Class Warfare

Things are getting ugly out there in the MMO blogging realm. Very ugly. I am referring to Syncaine’s “Twit” series of posts. And while the implicit embrace of Gevlon’s M&S generalizations is one thing, this new pernicious brand of thinking is being focused on the one group of people that has nothing at all to do with the “twitification” of the hobby. In so demonizing them, one simultaneously give a free pass to the people actually responsible and reinforce all the stereotypes gamers have all endured for decades.

Syncaine actually started out being reasonable. He identified the problem with the (baited) Twit generation in my MMO post:

But what about those of us with more than a 5 minute attention span? What about those who found the older level of challenge just right? We spend money too, and tend to spend it for longer periods of time when given the chance. Are there countless millions of us like there are Farmville players? No. But we are out there, in the hundreds of thousands at least.

Specifically, there are less of you, ergo you are a vanishingly tiny niche not worth catering to, at least with AAA titles. That is capitalism working as intended. Syncaine does have a point insofar as the MMO mold can only be morphed so far while still retaining the things that make it an MMO, at least by any given definition of MMO. Where things go completely off the rails is when he stages a Tea Party-esque rally of entitled bourgeois to attack the players, instead of the game.

And sadly the twit-generation is not just young kids, but ADD (clinical or not) riddled ‘adults’ that have become so entitles, so expectant, that anything beyond instant gratification is not good enough. (source)

McDonalds makes its money not from starving people without options, but from twits who are too lazy or plan life too poorly to have time for a real meal. (source)

You want to know the difference between you and the entitled, unwashed masses you decry as killing your genre? Not a single goddamn thing. Whine, whine, whine. “I want challenge! I want games built just for meeeeeeee.” You and everyone else.

I have said for ages that there is nothing at all selfish about wanting content designed for your skill level. At the end of the day, that is what everyone wants. And it’s not just about skill level because that implies everyone looks for challenge. They don’t. There are people in WoW who log on, fish for an hour, and log out. That sort of thing is relaxing to them. Judging them based on that is indistinguishable from judging them based on what kind of music they listen to, how much money they make, or you know, the fact that they play videogames to begin with.

I get it. I understand you had this game/genre that seemed to be based entirely around your needs and desires, and now it seems to be slipping away. That’s life. More importantly, that’s business. Blizzard et tal are the ones who decided that they would rather chase casual dollars instead of your small wad of sweaty money. Stop blaming the players who have nothing to do with game design decisions, and blame those that do. Or, you know, don’t blame anyone because game companies exist to make money. And chances are good that the economics team of the billion-dollar game companies like Blizzard have already graphed out exactly how much your high regard is worth, and found it wanting.

Harder games are not some higher, purer form of magic. They are simply different tastes. And if none are being made, or the ones that exist are being “dumbed down,” you may want to start up your utopian commune because the Invisible Hand is flipping you off. That, or you could demonstrate some of that delayed gratification skills you accuse others of lacking and simply wait for some game company to come along and cater to your more refined palette.

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Posted on September 21, 2011, in Commentary, MMO and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Or Syncaine etc could just play retro games. Darkfall and Prime are very clearly aimed at the older generation of gamers. UO, EQ are all still in business.

    I don’t like all of the trends so I’ll vote with my wallet. Hopefully enough people will be interested in the same things to keep the company making games that suit me precisely viable.

  2. I agree with you. And I also agree with Syncaine. It’s perfectly legitimate to rant a bit on one’s blog about what one likes and what one doesn’t like. And many people feel similar to Syncaine, so the post has some importance.

    But of course you are right that it’s not reasonable to blame other players in any moral way.

  3. In Northern Idaho (in the United States), there’s a 150 mile stretch of road that crosses through the Bitterroot Wilderness. The road itself is of course not designated wilderness area, but the surrounding mountains are and permanent structures and motorized vehicles are not allowed. The general rule if you wish to go hiking in the wilderness is to leave everything exactly as you found it — even the rocks.

    I grew up there. And while I did encounter the occasional tourist, for the most part they were respectful of the environment and followed the rules.

    But now, some 40 years later, along that same stretch of road you will find man-made signs describing points of interest, billboards advertising various outdoor services, and even rest areas with facilities and running water. And it makes me sad because it means that the childhood I had is gone. Not just for me, but for everyone.

    I sympathize with Syncaine and I don’t begrudge him his rant. But you can’t fight change. You can’t fight “progress” or “market forces” or “the will of the masses”, or any of that. If you’re in the minority — and pretty much everyone is in *some* minority — all you can do is try and find like-minded people who are willing to work with you towards creating your own tiny slice of paradise.

