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?

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Posted on September 27, 2011, in Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. There’s a lot of presumption in your post, less an invitation to join an actual discussion, but I’ll try again.

    First, I stated very clearly as you quoted the intent of my statements. Perhaps they were lost in the length of the post, but you quoted it nonetheless: “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.” To elaborate, the mutual indebtedness you describe is in fact a mutually beneficial relationship. Chicken and egg arguments don’t apply here as you tried to do: the games wouldn’t exist without the community. The games can have a million investors with a million dollars each but until a group of nerds decides to purchase their wares …and whose love makes it a success …there is a debt there, and certainly its mutual, as you have argued. Players are generally extremely grateful and passionate about their games and we wouldn’t be having this discussion if not for their loyalty and love which often turns to scorn and disappointment.

    The slavery statements are absurd in this context. I’ve clearly stated here that the debt owed is to not make it to the top and decide that the customers who brought you success (not investors) are no longer worthy of your games (i.e., exclusion in order to cater to a wider audience to please CEOs). I see you speaking for one side of the coin and not mentioning the other. I see you discarding customer purchases as if they aren’t equally investments. I get it, you believe what you believe. But to simply refuse to acknowledge the mutuality of the relationship is a little more than unfair.

    There’s no shackle here: I still own Zelda as it was when I originally invested Capcom. The debt it done: I still own my game as it was presented. This is impossible to apply to an online game, especially persistent games, if a company intends to change the game entirely from the model that brought it success.

    Look, I don’t mind if companies do what they want with the dollars gamers give them. I play what I like and I vote with my wallet in that regard. However, I also don’t automatically condone their behavior when its pretty clear their games have come to exclude the customers that helped them get there. Sure, I won’t whine about. I’ve blogged on this very question with a conclusion you actually agree with (http://www.raiders-guild.org/2011/02/what-a-paid-mmo-subscription-entitles-you-to/). The difference is that I still understand that, stockholders be damned, the success of a company is made on the cash of the customer. Period. Don’t forget those people, don’t trample on them, and don’t suddenly decide your products should be made to their exclusion in your mad chase of the almighty dollar.

    This makes no one a slave to anything. People and companies make their own choices and whether they like it or not they need each other. But I call money-grubbing by its name: money-grubbing. Like it or not, gamers hate to see these companies abandon them. It doesn’t make it less true because you think these players are just whining, being sentimental, or any other provocative terms you like to throw around.

    There’s no reason to react so extremely on so little a thing. I’m a gamer just like you and my insights into this matter aren’t any less informed or rational than you believe your own to be.

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    • If it was in question, I dislike no longer being the target audience as much as the next guy. And I will absolutely complain as loud and as long as I can stand to do so in the forums if there is even a remote chance a change can be affected; talk is cheap, and I can afford it.

      That being said, even if the conditions of the relationship is “only” to not abandon the early adopters (whom appear to be a homogenous, tangible group), it is sentimental slavery to expect catering, in my eyes. As you mention, this is the kind of worldview unlikely be particularly affected by argument either way – something you either accept or reject, like Utilitarianism or other -isms.

      What I will say is this: a game, in the literal sense, would absolutely exist without the community. There was no preexisting 8 million person community for WoW when it launched, just like there was no tablet computer community before the iPad was launched. A potential community, perhaps, but not one that would have coalesced on its own.

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  2. “Are we not indebted to Blizzard and other game companies for having created something worth, say, blogging about?”
    No, we are not. They produced a product, we paid them to consume the product. If they still want our money, they should in a broad sense adapt their product to the wishes of the fanbase. I dont like WoW anymore, so I stopped playing (without starting any lame ass thread on the forums) and of course stopped paying – they owe me nothing, I owe them nothing – is simple as that. And blogging, general ranting, etc. you can do about anything. Some people spotted the possibility and created sites like wowhead, but blizzard games are not specifically created, so someone can feed on ad revenue or something else.
    Let me repeat – blizzard owes us nothing. Neither we do.

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