Hey Harvey!

Posted on Mar 18th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under You Mad Bro, Fallout 76, Anthem, I remember gamer rage meant the NES was in I will only blink and hate you mode


Recently I got a call from a good friend asking me to write about how much anger and negativity pervades gaming in our modern era.  I reflected the challenge therein, as many of the factoring instigators of such are outside the purview of our humble and relatively focused collector/gaming site.  Also, I've spilled much digital ink in various articles over the years championing virtues against such negativity.  It is not that more can't or shouldn't be said about the topic, just that there are times and places better suited for conversations that dig deeper into the myriad of problems that are the origin of said negativity.

And yet there are lots of angles about modern gamer anger that can be more readily addressed, if not overcome, by way of analysis and discussion on neutral grounds such as ours.  In fact one angle of discussion in particular came to mind by way of my recent reflections playing Fallout 76 and Anthem.  These two titles, in their design philosophy, problematic constructions, and correlating critical and commercial reception, pretty much embody the various threads into a cohesive strand of something larger, a specific anger-inducing phenomena inherent to our current-gen gaming.




The general synopsis is that Fallout 76 and Anthem are two big budget franchises (one well established, the other attempting to do so) launched by two of the biggest publishers in gaming (Bethesda and EA) with persistent online requirements as design points for a games-as-service, many-year investment (for both gamer and publisher/developer.)  Both faced multiple technical problems from beta until current day (as of yet) and both have been considered failures from an overall critical standpoint.  When it comes to either game, I find that they are often dismissed outright by many in the general public in both my retail and personal experience as worthless duds.  As you've probably guessed, I've greatly enjoyed and defended both.

I'm not writing now to defend either.  I've done so for 76 already and Anthem is still young enough that it may yet turn things around in the public eye, as Final Fantasy XIV demonstrates is possible.  What I'm currently wondering aloud is if the persistent animosity and vehement despising of these two games is touching a nerve running deeper than frustrating crashes and annoying loot RNGs.  I think it may overall stem from problems at the root of the very model these, and many modern games, are based upon.

We've all had the power go out.  Life pretty much stops until it comes back on.  Sure, we are still here and unless you are stuck in an elevator or Jurassic Park, you will probably be fine until it is unceremoniously restored.  Likewise, when your cell service is in a dead zone or the whole internet gets lost on the way into the back of your computer, there is a special frustration at that moment.  Our entire lives are entrenched in the promise that these daily services are present and their presence immutable.  When one of these services we depend upon gives evidence of how fragile and inconsistent it really is, the effects can be scary but also deeply frustrating. 

When the video game industry began switching from a product to a service provider, the inevitable complications of the service industry came with it.  Not that products (i.e. games and game systems) always worked, but there are different sets of expectations.  You can (usually) replace a faulty game system or defective game, and if it isn't what you want, there is generally less investment in one particular game which makes moving on easier.  A game-as-service model means that you are anticipating a continual service, and the game in question is to be designed for such.  It is meant appease the player for the long-haul, ideally for many months and even years.  If the service is lackluster or broken, or indeed if the game itself just doesn't appeal to the player, it is a different kind of let-down than a one-off title that doesn't invite or require such investment.

When a self-contained game fails the purchaser, there is certainly disappointment.  Perhaps there was personal hype built up for it, or some niggling component unravels the whole game, or some game-breaking bug prevents one from really enjoying it.  As gamers we move on, as there are countless other games to spend our time and money on and the initial commitment to that title is usually pretty small compared to a games-as-service.  On the other hand, something like The Division 2 communicates from the beginning that this is a title you commit to.  There is immediate plans for future content such as season passes.  There are community tools to gather a party and sustain consistent interest.  There are several progression markers to indicate some level of constant development.  The entire endeavor is built, not upon appreciating an evergreen game design (think Space Invaders, Pac-Man, or Tetris) but instead a perpetual novelty.  Something new or more is always promised with more time investment.

This is not an unworkable model, to be sure.  Stockholm syndrome of our time and addictive hooks cannot completely account for the success of World of Warcraft and Fortnite.  Often it is the community and cultural capital these games build that help sustain long after the "fun" element is a diminishing return.  And there are a handful of superb "hybrid" models of games that can exist solely offline but have online services as well, with Minecraft and the console versions of Diablo III giving perhaps the best examples.

