It’s no secret that video game fandoms are among the most vocal in the entertainment industry. Through the agency afforded to the consumer in these interactive worlds, we form close bonds with characters, environments, and ultimately the companies that create them. This is why it’s devastating when a game doesn’t turn out the way we want.
For good or bad then, the most powerful force within the gaming industry is the players themselves. We are a tribe of foot soldiers marching for or against our beloved games and developers. We’ve changed storylines (Mass Effect 3), boycotted entire companies when they’ve taken advantage of us (EA anyone?), and played our hand in the very hardware we use (nothing like a good bit of Xbox 180). We have the front seat in choosing the direction of our industry. The players didn’t like The Order: 1886 – it was a baseline replica of the same mechanics we’ve been playing for ages and became a poster child for the movement against video game companies churning cookie cutter titles into the mass market. It’s no surprise then that we’re seeing a step back from these mechanics, and big developers are starting to focus on new gameplay ideas – this will be helped in future by VR mechanics but we saw the beginning with Quantum Break.
When players feel taken advantage of, belittled, or unnecessarily profited from they speak up – and the companies are forced to listen. It’s a side effect of a young industry’s rapid expansion, the executives need the guy sitting on his couch with a controller and a bag of Doritos to function, and they need his feedback. It’s why developers who fix issues with early releases of their games based on Steam reviews flourish in the hearts of their players. And it’s why EA will forever be demonised as money grabbing big-wigs. Those who ignore the feedback of the players are doomed.
But here comes the inevitable Spiderman cameo – with great power comes great responsibility. It seems that the reliance of the developer on the fan, coupled with the wide open floor of social media we have today, creates the fan-hulk. The player who got pissed off when he couldn’t beat a level and took to an abusive tirade of tweets. It’s the small minority, but it’s the loudest. It’s why the industry hasn’t yet received the mature treatment it deserves, it’s why video games themselves are sensationally demonised for effects on aggression, and it’s why the continual rhetoric of the gaming industry as an angry boys club is still popular opinion. These players want to be heard by the developers, and by other players, so in order to get their way they shout it.
The interplay between the developer and the player is one that exists in no other industry, and it should be celebrated as the democratic, unifying platform it created. Nevertheless, gamers have to be prepared to claim responsibility for the wielding of the power they’ve been afforded, otherwise we risk shouting ourselves into the ground.