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Game On or Game Over: We’re gluttons for punishment

Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Andy: Now that E3 has come and gone, the hype train has left the station, and gamers are settling back into the boring no game funk that always happens this time of year. I’d like to take you back to E3 though and something that we’ve seen more and more of the past couple years. It’s actually something I am surprised that gamers seem to accept as part of the process and be OK with. I’m talking about developers deliberately misrepresenting their games. Either features that are never intended to be added, unrealistic goals, or the more prominent – how the games look. Remember how good Alien: Colonial Marines looked when it was first announced and then the absolute travesty the game was when it was finally released? Or the more recent Watch_Dogs when it was announced and how scaled back it was at release. Just last week a PC modder uncovered files in the game that when enabled brought the game visually back to where it was when it was announced.

It just seems that gamers can be so hypocritical. We complain about everything from microtransactions, game length, diversity of characters, exclusive content, day one DLC and any other number of things I can’t think of right now. Yet it seems like more often than not, gamers give developers a pass when they don’t deliver on promises that they hype during conferences and media hype sprees. It just seems that this is something that gamers could legitimately raise an issue with but it’s often just swept under the rug. So let’s get this started this week, what do you think the reason is for that disconnect and gamers accepting it as status quo now?

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Nicholas: I’ll begin by answering the second part of the question first because I feel the answer is a little more simplistic. In my opinion, the reason most gamers (for the greater part) accept being lied to by developers/publishers when they announce features of a game but then deliver something entirely different, is because we’re not willing to miss out. We’ve spoken a lot in the past about gamers speaking with their wallets, and while it generally works for microtransactions and DLC, games themselves are on a whole other level. When we covered where the push for diversity in gaming should come from, we mentioned that if gamers wanted to see a real change that they needed to stop supporting developers who fail to challenge the status quo. What this means though is that people need to stop buying games, and as much as some want to see a difference, they seem to want to play the games themselves more. There just aren’t enough people putting their foot down saying, “no, I refuse to support this industry if it doesn’t want to do things differently”, because these same people don’t want to miss out on the latest and greatest game – and I totally get that. Even when I thought the Need For Speed franchise had gone to hell I continued to buy each new installment. Why? Because I didn’t want to miss out on the newest offering in the series, and while that’s fine, it also meant that I couldn’t complain if EA failed to improve the franchise. How many people did you know that complained about the lack of female characters in GTA V yet still continued to purchase the game? I have only come across one person who to this day still hasn’t purchased the game for this reason.

Answering first part of your question though is a little more complex. As two people who haven’t worked for developers or publishers it’s difficult to say, and I’d rather not put it down to, “the developers thought they’d simply stitch up gamers”. We spoke last week about the involvement of publishers in the development of a game and how their demands or deadlines can often put those making the games in a tough spot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a major reason as to why what’s promised when a game is announced isn’t always what we receive as an end product. The case with Watch_Dogs and the hidden graphics is an interesting one. When the story broke people were attacking Ubisoft for ‘hiding’ the code, but I wondered to myself – what reason would they have for doing this? There’s no way they were planning to release DLC for upgraded graphics and unlike the beginning of the current generation they aren’t going to re-release the game for both old and new consoles – so why would the developers intentionally exclude these extra textures and detail from the game? I’m purely speculating here, but perhaps they just weren’t tested and refined enough? Perhaps the developers just didn’t have the time to ensure the entire world was up to scratch?

I think something gamers need to be mindful of too (and I’m playing devil’s advocate here), is that publishers will always (read: ALWAYS) try to talk up their newest product to spark interest and generate hype. The snippets of gameplay footage that we see in teaser trailers or at E3 aren’t segments of the finished game that is picked at random a day before it’s revealed. No, it’s specifically chosen, refined and tested to highlight the best the game has to offer in order to get people talking and salivating. This is why the initial gameplay trailer for Watch_Dogs seemed so hectic and amazing, yet playing it kind of felt a little boring for some. Peter Molyneux is the king of spin (sorry Shane Warne) and he’s gotten a reputation for promising what each Fable game would be like but then delivering something else. Is that to say he deliberately lied to gamers? Or is it simply that he’s vision couldn’t be translated to a final product because he either didn’t have the resources or was a little too ambitious?

What do you think? Is it fair to blame developers or is it completely outside of their hands? Why do you think gamers continue to put up with it despite the amount of noise the community makes each time?