  4. Yay, someone is butthurt. I keep this message short, so it doesnt overflow your 5 minutes attention span.

  5. Odd that you’d invoke the Tea Party when speaking of class warfare when the big establishment parties are much more prolific and vitriolic in that regard.

    Politics aside, great article. The Old Guard of gamers is feeling threatened and looking for a place to lash out. It never helps, but it’s understandable.

  6. Oh, where to begin.

    There’s a difference between capitalism and greed. People who engage in capitalism are in the business of making money. This doesn’t become a problem until people start to lose sight of just how much money they really have coming in and start setting the bar even higher, often to unrealistic heights. We saw this happen with the housing bubble and the current economic crisis. The banks and investment firms were already quite powerful and making more than enough money to sustain themselves, their investors, and their customers. But they didn’t want two large houses on the water, they wanted four or five. They didn’t want one car, they wanted three of them.

    You could draw the same parallels to the gaming industry. They could easily sustain themselves on the money that comes in from the dedicated gamer, who will consistently pay to play the game and to enjoy the various features that come with the game (i.e. faction transfers, realm transfers). But instead, they choose to shoot even higher and make drastic changes, in the hopes of attracting a more fickle client base. Sure, they may get more money from these new subscribers, but it’s not sustainable income. These are people who you can’t count on to stick with you when the going gets tough. You’re getting their money now, but those same people are also more likely to leave you and take their money with them, if they don’t get what they want right this instant.

    The people behind these companies need to ask themselves what is more important to them. Having lots of money that could be considered reliable income, with a fairly low maintenance and forgiving fan base – OR – making even more money via a fan base that may give you more money at the start, but are also more likely to take that income away at the first sign of discontent or boredom. I think greed leads to more reckless decisions and it becomes more of a gamble, plus you risk isolating the very people who helped you get ahead in the first place. That’s not capitalism, that’s just bad business.

    This inevitably leads to a “chicken vs. the egg” type of discussion. Who is to blame? The gaming companies who purposely catered to these types of people – OR – the people that have been the vocal majority and who seem to be steering the game in a particular direction?

    (By the way, this is my first time posting on your blog and I’m a little nervous. Don’t ask me why. Hopefully, I don’t sound like a total moron.)

    • Regarding the “who is to blame,” I think it is practically and philosophically impossible to blame anyone other than the designers, which is partly why I wrote this post. Just because there are millions of people who gleefully watch Jersey Shore does not mean 60 Minutes should turn itself into a (bad) reality TV show. If Blizzard chases “Twit” dollars, Blizzard is to blame – even if the vocal majority is entirely made of “Twits,” if a single bad design decision is a result of their feedback, it will be because Blizzard decided to implement a bad design.

      Of course, that begs the question of what exactly is bad design to begin with, if in making your game worse it makes two peoples’ games better. Maybe the masses are more fickle as you note, and perhaps there is something (sentimental) to be said about Syl’s point with early adopters.

  7. I’m not sure it’s reasonable to complain that someone is “getting ugly” and then going on to write that they and anyone who agrees with them is a stupid “Tea Party-esque” entitled bourgeois hippy. (Which… doesn’t even make sense.)

    I’m not even sure what your argument is, beyond “that’s capitalism for ya”. I mean, sure, but without going into non-game politics, does that mean that the results of the market are always the best one? There is a reason indie games get a lot of accolades, and that’s because the market turns out to not be so good at identifying quality.

    • My argument is:

      A) Don’t blame the player, blame the game (designer).
      B) Harder/more intellectual games are no more “better” than the color red is better than blue. In other words, it’s a matter of tastes.
      C) What’s going on in the MMO market (and games in general) is exactly what you would expect in a maturing market. In other words, the “good ole days” of gaming were good ole days because the market only consisted of people who like those type of games. Nowadays, everyone likes games, and game companies make games that the most people want. These game companies actually did that back in the day too, e.g. pandering, but it was good pandering because it were games you liked. Now it’s bad pandering because it’s not towards you anymore.

      As for the Tea Party reference, I will absolutely sit on a high horse and still equate Syncaine’s rather outrageous characterization of McDonald’s customers (e.g. “twits who are too lazy or plan life too poorly to have time for a real meal”) with a political movement who holds similar views towards people on welfare, people who have foreclosed homes, etc.

