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Rust hits 3.5m sales amidst concerns over gender, race assignment

Facepunch has found success in Early Access, but recent changes have ignited a debate within its audience

Facepunch Studios' Rust has now sold 3.5 million copies in Early Access, but its transitory state has brought controversy as well as success.

Garry Newman, the studio's boss, gave the updated figure in a column for The Guardian, in which he also revealed that Rust has around 500,000 MAUs. That would be impressive for a finished game, but as it stands Facepunch Studios is a paragon of Early Access' commercial potential.

It is also a paragon of the creative potential of Early Access, but Rust is now embroiled in a controversy that is directly linked to the fluidity of the model. Facepunch has made a host of changes to its embryonic version was launched in December 2013, often to "passionate" reactions from its swelling fanbase. However, according to Newman, "the range and strength of opinions have never been this intense."

"Gender and race are randomly selected and linked to a player's account, permanently unchangeable"

The issue stems from the solution to a problem Facepunch observed in its own design. Rust is a game about survival in a hostile environment populated with other, similarly desperate players, and yet every avatar spawns as a bald white man. This was less a calculated choice than a legacy of the game's stages, when Facepunch had, "other things to focus on." Recently, Newman's team made a change, to add diversity to the physical appearance of Rust's avatars while avoiding the unwelcome ramifications of allowing players to regularly change their appearance.

"A survivor shouldn't be able to attack another then come back later with a different gender or race and befriend the same player," Newman explained. "They should be recognisable consistently and long-term - so anyone likely to commit a crime would be more likely to wear a balaclava or a face mask.

"So this is what we did. Gender and race are randomly selected and linked to a player's account, permanently unchangeable."

It was a choice about design, and yet - predictably enough - it has been proved divisive the Rust community. Newman noted that complaints about race, "seems to be a regional thing," with the majority of negative feedback about being assigned a black character coming from its Russian players. Complaints about gender displayed no geographical pattern, but there were complaints from male players - who often complained of a lack of connection to their avatar, while invoking concern about the politics driving Facepunch's choice - and also transgender players, who voiced concerns about the system's rigidity.

Newman's column is well worth your time - an interesting look at the myriad ways a decision that, "comes down to gameplay," and is coherent with the original intentions of the game's designers, can be misinterpreted.

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Latest comments (11)

Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 3 years ago
People complain when in all fairness nothing has changed. You were potentially forced to play a gender that you didnt relate to before the update. So why all the fuss now? If it has something to do with race or gender someone will find away to complain. Its just a survival game, a game, not a representation of real life.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
@ Aleksi. Your comment is technically true but I wonder on the statistics of that technicality. Reality is also severely more complex than a simple reduction to mechanistic logic.

i.e. If 99% of your players are white males going into the game and being forced into a white male avatar then they won't have a problem. Also, people who are neither male or white have the opportunity to go in knowing that they will be forced to wear that avatar and decide whether they are fine with it. Some people won't be but then they either won't buy the game or they won't have the numbers to really voice a huge complaint.

Changing this feature part-way through the development cycle means that you've now put a potentially good percentage of that player base in an avatar which they do not wish to associate with and these players have also lost the opportunity to choose when going into the game - not to mention the fact that they might have already emotionally bonded with their previous avatar (I'm assuming that all avatars are changed regardless if the account was already active - though I'm not entirely sure about this based on reporting).

Personally, I don't mind playing male or female characters of any race - knowing that I'm going to do so. If I have got an avatar that I designed (though obviously this isn't applicable here) and that changes due to an external event then I will be quite affected by it and perhaps resonate with that character less on an emotional level.

It's one of the cardinal rules of the player character when it's designed by the player: don't mess with the player's character model! That's why Fable 2's 'choice' was so difficult: you either lose a key feature of the game or you have your character permanently disfigured... Not a nice choice to make but certainly a valid one for putting emotional distress onto the player (as I understand this was the intention).

Adding to all this is the fact that the real world isn't always nice to everyone. One of the reasons certain schools adopt uniforms is so that the students cannot pick on others for their clothing choices or lack of money in order to buy 'cool' clothes. This psychology also applies heavily to MMO-style games with human avatars. With all the discussion we've had (both here and elsewhere) regarding the treatment of women in and around games it is strange to see that removing the player's choice to avoid a situation where they may be 'differentiated'. I know some women prefer to play as male characters due to this and I also imagine that this design decision might also make them annoyed enough to complain as well.

When everyone was the same the players did not have to consciously or subconsciously think about the sex or race of another player character - or themselves. Now they do and it is also forced on themselves. You and other people might not think it's a problem but there is a large majority of people (not players) who do not normally dissociate from their own mental personal image when fantasising. Sure they imagine being rich, popular and whatever... but as themselves. This psychology should be taken into account by developers as it is important in the building of a relationship between a player and the game.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany3 years ago
@Alexis: I think that they mean that at the beginning you were told up front that you would be playing a white men. getting your all-time characer changed without yo being able to do a thing, I can understand why some people get frustrated (Still canít get why they got so utterly mad, though) Just imagine your MMO character being changed all of a sudden; it is no longer "your character", I'm sure you understand why that is very important to some people.
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Show all comments (11)
Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 3 years ago
@james and @Alfonso While the majority of players are male ofcourse does that mean the game should represent them perfectly in the game world? I dont think any of us should be making a mountain out of a molehill. For some people yes its a big deal but nothing to write home about. Take Black desert Online for example, i dont see an outcry with regards to that game, where they basically force genger on you as well. Tamer is a little female girl, a wizard is a grumpy old man, Berserker is a burly man kind of thing.

in this case it is not the change that is important to people, its the way they have done it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Aleksi Ranta on 15th April 2016 10:22am

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
@ Aleksi. I think you're misunderstanding our view point. I also do not see how what you wrote in your second post is at all compatible with the argument of the first post.

