A question I end up asking myself a lot these days, is what am I really looking for from games and the games industry? And, I don’t mean that in the microscopic sense of assuming there is any one kind of game or one particular mechanic that I’m looking for, but really in the aggregate larger scale, what would make me happy as a customer, as a consumer and as a player. Regardless of which path you as a developer, studio, publisher or retailer take to get me there, what do I feel is a reasonable request to make on my end?
How I or anyone else might answer may depend on how you currently view the players in the industry. These days, the mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore crowd seems to be steadily growing both in population and volume. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them. After all, we gamers have been both the life-blood and the enemy of the industry for a while now. I genuinely think that if major publishers and game makers could figure out a way to be successful at selling games without actually having gamers as a customer base, they would leap at the opportunity.
However, it’s also hard to blame them. After all, whether as a broad group or a miniscule subset, we were the ones who broke some of the long-standing, basic rules of the transactional relationship. Let’s not lie to ourselves, we gamers pirated games at not an insignificant pace. We gamers abused return policies. We gamers took someone else’s artistic work and altered it to our own likings without asking permission, sometimes releasing that work back into the wild without due respect for the creators. We gamers manipulated, deconstructed, demanded and equivocated with abandon, and you could certainly make the argument that in many of these cases we were well within our rights — whether legally or ethically — to do so.
But, whether for good or ill, right or wrong, it’s hard for me not to think we acted with impunity, and that we were shocked when a growing industry, becoming more a business and less a community every day, did the same back to us. Now we are left in this awkward, uncomfortable and distrustful place where every slight is deeply felt and magnified on both sides.
So, to break it back down a bit, and pull myself out from under the weight of a complicated past, I pose a simple question: What do I reasonably want as a gamer?
I’ll start with the games perspective, because in many ways that’s the easiest to put my arms around. And, more than anything else, I think what I want as a gamer is for my time and money to be respected. This may be the biggest reason I haven’t been a fan of games on social media sites, or free-to-play models, because in the long run these games generally respect neither. They irritatingly draw attention to the fact that your time is intentionally being wasted, asking for dollars not for an enhanced experience but just to make the unpleasantness stop. It’s a bit like being poked with a stick, and being asked to pay your tormentor to make the poking stop, at least for a few minutes.
I paint with a broad brush there, I realize. Not all free-to-play models or Facebook games suffer these sins, but the exceptions feel rare. And, for that matter, plenty of video games with often hefty price tags also send me down pointless cul-de-sacs meant only to bloat my perception of how much content the game has, as if the only way I judge value were with a stopwatch.
The other thing I really want from a game is to feel like I left with more than I entered, that it evoked some kind of meaningful response from me. Sometimes that can be an emotional response, though not always. I’m not exactly dying for the heartbreaking untold story of Peggle, for example. Other times it may be an intellectual response, and still other times it may just be looking for a fun fix, but if I walk away from a game feeling like I’m leaving with less than I started, then I end up feeling the way I do everytime I leave a casino.
It’s pretty basic transactional stuff when you get right down to it. Respect my dollars and my time, and give me something in return, and I’m generally a pretty happy guy. Which, really, brings me to what I want from the industry.
My initial thoughts revolve around trust or respect, but that’s not it. What have I done to ask for an industry’s respect? What would that even look like? And, the games business has no responsibility for trusting me. Even if you do argue that gamers haven’t betrayed that trust in the past, or that you shouldn’t be held accountable for the wrongful actions of others, the business still has the right and in some cases the need to distrust its customers. Gamers aren’t exactly a bus full of nuns.
You can ask for trust and respect, but I won’t. No, what I want is something much more basic. It’s really the only thing I need to be able to engage in a fair enough deal. That thing is honesty.
Above all else, I just feel like publishers and retailers in particular have crossed that gray-area threshold from manipulation into deceit. I’m not asking the games business to trust me, but I’m also not going to turn around and heap truckloads of trust back, particularly not with an industry that is so secretive and often so nefarious in the way it twists reality.
Realize, I’m not talking about individual developers or studios here. I’m talking about the big parts of the business, the things that seem to create facts out of thin air to support disingenuous directives. Maybe it is cynical of me, or maybe I’m looking through the lens of someone with only just enough information to feel confident in coming to the wrong conclusions, but I just flat-out feel like the leaders of gaming’s largest businesses have become practiced, if often transparent, liars. Whether it is about the insidiousness of the used market, the cost piracy has impacted companies, the hidden millions and billions of dollars publishers make with their properties that they never mention when talking about how miserably destitute they’ve become, even their own policies and procedures in how they handle consumer rights and ownership. I’m not telling them they have to change these policies, but simply to be honest.
There are obviously tons of specific things I would like to see from the games industry. A resurgence of single-player games with rich storylines. A trend away from PC games primarily just being console ports. The comeback of return policies. The end of DLC as a method for stringing out the full release of a game. Frankly, a lot of this stuff is too far gone and unlikely to change.
But, at the most basic level, I also have the temerity to want to be treated decently. Don’t lie to me. Don’t rip me off. Don’t string me pointlessly along. Don’t waste my time. These aren’t unreasonable requests, I don’t think. You’d almost think they shouldn’t even be a topic for debate.