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The Devil's Advocate: Commitment is a Strange Word

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on June 21, 2013

In reading through my friend Rowan’s blogposts on I Have Touched the Sky recently, I’ve come to realize something about being an MMO gamer. It’s a simple thought when I put it into a sentence, but expounding on it leads to a complicated maze of meanings that people have trouble finding common ground on. The thought is this: commitment, as it relates to online games, is a strange word. That’s what today’s Devil’s Advocate will tackle. Hopefully today’s piece will let you figure out what commitment means to you as a gamer.

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Time, Money, and Commitment

What started me on this path to asking questions about commitment is a reaction piece by Rowan on the nature of committing to a game.

On a previous article, a commenter mentioned the following:

“Without time spending there can be ABSOLUTELY no commitment on your behalf and therefore it is not possible to care for the game. Spending money is not the same as spending time because it lacks the connection that time spent involves.”

Rowan, in his reaction to the comment, basically said that it is a mixture of time spent playing a game and money poured into supporting the game’s development cycle (by supporting the game’s revenue model)  that makes for commitment to a game.

My personal leanings are more towards Rowan’s side than anything else, but what actually fascinated me was the wording. What is a commitment in the context of online gaming, and how does one support a game to fulfill that commitment? These were the questions that really got my mind working.

Defining a Commitment

I can see at least three definitions of commitment that would likely fit the mindset of gamers. The first is the personal commitment, which is basically a promise one holds to a game. The second is a more binding commitment, as a sort of spoken or unspoken contract. The last one is a commitment to a particular gaming brand.

These three commitments intermingle and are not mutually exclusive in most gamers’ minds. I mean, when someone plays a game, he expects the game to work, right? That’s a sort of contractual commitment people have gotten used to regardless of how they perceive their commitment to games.

Supporting Games

One common thread among those three broad definitions of commitment is the concept of supporting a game. Depending on how the three definitions listed above work in a gamer’s personality and circumstances, he can support a game in a number of ways that aren’t covered by the time-money dichotomy of commitment.

Aside from spending time playing a game and paying money to support it, a gamer who enjoys playing a game can simply talk about the experience he has with that game. For a world steeped in Internet culture, sharing positive sentiment and having that translate into more adoptees who are likely to spend money on a game shows a certain level of commitment. That’s how fansites are born, right?

Thoughtful, honest critiques of a game or of its mechanics also show a level of commitment. Stating an unpopular opinion or expressing displeasure at a particular change, within reason, can show you’re personally invested in a game and want it to succeed. As with the fact-checking Red Shirt Guy of World of Warcraft, this can even get you immortalized in the game you love.

While you may be working with a less-than-adequate data set to assess how gameplay mechanics will impact a game, pointing out how a game’s revenue model might be better served with certain tweaks seems also shows commitment if you can manage a well-thought out reasoning for your idea. You’re also going to be standing in the firing line amongst rabid supporters though, so you’d best be prepared.

Then, of course, we have game testing. If there was a task that was partly motivated by personal gain and partly motivated by a desire to see a game improve, it’s this one. Testing a game after launch on public test servers, sending in bug reports, correcting grammar, or pointing out potential improvements are a great way of showing you want a game to get better, and you invested something aside from time and money: insight.

Commitment Level: Yoshida

Perhaps my favorite example of commitment to a game comes from the developer side. The legend of Naoki Yoshida, otherwise known as Yoshi-P to Final Fantasy XIV fans, is one I enjoy sharing because it’s an against the odds sort of story. Some recent articles from VentureBeat helped cement that idea in my head.

Yoshida is an avid gamer as well, and as the legend goes, when he was tasked with turning around FFXIV 1.0, a long-term campaign ensued to improve the interest in 1.0 and rework Final Fantasy XIV into A Realm Reborn.

What’s telling to me, at least if I follow the translation on VentureBeat, is that Yoshida understood how gamers had a commitment to the Final Fantasy brand, and doing anything less than the long-term campaign to bring A Realm Reborn to fruition would damage the entirety of the brand.

When asked about whether FFXIV: ARR would have been greenlit under different circumstances, Yoshida replied that it was a difficult question because of the financial situation of Square Enix and the perception gamers had for Final Fantasy back at FFXIV 1.0’s launch.

From the VentureBeat article:

There’s a lot of love for Final Fantasy, so many fans of Final Fantasy. There were so many fans of Final Fantasy XI. They’d come to expect a great experience. When a company that, up until now, has made them great games gives them a game that’s not so great, a lot of people felt betrayed. It wasn’t just a small thing, either. It was a huge betrayal.... We lost a lot of trust.... So I think we would probably do the same thing. We would try to get back the trust of our users, and getting back the trust of our users would mean saying, “Yes, we made this mistake,” and trying to fix that mistake. Cancelling the game would not be a way to bring that trust back.

At the same time, Yoshida seemed to understand there would be pressure to make FFXIV: ARR change its revenue model. In a separate VentureBeat piece, Yoshida explained the mindset Square Enix had and its unique position as a company that makes MMORPGs with its own money.

With Square Enix and Blizzard, because we’re putting our own money into it, we don’t have those investors to worry about, and that means we can release something and maybe take a little bit of a hit at the beginning, but as long as we’re increasing the amount of people we have, then we’ll get that money and make the players happy...

With version 1.0, even though we call it a failure, we still had a user base. During the time that we were developing this game, 2.0, we were able to increase the amount of subscribers threefold as well. Again, it takes time. It takes showing the users that we’re really into this and giving them that new content. But we’re able to see a rise there. That’s what we’re looking for in this.... Choosing the model that’s right for your product and being successful with that is what’s important. We believe that the bigger the game, the larger the scale of the MMO, it’s going to be better for the game if it’s on a subscription model.

The second VentureBeat piece linked here is a fascinating read because it attempts to reason out the internal thinking over at many MMO companies. Back to point, however: In terms of commitment to something, in this case the Final Fantasy Brand and gaining back the trust of gamers, I think Square Enix and Naoki Yoshida bring point home.

If you’re committed to something, whether it’s a game, a brand, or the ideal of having good games available for all sorts of people to play, it’s what you put into the commitment that matters.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge 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.


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