I find myself having the same conversation over and over again. It’s usually a lengthy debate that spins its tires on the same worn treads, but it basically goes like this:
Friend: You bought that game?
Friend: Why would you give them your money after they (insert random shitty business tactic here)?
Me: Because I wanted to have fun playing a game I thought I’d enjoy?
Friend: That’s fine, but you should also forfeit any and all complaining about (insert random shitty business tactic here).
Me: I can’t play a game and still have a critical opinion about its negative aspects? Is it really that black and white?
Any time this comes up, I can’t help but give a defeatist sigh.
It’s worth talking about though, because I feel it represents a lot of the dominant conversations about ‘speaking with your wallet’ online. I mean, hell, I’ve got a website dedicated to sharing the seedy underbelly of AAA game development. That means I stand atop Mount Sinai, telling the masses that these companies – Bungie, Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Sony, etc. – are taking advantage of them, and that they should use the knowledge I impart to make educated decisions the next time they want to buy a game. And yet, I’ve bought games like Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Destiny, No Man’s Sky, and so many others.
Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Aren’t I sending the wrong message to these studios? The answers are obvious, so let’s ask a more open question: Why?
I love video games to pieces. I was born in 1982, so I was in on the ground floor. The Atari and its games were easily findable at yard sales, and I got to experience the glory of the Nintendo Entertainment System shortly after it had launched. As a young child, it was easy to build a massive library of games. A large chunk of my collection was acquired through yard sales. The handful of games I couldn’t afford otherwise, I was able to rent through Blockbuster Video. So, I grew up with the ability to play pretty much anything I wanted… which was pretty much everything.
This hobby turned into a passion. When I wasn’t playing games, I was talking about them, reading about them (oh hai, Gamepro!), or watching TV shows inspired by them. Over the years, I’ve developed a great wealth of knowledge, even about the stuff I didn’t own or didn’t particularly care for. Once the internet came to be, I finally had an outlet where I could discuss games and the industry they hail from with likeminded people.
Point 1 – The Community
Growing up, I was clearly spoiled. But more importantly, gaming, for me, has evolved into more than just sitting down and playing the games.
I like to be part of the conversation.
Game launches are a special time. It’s when months, if not years of analytical hype – for better or for worse – comes crashing down. In this respect, it doesn’t really matter how good or bad a game is, because people are going to break it all down with their praise, criticisms, and everything in between. It’s during this release window fervor that the gaming community feels most alive, and I genuinely love being a part of it.
Of course, upon entering these discussions, I realize the pools I’m wading through are far from pure. For example, certain fans have a tendency to praise most anything their beloved studio churns out, or people bash games they’ve never played because the hate train’s pulled into the station. It’s hard to stay away from these reactionary responses, but I also appreciate these opportunities to educate people.
Point 2 – Challenging Widely Accepted Perception
While I use reviews as a rough indicator, I never take them at face value. So, if a game receives universal praise or is shunned entirely, I’m compelled to check it out for myself. We all know that hype and hate trains exist, right? If I had listened to everyone back in 2014, I would have believed Shadow of Mordor was an amazing game… but it wasn’t (not bad, but average). Not for me. On the flip side of the coin, everyone berated The Order: 1886 for being short and too cinematic for its own good, and while it was flawed, it didn’t deserve the hatred that had been dredged from the bowels of the internet (at least, not in my opinion). So yes, I’m always curious to get hands-on with a divisive title so I can see what all the fuss is about.
Point 3 – But at the End of the Day…
This is where the more ‘human’ side of me begins to come out.
I can talk about bad business practices all day, but after all is said and done, I relent because I just want to have fun. With all the bickering over microtransactions and crappy DLC models, it’s easy to forget that video games are still pretty fun to play. Shadow of War may siren to other studios that, ‘hey, you can throw loot boxes into single player games now’, but I still want to play that experience. Same goes for Battlefront II, because I loved the last one and enjoyed the recent beta.
Hypocrite, I know.
But that’s also because I remember that video games were never perfect. People look back on the history of video games with rose colored glasses, saying, “There were never any microtransactions or DLC back in my day!” But if there were ways companies could suck money out of your wallet, they were doing it. Classic arcade games were cool, but you died every 15 seconds because they were designed to vacuum quarters out of your pocket. Gimmicky accessories were released in quick succession, and many of them didn’t work as advertised (as cool as the Power Glove looked, it was a real piece of crap). Nintendo introduced an add-on for the N64 in Japan (which was very short lived and a retro gaming collector’s dream to obtain). Corners were often cut during game development, and at times proved detrimental. And despite what many are lead to believe, games could often cost a bit more than $60.
Get my point?
Things have ALWAYS been shady. If I wanted to draw a strict line in the sand between their bullshit and my money, I wouldn’t have enjoyed a game in the last 30 years.
So for me, fun factor is what I value most. It’s only when crappy business decisions impact my fun in a big way that I begin to have serious problems.
How Does Supporting Games With Bad Business Models Make Me Feel?
Although ‘fun’ is my bottom line, that doesn’t mean I’m turning a blind eye to the practices that have infiltrated the gaming world. I’m well aware of the ‘slippery slope’ and how I’ve contributed to it. I’ll say that I rarely buy season passes, or even cosmetic items for that matter… but deep down inside, I know that’s not the best justification. When I buy even the base product, I’m telling studios I support what they’re doing, not to mention a potential customer for their DLC and microtransactions. Yes, that makes me feel dirty, and yes, I am, at times, disappointed in myself. I don’t like being part of the problem.
So why do I keep riding this merry go round? Well, because these are the choices I’m left with:
I can take a stand and never buy any of these exploitive games, but then I’d be sad I was missing out on the fun.
Or, I can continue to have fun playing the games that come out, but try and spread awareness about the things I see happening in the industry.
Obviously, I’ve chosen the latter.
I don’t believe that boycotting games or even particular studios is the answer. Because even though I haven’t bought the game, plenty of other people will. My sale won’t be missed. Casual gamers don’t care to delve into the stuff happening behind the scenes, so they’re going to buy whatever they like anyway.
And I can’t fault them for that. We pay to eat the sausage, not to see it being made, you know?
So, I’m going to keep eating that sausage, pretending that it’s primo meat and not just a bunch of leftover shit being ground into an intestinal shell. But if I notice something’s not right with it, I’m going to raise hell about it. I mean, what am I supposed to do, not eat sausage anymore? That’s effin’ lunacy.