s difficult to take a balanced look at something, be it a game, a book, a movie, or whatever, and give even-handed feedback. It’s a hell of a lot easier to just make a list of the things that you don’t like and lambast the devs for their terrible design and decision-making.
If you’re asking me to provide a possible solution, though, I’m afraid I don’t really have one. This is the Internet, where everyone has their two cents and any number of avenues through which to broadcast it, and by virtue of the fact that complaining is easy and constructive criticism is hard, I imagine there’s always going to be more of the former than the latter. I guess all we can really do as MMO fans and communities is do our best to encourage constructive conversation discourage vitriolic negativity, and just hope for the best.