You know what I hate? No, not just botting. No, not people with more cash to spend on game development than sense about whether it’s wise to do so. No, not esports. I mean, I do hate all of these things, but… all right, let’s start again.
One of the things that I really hate is pointless arguing. And a lot of that ties in with terminology. I’ve written before about the idea that we need to get rid of certain terminology because it just doesn’t mean anything any longer, because it’s actively harmful to discussing and figuring out how to move forward.
Nothing here is as simple as a term; all of these are arguments or viewpoints that get parroted back and forth and are similarly unhelpful. They don’t raise discourse, they don’t improve discussion or thinking, they don’t help us understand anything. They just help create a mess. And so it’s really time to stop bringing these things up when we’re talking about the genre, because… well, you’ll see what I mean.
1. “This is a cash grab!”
Obviously, this is an argument that still does in fact mean something. There are obviously actions that are meant as blatant cash grabs (for example, everything related to PlanetSide Arena) and it’s understandable that it’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth. This is correct and just. The problem is that this gets trotted out for everything related to selling a product, from sales to reasonable actions to actual cash grabs.
The trouble is no matter how much a given action may be a cash grab, the once-useful nature of pointing out cash grabs has given way to just general scoffing that these companies might try to sell you something. Worse yet, it’s usually placed out there to stop discussion, instead of asking why something might be a cash grab or what it’s trying to accomplish or why this is harmful or… you know, any of that.
We get it, no one wants to pay for things, least of all my stingy rear. But if we call anything that costs money a cash grab, we sort of lose the nuance. “Cash grab” as an argument needs a rest for a while.
2. “Developers still haven’t fixed X!”
This is something that comes up a lot when you have, say, someone angry about housing in Final Fantasy XIV. It’s an understandable point of anger. What makes it a problem is when in literally every other discussion about the title, this point gets brought up, regardless of whether or not one thing has anything to do with the other. “Who cares if job balance is being tweaked? The developers still haven’t fixed housing availability!”
Do I get being upset about persistent issues that aren’t fixed? Yes, I certainly do. But I recognize that if the developers aren’t talking about them after acknowledging that the issue exists, that’s not because the team just decided to do something else. It’s because big projects with lots of moving pieces are not always easy to address, and sometimes you want to fix a balance issue but you also have a major bug to patch and new content to roll out and you’re still figuring out how to fix that balance issue. You can have more than one thing going on.
3. Categorical obstructionism
One of the biggest things that bothers me when I see it argued is “well, it’s a themepark game, what do you want?” Based on my own work, it comes up a lot when talking about the fact that World of Warcraft could be doing much better than it is, putting forth more features, more options, whatever.
But it’s hardly unique to that game or community. Toxic players in a MOBA? Well, it’s competitive gaming, it’s just like that. Buggy messes in early access? Come on, it’s early access. Star Citizen wants you to pay $10,000 for Chris Roberts to tell you about a dream he had regarding horses? Yeah, that’s just what the game does.
This is a bad argument. “Themepark” is not a justification; it’s a category that broadly describes a kind of game and only includes riders like “no housing” so long as you allow it to do so. There’s no mechanical reason why a MOBA can’t have a decent community; there are companies not interested in putting forth the effort. You get the idea. Making an excuse of “what do you expect from X” is the sort of argument that can and should always be met with “more, and so should you.”
4. The creativity/innovation gap
You see a lot of Kickstarters for old-school throwback titles offering the idea that there’s no more creativity of innovation to be found in modern MMOs. It’s always just the same old thing! So support our game, which we’re claiming is innovative and creative despite the fact that it is literally made of mechanics from the past exaggerated to a higher degree!
I don’t need to explain why “creative and innovative” and “deliberate throwback to old design” are opposite ideas, do I? That’s obvious by definition, right? If it’s not, just think about what those words mean for a bit.
5. “Instant gratification”
Gosh, this one comes up a lot from the aforementioned club, too? But it also comes up from players, people who, for example, are angry that these days you can just log in and get things from doing a single run of dungeons. Why, back in my day you had to spend a year of farming items from difficult content to just have a chance at getting a good weapon!