And yet even the most successful games-as-service have problems inherent to the model.  Both free-to-play and single-purchase have to be continuously sustained by microtransactions or seasonal pass systems, which are mildly annoying at best and game-breakingly egregious at worst.  I've largely played Fallout 76 as a single-player experience, so it is particularly aggravating when there are server issues or maintenance that lock me out of playing during my precious block of game time.  When my oldest son's Fortnite game is ruined because a map update introduces new clipping errors, boy do I hear about it.  When I have to be concerned about continuing the story in Anthem because there is a chance my PS4 will crash and require a hard drive database repair (which, at 5TB, is a big pain) I get why folks are upset even if I completely disagree with the magnitude of outrage.  Ditto for gigantic day-one patches, sustaining end-game interest, the random number generator lootbox hook behind so many games, the tendency to release broken games with the expectation to patch later, and a host of other problems.

Well, we are here now and games-as-service is the current gaming reality.  Thus for the foreseeable future we will have massive bandwidth-killing updates, server-pings effecting single player experiences, and discussions of lack of endgame content out of the (digital) box.  But not every service industry in life should be considered equal, and hopefully we can learn to separate entertainment services from necessary life utilities. 

When the power or cell service goes out, it can have real and even dire consequences, particularly of the outage is long-term.  Obviously game content and service providers such as EA and Bethesda should be held accountable if the condition and quality of what they sell is below generally acceptable limits.  If we have put some money towards the game service they are providing, we certainly have a right to expect some basic standards, such as a working game that performs to realistic expectations.  What we gamers should not do is conflate our entertainment services to the level of anger and frustration that should be expended toward issues in life that more appropriately deserve it. 

Because we are finite, every aspect of us is as well; our passion, our love, our hate.  It is not just a matter of mortality; much like our disposable income for games, the more we spend on one thing the less we have to spend on anything else.  Like all our resources, we only have so much relevant anger to expend.  If we spend it all on things that are of lesser importance, we have that much less to spend on things of far greater weight and importance.  Like love, passion, and money, if I only have so much hate to spend in my time here I'm going to make sure I spend it on something worthy of it. 

Well, I did spend money on our N-Gage collection, so I'm not always the best judge either.

Of course, the gaming community should continue to demand games that are innovative, run with stability, and offer the experiences we are looking for and even ones we didn't know we wanted.  We know this is a business, but consumers can be realistic and respectable while requiring a baseline for our games.  If we are upset, as in all things, there has to be some measure of the realistic outcome of our actions.  I've often found myself wondering if the ardent negativity spent on gaming were channeled into something of more real-world significance, some actual longstanding problems in daily life could be addressed and overcome.  In a perverse way, I suppose it shows how overall good we have it if there is an opportunity and channel to unleash such venom on some video games.

But enough soap box for now.  I'm still playing Anthem, Fallout 76, and anything else I find worth my time.  If you find yourself enjoying a "bad" game, more power to you and all gamers.  And if you don't like a game or something about it, that's cool.  Just don't use up all your anger on that; there are plenty of relevant places to spend it, such as Star Wars debates or comic book Vs. MCU forums.

Smiley


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Comments
 
Yeah, in the end, they are just video games and not something one needs to survive. I try to give every game I try to give each game a fair shake but I do find myself avoiding free-to-start titles and anything MMO like that will require a large amount of time and opting for quick play games instead. I'm sure there's fun to be had in Anthem and Fallout 76 but I would rather be playing Crimson Clover or DodonPachi. To each their own and as long and enjoy the fun and ignore the hate.
 
Good write-up. I always appreciate your philosophical musings about gaming as a hobby and a passion. And I would tend to agree that this is the definition of a first world problem: when we're griping online about a game, or frothing at the mouth about some developer, you know that we've got it pretty good.
 
I'm always one to go for the positive over the negative, but I think I disagree with you on this. Anecdotally related to your topic I have a friend who is a HUGE Fallout and Bethesda fan who not only pre-ordered Fallout 76, but he sold his PS4 so he could also buy a second Xbox copy for his partner so that they could play together when the game came out. As someone myself who isn't particularly eager to jump into the "games as a service" arena it was fun for me to rib him a bit each week as new Fallout 76 news came out about the games troubles. But after the second week in there was no joy in these headlines. I really felt for the guy. He had invested a lot of time and money into this thing that just wasn't any fun for him. Being the positive and upstanding guy he is even though he was burned bad he's not going to jump on social media and call out Bethesda for the poor practice of releasing a barren and unfinished product. I couldn't do that either. But I'm definitely glad there are people who do.

