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.

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Posted on April 3, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Most sensible and credible post I’ve read on my gaming blog roll since all this Mittens crap started.

    I think you could make the same argument about the right and left in U.S. politics right now; bitching and moaning that government dare cater to anything other than MY personal viewpoint.

    It’s dangerous, divisive,and ultimately weakens and destabilizes government (or the gaming industry). They have the responsibility to please us ALL to the best of their ability, and that stimulates innovation. Fighting amongst ourselves allows them to sit back and wait until we figure out what we want, instead of working their butts off to win us over.

    If we continue to focus attacks on each other, attempting to eliminate services we don’t care about, we ultimately decrease competition and innovation, and decrease consumer satisfaction.

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    • “They have the responsibility to please us ALL”

      This is so fallacious that I almost don’t know where to begin. They do NOT have a responsibility to do so. I’m not sure which country you come from but in the US this is especially true as we have a representative form of government.

      You elect people on your side of the spectrum hoping that they decide things in a manner which you agree with. But they don’t have to! And they especially don’t have to do anything that the opposition wants done.

      But in order to get something done it usually requires compromise which means neither sides gets what they want.

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      • Surely you would agree that Senator X, who won 53% of the vote, should, in some way, attempt to represent the interests of the 47% of people who did not vote for him/her. After all, the Senator for the neighboring state certainly won’t.

        Or do you favor a government in which winners take all, there is a tyranny of the majority, and the ruling power has free reign to pass as much legislation as possible?

        Whether or not it is actually enumerated in the constitution or not, I prefer the former over the latter.

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      • Generically that senator does represent the 47% as much as the 53%. But when it comes to specifics that is where the differences reside at. Say they have to cut the deficit. The vast majority say 90% want it reduced. But maybe the 47% want to only raise taxes and the 53% want to only cut spending, or the other way around. The winning side gets to try their option. There is no reason to do both, unless in the bigger picture neither party can get the required number of votes and they must compromise.

        As for “tryanny of the majority” that can be applied to anything and everything. It is basically meaningless. And if the the senator ruled with the 47% would that equate to the “tryanny of the special interests over the majority”? Let’s face it elections should mean something. If we don’t like it elect someone else. Finally, the minority have their basic rights protected by the US Constitution. But that doesn’t mean the losers in an election(minority side) can get their way. That is just reality.

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  2. If I buy a newspaper am I entiteld to see an editorial that supports my viewpoint on a certain subject? I as a consumer have the option to buy a game or not to buy a game. I’m really not legally entitled to anything much. Now maybe the company can get into trouble for false advertising etc but that is a government or court matter and the consumer has to go to those agencies for relief.

    Consumers may yell foul and say that the game didn’t meet what the company said it would. But again you could have found that out if you waited one week.

    Caveat emptor.

    Now before anyone goes balistic, everyone can ask or even demand that a product fit their needs and wants. There is nothing wrong in that. But no one and no company is under any obligation to do so. If there is a big enough market, someone wanting to make a buck will deliver the product to fit the demand. History shows this to always be the case.

    Firefly has lower rating than Jersery Shore. I may not like it and you may not like it. But there are many more that do like it and their market is bigger. It has nothing to do with fair or unfair. People have different tastes and wants. If more people want Snookie than the industry is answering to their demands.

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    • History also shows that he who holds the goods will withhold them when he is the only supplier. In other words, he’ll rip you off sure as the sun the first opportunity he gets. History also shows that markets operate the same way republics and dictatorship say. Exactly the same. Someone wanting to make a buck will do anything, including promising a product and never delivering it if they can get the money first. Under your “no one is obligated” theory, we’d have piracy, theft …OH WAIT.

      I guess I’m just saying that companies *only* do the things which will benefit them and they will only do what a customer asks when it means saving/not losing their money. No one is obligated …until said company is going broke for snubbing their nose at consumers. Then they’re all promises and roses.

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    • I have spoke nowhere of an obligation on the part of a company.

