We have toppled empires and dethroned kings. We killed Cesar and sabotaged elections. We’ve shifted politics and routed countries. I’m talking about the vocal minority who, in this day in age, are often the most loyal fans their favorite entertainment. We have as many names as faces but we are not many ourselves, yet it is often our opinions that get heard over the silent majority. From “Voltroned” basement gaming rigs in the old days to the smart phone of today, now more than ever fans have a direct route to voicing their opinion. This is nothing new to MMORPGs. Surely before there was reality TV there were gaming forums! The results have ranged from heroic to disastrous and everything in-between. The question I am struggling with is, how does being crowd funded change the relationship between consumer and producer?
Ever since I googled “Kickstarter” and backed Camelot Unchained a few years ago I’ve been asking myself what kind of relationship I purchased. Some would say any relationship you have to buy is a bad one. Others would say there are few relationships in this world not based on resources. I tend to agree with the later. That question still taunts me because I’ve never been able to dispatch it. With Beta approaching I find myself exactly where I was back then. If anything, as if often the case with CU, my original question has grown many others!
How much influence should dedicated fans have over a game? Does that change if it’s a crowd funded game? If so, how? Based on the tier you buy or the loyalty you show? How much do we expect from developers? How much do developers expect from backers? Should we even have any say in the game’s design? Are we a tool? A resource? A help? A hindrance? All of the above and more?
Keyboard warriors, of which I include myself, are the frequent customer of the modern world. You are loyal to them because they are loyal to you but some days you wonder why they don’t have anything better to do. Other days you wish they would just go away because you have work to do and you don’t have time for a 30-minute conversation on left or right click being reversed based on “dominant” finger clicking speed. (Flashes back to “hanging out” at the local game store-yes kids, we used to have a special store for the trading, buying and selling of games.) It’s not always frustrating. When you are sad they are always willing to pick you up. If you ever needed anything, they would try to help you. They respect you and hope you respect them as well. Maybe, like all relationships, it consists of banes and boons!
Let take a stab at some of those questions. Can a frequent customer eventually develop enough understanding of your business to offer up quality suggestions? Sure, depending on the customer. How much influence should keyboard warriors have over a crowd funded game? As much as was promised. If it wasn’t defined, then good luck. How much do they expect? All of it and more! Unquestionably! How much do developers expect them to have? The smart ones, as little as possible! Unquestionably! Are they a tool? At times. A helpful resource? Definitely. A hindrance? Of course. A shoulder to lean on? You bet. All of that and more!
I’m not sure if any of this made sense. I don’t think I really answered any of my questions. In fact, the longer this process goes the less confident I am that I ever will! People and especially MMORPGers (that means players and developers because I hear a few of them are even real live people) tend to like putting things in perfect little boxes with shiny plastic labels. Unfortunately, relationships aren’t an organized box, they are a big pile of chaotic muck that we trudge through trying not to trip and get a face full of goo! The relationships of crowd funded games and their fans are incredibly complex, so much so that its seemingly undefinable! Maybe that’s exactly how to define it?
If trying to figure it out from the outside sounds like I headache I can only imagine what it’s like from the inside! Give too little and you might be damned. Give too much and you might be damned. Look to the past for guidance? Oh wait, there isn’t any! It’s a tough trail to cut! In a few years this process will be easier because of the brave souls like those at CSE that forged the path and answered the questions. As fun as 20,000 plus people’s MMORPG hopes and dreams being on MY shoulders sounds, I think I’ll leave it up to the thick skinned broad shouldered professionals! Anyone else wouldn’t survive the journey.