I Have An Idea On How I Want To Give You My Money…
Sometimes I feel that there’s an uncomfortable alliance between people who work in the games industry, and the people who buy games. It’s a common feeling in any industry, when I think about it, as anyone who’s worked in retail, or customer service, or has produced a product can tell you. Having to deal with the public can be frustrating to the extreme when someone asks you for something that they expect you to understand from their pathetic articulations, or when a customer makes demands they have no right to make, and which you have no authority to fulfill. As consumers, we’re also annoyed with service people who seem to know nothing about their jobs, don’t even bother to hide their contempt for having to deal with the public, and who seem more interested in doing anything else aside from their job of serving the customer.
Games industry people and the consumers rarely interact directly. I say rarely to mean percentage wise, because thanks to forums and social networking, there’s viable bridges between producers and consumers that can lead to wonderful interactions. But they can also lead to horrible airing of grievances as well, which traditionally were limited to break-room bitch-sessions, or private conversations between friends.
It’s really a moot point to look at this from the developer point of view, because everyone knows what a bunch of assholes the consumer segment can be. Check out any forums, any social network, or any general chat channel in a multiplayer game and you’ll be smacked hard in the face with ignorance, venom, and spite directed at people who put their pants on one leg at a time (assuming they wear pants), who work for a paycheck like everyone else, and who really do want to make the best product that they can so they can be proud of what they’ve done. Many consumers don’t give a shit, and they take their diatribes to the web without a thought beyond their own selfish rage.
But I’ve seen this work in reverse as well. There’s a kind of creator-vs-consumer mentality in play for many people. It’s not just game development. It’s readers and authors. Viewers and move stars. Listeners and recording artists. The game industry is really a “black box” to many consumers, and like any product which elicits strong attachment in it’s users, there’s some level of hero-worship from many consumers towards industry folks, which no doubt can result in some inflated egos within the industry among those who may be susceptible to that kind of thing. But these particular examples are regular people who happen to be fortunate enough to work in an industry that is creative, high profile, and which many people credit as their preferred source of entertainment. It’s natural to have moments of “big headedness” knowing that there’s a massive amount of people out there who would love to be in your position, or even just to meet you. Nevermind that people in the gaming industry are some of the most intelligent motherfuckers that you’ll ever meet.
Which is why it really saddens me when I hear comments from folks in the games industry – directed at consumers, especially bloggers – that basically say “if you’ve never produced a game, you can’t have an opinion on how they’re designed.”
Now, OK. We know how the Internet works. Actually, it’s amazing it works at all. It’s like a megaphone that everyone has put his or her lips on, with absolutely zero filters or accountability. Anyone is free to spout off whatever they want, whenever they want, about whatever they want. Also, everyone is suddenly an expert. With Wikipedia and a never-ending archive, “information” is always just a Google search away. Forget that context is lost, most of that “information” is actually “opinion”, and that people have a habit of ingesting the portions that support their arguments and willfully jettison the rest. Consumers are not producers, true. Most of the time. But there’s really a lot wrong with telling someone that they can’t express their opinion – right or wrong – about a topic of interest to them when you’re on one side of the velvet rope, and they’re on the other:
- No one was born with the expertise they’re hiding behind. At some point, every one who claims a place of insider knowledge was on the outside looking in, and was probably engaging in the same armchair designer talk that they’re now condemning.
- People like to talk big to convince others that they know more than they do. It’s certainly not new, or limited to this example situation. The Internet just made it easier for people to do, and to hear.
- Consumers may not know what they want, but they know what they do not want, and while that sometimes comes out bass-ackwards (“here’s what SHOULD be done” instead of “I personally don’t like this…”), the message is the same: I am dissatisfied with a portion of/your entire product.
- People like to talk. They like to imagine. They like to engage in “what if?” scenarios without the confines of budgets or investors or design documents, the same way everyone fantasizes about winning the lottery, taking a great vacation, or The Ultimate Burrito.
The worst part about it, though, is that the logic is actually sound…if you accept that you can’t critique a book unless you’ve been published, can’t dissect a movie unless you’ve directed, and can’t comment about a song unless you’ve recorded. Which everyone does. All the time. Everywhere. About everything.
I can’t understand any ill-feelings towards the armchair community, especially since we all belong to one offshoot or another directed at some industry or another. Bloggers or posters who pine for impossible systems or claim that “it’s a quick fix” are underestimating out of ignorance, of course. But that’s not “their job”. Their job is to formulate an idea of a product that they would stop at nothing to possess. This personal Holy Grail will never be achievable, since their vision won’t be the same as someone else’s vision, but when a consumer is telling a producer “this is EXACTLY the type of thing that I would sell my soul to own”, I can’t think of a better situation for a producer to be in. It’s just a matter of reading between the lines culling the possible from the impossible, and a willingness to accept that while the customer isn’t always right, they still want to be your customer.