Andy: I do think it’s fair to put most of the blame on the developers in this instance, as they are the ones that ultimately control both the promo material and the final product. In the case of the Watch_Dogs graphics fiasco, it almost seems like Ubisoft made a conscious effort to make the game the same across PC, Xbox One and PS4. The realist in me understands why developers want to have their games be as close to possible with each other across systems, but at the same time I want the game to be the best it can be on the system I choose. We are seeing the same thing with games that are releasing across generations of platforms. Whether they be straight ports of a game made for one or the other, or a game that has features dialed back because the past generation can’t process everything they want to do.

The issue here though is not about content per say, it’s not about diversity in characters, day one DLC or anything like that. It’s things that gamers know are or are not included in a game. With all the information that comes out before a game is released, most gamers can make fairly educated decisions on actual content. The misrepresentation of a game is a more insidious practice, that doesn’t allow gamers to make that informed decision on whether to purchase a game or not. The video game industry is always pushing gamers to get the game on day one and to preorder it months in advance. Heck, I have a friend that had Bioshock Infinite preordered for over two years. When a developer actively promotes and misrepresents a game, gamers don’t always know until after the game is released and the purchase has been made. Peter Molyneux for all his misdirection and promises never really showed video of things that weren’t in the end game, unless I’m mistaken. He just made a lot of promises at the start of his hype train then slowly backed off, at least from what I can recall off the top of my head.

While I don’t like it, I’m OK with developers having grand visions and scaling them back a little bit. Even our best ideas don’t always come to light no matter how hard we try. There are always limitations and unexpected things as long as they are honest and upfront about it. In the case of Alien: Colonial Marines there was no indication from anyone at Gearbox that so much of the footage that was already out there was not from the actual game. I don’t recall ever seeing an explanation from Gearbox either about why there was such a drastic change. Yet gamers passed it off as “It’s OK, they’re awesome and they make Borderlands.”

Here’s another thing I don’t understand, and this is more about gamers than a developer I think. Why is it that gamers latch on to and hate certain developers/publishers but accept it and praise those same practices from other developers/publishers? Let’s take Call of Duty as an example. People belittle it for its DLC microtransaction skin packs, voice packs, etc. Yet Borderlands 2 releases a ton and I mean a ton of skin packs for the characters and loads of other DLC, yet I see nary a complaint against Gearbox. I see “It’s great that they keep supporting their game.” Maybe developers are having a hard time figuring gamers out because gamers are sending such mixed messages to them? If gamers are part of the solution, which we should be, how can we communicate our wants to developers if there are such mixed messages from the entire community?

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Nicholas: The case of Alien: Colonial Marines is a unique example because what was promoted to gamers was so drastically different to the final product. It’s one thing for a marketing department to use words and phrases that talk-up a product, and another thing entirely for a company to promise you an apple and then sell you an orange. All this said though, the story of Alien is good because the outcry surrounding the game was so significant and well-known – even those who didn’t play the game themselves knew how bad the differences were. It really isn’t acceptable what Gearbox did, but I think the reason why they haven’t become the devil in the eyes of the community is due to one main reason…

They haven’t done it enough times yet.

Gamers seem to fairly tolerant of developers and publishers making mistakes – like I said before, it seems most gamers are happy to voice what bothers them but won’t go as so far as to stop buying the games themselves. It’s for this reason that Electronic Arts, Activision and Ubisoft still manage to sell a boat-load of copies of the latest Battlefield, Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed games despite how much people seem to ‘hate’ them. Even though Battlefield 4 has the issue with singleplayer save files getting corrupted, even though Call of Duty hasn’t changed since Modern Warfare and despite the fact Assassin’s Creed won’t have female characters, most gamers will still purchase the new installments coming out in the months ahead. I also think a lot of it just seems to come down to it being ‘cool’ to hate on publishers. No matter what EA does right, there will be always a group of gamers willing to critique them and their practices – and it unfortunately just comes down to being a major publisher. Gearbox make a lot less games, and because of this reason they’re in the spotlight a lot less.

I suppose your final question is something that PR teams struggle to answer each day. A community manager will spend all day trawling through Facebook and Twitter posts about how much their company sucks, but the sales figures still show that their consumer base is alive and strong. We’ve always said that gamers need to speak with their wallets and that remains true. Yes, the community should be voicing their opinions and concerns via social media and forums, but they need to also let developers know what they do or don’t like by either buying or not buying their products/DLC. I refuse to support developers who continue to make games for the last generation consoles, so while I really wanted to check out MotoGP 14, since it’s not on Xbox One I’m going to give it a miss.