For the record, this was in fact my day, and if MMOs still worked like Final Fantasy XI did when I first played, I would no longer play them. The idea of “instant” gratification bears little resemblance to what anyone would call “instant,” it’s just a matter of “less time spent with tedious patience so you can spend more time actually doing things.”
Now, if you think the things you’re doing aren’t fun in their own right? Valid criticism. If you think something offers rewards that are too good for time spent compared to other activities in the game? Also valid. If you’re salty because someone can now get their Sword of Really Hurting Guys in a couple of weeks instead of the better part of a school year? That’s not instant and it’s not a useful complaint.
6. “But game X did this!”
This is one I kind of debate putting here because it’s the closest to having a solid core argument. Sometimes it seems really just plain wrong to hear that, say, WoW can’t do something while FFXIV is over here doing exactly that without any sort of trouble. But the reality is that just because one game is capable of doing something doesn’t mean that other games are necessarily capable of the same trick.
The fact of the matter is that games have lots of different engines, restrictions, development teams, development tools, development pipelines… there’s a lot of things that can make something very easy for one team to do but very difficult for another, without getting into the fact that different development teams have different priorities. You can point to another game doing something as a reason a given title should do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy road.
7. “This is just pandering to group X!”
If there’s one thing I have learned players hate, it’s when something is not for them. Which means that basically anything that’s targeting a different player group than the one the speaker belongs to can be argued as pandering to a given group. New high-end challenges are just pandering to endgame meatheads, new PvP modes are just pandering to PvP trash, new cosmetic options are just pandering to RP weirdos, and so forth.
In the strictest definition, this is true. These inclusions are pandering to people by giving them something. But that’s about it.
Far more important than if a given update is offering something to a group is whether or not the design philosophy is centered around it. If every update is primarily catering to one player group, that’s the group the designers want to keep around; then it becomes a question of what appeal features not aimed at the main group might have. But more often than not this is just used as a shorthand for “this isn’t for me, so I don’t see the point.” And of course you don’t see the point; it isn’t for you.
8. “MMOs are social games”
This is – universally – brought up in favor of making games more obnoxiously group-centric or in critique of people who want to enjoy a lot of their playtime solo. And to explain why this argument doesn’t mean what people think it means, I’m going to use my marriage.
It will not surprise anyone to know that marriage is a social thing. By definition, it’s two people agreeing to live together and support one another. My wife and I were best friends for years before we were married. Our marriage is very much a social existence and a gathering between two people who respect one another.
But you know what we don’t do? Spend all of our time together doing the same things. We spend a good chunk of time together every day, talk and commiserate and laugh and enjoy one another’s company. But there are times when we’re just doing things separately. Sometimes our social time is just both of us doing our own thing in shared spaces, even though we’re not really actively talking at the time. Because “social” does not have to mean “always together or it doesn’t count.” It just means existing in a shared space.
9. Health vs. merit
It doesn’t need to be said that Glitch was not financially successful. That doesn’t make it a bad game; that makes it a failure as a marketing commodity. Something can be very good and also very unsuccessful, just like something can be absolutely awful and still make a whole bunch of money. Similarly, something can be very healthy from a financial standpoint and also not very creative. And something can be so financially unsuccessful that it wound up dying while still being worthy of discussion.
To use an obvious personal example, City of Heroes is gone. It was shut down. That doesn’t mean that it no longer needs any consideration when talking about the genre; it did have a period of success, it accomplished what it did, and it had its positive and negative aspect that deserve consideration and evaluation. The health of a game is not the sole metric for whether or not it’s worth discussing unless you’re discussing the most profitable models over long periods, after all.
10. “Who cares?”
This is, without a doubt, the one that bothers me more than anything else. There is always someone who chimes in to ask who cares about something because the person asking doesn’t care and thus why should anyone else?
And the reason should be self-evident. There are people who care about things you don’t. There are games I think of as boring enough to be used as a sleep aid for insomniacs that some people adore, and even if I don’t personally care all that much they do. And the very least I can do is to not imply that no one cares about something when I know, from years of experience, that there is always somebody who cares.
Every game is someone’s favorite. Every event matters to someone. Every change has an impact, and the fact that it’s not important to you doesn’t change the fact that is important to someone.
If you’re asking who cares, you obviously care enough to ask. Just let things pass without comment if you don’t care about them.