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Entitlement

“Entitlement,” like “casual” before it, is such a loaded word these days that I consider any gaming argument in which it is included to be a lost cause. How can you reason with someone who sees no merit in criticism, or (apparently) believes the rightful state of the consumer is to be one of permanent, ingratiatory groveling? I suppose we should be happy developers deign to part with their digital goods at all, yes?

Keen made a recent post on the subject of people being skeptical about proposed game features that have already been “proven” to work in older titles; things like 500 people fighting over keeps in DAoC, non-instanced player housing, and so on. I was going to write on the subject, when this section of a user comment jumped out of nowhere:

For an entitled gamer, why play a game where you can’t have something when there are plenty of games that will bend over backwards to hand it all to you on a silver platter? And unfortunately, the majority of gamers are entitled. Note that I am not using the word casual here because there are some casual games who are not entitled and some serious gamers who are.

I hate this system. I hate that the vast majority of new games shoot for the lowest common denominator to get as many subs as possible rather than finding a niche in the market and shooting for a reasonable slice of the pie.

At first blush, you may be tempted to agree. Don’t.

It’s dumb, it’s contradictory, it’s asinine. Look at all the whiny, entitled gamers in these sort of comments wanting player housing and 100+ player PvP battles, amirite? Having a preference does not make someone entitled. Wanting to be catered to as a consumer does not make someone entitled. Seeking maximum value for one’s gaming dollars does not make someone entitled. Buying/supporting only the games you like is not being entitled.

I wonder if people even understand what they are saying when they type things like “the vast majority of new games shoot for the lowest common denominator to get as many subs as possible.” That presupposes there is a “higher common denominator” that is being neglected when their own desires are equally fantasy bullshit. It is suggesting that games and mechanics these days are not being built to the satisfaction of their own refined palate, as if they were entitled to that.

You can’t have the argument both ways.

I understand and empathize with the sentiment. We live in a world where Firefly gets canned after a dozen episodes while Jersey Shore will be running its sixth season. Shit is unfair. And I would also agree that (MMO) gaming is in an era of extreme loss aversion; if something like Darkfall could make enough money to finance a sequel, surely that is “successful” enough, right? An investor flight to AAA quality has, in many respects, killed off the “middle class” of game designers. Without said middle class, it is entirely possible there are no designers catering to your preferred play style, and indie games can only go so far.

That said, twisting “entitlement” into (even more of) a pejorative and otherwise demonizing your fellow consumers is ultimately counter-productive. Begrudging them their satisfaction of capitalism working as intended (to them), gets you no closer to your dream game sequel. Instead, it leaves us all bitterly divided, rooting for each others’ failures, while those actually responsible continue eroding consumer surplus in the form of on-disc DLC, always-online DRM serving no other game purpose, and similar nonsense.

In other words: don’t blame the players, blame the game (designers). It is the latter saying your money isn’t good enough.

They Owe Us

There has been a rather interesting conversation going on in the comment section of my Class Warfare post. Essentially, the question is: do game companies owe their early fans anything? According to Doone, the answer is a clear yes.

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. [...]

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.

I find this argument fascinating for a number of reasons.

1) It legitimizes the “It’s my $15/month” argument.

The only difference between the “It’s my $15/month” argument and the one being presented here, is one of seniority. In effect, you have been paying your $15/month longer than anyone else, therefore you are entitled to catering. No, it’s worse than catering, it’s shackling. Because:

2) Trading value for value enslaves the producer of value.

If you bought Rock n’ Roll Racing or Lost Vikings, Blizzard owes you. Your dollars bought more than a game, they bought a seat at the design table because Blizzard would not exist if it were not for your patronage. In the same way, Apple owes you for buying an iPod, Wal-Mart owes you for your groceries, and the company of your first job owns you to the point that you should never not be working towards their eternal success.

Facetiousness aside, I am more sympathetic to the situations in which a company like Blizzard says one thing and then eventually does another. I remember rather distinctly when they said you would never be able to change factions, and never be able to transfer from a PvE server to a PvP one, for example. If your WoW subscription was predicated on such “constants,” then you have a legitimate grievance of fraud, in my eyes.

That being said, I thoroughly reject the notion of some kind of implied contractual relationship between the producer of a good and the buyer thereof. Someone who bought Lost Vikings was not “investing” in (future) Blizzard, they were trading value for value. In other words, you paid cash for a piece of entertainment. Transaction complete. This is different from actual investors who pay cash now on the hope of a future return.

3) Entitlement vs Indebtedness.

When I pointed out that claiming game companies owe customers a debt of loyalty sounds an awful like entitlement, Doone said:

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

Is there? Is entitlement not a presumption of indebtedness that does not exist? I suppose that is what we are arguing, whether a debt exists in the first place.

But I have to ask: why would Blizzard (etc) be indebted to us and not the other way around? Doone talked about the (lucrative) communities that form around these games, the sort of bonus value that send accountants and CFOs into orgasmic comas – the Elitist Jerks, the Thottbots, the Wowheads, the Tankspots, etc. All of these things undoubtedly improve Blizzard’s bottom line. And yet, would these communities exist if not for Blizzard’s game(s)? Are we not indebted to Blizzard and other game companies for having created something worth, say, blogging about? How is an early payment a discharge of our debt, and the beginning of an eternal one for them… instead of the other way around?

For what it is worth, I understand the argument about it not (usually) making financial sense to alienate your “base.” Brand loyalty is worth several times is weight in gold, after all. But just like that old cliche, “If you love something, let it go.” Are we entitled to more than a game we used to love? Is the having of it not enough?

Who is really in whom’s debt?