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Gamers and Ownership: Buy A Game, Rule The Studio

Gamers. We’re a possessive bunch of folk. Never before, in any other industry, have I seen a group of people so strongly claim ownership of a product. I mean you see people complaining about movie plots, saying how they’d have done things differently. You see people complaining about poorly written books that somehow managed to be spotlit all the time. But I’ve never found any movie-goer or book-reader DEMAND that the movie be re-released with the plot fixed, or the book be re-written by someone who can string two sentences together without reading like one of those fabled typewriter-mashing chimps who have yet, to my knowledge, managed to knock out Shakespeare.

But games? Absolutely. All the freaking time. Don’t like a mechanic? RAGE. OMG, SHEER UTTER PURPLE-HULK-PANT RAGE FIX IT DEVS YOU SUCK OMG REFUND REFUND.




Yeah. Just recently someone on one of my Cube World videos was expressing hesitancy about picking up the pretty voxel alpha-state RPG because they ‘don’t want to get burned again like Terraria’. I didn’t pick up on that part of the comment because bitter experience forewarned me what would come - someone else did, though. ‘Why did you get burned in Terraria?’ some meek, doe-eyed little lamb asked; ‘Terraria was a great game!’

Brace! Brace!

‘Because they stopped developing it.’

Ahh, there it is. Scores, masses, veritable THRONGS of people upset to the point of petition-starting outrage that Redigit was stopping Terraria development. Also note the title of that petition: Help Terraria Stay.


I can still buy Terraria on Steam. It’s still there, up for sale. It’s still on my computer, too, perfectly playable a couple of years after picking it up. I don’t think ‘staying’ is the problem, because clearly the game has been released, is available for purchase, and isn’t going anywhere. In fact, since its release, it’s had bunches of updates that have extended the game considerably from its initial release state - and how many games can claim THAT?


How many games in your library have expanded significantly, free of charge, since you’ve bought them? More to the point - how often do you buy a game and EXPECT it to continually develop, free of charge, after buying it? Call of Duty? Mass Effect? Bioshock, Dragon Age, Left for Dead, Dead Island, GTA, Tomb Raider, FIFA, GRID, Batman, Super Mario, Dishonored, Mark of the Ninja, XCOM - I’ll stop there. None of the above. None of the big Triple-A games you’ve ever bought have continuously, and freely, developed their game world since release. It’s such a not-done-thing that I doubt you even expect them to. You don’t even think about it; you don’t presume that they’d do anything of the sort. You buy their game, you play it, and that’s that.

So what makes Terraria (and a few significant others, detailed below) different? The game as it stands now, July 2013, is much larger than the game that launched in May 2011. It has had considerable content added to its already grand scope. It was playable when it first landed in our laps with excited cries of awe and wonder and ‘OMG MINECRAFT CLONE!!!1!one’ - it’s WAY bigger now. Is that not enough? Isn’t it enough - MORE than enough - that the game you bought for just $10 (or $2.50 if you picked it up during one of its many, many, many 75% off sales) is now considerably bigger than it was at the start of its life, and you haven’t had to pay anything extra for that free content injection?

Apparently not. From where does that feeling of entitlement come? What gives you, the gamer who otherwise happily purchases a ten-hour playtime Triple-A title for $59.99, plays it and then shelves it, the right and compulsion to DEMAND the continued development of a $10 indie title into which you can easily sink hundreds of hours playtime? I know not the answers to these questions. I don’t think the guilty parties do, either. It’s one of those grand mysteries of the universe.

Mass Effect 3.

Hands up if a shiver ran down your spine, if your skin turned a whiter shade of pale, and trembling fingers clammy with sweat you tore your bloodshot, twitching gaze from those horrible words, those words that still give you nightmares, that wake you up screaming, clinging to your sodden bed sheets howling for justice in the wee hours of the night.

The absolute outrage of the ME3 ending was loud enough to drive EA / BioWare to release an extended ending. I haven’t played ME3 (much like those rumoured new Star Wars movies, ME3 doesn’t exist), haven’t seen this extended ending, but that in itself is quite a feat. When have you heard of film fanatics so outraged at a movie’s ending that they demanded it be remade with their preferred ending? When did you last hear of an enthused lover of the literary arts demanding, Dolores Clayborne style, that the author rewrite the ending of their favourite novel and DO IT RIGHT THIS TIME?


And yet that’s what fans of the Mass Effect franchise did after the gut-wrenching betrayal of their fandom that EA/BioWare inflicted upon them with the ending of ME3. So loud was the voice of those slighted people, so passionate their cry of outrage that EA-Ware felt compelled to silence the throng by extending the game’s content, and even that had a mixed response. They didn’t fix it, despite trying.

SHOULD they have fixed it, though? Is not the Mass Effect story across its three acts the creative property of the writer(s) and developers of the game, to execute as they see fit, public reaction be damned? Is it not testament to their skill as storytellers that they invoked such a passionate response from their fans at the conclusion of their three-part space opera? On the other hand - it’s not so much the way the story concluded that irked faithful ME fans, but the way EA-Ware handled the player’s investment in the tale up to that point. The player’s decisions throughout the trilogy were disregarded to the extent of rendering them pointless and that huge notion of disrespect towards the player from the game’s creators was too strong for the apology of an extended ending to overcome.


