It’s time fans stop thinking they can be game developers

If you can’t say anything nice, maybe it’s time to say nothing at all

This Week In Games is a weekly column that tackles gaming’s biggest stories. This week, Jake Tucker argues that players shouldn’t presume to know better than the people who make their favourite game – especially when harassment comes into play.

What is it that makes game fans so eager to criticise the games they ostensibly love? That sounds dramatic, but it’s always tough to watch social media swell with lots of armchair experts, eager to claim they have the one idea a AAA game studio needs to fix its flagship product.

These ideas, made by untrained players who don’t have any idea in a lot of cases about the work that goes on behind the scenes and even which ideas might have been experimented on behind the scenes, are often not perfect.

This week we’ve been able to see not just one but two controversies at once. After the first week of its beta, there have been complaints that Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is too different / similar, depending on who you ask. Elsewhere, a social media statement dropped on Twitter by Respawn Entertainment asking for fans to stop harassing their development team.

Apex Legends.
Apex Legends. Credit: Respawn Entertainment

There’s a couple of different issues throughout these different complaints, but it all comes down to one crucial thing: fans of games seem to feel so much ownership that they can demand changes to the games they’re playing. Several responses to Respawn’s tweet suggested that if Respawn changed the things they wanted changed, the harassment would stop. “Then switch back the iron sight on the heat sink and don’t sell the reactive skin for $160” claimed one response. “You will get constructive feedback when you construct a playable and enjoyable game,” said another.

Elsewhere, streamers and content creators have complained that Modern Warfare 2 has changed the series trademark minimap, as it no longer shows little blips of enemies while shooting, something developer Infinity Ward has said is because they don’t want to punish players for firing their weapons. Which seems reasonable for a shooter. Others have complained that the time to kill is too different to previous games in the series, alternating between claims that it is too fast or too slow.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Infinity Ward.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Infinity Ward.

I personally think Modern Warfare 2’s minimap changes are positive, but it isn’t really about whether the changes are good or bad, or even about feedback in general. Constructive criticism makes just about everything better – journalists thrive on getting edited for example – but constructive criticism isn’t yelling at someone to fix their game, or demanding something is more in line with what you want.

Sadly, this isn’t a new issue. In March 2012, Mass Effect 3 released. The game’s ending was viewed by some fans as so bad that the community created a firestorm on social media, harassing developers and even going so far as to start a petition to demand Bioware change the game. Bioware changed the ending. There’s a great video by People Make Games where the developers talk about how much it impacted them, and if you’re the sort of person that might think of tweeting abuse, maybe watch the video to see the sort of impact this can have.

It would be easy to blame the Dunning–Kruger effect and write it off if it weren’t for the fact that in games it is often such a toxic event – and so often leads to the harassment of developers, disproportionately including those who identify as anything other than straight white men – that it’s one of the single biggest threats to open and transparent communication from developers out there.

As game developers and publishers start to get better at looking after their employees and their mental health, it seems less likely that this sustained pressure will get fans the things they think they want, and instead lead to developers isolating themselves further and being less transparent about upcoming developments. That’s bad news for the entire industry, so maybe if the angry fans could lay off the abuse we could all just enjoy games – the thing we’re supposed to be here for – and just have a nicer time in general.

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