      I am speaking of the marginalization of consumerist opinion by way of comparing it to “entitlement” – itself a pejorative that has come to insinuate a right claimed but not earned. Even now, the phrase “everyone is entitled to his/her opinion” is a dismissal instead of a truism. This is bad for all of us.

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    • @Doone, and why shouldn’t the company do things that benefit them? Clearly doing things that don’t benefit them results in them being out of business.

      @Azuriel change obligation to requirement. My point was a company has a self interest just like everyone and everything else. They weight certain costs benefits etc and make decisions accordingly, just like everyone else does. And sometimes their analysis is wrong but they think it is correct.

      Let’s face it. If someone came up to any of us and showed us a guranteed way to make money and not have to worry about it we would do it. Companies are the same way. Except there are no guarantees and that is where some wants are left ‘wanting’.

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  3. It will always be a core issue of game design debates that they mostly boil down to people wanting things for themselves and rationalizing why others are wrong. take the evergreen “hardcore vs. casual” controversy: it’s usually a case of casuals being called carebear/themepark crowd or hardcores being called elitists. yet, both just really want the same thing – MMOs catering to THEIR wishes. there’s no difference between them and it’s a legitimate wish on both sides.

    I agree talking about entitlement is wrong here and often gets misused as a term. there are a few situations though where I think entitlement (or “wrong entitlement”) is more suitable. I remember a post by Grumpy Elf on this not too long ago on the MoP beta access – http://thegrumpyelf.blogspot.com/2012/03/beta-be-calm-people-move-along.html

    I think there are some good examples among his quotes. it’s hard to define the line, but for me it’s players with unrealistic, individual expectations of designers (not so much in terms of content but how/when it’s delivered) and players using the “payer is king card” on virtually any issue no matter how impractical or out of context. but maybe plain ignorance would be a better way of calling such behavior.

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    • I agree, Syl, but the truth is that he who holds the coin purse holds the power. That is all. The “payer is king card” isn’t played often enough to be perfectly honest. Consumers are just too willing to buy disagreeable products. This is why those consumers continue to be dissatisfied: the company has no reason to listen to their concerns when the money continues to flow. None.

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      • Oh there’s buyer power for sure, but there’s also such a thing as a nagging, impatient customer. ;) many MMO players are not aware what goes on during certain game development phases, betas, marketing campaigns etc. or underlying reasons for a boost/nerf. if you whine, you should inform yourself what you whine about, how it affects the overall picture and whether it’s in the field of possibility. otherwise you’re no better than a guy ordering pizza in a french restaurant. that I have no sympathy for.

        and to echo something Adam said too, gamers do not usually have the longterm picture or know what’s best for them. there’s a reason why developer is a profession, even if it’s all fine and dandy to know what you personally would like to see as a player. if all payers have the same power, we have chaos. so it’s basically about balance; how to get feedback as a developer and how to interpret and select that feedback. this is incredibly hard, hence the tendency to focus on majorities. but even then, you still need to weigh the pros and cons against what the philosophy for the game might be. how far is it good to implement the wishes of the player base, where do you need to draw the line? I gotta say, it’s a hell of a job.

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  4. One could easily argue that customers don’t always know what they really want until it’s given to them. So while there are millions of people out there who play WoW, it’s not necessarily true that WoW is really what they want. It may just be all they’re aware of, or the only MMOG they think they’ll like. This idea logically extends to the idea that a game which gives customers exactly what they SAY they want (as opposed to what they ACTUALLY want) runs the risk of boring them.

    The term “lowest common denominator” doesn’t necessarily imply there’s a “highest common denominator.” All it implies is that game design tends toward appealing to the broadest audience they know of (basically what a mathematical lowest common denominator is), and with that comes the dangerous territory of “giving players what they want,” at which I would respond by pointing back to my first point. I think the commenter you quoted is referring to the difference between providing customers with something compelling and interesting vs. providing customers with everything they themselves ask for.

