Seven Sleazy Things Game Developers Need to Stop Doing

I try to keep my fingers fairly close to the pulse of the game industry, and not just because I happen to find it exciting to watch(which I do). It’s sort of my job to stay abreast of what’s going on there (well…one of them, anyway). There’s something I’ve noticed in my meanderings about the net; combing through various sites and sources. It’s that there’s more than one developer that really, really, really needs to grow up. 

You see, a lot of game developers act more entitled than a toddler going through the “terrible twos.” 

I’ve touched on this entitlement before, both here and on my personal blog (which I’m rather distressed hasn’t seen an update in ages). Today, I’d like to examine it a little more closely. After all, the issue of developer entitlement – and abuse – goes a hell of a lot deeper than anything I’ve talked about before. As a matter of fact, there’s a whole laundry list of things game developers and publishers are doing which displays both a blatant lack of respect for the consumer and a deep, consuming greed. 

[heading]Fighting Used Game Sales[/heading]

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d like you to imagine something. One day, the president of Ford goes public with some rather distressing news. See, he feels like used car sales are cutting -way- too much into the bottom line of his organization. He estimates that, because people aren’t buying new; Ford is losing potentially millions of dollars each year. He informs everyone that used car sales are killing the automotive industry, that if something isn’t done soon; everyone involved in the design and manufacturing process might well be out of a job.

Sounds a touch absurd, doesn’t it? If this hypothetical scenario were actually to happen, one would expect that the CEO would be laughed out of whatever forum he was speaking in – to say nothing of how much Ford’s stocks might drop. Why, then, do we tolerate this kind of talk where video games are concerned? Why are we hearing so many rumours that the next Xbox is going to block used game sales? 

The issue of used games -just like game sharing – shouldn’t even be an issue. People are going to buy used, just like people are going to wait for sales. Fighting against it is pointless, and it’s just going to irritate everyone involved. 

[heading]Invasive DRM [/heading]

As I’ve already explored DRM at length – to a degree, anyway – I’m not going to spend much time on this one. I’ll toss out a different analogy this time. Bob owns a convenience store. He does decent enough business – it’s certainly enough for him to get by – but sometimes, a shoplifter steals something from him. His security cameras don’t seem to be doing enough. Flash forward a few months, and dear old Bob has armed guards hired on to keep every customer at gunpoint. Eventually, people stop going to his store, and it goes out of business.

Apparently, a person doesn’t like being treated like a criminal when all they’re trying to do is buy a chocolate bar. 

The simple fact is; 99.9% of DRM accomplishes little except to drive otherwise legitimate users straight into the waiting arms of piracy.  It drives down gameplay quality, polarize people against developers, and ultimately does a better job of antagonizing its users than it does protecting the developer. 

[heading]Trademark Bullying[/heading]

I am sure, by now, that most of you have heard of Games Workshop’s claim that the term “Space Marine” belongs solely to them, and anyone who uses it in any form of fiction or media is infringing upon their trademark – much to the dismay of MCA Hogarth, author of Spots the Space Marine. Hogarth found her novel removed from Amazon on behalf of a Games Workshop takedown request.

Of course, you see where the problem lies with this situation

Thanks to the intervention of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and Wil Wheaton, among others); the claim was proven to be bogus, and the novel’s listing was restored. That’s all well and good – but Games Workshop still felt as though they could get away with it. The battle’s probably not over yet, either: there’s absolutely nothing to stop them from doing the same thing to someone else. I get trying to protect your trademark – it’s absolutely a necessary thing to do – but stunts such as this are taking that way, way too far. 

[heading]Dumbing it down[/heading]

I’m going to paraphrase a character from one of my favorite short stories here, methinks: I hate mandatory tutorials. Let me tell you how much I hate them: there are billions upon trillions of grains of sand on the world’s beaches. If the word ‘hate’ was engraved on every single grain, it would not equal one billionth of the hate I feel at this instant for these sequences.

I’m going to hit you guys with a bit of a zinger here, though I’m not certain if you’ll believe me: back when I was a kid, most games didn’t actually have in-game tutorials. Some of them didn’t even have instruction manuals. They more or less just turned you loose, and had you “learn by doing.” Mistakes were punished ruthlessly. It was actually pretty fantastic – you felt a real sense of accomplishment when you finally figured out how to play – and an even bigger one when you worked out how to win. 

