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Raising Hell: Lessons Learned from 'Entitled Gamers'

Raising Hell: Lessons Learned from 'Entitled Gamers'

Fri 18 May 2012 6:45am GMT / 2:45am EDT / 11:45pm PDT
Publishing

Don't dismiss complaints about Diablo 3's launch as entitled whining. There's a lot to learn here, says Rob Fahey

Activision Blizzard

Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Activision Blizzard, Inc. is a worldwide pure-play online...

activisionblizzard.c...

When something goes wrong in a commercial transaction between a creator and a customer, the morality of the situation is rarely complex. Lay out the facts of the situation clearly and few people will disagree with the final assessment; in the cold light of day, the party who's being greedy, or unreasonable, or over-entitled, or a combination of all of the above, isn't usually hard to identify. While the vocal over-reaction of a (thankfully small) band of game consumers to various titles in the past couple of years has generated a backlash against the "entitled gamer", the reality is that few game companies have anything like a spotless record in terms of dealing with their consumers. We may sympathise with the developer forced to ship a product it knows to be buggy, or the publisher who pulls support for an online title after a relatively short amount of time, but the party truly deserving of sympathy in these situations is the consumer.

"I'm simply not sure that a lot of people in the games industry actually understand the value decision involved in buying a piece of entertainment that costs 40"

It's with this in mind that I find the discourse around this week's Diablo 3 launch a bit unpleasant. Certainly, some of the reactions from fans of the game have exceeded disappointment and justifiable upset and verged on the outright threatening and obscene - but this is a small minority. Most of those who have experienced problems with Diablo 3's launch have expressed their concerns reasonably, if angrily, and should by no means be dismissed with the "entitled gamers" label.

After all, what's being discussed here is fairly straightforward - an expensive product that doesn't work as it's intended to. The problems attendant at Diablo 3's launch aren't universal, and many users are having fine experiences, but that doesn't excuse the obvious errors on Blizzard's part which have resulted in other users being unable to play a game for which they've paid a not inconsiderable amount of money.

Unlike the recent controversy over Mass Effect 3, this is not a matter of players having a difference of opinion over a creative matter and deciding that it's their right as consumers to be listened to. Diablo 3 will undoubtedly earn criticism from various quarters on creative terms - criticism which Blizzard, which has deftly steered World of Warcraft through the slings and arrows of outraged forum posters for the best part of a decade, is well placed to deal with. This is different, though. Customers have bought a game which they can't play when they want to play it. They have every right to be upset.

Those white knights springing to Blizzard's defence would do well to realise how simple this issue is, at heart. Certainly, one might argue that the problem is temporary, and everything will be fine in a while. Equally, it's absolutely true that the world faces bigger problems than a gamer being unable to play his videogame for an hour or two. However, such infantile whataboutery misses the point entirely. If someone has an hour or two set aside to play videogames - which is about all that many people can manage in the space of a week - then they're quite right to be upset if half that time is spent staring at an error screen (which, incidentally, is also the reason why Sony should be utterly ashamed of what a mess the patching system on the PS3 continues to be so many years after launch - it's an embarrassment to the company and a constant, unwelcome reminder of how far their system software has to go to catch up with rivals like Microsoft). As for there being more important things than playing videogames, quite right - let's just shut down the games industry now and get on with those things, shall we? I thought not.

There are two major aspects to this whole fracas which strike me as worrying, in that they represent a potentially serious disconnection between some parts of the industry and the people they're meant to be addressing. The first is simple - the majority of the "oh calm down, it'll work eventually, stop fussing" reaction has come from people who, bluntly, don't pay for their videogames. This is a factor which unsettles me slightly whenever our industry has a discussion about something like cost, or business models, and it emerges here too. I'm simply not sure that a lot of people in the games industry, especially those on the media side, actually understand the value decision involved in buying a piece of entertainment that costs 40. I don't think they quite grasp how much money 40 is to the average consumer, how much expectation that outlay brings with it - and how much disappointment a seemingly never ending litany of error screens is going to engender as a result.