  8. While I absolutely agree that we should be blaming developers, rather than players and that tastes differ (lol how I hate that one), I think there’s a fundamental difference in ‘whining’ here among both groups which you fail to see. whining both may be, motivations however are usually the interesting part.

    you see, there’s something very… well….let’s call it saddening about belonging to the “members of the first hour”. it’s a phenomenon known in many branches mind, not just the gaming industry. it’s the hard core of people who by dedicated support make a brand/industry what it is – sometimes for years on end that little circle of ‘geeks’ are the only audience to keep that business from dying. nobody else cares for it, the mainstream in fact mocks it, but that core remains faithful and makes survival possible for that industry.

    then…usually after a couple of years, that business gains some more attention. slowly but surely popularity grows and with it, money too. from there it’s always the same dynamic: popularity = more money, more money = changes/investments to become more popular.
    the die-hard circle? well, not needed anymore. of course, that’s capitalism. but there are companies who never forget where they came from, few as they may be, and who always remember the faithfulness of the member of the first hour. many do not.

    and you might not understand that, because your entitlement springs from something entirely different. I’d say in both cases entitlement is wrong – but if we have to choose, then the first group has a LOT more reason to feel entitled than the second. and we should always try and understand reasons.

    and indeed, this goes into what Oestrus said above too; maybe one day when the faithful have departed for good, you will ask yourself if that was really the right call. but alas, it is greed that will be the end of us all, so much is for certain.

  9. I totally disagree. Shocking, yes.

    Nils said – we can’t morally assign blame for what’s wrong in the MMO-sphere. People’s tastes are what they are, after all. But, can’t we blame people for eating terrible food at McDonald’s that makes us all worse off when it comes to the pocket-book? Can’t we blame people that drink piss-poor beer, and judge them for having poor taste? Why not? Isn’t this what critics do on a regular basis? What’s the harm?

    • Well, if we are going down that particular road, why not blame all gamers for wasting our time with irrelevancies when there are soup kitchens and cancer wards we could be volunteering at?

      I mean, on the one hand I can agree that watching a Nova special is probably more educational than Jersey Shore; that a home-cooked meal is healthier than a warm sleeve of golden french fries coated with just the right amount of salt.. mmmhmmm… and so on. But this is exactly what is wrong with the analogies: it is taking as a given that one type of videogame entertainment is “better” than another. Is Xenogears better than Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball? It is easy to simply say “yes.” But we aren’t comparing which of the two have a higher fat content or are educational – we are comparing two pieces of entertainment, the former of which likely would not get played or appreciated by any more people if it were the only videogame in existence.

      As for critics and poor taste, you might be in for a shocker, but it usually comes down to what’s printed on the label. No, seriously. If I put a Nattie Lite in a micro-brew bottle, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

      • I don’t have anything of any substance to add. I just wanted to say I could most certainly detect nat light in my micro bottle :)

  10. I wouldn’t disagree even for one second that the disgruntled old-timers and the “twit generation” share the characteristic of wanting a game built to suit their tastes, rather than anyone elses.

    But really, I think the main point of SynCaine’s argument is that MMOs are simply, by their nature, a poor match for the tastes of more casual, time-poor / short-attention-span (take your pick) gamers.

    Wanting MMOs that demand a significant investment of time and work might be seen as a fairly “old school” attitude. But if you go back to the roots of video gaming, they were completely bite-sized. Arcade games designed to take your coin, entertain you for a few minutes, and then say “game over” and taunt you to drop another coin and try to do better.

    There are countless game styles which are really well suited to bite-size entertainment, or which are well suited to pausable entertainment for people who can’t commit to gaming time without interruptions. I love MMOs, but if I’ve got five minutes to kill, I’ll be playing a couple of games of Bejeweled on my iPod, not logging into an MMO and trying to quickly knock over a quest.

  11. I think anyone feeling entitled, including the author of the article, is either being purposefully dishonest with themselves and others …or on the more innocent side, they are naive in such a way that fails to see the reasoning and therefore failing to get at the truth. We’re all this way in our youth, but hopefully everyone gains clarity as they get older.

    I don’t agree with most ideas expressed here, in the article and the comments. I think many of you have failed to understand, for whatever reason, what really motivated Syncaine. If you had, you would understand it wasn’t hatred of the twitter generation progeny themselves that annoyed him so much as the twitter generational mentality that has hijacked our game development. Whatever you think of it, I find it difficult to believe anyone would deny this is true. Besides, we’re all allowed to vent …but reducing everything to “a matter of opinion” is to say that there’s no truth in the matter.

    Instead of so many players celebrating “change” and “progress”, these words are used to tell people that it’s somehow silly for them to think things aren’t moving in the right direction or that the change is bad. Mutual understanding is key to mutual respect. And no one can truly appreciate the opinions of others without either. Therefore, try to appreciate the embedded message in his post, seek understanding. Maybe I’m being empathetic as someone who is often misunderstood. But that just means I squeeze a tad more effort each time into understanding others.

