Massively Overthinking: What do you wish gamers knew about the games industry?

    
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I was surfing the comments of another gaming site’s article earlier this week when I stumbled upon a scathing note about games industry QA workers unionizing. “Nothing like a bunch of people who play video games for a living complaining about their jobs,” this person opined. “Pathetic people who want to stay home, play games and have the actual workers pay for it. Sorry but you don’t work, you don’t get to complain.” Literally everything about the comment was wrong, as the replies not-so-gently explained to him. Maybe he was trolling or astroturfing; we see those a lot on union-related articles.

Now, we’re not QA, but we see comments like that about games journalism all the time, and even from our weird intermediary space between gamers and industry, we can see the pain points between what players believe (or are led to believe by studios) and how things actually work. I also know we have a lot of game dev types in our readerbase; in fact, we have some on staff too, and no they don’t make MMOs. So between our writers and readers, I bet we could come up with a nice list of things we wish gamers knew about our jobs or the games industry as a whole that would actually help relations. Let’s do that for this week’s Massively Overthinking. Whether you’re a blogger, influencer, developer, avid volunteer, or gamer, tell us: What do you wish gamers knew about the games industry – or your job within it specifically?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): One that I love is that people seem to think we get all these free games and a living wage. Hahahahaha, yeah no, we don’t. In fact, sometimes it’s one or the other if you even get one of those, and I say this having worked for several websites (even once as an editor) covering everything from AAA Nintendo titles to indie mobile games. No joke, like artists, I’ve been “paid in experience,” which meant I paid for my own games and never saw a dime for my work. If someone is making big bucks, they probably are an insufferable streamer basically acting as the company’s freelance PR/marketing. And that’s not just game journalist/blgogers/streamers; that’s even people in the industry. I know someone who did major work on a recent AAA game (nothing we covered), and the company didn’t even give them a copy of the game from what I’ve heard.

And specifically on the topic of QA tester, it’s not just about playing video games. You’re basically given a small part of the game, like maybe the first few levels, and your job isn’t to just play the game; it’s to break it. One game I did QA for basically had a quest where I was asked to talk to an NPC, fetch an item, and return to that NPC. I skipped the first dialogue by avoiding the NPC, got the item, returned to them, and the game broke. And what’s sad is that this wasn’t even the earliest build of the game. Numerous other testers had access to it before me, but as the game didn’t yet have a major publisher, I would wager many of the other testers were more used to simply stress tests than any actual QA work. For me, it’s a prime example of the very basic difference between gamer thoughts and industry realities.

Andy McAdams: First and foremost, if you’ve ever uttered the words, “Why don’t they just X, it would be so easy,” I need you to immediately and unequivocally realize that you are wrong regardless of the subject matter. Things that seem to be easy on the surface are never what we expect them to be. In my non-MassivelyOP job, I work in software development in one of most technically complex fields for software development. So when I see things like, “It would be so easy to fix but they just won’t do,” it really grinds my gears partly because it’s never that easy. If it were that easy, engineering would just churn it out, and the change would be made. The fact that its not being made shouldn’t mean that you immediately jump to “OMG THEY ARE TERRIBLE ENGINEERS BECAUSE THEY WON’T FIX MY PET-ISSUE” but rather “wow, I see this a lot on the forums and its not getting fixed and so it must be more difficult than I thought.” Acknowledge your own Dunning-Kruger.

Related to the first, I want people to understand that not getting response to your thread on the forums doesn’t mean its not being worked on or talked about. There are a million and five reasons why a developer might not respond to a forum post. It could be that there are hundreds of these reports already, or they’ve already responded in another thread. Or yes, while this is important to you, there is other higher-priority work that has to get done, or they are looking at it but don’t have a delivery estimate on it yet. There’s an inherent danger in responding to things on the forums because players will assume a whole bunch of things that probably aren’t true and then get upset when those assumptions aren’t met. It has nothing to do with developers ignoring you or not caring about your pet issue; it’s a matter of priority of work and what responding publicly means to players, journalists, and others in the game’s orbit.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Generally, people who don’t do a job can never fully appreciate all that goes into it, be that job in healthcare, law, IT, and yes, even gaming and the games industry. Sometimes even people on the inside don’t fully grasp the complexities. I recall attending a reveal event from a major games studio, and representatives from that studio were surprised to learn that games journalism was not my full-time job. Those of us covering the event for various publications went around the table and took an informal poll. Only one of the six was a full-time journalist. It’s just not the kind of job that most people can make a living doing. Most of us do it because we love doing it.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I wish the average gaming fan truly understood how symbiotic game quality and treatment of game devs actually is. A studio that mistreats its workers does not hang on to good workers. If it does not hang on to good workers, eventually it does not make good games. It can take years to manifest, but if you watch long enough – and a lot of us writing and reading here today have been doing this for decades – it’s impossible not to see the enshittification process rippling through everything from AAA to MMORPG titles. Even if you’re a hardline anti-labor type of gamer, it’s in your personal interest as a gaming fan to recognize this cycle for what it is and support the workers who actually do the work of building the games you love.

And yes, I wish that people understood that neither QA nor games blogging is “a bunch of people who play video games for a living.” I get less gaming time writing about MMOs all day long than I did before, and I have altered what and how I play specifically because of this job, which is seldom to my personal advantage. I guarantee your favorite developer and streamer does the same. Work is work whether you enjoy it or not, and you don’t deserve mistreatment if you do enjoy it.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I feel like video game discourse needs to tone it down. It’s takes the fun away from the game. It opens up game devs to unnecessary criticism.