You’ve spoken about being a CoD fan in the past but due to the staleness of the last few games you’re going to stop buying them – are there any series or publishers you refuse to support anymore because you feel you’ve been burnt as a consumer too many times? Apart from Aliens, is there any other game you’ve felt let down by after being promised one thing and then receiving another?

Andy: Call of Duty is definitely at the top of my list there. The first real multiplayer game I played was Call of Duty World at War. I met some pretty cool people, several of which are still on my friends list – but more importantly it opened my eyes to what multiplayer could be. I then happily purchased the following iterations of Call of Duty because my friends did and I was having a blast with it. Then came Black Ops 2 which I didn’t care for at all for several reasons. One being that it felt like they were ignoring the gamers that made the franchise a juggernaut and catered to the MLG crowd by adding features that I’d never use or didn’t like. Then came Call of Duty Ghosts which I played for maybe a week before throwing my hands up and saying “I’m done.” I haven’t been back since and to be honest, I don’t miss it at all. The other franchise that comes to mind is Gears of War. That story was done and over with Gears of War 3, but the powers that be thought Gears of War Judgment was a good idea. It was a blatant cash grab and one I just couldn’t support. Those are the only two I can think of off the top of my head, but there may be more.

There was a line in your last response that struck a chord with me, that I wanted to talk about. “They haven’t done it enough times yet.” How many times do gamers need to be burned by a developer before we hold them accountable? It seems like there are a handful of “cool” developers that can do no wrong in the eyes of gamers. No matter what practices they employ, what DLC they release or what decisions they make, gamers always seem to find an excuse of why it’s OK. You mentioned MotoGP 14 not being on the Xbox One so you’re skipping it. I’m the same way with Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. I don’t see myself buying another game for the Xbox 360 and as of right now, Gearbox has said the next Borderlands won’t be on Xbox One. Once they said that I pretty much stopped paying attention to all news about the game.

I’m actually pretty shocked that there wasn’t more backlash by gamers over the game not being on Xbox One and PS4. If it was one of the developers/publishers that’s “cool” to hate doing this, they would have been absolutely skewered by gamers if they made the same announcement. If what you say is true, in that the bigger the developer/publisher the more heat they take – which logically makes sense – then why is it that a developer like Valve or Rockstar have their share of hate? I mean how long has Valve been teasing Half-Life 3, yet gamers chuckle about it and say “It will be awesome when it comes out.” Why is it gamers allow themselves to be lied to by some developers and term it “OK” and other developers are raked through the coals for less?

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Nicholas: I think it depends on what sin the developers are committing to be honest. I can understand why gamers would be disappointed towards EA for releasing BF4 when it was clearly not finished or towards Activision for releasing a copy and paste job of CoD each year, but the hatred towards Valve or Rockstar is a little different. Taking a look at the latter first, Rockstar release only a handful of games every couple of years, and when they do, the games are amazing. Grand Theft Auto IV was an epic title and GTA V was a seriously impressing game too. When they release DLC for their games they’re usually expansions and not just a map pack or gun skins, so there’s not really much to hate in my opinion. In the case of Valve, it seems to be much the same (although I’ll admit, I only own one of their titles). I don’t think it would be fair for gamers to hate them just because they haven’t released Half-Life 3, in much the same way that I couldn’t hate EA for not releasing Need For Speed Underground 3. I think there’s a big difference between having gripe with a company for releasing poor products, and then having an issue with a company for not giving you what you want, although what they do release is usually of a high standard of quality. We also can’t forget that there will always be some who will make a complaint for the sake of making a complaint – just because everyone’s entitled to an opinion, doesn’t make them right.

I wonder though, is there perhaps a chance that all these issues we hear gamers speak about just aren’t that big a deal? Let me explain. Putting aside the Alien example and excluding F1 2012 and BF4 from their save file corruption issues are all the other niggles and gripes that people discuss just so minor, and it’s because the game is otherwise enjoyable that we overlook it? Even though the Fable games never featured all the features Molyneux advertised, were they not still good games? Despite the fact GTA V didn’t have a female protagonist, was it not still an amazing title? Even though the next Borderlands game won’t be on the current gen, given we still all have functioning Xbox 360s and PS3s, could it still not be just as fun once we get past the controller we’re using? Is the reason gamers let so many things slide because they are mostly petty gripes that we forget once we actually turn the game on?