Flash forward about twenty years, and you’ve got tutorials far as the eye can see. Too many games now treat the player as though they’re a drooling, knuckle-dragging mongoloid who can’t tell the difference between a controller and a croissant; one who frequently needs to stop playing to wipe the drool off their chin. The learning curve hasn’t just been reduced, it’s been transformed into a flashing, high-speed elevator complete with someone to push all the buttons for you.

Too many games are having something fundamental about what makes them challenging – about what makes them fun – sucked out of them in favor of more bloom. Both narratives and level designs have become more linear. Enemies have become less challenging. On the whole; games have gotten stupider, while most of the people who play them have gotten smarter. 

When the topic comes up, many people chalk it up to “making games appeal to a wider audience” or “helping casual gamers get into the hobby.” That’s more than a little insulting, and implies that the lowest common denominator in gaming- in this case, people who don’t even know what a video game is – represents the norm, even among casual gamers. Speaking from experience, it doesn’t.

As Jesse Leigh of Gamer MC puts it, “this isn’t about elitism, or grasping at intellectualism. This is about a very important part of what makes gaming fun being sucke
d out for the purpose of appealing to the lowest common denominator…An important part of gaming is the satisfaction of overcoming challenges. Take away the challenge, and there is no satisfaction.” 

[heading]Addiction over Entertainment  [/heading]

Some time ago, I did a piece on social games such as Farmville, and how they’re essentially elaborate, human-sized Skinner Boxes.I’m sure most people are aware of that by now, of course. That’s not even the worst part, either: what’s truly disturbing is that games like Farmville are honestly just the tip of the iceberg – virtually every other video game on the market today utilizes Farmville-esque addiction tactics in some way, shape or form. It is, as David Wong of Cracked put it, incredibly creepy. Too many games now are effectively designed to keep you playing as long as possible.

Where entertainment falls off, many of the shadier devs are finding new and increasingly questionable ways to keep you playing their game as long as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re entertained or just hooked – as long as you keep playing, that’s all that matters. 

It’s a bit of a slippery slope, isn’t it? 

[heading]Employee Abuse  [/heading]

In a recent survey, staff (both current and former) employed at virtually every major game developer blasted the hell out of them. Taken together, their comments weaved a distressing, disturbing narrative; one of long hours for too-little pay; incompetent, clueless, or downright malicious management, and environments more toxic than the worst League of Legends game you’ve ever played. Over in Japan, a former Dragon’s Dogma developer was bullied so much she attempted suicide.

Are you disgusted yet? 

We’ve known since at least 2004 – the year when the blog entry titled EA: The Human Story went public. “The current mandatory hours,” she wrote “are 9 AM to 10 PM, seven days a week — with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior.” It didn’t take long for the entry to go public, and employees to file a class action lawsuit against the corporation. While we’re not seeing anything so terrible as that any longer (I think) the working conditions of game developers aren’t to be envied – and it’s very likely impacting the quality of the games they’re releasing

[heading]Microtransactions. Microtransactions Everywhere. [/heading] 

Last, but not least, we’re going to talk about the steamy, illicit love affair gaming seems to have with micro-transactions. For those of you lucky enough to have never encountered them, they essentially amount to spending real-world money on in-game items or currency. When paired with a free-to-play title (or used in an inventive enough fashion) they can actually do a great deal to enrich a game. See League of Legends or Team Fortress 2 for an idea of how to do it right.

The problem is…most developers still haven’t quite figured it out. They’re kind of just sitting around like apes; hitting the concept with a hammer and hoping they eventually transform it into something workable. Electronic Arts is particularly bad for this(though that’s hardly the only bad thing they’ve done – that’s a whole other can of worms), and often tries to force these mini purchase onto people who already paid a mint for their titles. They also do it in an incredibly ham-handed and unnecessary way; forcing them into games which really have no business supporting them. 

Developers and publishers like EA need to put down the hammer and step back to take a look at the abomination they’ve managed to create. 

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