As a game journalist, I don’t really have anything I want the general gaming public to know about the job. Gamers are the clients, and as a gaming journalist, I want to provide a fair and accurate report of a product and the news that comes out. That’s all. Talking about my game journalist issues with gamers isn’t something I do because gamers don’t need to hear that. My job is to earn the trust of like-minded gamers and provide suggestions for their next game session.

As a gamer, I’m the same way. I honestly don’t want to have to hear about how hard game development is. In fact, that turns me off of the product. I remember that viral tweet that came out a few months ago where some guy said that Baldur’s Gate 3 is an anomaly and that it shouldn’t be seen as a new standard. It was cringe and just feeds into this recent perception of how out of touch game devs have become (I’m looking at you, Diablo IV dev team). It put a bad taste in my mouth for game devs and made me even less sympathetic. It made many of the folks who chimed in make me suspect I shouldn’t have any faith in the products they make and that the games they make will not be as good as Baldur’s Gate 3.

Outside of what I need to know about the unionization efforts and the current layoffs as a game journalist, I don’t go out of my way to find out how those efforts are going. I’m not going to stop it either. I hope all of this is worth it. Game better be good though cuz I ain’t buying it if it sucks.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): It drives me crazy when people say things like “They should just remake LOTRO in a new engine” or “Starfield is bad because it’s using a 20-something-year-old engine.” I’m not sure what people think an “engine” is. Unless you are developing in a third party engine like Unity or Unreal (which, if you’re using one of those generalized engines for an MMORPG for anything more than maybe some rendering shortcuts, you probably should scrap what you’re working on and build it custom), you could substitute “engine” for “code you wrote.” Yes, developers reuse code they wrote 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Why would you reinvent the wheel every time you design a car? Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad; it’s not as if we haven’t seen plenty of modern games marred by performance and optimization issues. In fact, some would argue that things like the falling cost of memory and such has made optimization a bit of a lost art. If the developers can’t fix the problems you see in the existing code, what makes you so sure they would be easy to fix if they started over from scratch? Not to mention the fact that this is a multi-million dollar proposition just so you can squeeze in a few more frames and a few more polygons.

The frustrating thing is, there really is something to be said for scrapping everything and starting over. Chances are the people who wrote the original engine code are long gone, so subtleties and the reasons for why code was written the way it was may be lost over time. Also, the requirements for a living product like an MMORPG are constantly changing, and the expectations for constant updates means there isn’t normally time for sweeping refactoring changes, which leads to less than optimal band-aid fixes. Like so many things, it’s a tradeoff: If I spend millions of dollars rewriting this, will the result be better enough to justify that time and money? The answer is rarely “yes.”

Still, I don’t think “engine” means what gamers think it means.

Oh, and I want shorter games with worse graphics made by people who are paid more to work less and I’m not kidding.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): That everyone involved are people — and studios are not. We tend to over-anthropomorphize studios while overlooking and devaluing individuals. Developers are people. Journalists are people. Gamers and consumers are people. We’re all faulty, geeky, passionate, and more on the same team than we’d like to admit — especially when we want to demonize a side because we’re upset about something.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I wish more gamers knew that games journalists don’t really get preferential treatment over the average player most times. I whined about the LOTRO website having an issue with my old account on the signup page over a couple months a few years back. I never heard anything back. On the podcast recently for several weeks I remember MOP’s Bree complaining about issues getting logged onto Palia I think. [Yep! And according to the Discord, I wasn’t the only one. Never did get it working, so I gave up. -Bree] Studios usually don’t care. At the end of the day we’re almost always just playing the same way as everyone else.

Tyler Edwards (blog): Well first of all a hearty “fuck you” to the person quoted in the intro. I have a friend who does QA for a triple-A developer, and she works herself to the bone.

On a similar note, I wish people would stop complaining about “lazy” devs. That’s not a thing, guys. I mean, sure, if you look hard enough, you could probably find one guy somewhere who’s just phoning it in, but by and large video game developers are incredibly hard workers. I do think some developers can occasionally be intellectually lazy — relying on the same old designs rather than taking chances — but that’s as likely to be driven by business forces as a lack of creativity, and it’s still not laziness in the sense a lot of people mean when they say it. They still work very hard to deliver on their visions, even if said visions are uninspired.

Game development is an industry that entails long hours, difficult conditions, and usually pay that’s mediocre at best. No one gets into game dev to make an easy paycheque.

On a different topic, I do wish people would stop thinking that “listen to player feedback” is a silver bullet that will solve all of gaming’s problems. Based on my (admittedly small) experience as a table-top designer, I’ve found the large majority of players never provide any useful feedback. Either they don’t offer feedback at all, their feedback is based on misunderstandings on the game mechanics, or their feedback is too vague to be actionable. This isn’t an indictment of them; providing useful feedback is a skill, and one that few people are born with or given cause to develop. Some people do have that skill, and they are incredibly valuable, but they are rare. In my experience, watching how people interact with your game is often more useful than listening to what they’re saying about it.

It must be even harder for MMO devs, where the player population is infinitely larger and more complex. The players of an MMO rarely agree unanimously on much of anything, and the people who give the most feedback are often the most hardcore players, creating a skewed picture if player feedback is all you’re paying attention to.

That doesn’t mean that player feedback is useless or that it should be ignored outright. It can be a useful data point, but it is just one among many. I feel like some people have it in their heads that it’s this perfect roadmap to solving every problem a game has, and all the devs need to do is read the forums enough, and everything will be perfect. It’s not that simple.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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