Sunday, November 18, 2012

Love Me Tender

Video games have changed in recent years. It appears as video games have become bigger business, gamers are less inclined to love a company. Previously the breadth of a companies work would be the weights in the scale of greatness, now it’s their words against their deeds. We see this with the recent public denouncement of BioWare, Blizzard, and now ArenaNet. It’s an interesting phenomenon, more often than not these companies haven’t changed at all; they make top quality product for money and love of the industry. I sometimes wonder if it is gamers who have changed or at least their perceptions. Maybe it’s the explosion of the news now cycle and smaller attention spans, or maybe the widespread use of the internet to disseminate information and closer examination of detail. I can’t quite make heads or tails about where it comes from though. All of these companies are still making top shelf product, so how did they fall from grace?

Personally I don’t understand the sea change. I have enjoyed immensely Mass Effect 3, Guild Wars 2, and Diablo 3; the latest from each of the studios. I still consider Mass Effect 3 the greatest game of its generation. I remember a few years back when EA saw a significant enough drop in the average critic score of their games that several stock analysts felt the need to point to it as a relevant statistic. The same can not be said about any of these companies who in this regard have garnered numerous honors and high critic scores for their products in the last year or two. Like the Diablo 3 fiasco or the circumstances of the founders of BioWare leaving the gaming industry; the time of gaming luminaries and legends is apparently past.

Oftentimes things seem to get away from companies before they have an idea that their relationship with gamers has gone sour. When ArenaNet first put out information about its change of plans, with regards to so-called vertical progression, for a new content patch gamers were talking back and forth about it for 48 hours before ArenaNet put forward any relevant information about the change. Even though their first statement was at best ambiguous about what was actually going to change, gamers rallied around two camps for or against their interpretations about the changes. Any new and relevant information merely added fuel to the fire, instead of quieted the waters. Every 48 hours ArenaNet would try to head off the crisis, while clearly incapable of understanding why a small bump in stats was getting such a big rise out of people. From accusations of ‘selling out’, to worries about ‘gear treadmills’, to the sky falling; you could practically hear the internet judging ArenaNet last week of ‘guilty of all of the above’.

Short of full-time employees scouring the internet to hit upon any potential PR nightmare, there doesn’t seem to be much a company can to win back or keep the favor of gamers. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but clearly companies can no longer be certain they will be given the benefit of the doubt; forget what have you done for me lately it’s now what have you done for me today.

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