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Bill Murphy: Are Cranky Players the Problem?

Columns By William Murphy on February 10, 2011

Are Cranky Players the Problem?

Are angry gamers the reason that creativity gets stunted in videogames?  Are the cranky few the reason for a lot of problems in the industry?

No.  They’re not.

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Recently the Community Manager for Call of Duty: Black Ops developer Treyarch stated in an interview that he believes “pundits” and “angry entitled fans” are ruining creativity in videogames.  Admittedly, the man deals with quite possibly one of the most hostile segments of the videogame community on a daily basis.  I’ve no doubt that to Josh Olin sees his fair share of backlash and I don’t blame him for having a downright cynical view of the gaming populace.  But to say that the cranky minority are the reason creativity isn’t fostered in the industry?  That’s stretching it a bit. 

I suppose the argument could be made that developers feel pressured to cater to these loud and often obnoxious vocal minority, and to be honest if that’s the case than those developers deserve to feel creatively held back.  True creativity in any medium takes brass balls, and if you’re too busy worrying about what forum member “L33tHaxx0r” has to say about one of your design choices than you probably don’t deserve to be making games in the first place. 

But Bill!  They have to listen to their community!  The community is the group of people buying the game and paying their salaries!  The thing is that the squeaky wheels of a community are very seldom the folks who make up the majority of a player-base.  They’re the loudest, and often the most prone to use forums and other channels to complain, but by no means are they the whole of a community. 

What do you think a game would look like if developers listened solely to the loudest and whiniest members of their online communities?  Players, and really consumers in general, don’t always know what they want.  And every player that does claim to want something often wants something different from the next.  But players never asked for ICO, or Shadow of the Colossus.  They didn’t beg for someone to make Braid or Limbo.  No one begged for the Wii and now the other two major consoles mimic the tiny white Nintendo juggernaut. 

There are whiners and complainers, cynics and downers in every walk of life.  There’s nothing anyone can do to meet their expectations and nothing anyone can do to change the way they see things.  The complainers will always complain.  Sometimes they will be right to do so.  I’m not stating that all their worries are unfounded.  I’m just saying that when developers listen too much to what their player-base calls for we end up with a game that doesn’t do anything particularly well.  Listening to the players too much makes a game a jack of all trades and a master of none.  Or worse?  The developer completely loses sight of what they wanted to do in the first place, and then the complainers have even more ammunition for the forum fodder.

I know Mr. Josh Olin doesn’t speak for all community managers.  I’m sure some CMs (maybe even our own Mike Bitton?) have some pretty dark thoughts from time to time about their communities.  It’s not easy to face the brutal onslaught of rude remarks, threats, and attacks day after day when all you’re really trying to do is your job: which is to carry the players’ thoughts to the development staff and vice versa.  But Community Managers must remember that the squeaky wheels aren’t always indicative of an entire community.  And the squeaky wheels must remember that the best way to get what you want is with honey and not vinegar. 

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this.  I suppose because of the nature of our own forums, and how heated debates can get, I felt a certain bit of sympathy for Josh.  But where he thinks they’re a problem, and that they’re somehow limited game development.  I merely see the cranky folks as one part of a multi-headed hydra that is the gaming industry.  They’re just as necessary as any other part of the big machine, for as often as they grate on nerves, just as often they can be helpful in at least pointing out some pressing game design issues… even if they do so in not so subtle ways.

So Josh, relax.  The “haters gotta hate”.  Don’t sweat it.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.