Fallout 3. Those words might not have you white-knuckled and gripping the edge of your computer desk to the extend ME3 did, but there are probably some of you out there who were reasonably peeved by the game’s ending. I’m not terribly au fait with the nuances of what went down here (I’m generally more enthused by side quests and tend to ignore main questlines in games so I’ve never actually finished Fallout 3), but as I understand it, when you completed the main quest in Fallout 3, the game ended and wouldn’t let you continue with side quests or exploring or any of that fun stuff. Sparked once again by heated cries of injustice from embittered fans, BethSoft released a DLC that added some alternate endings and let you continue your game in the same world, with the same character, after completing that final mission.

Sometimes, the entitlement of videogamers takes a more acerbic stance. As an alpha Minecraft player who runs a large Minecraft community and has kept up to date with the game’s developments and frequent, often weekly, updates, I noticed a pattern all too quickly - if they release a snapshot that contains bug fixes, people cry for more content; if they release a snapshot that contains new content, people cry for bug fixes. People weren’t, and aren’t, happy that the game was updating regularly - they wanted it to update THEIR way. They had paid money apparently not for the creator’s execution of his own vision but for a concept that they felt they should have fair say in swaying. I don’t know how. I don’t know how buying into a game’s alpha, beta, or even release, justifies anyone in dictating the direction a game takes. They’re not on the dev team, they’re not being paid to work on the game and they’re not receiving cheques from every sale. They’re the players. They’re the same people who watch movies that have crappy endings and then DON’T write to the film company demanding a remake.

The Minecraft-fuelled gamer entitlement endeth not there, however. The game was in alpha for a long while. There’s a universally accepted concept of what alpha and beta means in game development (and in software development); alpha is when you’re throwing new features in, and beta is when you’re done adding features and get them all to work together. People were OUTRAGED that Minecraft was in alpha for so long, even though the game was still continuously developing (and even now, is still continuously developing) with frequent added or changed content. The outrage was so vociferous that eventually Notch just changed the word ‘alpha’ to ‘beta’ and that was enough to shut people up. Technically the game was still alpha, but when people saw the beta label on it, they were happy. Is that not proof that those people who were kicking up a fuss were doing it based on absolutely nothing of solid substance? No cohesive argument for warranting the move from alpha to beta, no justifiable and worthwhile cause for wanting the game’s state to progress from alpha to beta - heck, they actually WEREN’T asking for what they thought they were asking - they didn’t want the game to progress from feature-adding to ‘no more features, we’re getting them all working now’. In fact, had Mojang STOPPED adding in features (as is the accepted way when moving your product from alpha to beta), I’m sure a whoooole load of people would have felt simultaneously sheepish and outraged at their own idiocy.


Shall we make it more personal? Despite working countless hours day and night on Minecraft’s progress, getting up early, sleeping late, frequently tweeting at inane pre-dawn hours that he was up fixing bugs, whenever Notch mentioned doing ANYTHING other than working on the game, The People revolted. According to the mass public, Notch was not allowed to take any kind of holiday from working on Minecraft. People had paid him for the game and that made them his employers and his employers stated that he must work until the game was finished, day and night, no breaks, no pizza, not even sleeping! SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK! And that’s not just confined to Notch - Lemmy, one of the Project Zomboid guys, mentioned recently that he’s had to set his Steam profile to private because a small group of people have taken to logging how many hours he’s playing games instead of working on THEIR Project Zomboid. Because, y’know, it’s theirs now, the whole thing. They threw some coins at it and now they own the entire project including the dev team and get to dictate when and for how long the team take time off from the game.

Eugh, Ick, Plah, Phtooey etc. etc.

So why don’t we see this kind of insane entitled behaviour in other things? Do we accept more readily that film and writing are artworks presented by their creator for observation and critique but never for change? Are we perhaps more aware that we don’t have ownership over these things because they are far more personal creations, whether pieces of cinematography lovingly crafted by the film’s director or words pouring from the soul of the storyteller, than a group of game devs in a studio each working towards the greater whole? (Though that, of course, wouldn’t explain the Terraria/Minecraft/PZ outrage, there being only a small handful of people working on those games and thus making the dev team more personal.)

Is it perhaps that videogames are more immersive, that they become more personal to us in their playing, that we feel unjustly brushed off when they don’t play out as we’d like them to? Maybe the video game fandom community is more closely knit than any other art or media community that we recognise our strength in numbers and that we can speak with One Voice if we need to, to enact change where we see it necessary?

Why do you, the videogamer, feel so entitled? You buy a game - a product - at a set price for a set number of hours entertainment, and the studio delivers its product unto your supine form and eagerly grasping hands. $5 for a two hour movie, $10 for a three-day book, $15 for a 45 minute album that you might listen to over and over - none of these things, if not quite to your liking, compel you to dig out your soapbox or coalesce in demand of reform. Why is $10 for an infinitely replayable game or $60 for ten hours of play-once-then-you’re-done content any different?

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