People complain because they bought into their avatar (no matter if it was a kangaroo and was switched to an alien). People complain because they have no way of assessing whether they would have played the game knowing, going in, that they would be playing 'X' when they may not enjoy or empathise with playing 'X' and that would detract from them playing the game.

The difference between a class-based game with assigned genders per class is that the player can choose which class to play so your comparison is completely off-base. Changing an established character is entirely different than choosing to play a character of specific gender, sexuality or whatever.

We also need to realise that players who may have wanted to play a female character in this game but still cannot because of their lottery ticket number will also be angry...

It is certainly the case that both the change and the way the change has been implemented are important to people.

I, personally, find it hard to believe that female lead characters in games mean lower sales numbers but the industry has consistently moved against having them in the big AAA games - probably for a reason. I hope that reason has some data backing it up but it points to an idea that people are not all comfortable playing other roles.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 3 years ago
@james "with assigned genders per class is that the player can choose which class to play so your comparison is completely off-base."

It is not off base as your above statement basically assumes that i would be just happy playing some other class, something that i didnt want to do. Most players put more weight on the class rather than the gender. And im talking/comparing of Black desert here, and the fact that there isnt a huge backlash with the forced genders in that game.

And with Rust, the gameplay is identical whatever gender you are right? It has no effect on your gameplay at all.

My comparison and assumptions are: People want to play a certain class and are willing to make sacrifices in gender to be able to play that class --> In BDO there are not news articles about people going apeshit because they cant change gender-->gender is not an issue for most players -->but in case of Rust it seems to be an issue, eventhough there are no gameplay implications-->the vocal minority is complaining
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
The point is that when choosing to play that class, the gender choice is part of that decision - conscious or not. That is the point!

The decision to play Rust or not can be compared to the decision to play a class in a strict gender-orientated game. However, the player does not know the outcome of their choice until they log in for the first time.'

I agree with your first assumption. People do make 'sacrifices' (though I would not classify them as such! More like lesser preferences) to play a certain experience.

The second assumption is wrong: BDO did not change the way it assigned classes or gender or colour. There is no reason for current players to be disgruntled with the way the game was designed because nothing changed.

The third assumption is unsupported. Is gender really not an issue for players when playing a character? This is a very complex issue and I would, and have, hesitate to make such sweeping statements about the psychology and mentality of the general playerbase. Do you have a degree in psychology, sociology or gender studies?

The fourth assumption is half correct: In Rust it is in issue because of the change. Not because of any other reason. You and I have both agreed on this point in our previous posts. The reason people are complaining is because the contract between the developer and the player/avatar was altered without any consent.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios3 years ago
As several people have already mentioned - the critical issue is that the avatar changes were forced without warning on players who had already begun to emotionally invest in the original default avatar (regardless of their racial/gender/hairstyle preferences). Even though the game is still in EA and everything can change, those players will find it jarring at an emotional level rather than an intellectual one.

If the player base had been sufficiently primed that the change was coming and had time to adjust to their old avatar being retired, there would have probably been much less of an outcry.

FWIW I did start a psychology degree, but only did two years ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Chris Payne on 17th April 2016 2:31pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
I recall posting this a few years back here, but once more: some gamers HATE playing as the opposite sex, period. I worked in an indie game shop from 1998-2003 and have quite a few memories of guys coming in and asking what was a good game to play and if I yanked out say, one of the better Tomb Raider titles, I got a variation on "Oh, I don't play games with women heroes", which baffled me because a few of these manly men-men-men went on to say it was because they didn't see women as "heroic" (Yipes and I'd hate to be the one to say to them that their mothers were pretty heroic to put up with birthing such out of touch dopes).

That said, forcing change on people (gamers or not) is tough, period. Rust going and New Coke-ing players as a mandate seems weird to me unless it was a feature known about from the get-go. Still, it's a tolerance test for some players (like the penis size thing I've read about and found hilarious. It this a clothing optional survival game? If so, then I know a bunch of geezers who like walking around pants-less at home who'd be all over this game in a heartbeat. :D
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Shane Sweeney Academic 3 years ago
One of my favorite moments in gaming was the bait and switch of Metal Gear Solid 2 staring Raiden instead of Snake. This needs to happen way more often. Rust is a perfect execution. Every player who logged on had only 1 model, bald naked, white man. Now they have randomized everything, including breast size and penis length. I think the whole thing is great and any positive or negative reaction to it is great as well.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
@Shane: Wait 'til the next upgrade that turns players into random amoeba. That might be even more of a breaking point, lol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS6NnMLemd8
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