I’m going to avoid any comments which involve the topic of whether or not an entertainment format can be considered art. A painting could exist only because of the obsession of its painter, the same with carved soapstone. This is not that situation.
Jerry Seinfeld recently mentioned in a conversation with Michael Richards that comedians sometimes forget why they stand in front of the microphone. Jerry believes the comedian should be selfless, presenting himself for the sake of making other people laugh. The comic gets enjoyment from other people’s joy. His jokes are worthless if no one laughs. Receiving negative feedback is part of being an entertainer, a fact I’ve learned several times (though not as much as I had feared so far). Fan criticism still cuts to the bone and I worry that if my work ever finds mass distribution, I may not be able to handle the sudden swell of negative opinions sure to follow (as there always is) as the masses become aware of me. JK Rowling, undoubtedly the most successful living writer except Stephen King, is probably still bothered when her books are negatively reviewed despite the overwhelming majority of love. You can’t please everyone.
Michael Richards admitted that his famous career-soiling incident some years back came as a result of him being selfish on the stage; he was there to say his jokes regardless if the fans laughed or not. This is a dangerous path some people in the entertainment field walk down, where they make something for themselves knowing few people will like it. This may work for an independent or school project or if you are a painter or sculptor, but in mainstream media, especially games, it’s a dangerous road to travel down. Yes, you should love your own work, that’s a given, but should you rig the game to limit public appeal?
I’m not saying that a product should entertain as many people as it can, but it should at least try and entertain the people it’s trying to sell to. JK shouldn’t care when bible-thumping rednecks burn her books in a school field in Texas, but she might care if a large group of previous fans condemn her latest work. I know I have fans, and these are the ones I’m trying to please. As I write and publish, my obligation is to attempt to garner new fans without betraying the ones I’ve already earned, a granite-worthy commandment all entertainers should follow but one which corporations are not obligated to adhere to. I’m studying to be an economist and I’ve already encountered how dangerous it is when people are reduced to pure numerical values. To them, it doesn’t matter how many people are disappointed or shattered as long as the gains prove themselves. I hope and swear that any success I might earn in the future will not occur on the broken backs of fans that supported me at the start.
This eventually will lead into entitlement, not the entitlement to health care and education, which everyone should have being the Canadian libertarian socialist that I am, but the entitlement of consumers to enjoy entertainment and criticise said entertainment when it fails to do so. I know typing that in such a way made it read as obvious but you’d be surprised how successful the American political system has managed to turn “entitlement” into a dirty word. Are gamers entitled to good games and the right to complain when a game is bad?
Of course they do; why wouldn’t they? What kind of world are we living in if people are not entitled to be entertained by something they are paying for? The risk is blowback. For every five pieces of helpful criticism, there’s one that’s simply angry, and for every five of those, there’s one that hates for the sake of being hateful. How does one distinguish? I think I’ve managed to develop a filter between constructive reviews and provocation, but it’s never a perfect separation. In the end, everyone has the right to complain but they must take responsibility for what they say, and if they complain, I feel certain that they should have an idea why they’re complaining.
Video games have received the vast majority of attention in this field. Outside of the vilification of certain companies in a broad manner, specific companies have received harsh criticism to specific games for specific reasons. Recently, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka announced their departure from Bioware (and possibly from gaming altogether). Less than a week later, it was reported (possibly a rumor) that one departure was directly connected to the spell of criticism Bioware games had received, most notably Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic (though the issue could stem back to Dragon Age 2). I admit I don’t care for MMOs and when my three characters reached max level in TOR, I quit. I just don’t share with others the obsessive need to grind a game for slightly better gear. As for Mass Effect, it made critical errors in both gameplay and story which alienated a large number of the franchise’s original fanbase. What bothered me the most was the vast number of fan comments at the bottom of the article blaming entitled angry fans for the departure, like it was their fault for hating a game which forced these poor victimized millionaire company founders to quit.
I don’t share this belief. The heads at Bioware might or might not have known what was going to happen when they were folded into EA, but if they were truly shocked by the fan’s negativity to DA2 and ME3, then they’ve lost touch. Making a game something it is not or releasing an obviously unfinished rushed project is not going to make the old guard love you. This was an economist running numbers and forgetting that the discarded numbers had fingers and ornery dispositions. The fans angry about these games had the right to be, and they also had the right to criticize. They paid money for a game which did not meet their expectations. They tasted the sour trend of making a game palatable to the masses while simultaneously indigestible to the ones who purchased your game in the first place. It would be understandable for them to get upset. Now, this may seem like I’m a Mass Effect 3 hater ranting about issues involving a now antique product, but I’ve gotten irritated by that movement as well, seemingly hijacked by gamers that were never going to be satisfied regardless of what happened to rectify it.
But Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzykaare are not innocent. They made the choice to sell to EA. They had to know what could happen. They cannot present themselves as the victims in this. As for a future, there remains several options. If they decided to start a new independent company, a refresh of sorts, it would prove that they were aware of what was lost in the merger. They would earn considerable leverage with the fans. The community would deservedly follow in droves to what could only be described as a corporate reboot. It would also be a clear message that they regretted what had happened with these games. Or maybe not, maybe they do feel like victims, ready to dive into other projects wholly un-game related. But they’re not victims. I didn’t present myself as a victim when one of my books was criticized for technical errors and I’m pretty sure if I did, I would garner NO compassion from critics. I simply apologized and said I would endeavor to make it better. And what did the critics say? A few didn’t care. The others said thank you. Because they are entitled to be heard if they’re attempting civilized dialogue, and we, as entertainers, are obligated to listen.