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Entitlement Culture

Apparently I write about (gamer) entitlement every two years.

Well, here is the 2018 version, inspired by this section from MMOBro’s recent post:

The problem with trends is that businesses chase them to the detriment of innovation and traditional success stories. It also reinforces the entitlement culture gamers have developed over the years. Read responses to any game developer’s tweet if you don’t believe me. “I supported you for 10 years and now you RUINED Magic Turtle Kingdom by adding BLUE HAIR! READ THE LORE! You’re so stupid I uninstall and never support you again.” This is an issue with society at large, but game design continues to move in a direction that feeds player entitlement. Games tell players they earn their wins but aren’t to blame for their losses, and egos balloon as a result.

All of this creates more toxic communities, games developed for the common denominator, less creative character development, and less chances to show player skill. It’s not where I want see game development money heading, but you can’t outrun a tsunami.

The Bro’s overall post was about the lamentation of the “MMOification” of all gaming genres. Which is a thing more commonly referred to as “adding RPG elements,” but seeing as RPGs are becoming rather scarce these days, MMOs are probably a good enough example to explain what is happening. Which, basically, is a cross-generation acknowledgment that XP and seeing meters fill up is pretty universally compelling (to a point).

But what I actually want to talk about is this part:

It also reinforces the entitlement culture gamers have developed over the years.

No.

First, using “entitlement” as a pejorative is a thought-terminating cliche that absolves one of examining whether the implicit claims make any sense. By saying “entitled gamer” you really mean “gamer who erroneously believes their opinion has value” without bothering to explain A) why that opinion holds no value, and B) why your own opinion does.

But it’s worse than that. The (presumably hypothetical) example of a gamer tweeting criticism of an apparent lore discrepancy is meant to make the entire exchange seem ridiculous. Not just the threatening of uninstalling part, but also, implicitly, the giving so much of a shit about lore/story/world in the first place. I agree that such a tweet is bombastic and the tone counter-productive. But instead of having a conversation about whether the designers actually ignored the rules of their own game fiction, we’re talking about “entitled gamers.”

Second, there is a presupposition that gamers have changed over the years at all. Did you really not know anyone who behaved like this hypothetical entitled gamer prior to the age of MMOification? Did not see them in high school, or the Returns section of Wal-Mart, or at the sidelines of their kids’ soccer games? Did you not encounter them playing Magic: the Gathering, or in Counter-Strike lobbies, or in your D&D group? Did you perhaps only encounter them once you started playing with large groups of completely random people from across the country/globe?

What changed was access. If someone was really upset about Super Metroid, they mailed a letter to Nintendo Power or otherwise shouted into the void. You never heard it. These days, they shout in your Twitter feed, your Facebook timeline, or in your subreddit. None of which existed prior to 2004, by the way, and didn’t get really popular until years later. We’re barely a decade into this grand “give everyone a voice” experiment, and as it turns out, not everyone has something nice to say.

Even worse/better, the developers want the shouting! Probably not the death threats and general ugliness, but absolutely the feedback and passionate, free advertising that spreads by digital word-of-mouth. These companies are not handing down stone tablets from on high – they are selling a product. And when you are in sales, it literally pays to attend to the ministrations of your customers.

This positive attention, not generalized entitlement, is what encourages a quite literal feedback loop. Maybe this loop counts as changed behavior, but that’s a function of attention, not egos inflated by game mechanics. I still contend that we’re only more aware of the nonsense these days because the devs have Twitter accounts (etc) to conveniently compile all the nonsense in a single location, which we then encounter as we try to glean nuggets of design wisdom from the chicken entrails.

In summation: when you pool everything in the same place, of course the turds float to the top.

The irony is that, at the end of the day, we all want better games, yeah? We may disagree on what “better” consists of or how to accomplish it, but we all desire fun things to play. The one sure-fire way to not achieve that goal is to claim one’s opponents as “entitled” or that there is an “entitlement culture” and thereby erode the very notion that gaming can (or should) be taken seriously at all.

If the kind of games you want to pay for are no longer being made, that’s a market failure. Threatening to quit over blue-haired turtles is rather silly, but I’d rather have developers attentive to details than the opposite, and you should too. Because, eventually, it will impact your favorite game.

And then you will not be entitled to complain about it.

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.