There's an ongoing tension across the entertainment industries, one that seems particularly prominent in video games. The tension stems from differences in opinion between the teams producing games, movies, comics et al. and the fans that follow them.
The difference often comes down to this: creators believe their products and franchises should evolve in a manner of their choosing, and their audience may disagree. Loudly. It's no secret that people are resistant to change, but ultimately isn't it the creator's decision? Maybe so, says Joe Madureira, co-founder of Airship Games and veteran comic book artist, but it's a battle that's becoming increasingly easy to lose.
"More and more, I think the fans will win," he told GamesIndustry.biz. "I think we're moving towards a society where social media pressure is really powerful. There are now single voices, whether it's a YouTuber or whatever, that carry more weight than entire press outlets. It's going to get to the point where you have to deal immediately with your fanbase. Their voices will be heard."
He notes that there will be some exceptions where certain developers will be able to get away with building the game they want to, regardless of how fans feel about it, but adds that "for the most part, there will be a lot of pressure on publishers and stuff to keep their fanbase happy".
"In a lot of cases, creators are going to have to at least be more conscious of what they're doing and what the impact of their work will be - for better or worse," he said.
"Social media pressure is really powerful. There are now single voices, whether it's a YouTuber or whatever, that carry more weight than entire press outlets."
Joe Madureira, Airship Games
Madureira's comments stemmed from a conversation about rising tensions in both the video games and comics markets. Readers of GamesIndustry.biz will be well aware of the increasing toxicity found in certain corners of the internet, where certain groups of consumers object to, among other things, the exploration of character types beyond the typical overly-macho male hero or sexualised female character, protagonist or otherwise. Similarly in the comics space there are those who object to a female Thor, a black Spider-Man, and so on.
But equally, the sentiment can be reversed. Creators may wish to preserve their characters and agendas, keeping them much the way they have been for decades, while audiences may call for broader representation in the entertainment their produce, calling for their works to be more reflective of our society. Recent examples include calls for a female Link in Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the 2014 controversy surrounding Assassin's Creed Unity, when an animator claimed it wasn't possible to have a female playable character in the game's co-op mode.
Madureira, who rose to fame as an artist on Marvel's X-Men comics in the '90s and to this day works on occasion for Marvel and DC, has seen this rise in fan negativity in both games and comics, although notes that the latter may not be as aggressive as those in the former industry.
"There is a lot of controversy right now," said Madureira. "There are artists I love that constantly come under attack for how they portray women - or whatever the issue is. Because of social media, people can be a lot more vocal about what they perceive as being offensive or acceptable. And I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, because I think things need to change.
"As a creator, personally I think it sometimes feels disingenuous. What are the reasons for doing this politically correct stuff? Does it serve the story and the character? I don't always agree with every decision, but I do think it's a step in the right direction.
"It is hard as a creator to know that every single thing you do will be scrutinised and might offend someone. At some point you have to just make the product that you believe in and not worry about it."
Airship Games' current project is Battle Chasers, a techno-fantasy RPG based on Madureira's own comics line and heading to Xbox One, PS4, PC and Mac. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the game is on track for a 2017 release but has already seen debates emerge between the team and its fans.
"Because of social media, people can be a lot more vocal about what they perceive as being offensive or acceptable. And I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, because I think things need to change."
Joe Madureira, Airship Games
"One of our characters was a bit oversexualised and I decided to tone it down a bit for my own personal reasons - not anything to do with political pressure," he said. "And yet we got the opposite reaction, from people that loved the character as she was, that think the political climate is the reason we're doing that. So we've actually come under fire for not making her as sexualised as she typically is.
"It's kinda funny, because somehow you're going to upset or offend anyone, and as a creator you just have to make those choices. It's a lot easier in comics because typically less people are involved in those decisions, especially if you're creating your own book. You pretty much make that choice on your own and then you have to deal with the fallout. If you're working for a big publisher like Marvel, there's a lot more people that factor into your decision. In games, there's publishers, PR - all kinds of checks and balances in place to monitor that kind of stuff.
"I personally try to stay out of that stuff. I always try to work on projects that are fun, not too serious and don't try to delve into political issues. So it hasn't impacted me, but I see it with other games and in comics."
Prior to forming Airship Games, Madureira and his fellow co-founders were best known for their work at Vigil Games, most notably on the Darksiders franchise. With the newly rebranded THQ Nordic gaining momentum and mutterings of a series revival, does Madureira want to help bring Darksiders back to the fore?
"Obviously, I love Darksiders and I do consider it one of my babies," he said. "Those who worked at Vigil still feel very close to the project, and of course we have a relationship with THQ Nordic. It would be awesome to be involved in some way, but for us Battle Chasers is the No.1 priority and it's a full-time gig. So it probably won't happen, but I'd love to be as involved as I can be. We'll see where they take the series from here."