    Look at all the “failed” WoW-likes on the market. You don’t think they did a lot of market research? You don’t think they tried to give their potential customers what they asked for? They did EXACTLY that, and were rewarded with mediocre sales and paltry subscriber numbers.

    WoW succeeded because it gave players something they didn’t even know they wanted. Do you think that what WoW offered at release was exactly what customers were asking for at the time? Hardly. Blizzard took something that already existed and turned it into something everyone wanted to play. Look at the reviews. They all talk about things WoW did that seemed so obvious once they were there but apparently no one besides Blizzard was thinking about. WoW-likes to this day are copying the most obvious of Blizzard’s innovations and ignoring the ones that, in aggregate, actually make WoW a compelling experience. They, and we, just don’t get it.

    In my experience, gamers are really bad at accurately describing what about a good game makes it a good game. The commenter you quoted is describing this without realizing it. The lowest common denominator he’s referring to is the tendency for game designers to pander to their audience without considering the fact that their audience has no expertise whatsoever. All it takes is a publisher or designer with no creative integrity to ruin a franchise.

    It takes a mediocre designer catering to his audience to make a mediocre product. That’s easy. It’s the truly great designers who figure out what their audience REALLY wants and stay true to that vision. Steve Jobs is a great example of the latter. I dunno about you, but I could do with a few more Steve Jobses in the game design industry.

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    • I just realized I never made my point very clear.

      The commenter quoted in thepost was making the point that too many games try to ingratiate themselves with an audience that has no interest in them, instead of focusing on the audience that is interested and doing something they like well. The “entitlement” he refers to is not “expecting something fun” out of a game, it’s expecting a game to whore itself out to your preference, no matter how obtuse, and ignoring it if it doesn’t do exactly what you want. Instead of judging a game on its merits–on whether or not it’s a fun game–it’s judged on what it doesn’t do that you want it to.

      tl:dr: Game designers are far too preoccupied with “doing what gamers want” instead of “doing what’s fun.” That’s his point. And it’s a valid one.

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      • The irony is that I agree with you. I have always considered it a minor tragedy of the human experience that we must grope and fumble with the words to give shape to that which we desire; that we can have fun and not be able to explain why; that we can lose a thing, feel the loss, and forever be unable to name it.

        The difference is that I believe it is absurd to blame the consumer, which is exactly what the language of entitlement does. Entitlement as a pejorative undermines the foundation of opinion, and by extension denigrates individual tastes, preferences, and expression.

        Do individuals always know what they want, or can put it into words? Tragically, no. But it is the game designer’s responsibility to be true to their own intentions, be they artistic or monetary. The poster I quoted is implicitly suggesting that “entitled gamers” were to blame for the designer’s poor design direction, as if the designers simply couldn’t help themselves. “I wouldn’t have accepted the bribe had I not been offered it, your honor.”

        It is a cynical, nihilistic form of “responsibility jujitsu” to blame consumers for the actions of producers.

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      • Absolutely, I can agree with that. Blaming consumers for crappy product design is like blaming a baby for being unable to articulate why it is crying. And your argument is sound — railing against the entitlement of others is intellectually dishonest.

        I think the frustrating thing is that, more than seeing what YOU like squashed by others who are likewise “entitled” is seeing a game try to please too many people and end up pleasing no one, or at best becoming a lukewarm experience.

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  5. Good post. The final point you make on gamers arguing amongst themselves while Capcom and company lock away pieces of the game you just paid for *on the disk* is something that needs to be harped on by every damn game blog on the internet. I’ve written on the issue of this slippery slope of charging for every piece of content several times in the past and with each news announcement from the industry I start to realize we’ve arrived at the worst case scenario.

    The really sad side of it? Players will continue to pay these companies to charge them more for the same game. This will not stop and this is the idiocy of divisive arguments of gamers pointing the finger at each other. As if they’re the ones crafting these games and taking their money.

    Sad state of affairs in the world.

