Did I miss a memo?
Was I out sick the day that we, as MMORPG fans, decided that there would be a law stating that only one MMORPG may be popular or even considered good at any point in time and that those who disagree must fight tooth and nail until a winner is declared?
I have to assume that this is what happened, because what I am seeing more and more of with the release of every new MMORPG is a concerted effort by those who enjoy new release MMO X to convince the world that the game is the greatest thing since the microchip and a counter effort from fans of MMO A,B and C trying with all of their might and energy to prove that MMO X is the biggest waste of money ever to see the light of day.
Have we really become so polarized as fans that there is only good and bad with no in between? Has it really come to a point where my enjoyment of a game has to mean that no other opinion is valid?
I really wish I’d been there the day that memo was handed out, because this attitude has created a number of serious problems that are doing nothing but hurting the industry as a whole:
The first thing I want to talk about is the damage being done by the hyperbole and exaggeration that have become commonplace in the world of MMORPGs. Every single day, on numerous forums and elsewhere, I read that MMO X (and you really can fit pretty much any title into that space… go ahead, pick a title and I bet you’ll find these examples) is the buggiest game ever, or it’s a scam by the developers, or it’s an unplayable PoS, or it’s exactly like MMO Y, or that MMO X killed babies (ok, I made that one up). The list goes on.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of hyperbole going around on the other side of the coin as well: Game X is going to kill WoW in a week, or Game X has no bugs, or Game X had the smoothest launch ever, etc. etc. etc.
The problem is, where everyone is jumping up and down to tell you how extremely good a game is or how extremely bad a game is without any real commentary or follow-up or apparent thought whatsoever that extends beyond personal opinion, people have just stopped listening, and who can blame them? Other players who are looking for genuine thoughts on a game are going to pass right by these overly glowing or overly critical assessments and discount the posts as more of that garbage you read on the internets through that series of tubes. Developers (who read these and other forums far more than you think) who you might be trying to convince of your point of view are going to do the same thing, I assure you.
I’m not saying that sometimes these harshest of criticisms and glowingest of praises aren’t completely justified. After all, there IS going to be a worst launch ever, there IS going to be a smoothest launch ever. It’s really just a good old fashioned case of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Everyone’s heard these arm flailing arguments so many times now that no one believes them. They`ve lost all meaning, even when they`re valid.
The net result here is that when MMO X really is an unplayable mess that was probably some studio’s version of a scam, or when MMO Y really does exceed all expectations and revolutionize the way we see MMOs, no one’s going to be able to talk about it. Well they will, but who’s going to listen?
One of the single worst after effects of the single-game supremacy philosophy we talked about earlier is the name calling, or maybe it would be more appropriate to call it labelling if we’re going to use the jargon of the politically correct.
Anyone who has attended school, or seminars at work, or even turned on a television over the last couple of decades knows that labelling is a dangerous thing. Labelling allows us to easily dismiss the ideas and thoughts of others who differ from us without giving the other side any consideration at all. It de-humanizes the “other side” so that we don’t have to admit that people who aren’t like us (or in this case who don’t share our opinions) are simply wrong.
The terms Fanboi and Troll are thrown around way too often in the MMO realm and are used in the exact same way as all of those nasty labels that you learned about in school. These days, anyone that has anything good to say about a game is nothing but a raging fanboy, but anyone who has anything remotely negative to say about a game is a flaming troll.
Personally, I don’t really agree with the use of either of these terms, even in extreme conditions, but just for kicks let’s look at what appear to be the accepted definitions of Fanboy and Troll (at least to the best of my understanding):
Fanboy: A person who blindly supports a game without question or a critical eye and at every opportunity regardless of the game’s actual state or condition. Generally, they are characterized by overly defensive and optimistic posts and the tendency to label anyone who happens to dislike their chosen game a Troll.
Troll: A person who blindly hates a game without question or an eye for positive aspects regardless of the game’s actual state or condition. Generally, they are categorized by overly critical and pessimistic posts and have a tendency to label anyone who even remotely enjoys the game that they troll as a Fanboy.
So, what we’re left with is the total inability to have any sort of rational discussion about the pros and cons of any game when arguments on one side dismiss the other as being either a troll or a fanboy. Because each label represents such an extreme, it is impossible (once those labels are applied) to have a meaningful dialogue that accepts both the good aspects of the game and the negative.
A lack of legitimate discussion between players makes it very difficult to make any kind of assessment as to a game’s value, or even the value of the opinions being offered.
Escalating, Outlandish Claims and Demands
The last problem that I`m going to talk about that is being caused by this kind of extreme polarization comes in the form of escalating, outlandish claims. If we assume that all discussion about any new MMO is going to involve a great and almost overwhelming number of these extreme posts and claims, we have to also assume that as these things become the norm, we are going to see an escalation to another extreme.
Players who are dissatisfied with MMO X will now be seen calling for the resignations or firings of entire dev teams, or of specific individuals, while players who feel that MMO Y is the bee's knees are predicting doom for every other MMO, claiming that entire game populations will now move to their game leaving even the most popular games as barren wastelands.
At best, this serves to rile up players with opposing viewpoints. At worst, these attitudes are damaging to players, companies and the industry as a whole.
Escalating Hype Machines
As player polarization becomes more and more extreme, it seems as though we are seeing an escalation in the perceived hype machines that surround the releases of these games. Sometimes, this is the fault of an over-zealous marketing team attempting to appeal to as many potential players as possible without too much thought toward the final launch day product, but other times, the hype-machine is spun out of control by over-zealous fans of the game. Viral marketing is becoming a bigger and bigger aspect of game promotion. Word of mouth on forums and the like go a long way to promoting a game toward launch and fans who feel that in order to have their voices heard amongst the din of extreme opinion will often over-exaggerate the positive points of a game and will help to (notice I won`t go so far as to say that they solely cause… that isn`t the case) promote unrealistic expectations which lead to disappointment when the product finally reaches the market.
Once these unrealistic expectations are not met (and it really seems like they never will be), it starts the whole vicious cycle again, creating three distinct groups of players. Those who liked it from the beginning and like it now, those who didn`t like the game to begin with and who point to the not meeting of the raised expectations as reasons to further hate the game and those who had no strong feelings before launch and ended up either liking it, putting them in one camp, or being disappointed by the not meeting of hype and join the other side.
In the end, most of these problems are caused by good old fashioned human nature and the nature of the internet. I think though that there are some things that we, as fans, can do to help and the answer really comes down to a very basic concept: Not every MMO is going to appeal to every MMO player. As the genre has evolved (some say for the better, some say for the worse), games are being made to fit many different play styles so that even MMORPG genre fans are going to have different opinions. I think that part of the solution is to simply acknowledge that while we may totally disagree with someone`s point of view, it is possible that we are both right or at least that the other person is welcome to his or her own opinion. If we, as a collective, could hold to this thought, there might not be so much reason for one person or another to exaggerate their claims. If we acknowledge that while I may have had a bug free experience with MMO X`s launch, that other poster may be experiencing problems that we`re not seeing.
Now, I`m not really a ``love makes the world go `round`` kind of guy, but in the end just taking a step back and not immediately dismissing the thoughts of people whose opinions differ from our own might be just what the doctor ordered and might let us all enjoy our MMO hobby just a little bit more.
Remember, I`m not writing this to try to discourage honest discourse on the subject of any game. Any game has the potential to be liked, it has the potential to need work and it has the potential to suck. Honest and level opinions are never a bad thing…