The second aspect is that I wonder if, as an industry, we make assumptions about the reputation of companies which are simply too broad. My instant reaction to the Diablo 3 problems, I confess, was straightforward - "calm down, it's Blizzard, they're good guys, they'll fix it". I honestly see the situation that way - but then again, taking a step back, I'm in a rather privileged position. I've written about Blizzard for around a decade, interviewed many of the studio's senior executives and developers several times, been to their offices, gone drinking with their staff. Many others in the media have enjoyed even closer links to the company. I'm not in any way saying that this is corrupt - but does it change the value judgment I make on a situation like this, compared to the judgment made by a consumer who just knows that he likes Blizzard's games? Yes, it does.

"This is only a sneak preview of an undercurrent of problems that's going to continue, and indeed grow, in the years to come"

These kind of concerns matter, I believe, because while Blizzard is far from the first company ever to launch a product whose servers are overwhelmed in the first few days or whose technological underpinnings go through some serious teething problems, the firm is in uncharted waters in certain other regards. Diablo 3 is a huge game, perhaps the most important launch the PC full-price market will see this year - and it's launching with an always-on DRM approach which means that even the single player campaign won't work without an internet connection and, as gamers are discovering in droves, won't work if Blizzard's servers are acting up.

That's a big leap, and not one that everyone's comfortable with. Blizzard will have done its homework, I'm sure, but it's still taking a gamble - because this approach is going to annoy a certain number of consumers, not just while launch problems persist, but throughout the lifespan of the game. Internet connections in 2012, even in the world's richest and most developed countries, are flaky and unreliable. Sure, we can watch streaming HD video on them now - but only when they're actually working. Last Sunday evening, my (generally excellent) broadband connection went down for three hours - I couldn't play anything on my Xbox 360, as I'm (foolishly, I now suspect) using the poorly implemented Cloud Save system, and I wouldn't have been able to play Diablo 3 either. I couldn't play it if I brought my laptop back to my family home for a break. If I moved apartment, even in a digitally connected city like London, I'd be unable to play the game for a fortnight.

In summary, the annoyance that Blizzard faces now needs to be taken seriously for two reasons. Firstly, because gamers are customers who have paid a lot of money for something, and to dismiss legitimate grievances smacks of certain corners of our industry which have forgotten what it feels like to part with a serious amount of cash for a game, and are making odd judgment calls as a consequence. Secondly, because this is only a sneak preview of an undercurrent of problems that's going to continue, and indeed grow, in the years to come. Several other companies are viewing Diablo 3's always-online approach as validation of something they'd love to implement too. They should know that this storm might die down significantly, but it's never going to go away entirely - and while Blizzard is well-equipped to weather it, lesser companies are not. Don't dismiss this as "entitled gamers". Listen and learn - inside the fury, there's an important message here.

16 Comments

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.

235 164 0.7
I said this in the previous thread about Diablo 3 but I'll say it again: Why is it that when football fans weep copiously, go on the rampage and call for the head of their team manager do they not get called whiny or entitled by their peers and specialist press?

I look forward to the day when Gary Lineker uses the word "entitled" as an insult on Match of the Day.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 18th May 2012 9:37am

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

527 786 1.5
If you think about it, their option could have been to buy enough server capacity to handle everyone piling onto it on day one, and then for the rest of the game's life, they've got lots of extremely expensive resources sitting around being under-utilised. They probably just paid for enough to handle "normal" expected loads of traffic, accepted that launch would involve lots of people struggling to log on and opted to take the hit to save money in the long run.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.

235 164 0.7
@Tom: My experience as a fan watching MotD is more that the presenters tend to agree with the fans, even if it's just with a shrug and a "Well, something's got to be done." And the tabloids certainly do. Still, YMMV.

I just feel that sometimes the specialist press is a bit hard on the people that are, let's face it, the reason it exists. I remember the Crashes and Your Sinclairs of my youth and they were so much more on the side of gamers.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 18th May 2012 10:53am

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Antony Cain Lecturer, Wakefield College

263 21 0.1
If everything had started swimmingly, Diablo III wouldn't be 2 of the top stories on this site (and plenty of others). Isn't there a small chance that it was intended to have hiccups to get attention - maybe the hiccup is bigger than planned but the extra attention is also bigger as a result. The hardcore who bought it instantly aren't likely to return it for a refund and I'm sure plenty of extras will get it to see what all the fuss is about. The always online, again, is a massive talking point for people, and with arguably little negative impact on sales (quite the opposite if it keeps attracting attention).

Having something as simple as an error number for viral purposes might just have been the plan all along... or am I giving them too much credit?

