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The Devil's Advocate: An Episode of Frustration

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on March 15, 2013

There is a thin veneer of rage right now in my consciousness as I write this. I am taken aback by a number of events within the gaming sphere, and these events that have left me wondering how I can really be coherent at this point in time.

I am frustrated with game companies because of how they treat gamers looking for a great gaming experience. I am also frustrated with gamers for repeatedly falling into the same traps and not organizing better to fight abuses.  Strangest of all, I am frustrated with myself too because, as a representative of games media and as a gamer, I sometimes perpetuate gamer mistreatment from companies while falling into the same traps gamers get into.

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Lies and Damned Lies

I want to lash out at developers and, perhaps more specifically, the corporate entities that force a developer’s hand. Take SimCity, for example.

While SimCity is not exactly an MMO, its infrastructure is decidedly MMO-like, featuring a seeming reliance on Internet connectivity to perform functions like account authentication, server connection, and enabling of player control mechanisms. Much like Diablo III, SimCity launched disgracefully for a game that did not necessarily need online capabilities. This launch, however, was perhaps even slightly worse than any MMORPG’s release by overpromising and underperforming.

In the case of SimCity, there’s an added wrinkle. There is evidence to suggest that SimCity may not even need online connectivity to function, and this evidence is twofold, provided by a Maxis insider report and a modification that enables offline play, minus save features.

SimCity’s issues tie into MMORPGs by virtue of the reasoning behind always-on functionality for a game that doesn’t necessarily need it: it’s more likely EA wanted to add a service they could charge for continually on a digital content delivery system they controlled, without adding deep or meaningful new features or content to the system on a regular basis for players to enjoy.

Frequent Devil’s Advocate readers know I dislike PR speak. I railed against EA to some degree due to early reports of restrictive practices in their revised revenue model for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I also brought into focus the problems inherent in Hammerpoint Interactive’s The War Z. From now on, I don’t think I will hesitate to be critical of any company that tries to mislead gamers into buying something and providing something substandard in return, even if that means getting pissy with Square Enix for Final Fantasy XIV 1.0.

Playing a New Role

Of course, this isn’t to say gamers are off the hook. There is much to dislike in a gamer’s psyche at times. For one thing, there is this tendency to inexplicably defend practices that are not gamer or consumer-friendly in sentiment, usually by pinning hopes on a game’s potential rather than assessing potential growth in relation to current realities of a company’s development cycle (a practice especially notable in MMO circles).

Gamers can also be led either too strongly by emotion or too poorly by hype to make a proper assessment of the games they want to purchase at times. This is perhaps evident when we talk about pre-orders, pre-purchases and the like, complete with each new enticement that is heaped upon a game to make us want it.

These impulses have to be curbed, much like a strict regimen of mental exercise. To that end, I find that Jim Sterling, speaking on his March 12 Jimquisition for The Escapist, makes a good point. We don’t necessarily have to starve ourselves of games or go on boycotts in order to make our displeasure known. If we dislike a game company’s practices yet still want to support a game, we can simply choose to delay purchase by a week or two, or perhaps longer.

Through a mass delaying of game purchases, gamers are able to send a message that they have power over a game company as well, limiting the ways a company can spin low initial sales of a game. Game reviewers are also able to get reviews out in a better fashion, allowing for gamers to have a more informed opinion beyond the preview or a beta test.

Best of all, a willful show of restraint points to a personal choice, meaning you’re in control of your impulses, rather than the other way around.

My Cross to Bear

As I mentioned, due to my status as a columnist, there’s a possibility that I unduly influence people into buying into a game. At the same time, because I’m a gamer as well, I know all too well how it feels to fall prey to impulsiveness and buy based on curiosity or hype. Worse still, I get the fear that I am responsible for perpetuating my own impulsiveness and lack of gumption in standing up to less than stellar practices. As you might imagine, despite loving writing about games, the idea that I’m perpetuating the same things I dislike can get a bit disheartening.

If I had easy answers to remedy my own issues, I’d be happy to apply the salve that heals this disturbing feeling I get. Sad to say, the only real answer is to be vigilant against creating some weird mental Inception-shenanigans on myself.

Since I have some access to MMO beta tests without needing to do any pre-purchasing, it would be best if I take advantage of those to observe a game and see if issues are being remedied. I don’t normally make previews for MMORPG.com, but at the very least, I can write these impressions for myself so I know where a game has gone and where it is going, then point these things out when an non-disclosure agreement drops.

I also have to stop pre-purchasing MMOs or other games because I feel an impulse to get them. I should be more patient with myself and let initial feelings subside so I can better determine whether something is truly worth playing.

The Bottom Line

I can choose to remain frustrated about a situation or take concrete steps to change how I feel and what the status quo happens to be. Hopefully by writing this down I’ll be able to maintain a stance for myself as a force for positive change in gaming.

I also hope you folks out there reading found something that resonated with you.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


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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