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    • Indeed. I despise Day 1 DLC, and yet here I had bought the ME3 Collector’s Edition. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me, but I see no good way to split that baby. “Protest” by denying myself an otherwise good game? I am not sure it is an issue I am willing to go to the mattresses for just quite yet; especially with a divided resistance, so to speak.

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  6. Spot on. Glad you nailed this for me, (you have a very incisive mind!), The term “entitled” has always made me uneasy but I couldn’t pinpoint why… it seems to be valid – “spoiled” is the word used on us as children – but it’s a fake validity. I get similarly queasy whenever someone accuses someone else of being “in denial”. Think a lot of our terms are used to disguise an agenda, as you so clearly demonstrated. I don’t think endlessly defining and redefining the terms themselves is helpful, it only makes them a more effective disguise. The behaviour referred to is the recognisable part that we can possibly agree on. What causes queasiness is who is slinging these terms about, and why, as you wrote.

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  7. Love this post!

    I think on an individual level there are certainly cases of ignorance or selfishness in the MMO player base, and I am surely no fan of capitalism. (For me, some of the reactions to the MoP beta invitations are good examples of this in action.) However, I really dislike the whole “players are entitled and should shut up” movement that has gained popularity lately.

    To use your comparison, we haven’t had 5 seasons or whatever of Jersey Shore vs. 1 season of Firefly simply because the “stupid public” watch one and not the other. Jersey Shore is cheap as hell to produce — there are no fancy sets, no special effects, no writers. You don’t have to create nuanced marketing campaigns, and the cast appear in celebrity gossip sites for free publicity. Jersey Shore has had 5 seasons because it is cheap and profitable.

    On a personal note I am generally pretty critical of capitalism, but people shouldn’t blame consumers for companies generally wanting to put in as little effort as possible for as big a profit as possible.

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  8. It’s not entitlement that bothers me, people are welcome to claim whatever rights they want, and make choices based on whether those rights are respected. What drives me bugfuck-crazy is the narcissism of SO many of the posters. Opinions are good. Expressing your opinion is good. But – for the love of all that is holy, GROW THE FUCK UP and recognize that your opinion is just that, an opinion. Your perspective is just one of many, many others, and deserves no special consideration. You don’t have unique access to the truth. Your opinion is not inherently correct. Argue your case with logic and examples to convince your audience of the truth in your claim. I quote: “Life does not start and stop at your convenience you MISERABLE PIECE OF SHIT!” and also “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” long live Walter Sobchak, long live The Dude.

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  9. You can’t have the argument both ways.

    Sure you can.

    See, both complaints – “evil greedy corporations catering to lowest common denominator” and “spoiled entitled customers whining endlessly” – are simply two aspects of the same problem. This problem is rooted deeply within human nature, and can be summed up in two familiar words: Power corrupts.

    As gaming companies gain power, their games become notably worse. As consumers gain power, the quality of their feedback plummets (as you’ve pointed out yourself in your recent post about Metacritic rating wars).

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  10. Entitlement is one of those words that is popularly considered “bad”, and comes loaded with a lot of preconceptions, misconceptions, or just plain prejudice. I take a more critical approach, and see the word as a red flag to read/listen carefully. Common use of it as a pejorative has stripped it of it’s true meaning, that sometimes, people are legitimately entitled to something.

    In the case of ME3 (I never played ME), it’s my perception players were promised a certain type of game, where choice matters. They instead got three endings that would look the same to a color blind player. I can understand a call of shenanigans. Player choice was advertised, but not sold. People are entitled to services they pay for.

    Anyway, I call bull within the first statement quoted “Why play a game…” Here’s my answer, people do play difficult games, because it’s fun. Other people also play easy games, because it’s fun. Game designers are trying to market to both, sometimes at once. Bravo, I say.

    I like that approach. For a game like WoW, I hear so many complaints about “Dumbing down the game” what with the talents, buff system, and specs being reworked. I personally see this example as winnowing the chaff, where player choice never really mattered. I’m all for getting rid of it and focusing effort on challenging my gameplay, not my ability to read EJ.

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