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

449 423 0.9
If you think about it, their option could have been to buy enough server capacity to handle everyone piling onto it on day one, and then for the rest of the game's life, they've got lots of extremely expensive resources sitting around being under-utilised. They probably just paid for enough to handle "normal" expected loads of traffic, accepted that launch would involve lots of people struggling to log on and opted to take the hit to save money in the long run.
With cloud based hosting solutions that charge by the hour they could have ran clusters for a short period of time. AWS also provide a system for distributing the network demand and can even add more server instances on demand.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Matt Hewitson Senior QA Technician, Crytek UK

10 5 0.5
@Dave, could they not have used some kind of elastic service? Have a huge amount of servers on day one and scale back over time?

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Paul Shirley Programmers

178 150 0.8
When I see 'entitled gamer' a vision of 'Celebrity Deathmatch: Entitled gamer vs Entitled game company' inevitably springs to mind.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Barry Scott Software Design

19 2 0.1
When I pre-ordered Diablo III for my son and I I did not expect it to DRM lock on first use.

When I deal with games on Steam I know what I'm buying into. But no where on the Amazon
write up for Diablo III does it tell me that its going to be DRM locked.

So now I face the prospect of having to buy the game twice. Needless to say I think this
is unreasonable.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

John Kauderer Associate Creative Director, Atari

32 5 0.2
Maybe laying off those 600 people wasn't such a great idea after all.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

James Prendergast Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
I'm not sure Blizzard really are in such "uncharted waters". This game is off the back of both WoW and Starcraft 2 - both of which have been tied into their "new" network... not to mention their experience running online services for Starcraft and Diablo 1 and 2 for many years before either of them. They certainly have the experience to handle this launch - more so, perhaps, than anyone else in the industry.

If I'm honest though, I saw this coming from a mile away (cue rolling of eyes ;) ) since no online-only DRM has 100% uptime and someone, somewhere in the world will get burned - usually at launch. Hell, Valve still hasn't managed to sort it out even after the abysmal launch of Half Life 2 all those years ago.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Lewis Pulsipher Game Designer, Author, Teacher

32 42 1.3
Intelligent consumers recognize the following:
1) Internet connections don't always work, so any game requiring such connection won't always work
2) Anytime you buy a game just as it's released, the game is going to have lots of bugs, as with any other software. You can hope there won't be big ones. If you want to avoid bugs, wait a while before buying

So many people haven't encountered the problems, either because they won't buy an Internet DRM game, or because they'll wait until it's "fixed".

Simple enough. But in the Age of Instant Gratification, "I want it now" replaces intelligence.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Rod Oracheski Editor, Star News

58 23 0.4
The 'entitled' tag fits when you apply it to gamers who cry foul when a storyline doesn't go the way they wanted. It's pretty hard to apply it with a straight face to gamers who simply want the game to work.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,254 421 0.3
"Intelligent consumers recognize the following:
1) Internet connections don't always work, so any game requiring such connection won't always work
2) Anytime you buy a game just as it's released, the game is going to have lots of bugs, as with any other software. You can hope there won't be big ones. If you want to avoid bugs, wait a while before buying "

I think perhaps "Experienced consumers" would have been a better term. I have a problem with the idea that expecting a product to work and be fully built when it is sold to you is somehow "un-intelligent", even if the opposite is now to be expected from recent experience.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 19th May 2012 7:06am

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Liam Farrell

66 13 0.2
One could say this is what's lead to the rise in blogs and fan run sites. Because they're more in tune with the mindset of a lot of gamers today. Granted, gamers can get caught up in far too many storms in teacups, to the point where the word "boycott" is always greated with laughter. Because it was all talk. But now gamers are getting upset about issues that do need addressing, like always on DRM, locked content disguised as DLC, poor servers etc. Complaining about a ending is being entitled. Speaking out over unfair pratices is being a smart consumer.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

James Prendergast Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
Boycotts were always about mistreatment.... the ME3 thing was one *very recent* point in a long history of online action and I don't think i ever heard of a boycott with that in mind. The isses always needed addressing but, as you point out, Liam, the number of people willing and knowledgeable enough to commit to a boycott is very small in the grand scheme of things. When you have a boycott of 10,000 for a game that's sold 500,0000+ you're talking about (statistical) noise. You can't measure it.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online

134 74 0.6
Dave, you can rent servers and scale back. Of course that will take away from the profit.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

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