Andy: I think there’s a couple things at play here. If it’s a matter of developer decisions on content, then I fully support their choice to add or cut content as they see fit. We’ve talked before about a game being like a book or a movie, it’s a medium for them to tell a story, however they want to tell it. If that means a lack of diversity, a linear campaign and predictable elements that’s fine. Actual game content is for gamers to like or dislike and in the grand scheme of things, as much as it pains me to say this in print, you’re right, many of the things that gamers complain about really don’t matter terribly too much. For me the thing I remember most about a game is if I liked it. It really boils down to something that simple. Are Need for Speed games realistic? Hell no. Is it fun to drift around a corner and smash the nitro and pass three cars? Damn right it is. That applies to all genres, if I like it I like it, if not well then I find something else to play.

Where I do draw the line with developers “fooling” me? Is when they blatantly lie about something? Perhaps it’s when they show me something such as phenomenal graphics, yet the game that’s released is nothing close to what they’ve told me it was going to me. I like to think of myself as a pretty easy gamer to please. I’m willing to look past faults of a game like terrible dialogue, predictable story points or shoddy game mechanics if the game is fun. What I don’t like is being lied to. Fable is a great example, Molyneux talked a big game for each one but during the development process he slowly dialed back expectations. I’m OK with that because he was upfront and honest. With Ubisoft and Watch_Dogs I don’t recall ever seeing an explanation of why there was such a graphics disparity between initial trailer and the end result. Here’s the thing though, I really enjoyed Watch_Dogs and the graphics didn’t matter to me at all while I played. I just have this feeling in the back of my mind that this isn’t the last bit of deception that Ubisoft will try and slide by us gamers.

We’ve talked about several things this week, from misrepresentations of content to blatant deception and all things in-between. Admittedly some of those things have a bigger impact on our gaming experience than others. The gaming community has a history of making mountains out of molehills and also not holding developers accountable for other things. If there is anything that’s certain it’s that gamers are as inconsistent in voicing true useful criticism. As I get your final response to close things out, answer one last question for me. Is there any one thing a developer could do where you would swear off ever getting another game from them again? Do you think maybe that’s what we, as gamers, need to be expressing to them instead of being overly nitpicky?

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Nicholas: There’s nothing that comes to mind as I think about that question to be honest. There are a few things that I won’t appreciate from a developer/publisher – a poorly designed game, developing a title specifically for last-generation consoles or a focus on online-only gameplay, but there’s nothing much that would make me say, “I’m never supporting this company again”. I don’t buy games like Call of Duty because I’m not interested in the FPS genre and I’ll probably not look into Destiny because there is no offline component, but these are just preferences rather than issues I have with the team behind them. If something rates well in a review or if the gameplay looks like something I’d enjoy I’ll consider giving it a shot, but I’m not one to boycott a developer/publisher – they make mistakes and as we’ve alluded to this week, every company does.

I won’t lie, that’s a really interesting question you ask at the end there, and the more I think about it the more I like it. It’s hard to take gamers seriously sometimes when they make a massive kerfuffle out of one issue and then forget it immediately after. Like we’ve discussed in the past, developers will get mixed messages if they see a series of angry tweets about a certain feature in a game, yet the sales figures show that people are still willing to buy it. If gamers are more vocal about what issues would see them absolutely not support a game, this should then translate towards final sales numbers (hopefully) and would send a far clearer message than any forum post would.

The fact we’re still talking about and playing games today means it’s not all doom and gloom right now. It’s no-where near perfect and there’s certainly room to improve, but I think the days where gamers are constantly getting shafted by poor practices is still yet to arrive… if at all.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.

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About the author

Nicholas Simonovski

Events and Racing Editor at Stevivor.com. Proud RX8 owner, Strange Music fan and Joe Rogan follower. Living life one cheat meal at a time.

About the author

Andy Gray

From the frozen land of Minnesota, I was the weird kid that begged my parents for an Intellivision instead of an Atari. My love for gaming has only grown since. When I’m not gaming I enjoy ice hockey and training dogs. I’m still trying to get my Elkhound to add to my Gamerscore though, one day this will happen.