The big companies that are currently finding the slimiest ways to monetize their fanbase need to be held accountable and I'm pretty happy we currently live in an age where they can publicly be held to promises made and broken or have a spotlight put on insidious business practices for everyone to see.

Do you think anything would have changed with Star Wars Battlefront 2 without the fan outcries early on? Do you think Bioware would be putting in the overtime to give Anthem fans what they were promised without the nearly daily bad press they are currently getting? Do you think The Division 2 would have had such a (relatively) great launch for this style of game if they hadn't took the massive criticism to heart from the rocky Division 1 launch?

It's one thing to put out a free to play model game and ask the players to grow as the game comes together than it is to charge a full retail price, plus micro-transactions, plus season passes, plus special editions if you want to play it as early as possible for a game that doesn't deliver anywhere near that kind of value in it's initial release window. I'm quite happy to see these companies get their feet held to the coals for under-delivering what players expect when they pay for a product. Right now you can bet Bethesda will do their darnedest to make sure Rage 2 doesn't launch like Fallout 76, where as I bet they wouldn't have cared nearly as much a few months ago especially considering Fallout is one of their flagship franchises and Rage is second tier at best.

With all that said I would never condone the level of negativity some of these upset people take. To send death threats, personal attacks towards community managers or devs, misogynistic comments, or even just calling players who do enjoy the games down for having fun is way over the line in terms of acceptable behavior. It's possible to be harsh and condemn poor business practices without sinking to those levels. My hope with the public shaming of these companies is that other companies look at that and say to themselves "we cannot be the next 'Anthem' when we release. This needs to be more polished/We need to be truthful/we need to change out revenue model/we need to rebalance our game/etc."

I really just with my buddy was enjoying Fallout 76 with his girlfriend right now instead of regretting selling his Playstation.
 
@Addicted:I jump around; I go through phases where I only play quick shooters and arcadey type games, then I sink into something like Anthem and 76, often because I have friends that want to play.  It's great to have a few options to fit where I am. Smiley

@MetalFRO:Thanks! And agreed.

@Crabmaster2000: I think we may be saying the same thing; I completely agree that companies need to understand releasing a broken or partial game is unacceptable (and I've certainly written and whined for years as the digital and online-only future encroached.)  As much as I've enjoyed 76 and Anthem, I know they are unfinished and it shows.  My main point is in your latter paragraph, where the pressure and complaints turn into real-world harm that we fellow gamers should also push back against.

Still, bummer about your friend's 76 experience.  I don't try talking buddies into buying games anymore, as I've unwittingly been an accomplice to such bad purchases.  But I do pick up stuff after friends invite me, which is how I ended up pleasantly surprised with the aforementioned titles despite their respective issues.  Still, I hear and understand the heartache, even if it isn't as universal as some assume.
 
It's too bad the Google Stavia (sorry, Stadia - I have to stop doing that) announcement couldn't hold off until later this month.  I imagine it would have somehow wormed its way into your article.  I like to think that Phil Harrison's fly shoes would have been mentioned as well.

I think this is yet another one of the reasons I don't like to do modern gaming.  For some I am willing to bend the rules (Eitr and Dragon Quest Builders 2 to name a vast majority), but the knowledge that my day one (or week one, or in some cases month one) $60 (non-limited edition) purchase could possibly be a buggy shell of a game is too much for me.  I love the "X" series of space sims by Egosoft, and while the most recent game in the series looks amazing to me, history and experience has me waiting a minimum of a year before I lay my money down on the proverbial table.  If in a year (or two) they somehow manage to have a playable-no-so-buggy game and it is still $50 then I will gladly buy it, but not a second before that.

Back to the whole service as a game (did it again - games as a service) thing, I think that in some cases I would be okay with it.  Nintendo Online, for example.  I've actually sat down and played a bunch of it on my son's Switch and it isn't bad.  Granted I don't already own all the games, so in that situation I could totally see the opposite side of it, but for less than $4 USD that month I got to play Mighty Bomb Jack for about an hour, which as it turns out is the exact amount of time I needed to play it.

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