How often have you been in a game where a player with hundreds of hours in does nothing but complain about how awful said game is? How irritating is it when you see a group of people on social media trashing a company for 'ruining a game' only to buy said game when it releases, or worse, preorder? What is it about gamers that makes us work against our own interests? Is it because we're insatiable or habitual collectors? Do we hope it will be better than we expect? Is it because we value money differently when it comes to games? Whatever it is, it's time to put up or shut up. Use the one weapon we have to make our voices heard because we're being taken advantage of, and we're letting it happen.
We all know those people who complain endlessly about a game that they've spent hundreds of hours playing, talking about how awful everything is while they log in every day and pound away at the keys. You hear them in voice chat, see them in text chat, and run into them on the forums. "Battlefield 3 is so broken, it's the worst, I hate EA," and then a year later the same gamer's shooting you from across a subway tunnel shouting, "Battlefield 4 is awful, I can't believe how bad this is, but Battlefront is going to rock." They're on Twitter talking about how terrible some aspect, or several aspects, of a game sound terrible but then they buy it anyway.
The first game I remember deciding not to buy, because I couldn't live with a production decision, was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. My FPS clan had been on Medal of Honor: Spearhead for years, running our own server, managing mods, keeping the trolls and cheats out, and building a community of people we saw every night on the server. Then we moved to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and eventually added a World at War server. That community came with us, following our clan from server to server and game to game, having the same fun, talking smack, throwing bullets and having a great time. Then MW2 was announced and we were told there would be no dedicated servers. A lot of PC players were pissed, especially in the FPS clans who all had their own servers and didn't want to lose that community feel by going to matchmaking servers. So, we didn't buy it. I didn't buy it later, just to play the single player, or to play multiplayer with other people. We gave our money to EA with Battlefield Bad Company 2, and we were glad we did.
I've decided to 'take my money elsewhere' other times over the years, but the last notable one was with Battlefront, again because of dedicated servers. I was excited for this game, being a fan of previous Battlefont games, and Star Wars. I really wanted this game, and was able to forgive many of the differences between it and the previous iterations. Then we find out they were doing exactly what I left the COD franchise for, removing dedicated servers. Honestly, if I wanted to play a matchmaking game that was more than something like 5v5, I'd play shooters on the console. So, I didn't buy it. Sure, I complained on Twitter, and sent message to EA about my disappointment, but the only statement any publisher actually cares about is to deprive them of your money. So I did. I have written about this game since it was announced, been so excited to play it with my clanmates, but it was the final straw. There's a little part of me that wishes I could play it, when my friends talk about it, but then I remember that it's not worth telling EA that I approve of this decision by giving them my money.
Now, I'm not talking about organized boycotts here. Those are about as pointless as petitions and complaining online. They are usually made up of a lot of people who weren't going to buy the game anyway, trying to outdo each other on how much they aren't going to do what they weren't going to do in the first place; look at the Chick-fil-A boycott. Then on the other end you get people who don't like the people boycotting, so they buy the game anyway to show how much they support what they probably weren't going to support, just to spite the people on the other end of the debate; see the Chick-fil-A boycott. At the end of the day they just become an incredibly annoying drama-fest that winds up being a wash in the end, and doesn't serve the consumers of the product in the first place.
What I'm saying is, gamers, as individuals, need to be more discerning when we spend our money. We also need to focus our dissatisfaction in a manner that actually gets noticed. Companies only care about one thing in most cases, which is the double-edged sword of capitalism. It means most companies only care about customer feedback in how it relates to making money, but it also means that we, as consumers, have the simplest method of making our wishes known. Of course good companies know that good customer service/satisfaction usually equates to more money, but the larger a company gets the more padding they have to ignore feedback because they know it has a smaller impact on sales. The real issue is when we, as gamers, complain endlessly about a game, or a feature, but we shell out that money anyway. One of the most well-known examples of this is the aforementioned MW2 boycott, which we all know didn't go so well.
Another example recently was with the Fire Emblem Fates localization and changes. A lot of gamers were legitimately upset about the changes, some of which appear to have been based on misinformation about some of the story elements. A hashtag was started, and people were sharing information, comparisons to the original, and discussion about localization issues in general. It could have been a real discussion about whether localization is necessary any longer, the puritanical nature of western censors, and to what extent consumers want the media localized. Instead it became a heated argument, with defenders claiming that localization has always happened so why complain now, and detractors claiming that this time it's much worse, with no actual discussion in between. At the end of it, the game had the biggest sales for the franchise from what I understand, and a lot of people complaining about it bought it anyway. Nothing has changed, and nothing is likely to change when people fail to use the one language that businesses understand, money.
What is it about us that makes us put up with so much detritus, to the detriment of future media? Is it something about gamers in general? It's not just video games that I see this in, comics, tabletop, and other geek entertainment seems to be something we have a hard time saying no to. I'm guilty of it, putting up with terrible writers or artists on a comic book, far longer than I should, in hopes that a new one will be put in their place. At least, with comics, that's something that does happen, rather than shelling out $60 or more for a game and hoping the next game will be better. Is it because most of us start out getting our games bought for us by family, parents and guardians, so when it's time to buy them ourselves we don't have the same sense of value? I know it took me a long time, living on my own income, before I started really considering the value of the games I was buying. Even when I was starting out and didn't have a lot of money, I wouldn't think twice about buying a game, and if it was junk I rarely cared when the next one came around. Now I look long and hard and make sure that my time, and money, won't be wasted by a game that doesn't fit the standards of what I'm looking for.
Bottom line though is you can complain all you want, sign all the petitions you want, and send as many tweets to a publisher as you want, but you're far more likely to get a response if your displeasure translates into actual financial repurcussions. Of course some companies, often indie developers and publishers, will listen more closely to customer feedback, but if you think Nintendo, Activision, or EA are going to give your tweet, forum post, or in-game complaint the same consideration they would the loss of a sale, you're giving them far too much credit. Don't be that guy that complains about how bad a game is while logging your 600th hour, or that gal who writes a hundred tweets about how terrible a game translation is, only to buy it anyway. It's like buying a cow whose milk you know is sour. Do you think the seller cares once he has your cash?