We Are Often The Biggest Problem With The Gaming Industry
We’ve seen it more and more often. Hardworking, dedicated game designers that work tirelessly because they want to provide an experience to players like nothing they’ve ever played before are attacked, threatened and in extreme cases driven to give up the one thing in this world they hold most dear. Even after producing some of the best games of this generation, innovators and game visionaries are pushed to the edge by us. The people behind the keyboard and monitor, with an internet connection and unlimited anonymity giving us the illusion of entitled opinions and consequence free actions. We’re the sickness that is killing some of the greatest things this industry has to offer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pointing fingers. I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world if I said I’ve never ridiculed or mocked a game designer, even if I’ve ranted and raved about a stellar piece of work they’ve created. I’m most definitely part of the problem, but over the last few months I’ve come to realise just how toxic this behaviour has become, and just how dangerous the internet can be when things snowball out of control.
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To keep things recent, you don’t have to look much further than the recent events surrounding Flappy Bird and its creator Dong Nguyen. Long story short, Dong created a game that was not original in any sense of the word, borrowing heavily in terms of artistic assets and gameplay ideas. Despite this, it rocketed up the App Store, and began earning Dong quite a bit of money…daily. Despite being completely free for players to download and quickly curse at, Dong was attacked personally, with thousands of messages from “fans” expressing their utter hatred for something they didn’t even have to pay for. Attacks on a man’s character just because he created something and never shoved it down anyone’s throat. Better yet, this isn’t Dong’s first game, and despite their lack of equal success he’s experienced attacks on them too. Hell, even the fact that he’s Vietnamese is somehow being flung his way, which carries no relation to his game at all.
The result? A developer who began hating something he created, ultimately forcing him to pull it down from the store and hope that the world quickly forgets about it, and him. Thankfully, Dong has promised to continue making games and carry on with work that he has dedicated his life to, but unfortunately the abuse that consumers manage to pile onto developers and designers becomes a bit too much. I don’t think you need to think too hard about multiple situations where this has often taken a turn for the worst.
Case in point, FEZ creator Phil Fish. Fish has often been a topic of ridicule for me personally, because I still consider him self-entitled and often pretentious. That is my judge of his character, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he produced one of the finest indie titles of this generation. FEZ is still a brilliant game, one that I feel privileged to have experienced. Despite what Fish has said about other facets of the industry, I respect his work. I, however, am a minority on the internet, with the majority choosing to vent their opinions in the form of attacks on Fish’s personal work and character. Public threats, defamation of his work and constant ridicule eventually caused one of the great indie game designers of our age to leave the industry he loves and turn his back on the thousands of true fans he had.
Not only that, but in the process of rage quitting from the only industry he knows, Fish cancelled the unexpected sequel of his hit title FEZ. What about after that? What else did Fish and his studio have in mind for their next project? What else have we, as gamers and consumers, been deprived of just because of our god awful online personas?
This is just one example of how destructive and far reaching the effects of our online comments can be. Sure, developers aren’t always the nicest people we hope them to be. They sometimes say stupid things that piss us off and disappoint us. Fish did this on numerous occasions, with his most infamous being his comments on the Japanese gaming industry. One thing we have to remember though is that, just like us, these people are human. They make errors in judgement just like us, saying things that they probably shouldn’t have with about the same regularity. They’re also creationists, which means not everyone is going to like what they do with their talent. But as we’ve seen already with the success of Flappy Bird, the market doesn’t really know what it wants or what it likes, so thinking that we know best most of the time is probably just as pretentious.
That’s not to say we must reserve our opinions altogether and just take whatever a developer gives. There’s a certain way to go about these things correctly, one that doesn’t include threatening to kill a person’s family just because you’ve disagreed with the colour pallet they’ve used. Vlambeer co-founder and developer Rami Ismail sums this up in a piece of writing that describes the relationship between a game designer and consumer, illustrating just what it means to get feedback from the people you’re trying to entertain. It’s something that a lot of people should read, because it also highlights just how much of an effect our opinion has on the industry. These people give their lives to create something that they hope will entertain people, something that will bring enjoyment and happiness to their lives. This is what they live and breathe on, so you can only imagine what it feels like for someone to take what is essentially your digital baby and needlessly tear it to shreds for all to see, just because you didn’t like something its creator said 10 years ago. I mean, look at what happened to FEZ on Steam just yesterday…
If you're one of the folks who tagged Fez with those spiteful comments on Steam… You're a dick.
— Cliff Bleszinski (@therealcliffyb) February 13, 2014
But who am I to try and point out what is essentially the very nature of the internet, right? Online anonymity has given birth to a whole new breed of asshole, and while they exist in every corner of the online world I struggle to see one more infected than the gaming industry. It’s often a cesspool of indiscriminate personas with masks on, taking shots at the people who they expect to produce the games that they play daily. It would be foolish of you to think that your one comment can’t have implications in the near future, and just the two examples above show that it’s becoming a bit of a problem for people currently in the industry, and something for new, innovative minds to think about before plunging in. Could it ultimately destroy it? No, probably not, but we’re not doing ourselves any favours by letting it continue.
So the next time you want to voice your opinion, think about the person on the other side. Criticise constructively, don’t attack. While you may think that there’s just another screen on the other end, take a moment to think about the person who’s using it. They’re just like you, and they want you to like what they’ve done, or at least explain why you didn’t. Don’t threaten their families. Don’t judge their personal character. Just don’t be a dick, really.
Tough ask for the Internet, I know.