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Parity as Entitlement

I wrote a post about Entitlement and the problems surrounding its (ab)use in gaming discussions back in 2012. Nothing has changed since then – I still consider anyone who uses it in a semi-serious way to essentially be Godwin’ing their own argument. What I did not expect to see two years later is “entitlement” to be even further warped as a pejorative to paint even those that desire parity in their games. Or presumably, by extension, anyone who has any desires whatsoever.

From Tobold’s blog:

Gamers have a strong sense of entitlement. In real life the answer to the question of why your neighbor is driving a nicer car than you is relatively obvious: He paid for it (or got it as part of his job contract). Most people are okay with that in real life. In a massively multiplayer online game many people are not willing to accept that somebody else has nicer stuff because he paid for it. It is one of the principal objections to the Free2Play business model that somebody else might end up with paid-for nicer stuff. And special editions are based on the same tactics of price segmentation that Free2Play games use.

The context of this quote comes from a larger discussion on the escalating price of “Founder’s Packs,” e.g. the extremely clever corporate jujitsu that resulted in people paying $150 for the “privilege” of alpha-testing even F2P games. Tobold’s larger points are that A) “too pricey” is subjective, and B) game companies are better off selling digital goods in their Collector’s Editions (as opposed to expensive physical goods) if it were not for the fact that “entitled” gamers don’t like that.

“Entitlement” clearly being a trigger word for me, I asked: “Is an expectation of parity now considered entitlement?” Tobold replied:

I have never met ANYBODY who expected or even wanted parity in a game. What people want is a system that is skewed towards their strong points. Thus the person who has more available time than money wants a game where you are King of the Hill if you spend the most time in the game. While the person who has more money than time would prefer if he could achieve things by buying them. Neither of the two wants parity.

The reason why expecting game companies to reward time more than money is entitlement thinking is because obviously the game company would much prefer your money over your time.

(That almost sounds like game companies feel entitled to my money, but nevermind.)

Now, it seems to me that he is making the accusation that people only like what games they are good at. Which… is a bad thing, I guess? There really cannot be any other possible explanation for your friends getting mad at you bringing real-world dollars into a game of Axis & Allies (or Chess, etc etc) other than taking away their advantage of more skillful play, right? Those entitled jerks… it’s all the same!

I enjoy parity in games. In fact, I expect it. Arguably the hallmark of any “game” is consistent rules that apply to every player equally (assuming the game isn’t based around asymmetry). If someone beats you in a fair game by virtue of better skill or strategy, who could legitimately complain? Even if they won by virtue of simply having spent more time playing the game, how could you object? Tobold and others may point out that some people have more time than money, but I do not know anyone who has 25 hours in their day. In contrast, the dollar amount anyone could have on hand is effectively unbounded. You could have $10, you could have $1,000,000.

Perhaps this disagreement comes from differing definitions of parity. Tobold in later comments suggests no MMORPG features parity because different people have different amounts of time to spend playing the game. This is not a dilemma to me – as I mentioned previously, the both of us have the same 24 hours in a day in which to allocate our time. I have zero issue with you receiving greater rewards (etc) for having spent more time playing the game than I. In fact, it sort of boggles my mind that this is even a point of contention. Is that not how any activity should inherently work? “You spent more time reading a book and got farther into than I did… unfair!”

I might be able to see where people could get angry about someone meeting or exceeding your own skillful play by simply repeating a low-skill activity for days and days. But even then, the results of your skill is self-evident: you achieved the result more quickly with less (wasted) time.

Bringing real-world money into a game is NOT analogous to either skill nor time. The amount of money any of us have is the result of an entirely different “game,” which operates on entirely different “rules.” It is like me getting an extra Queen in a game of Chess simply because I won a game of Checkers last year. Did that giant pile of real-world money give you the freedom to spend more time playing the game than me? That is both okay and irrelevant. The uber-rich guy, the 12-year old on summer break, the dropout college student, or the oil rig worker on his two weeks off all value the time spending playing the game equally for as long as they do.

Desiring parity in the games you play is not entitlement. Desiring that fewer companies tether their business model to the rules of the games they make is not entitlement. Desiring to play games you are good at is not entitlement. Desire is not entitlement. When you use the word “entitlement” as a pejorative, all you are doing is asserting that someone has unreasonable expectations about something, without actually bothering to offer an argument or explanation as to why it is unreasonable.

 

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?