    As for Syncains rant, my first opinion was that he felt developers were abandoning the core of players who made them. Every long time gamer here should understand that statement on it’s face. For others, understand that gamers were and still are heavily mocked, which makes their developers members of this group of social outcasts/misfits/whatever you will want to term it. It means that the success of video games was made on the backs of players like Syncain who believed in the vision of developers long before people were willing to say development was a profession. These same developers then come and completely forget how they got where they were. The Syncains of the community aren’t lashing out at raw change, their lashing out at the abandonment. Just think that each time any gamer says “this game isn’t made for you anymore” they’re making this very case; that game is no longer for the ones who got that developer where they were. And that’s a warning to any gamer, no matter when you started, what you like, or who you play with. It’s a story that says you will be abandoned one day too by the developers of your favorite hobby; they will make games as though “the masses” made their names known amongst successful companies when in fact it was the diehard nerds who loved their creativity, nurtured it, and who were loyal.

    Do these companies owe their customers anything? In my opinion …you’re damn right they do. They owe them loyalty, nothing more and nothing less. That doesn’t mean they’ll cater to every whim and idea of their fan base, but that perhaps their games should never “not be for” the audience that brought them success.

    In our little social gaming community, we really do ourselves a great disservice by alienating one another. It only serves to pad the pocketbooks of these companies who’ll forget you even existed.

    • Do these companies owe their customers anything? In my opinion …you’re damn right they do. They owe them loyalty, nothing more and nothing less.

      Talk about entitlement, eh?

      The “abandonment” is completely imagined – there was never any implicit contract outside of your own mind. The reward of your and mine and Syncaine’s loyalty in the early days were entertaining games. Transaction complete. This is one of those truths that come with age, as you mentioned.

      Honestly, if you want to talk about loyalty and what game companies should be doing out of respect for early adopters… they are already doing it. By turning gaming from a deviant, niche hobby into mainstream ubiquity, companies like Blizzard (etc) are fertilizing the fields for future companies to capitalize on hitherto “neglected” genres (Roguelikes, etc). Only this time around, no one will be making fun of you for enjoying them.

      See also: Jazz, Rock & Roll, movies, comic books, anime (sorta), etc.

  12. @Azuriel: There’s a pretty big difference between entitlement and indebtedness.

    • Not when you presume an indebtedness that doesn’t exist. Then you become indistinguishable from the “it’s my $15/month” guys, aside from claims of seniority.

      I get the lure of sentimentalism, but either these were companies who have an “indebtedness” only to their shareholders, or they are artists who surely do not need your chains around their hands. The only thing owed anyone is equal value for your dollar. Which you received.

      Besides, even if they owe you “more,” they are repaying a hundred-fold for mainstreaming the hobby. Eventually there will be space for new companies for you to enslave with your money, making the kind of games only you enjoy. Until then, go ahead and demonstrate some of that delayed gratification the kids don’t know about.

  13. @Azuriel: You would agree they are indebted to shareholders, who paid with cash to help them create games, but you wouldn’t agree that they are indebted to the customers who bought it, without whom these companies would no longer be making games and shareholders wouldn’t get a dime. Both parties invested cash, but only one invested time and ideas to actually helping make the game a success, building entire (lucrative) communities around it. One gave a loan, which has been paid 1000 fold in cash, and you yet think these companies still owe “shareholders” more than they owe the players? One of these parties continues to pay, which cannot be said of shareholders. If that’s what you believe, I’ll respect that it’s what you believe.

    I think you do not understand. But I’m at peace with that.

    • Oh, I understand what you are arguing. I just believe it’s sentimental nonsense.

      As a customer, you did not invest in these companies, you paid value for value. Shareholders and investors, without whom these companies would not even exist TO provide customers with a product to “invest” in, paid value for potential value. You, as someone who got an entertaining game out of the transaction, did not.

      Honestly, I find it completely bizarre that A) you think paying someone for an item somehow enslaves them, and B) you DON’T feel like you should be indebted to the companies, by that logic. Communities form around these games, but they are communities that would not exist without the game. Ergo, you owe way more to Blizzard, etc, than they would ever owe you. Is a church indebted to its congregation, or is it the other way around?

      Nevermind the falseness of the argument to begin with. These companies are “forgetting the people that made them what they are” based entirely on your and Syncaine’s dissatisfaction with the direction. What of the early adopters who are satisfied? Should there be a poll? 50% + 1 to decide the direction?

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