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The Devil's Advocate: Wanting MMO Failure

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on August 22, 2012

Victor's Argument

When it comes to MMORPGs, the word “failure” is a strong statement. It can connote the closing of a game, or financial misfortune, or any number of different scenarios that in very few contexts would be seen as a positive. The thing is, some people wish for certain MMORPGs to fail, and that doesn't seem like a good thing to me.

For my side of the discussion, I would have to say that there are two main things that have to be addressed regarding why wanting a game to fail isn't a good idea: it's based on vanity and limited information, and it is callous to disregard the human cost involved in wanting a game to fail.

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Scary’s Argument

Simply put: People love to see suffering and pain as a form of amusement. If somebody is not failing, we are not succeeding. It’s only human nature to want to be first place and want our team to win. We feel more alive when we see death and mayhem, if it is not happening to us. Our life should be perfect because we’ve all had a horrible childhood and it is our time to shine even if it means death to our opponents.

For my side of the discussion, I will be the truth and harsh reality of why we love to see failure. Both sides of the argument are true, but in any type of competition, there can only be one winner and everybody else will lose.

Victor: Facts and Information

The two arguments for thinking of wanting failure as a net negative are both based off a primary idea: the realization that information and facts are related, yet different entities.

On one hand, information is basically a form of input that we are able to reason with in our heads, and information can be framed in a positive or negative manner. Facts, on the other hand, are types of information that can be proven and thus tend to be difficult to refute and even more difficult to spin positively or negatively. In MMORPG-speak, an example of a fact would be subscription price for a given MMO. An example of information would be the number of subscribers a game has at a particular point (this is a fact) that is then framed as a positive or a negative depending on who is talking (which then makes it information).

Scary: Rumors and Speculation

Facts and information are all fine and dandy, but it’s lifeless and without passion. An easy way to think of it is Star Trek (the original Star Trek not those horrible spinoffs like Deep Space Boring Nine): Spock is the logical boring one. He will never be captain because he lacks the understanding of passion. On the other hand you have the hero, Captain Kirk. He is filled with passion. He doesn’t always gather the information and a dude in a red shirt dies every episode, but based on his passion or speculation, he is constantly a winner. 

The best part of following MMORPGs through their development is the rumors and speculation. Nobody gives a crap about the facts or information; we all want to start rumors and speculate what a developer meant to say. Following a game would be dry and uneventful like Spock if we didn’t have rumors and speculation. The game would fail before it starts based on lack of interest.

Victor: Limited Information and Longevity

The first argument is associated with how information is touted as fact by people. Namely, there doesn't seem to be anything analytical or redeeming about seeing and calling for negative futures based on well-spun information rather than facts.

One thing that is common in just about every business you'll see is that businesses want to succeed. These businesses do so by providing products and services that consumers want. They also want to maintain consumer and investor confidence by giving people enough information to make decisions that will benefit the company, and thus they offer up information based on the facts they have at hand that will either make the company look good or minimize the impact of a negative event.

When we play a game, and we have a strong negative connection with it, there's a tendency to leave that game. In some cases though, some people will dislike a game so much that they will want it to fail, and will use the information they get from the business to back up their claims by touting those claims as factual and irrefutable proof of doom.

Chances are the business of an MMORPG is more or less like your heart rate as you go through life. The business will go up, and it will go down, and eventually it will stop. The main issue I have with folks who like to be failure prophets is that they are focused on feeling vindicated when failure happens (or even when someone else's victory is touted) without considering that the “facts” they tout as facts are simply pieces of information without proper context. The strangest bit about the doomsayers when they talk about the games they want to fail is that there's a good chance the game they're strongly against is still running and is probably either producing a profit or is otherwise more valuable kept alive than dead to begin with.

Scary: Secrets and Assassination

Every game company has its dirty little secrets. They hide information from the community to help build the hype. That hype lines the pockets of the developers by making investors happy while they nerd out on stock prices and weekly pie charts. They limit information for their own personal gain. They do it so they don’t have to back-peddle if a key feature is broken or they do it to add to the hype train’s furnace. Their secrets sell boxes before a game even release.

Victor is right, MMORPGs do have heartbeats and sooner or later they will die. Even World of Warcraft will die someday. It’s how that heartbeat stops that matters to the community. We want a heart attack that makes the game flop in the middle of the road as a bus rips it in two. We could help the game by dragging it out of the street with kind words or throwing money we won’t use at it, but we would rather watch it bleed to death.

Think of 38 Studios. As a community of game journalists, players, and peers we could’ve done something to make 38 Studios look better to investors. We could’ve started a petition, hands across Rhode Island, or even bought Kingdoms of Amalur, but all we did as a community is stare and clap as blood stained tires left tread marks all over the industry.  It was an assassination we enjoyed watching.

Victor: The Human Cost of Failure

The second point is a little more freeform and personal, but basically goes like this: actively wanting or wishing for an MMO to fail is a bit reprehensible (I would go as far as calling it a “dick move”) mostly because there is a human cost involved when any business failure happens.

Now it's time for a bit of illogical, emotional math. Bear with the less-than-stellar argument, because this does have a point.

Let's put out one fact and then play with some variables. Fact: according to an ESA report from 2010, in the US alone, computer and video companies “directly and indirectly employ more than 120,000 people in 34 states.” Variables: assume that 10 percent of that 120,000 is working in the MMORPG industry, and that 10 percent of that subgroup is taking care of a family of four. Based on those variables, 12,000 people work in MMORPGs in the US, and 1,200 of them have families of four.

Let's assume an additional thing. Let's assume that just one percent of the 12,000 gets laid off when a minor failure happens like a lack of subscriber retention or low unit sales. That's 120 people, and some of those people will fall under the subset that has families of four.

The nitty-gritty of the math will essentially show that, even in a hypothetical situation, more than 100 people will suffer directly or indirectly for every minor failure that an MMO endures. A good number of them will find work again, of course, but the niggling doubt that you're out of a job and your family could be in trouble... that's a scary thing to have to deal with. Of course, that is true with any business and any job, but in an industry where people have to constantly look for new work after a game is made or after a bad thing happens, it's pretty disconcerting.

Scary: Thigh-Master

In the 1990’s Suzanne Somers did an Infomercial to sell a product called, The Thigh-Master. I was a teenager at about that time. I remember watching this commercial a few times, not because I wanted a Thigh-Master, but because I wanted to see what was in between her thighs. Can you blame me? I was a teen. My point is: we don’t want to see a company really die, we just want to see its junk spill out on live TV.

We actively talk about games or companies dying because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It leads me back to the beginning of this article; we thrive on the passion we have towards games. I never thought Suzanne Somers was hot, but man, that didn’t matter because she was a woman and I was a teen and she was on TV. At that time in my life there was only one passion and it was in my pants.

Unfortunately, we can’t save all companies or the embarrassment of their failure. It is sad people lose their jobs, but we can’t all be winners. You either do better than the other guy or you get fired. We can’t coddle every person that loses their job.

Victor: The Bottom Line

What I'd now like for you to do is to discard all that math and focus on just one person you know or have heard about who has lost his job. Any job, really.

Now, imagine going up to them and telling them that you actively wished or wanted for the business they were in to fail in some way, and then tell them that you either “knew” they were going to fail based on “facts” you had about their job or that their loss is a total net gain for the future of the industry because they did a shoddy job with their product and therefore their culling was entirely justified and can be used as an example in the future.

You can choose not to support a particular MMO or champion a particular game, and that's fine. Part of common sense and good business is that you support the things you like. In truth, I doubt we could stop failures and firings and unemployment from happening, despite our best intentions. The bottom line, however, is this: wishing for an MMO to fail is reprehensible because you are stating an uninformed opinion and, worse still, that uninformed opinion amplifies human suffering and that's not cool at all.

Scary: The Bottom Line

Passion! The interaction between developers and community members is a passionate one. You might hate another game because it threatens your game from winning, but in the end you are just fueling the passion of the fans of the other game. As a community we need the Ying and Yang fight for dominance. Without the hate and the trolls, our passion dwindles. We need the confrontation to feel alive.

The next time you see a hateful comment or a person that just doesn’t understand why your game is better; just know their hate and ignorance is building the hype for your game.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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