For something that is effectively a pastime, games can get people pretty riled up. We're going to look at the mass rage, the sort that seems to grip gamers more often than not lately, where most of it is pretty uncalled for. Or is it?
Just in the past decade, a number of reputable and beloved studios launched games that angered more people than the ending to Game of Thrones. Kickstarter scammers have been running amok, all of which led to preorders making loot box odds look good.
Gearbox's Aliens Colonial Marines, Bungie's Destiny 2, Bethesda's Fallout 76, Hello Games' No Man's Sky, Cloud Imperium Games' Star Citizen, 4A Games' Metro Exodus, Bioware's Anthem - all these games seemed to blow the anger-meter sky high, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The submerged part of that iceberg comes in different colours.
Of course, there are some significant, albeit chiefly subtle distinctions to be made between these cases, but most of the dramas resulted in a development team that's momentarily paralyzed with the onslaught of anger and aggression
Anger Is Bad Mmmkay
There seems to be a prevalent opinion that anger is bad. It's a proven fact that it's bad for your body, sure, but painting a profound human emotion with a brush of political correctness, as if it's just something that falls from the sky, is neither correct nor useful.
Anger is not bad - it's socially unacceptable, which is a huge difference. We all get angry on a daily basis - it's our natural reaction to things not going our way. Normal people eventually talk it out. Some think their emotions make it okay to hurl abuse at people, while a special sort of cretin ends up sending death threats to perfect strangers.
Having said that - even courts know that anger is rarely unprovoked, which is why they try to get to the bottom of it. Mobs and professional outrage profiteers, on the other hand, rely on swift action while the blood is hot and vision clouded, which too often gives the victims an easy way out.
How? Well, the 'socially unacceptable' aspect of anger is used to its fullest extent - you can conveniently skip the lost art of causality, and claim victimhood on the basis of being treated poorly.
Which, of course, leaves behind an unresolved situation and kills the main question - how did this come about?
When Game Development Ends, Product Begins
We love games. Developers make games. Ergo, we love devs. Simple, right? Well, nothing ever is.
Developers build games and to that extent, we do love them. However, the moment you put a price tag and ship the damn thing, you're leaving the domain of development. You're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy - you're in sales now.
Unlike gaming, trade stretches as far back as humans do. You trade something you have for something of similar value you need. You get cheated - you never trade with that person again. Simple.
Whether you like it or not, games are products, many of them quite expensive ones. Buying a product comes with an automatic expectation that it does what it says. When buying expensive products, doubly so.
People who need a fridge are not interested in one that will work at 40 per cent capacity until a few months after the purchase, when it will go up to 80 per cent. Paying extra on top of that, to finally reach 100 per cent, after almost a year of usage? Hell no - who wants a fridge-as-service model.
Purchasing a product from a sufficiently reputable vendor comes with a guarantee of the product doing that what it was supposed to, the promises of which are neatly arranged inside a manual. Right out of the box - it works. Here's the cash you asked for and it's done. Fair trade.
Now look at games, and not just the ones listed above. There's a ton of examples of games that partially delivered at launch. That's not a fair trade, and it actually portrays gamers in a much different light - we're an incredibly understanding bunch, all things considered. We keep buying their fridge-as-service games, don't we?
Hastily assembled products, incessantly advertised features missing, things plain ol' not working, etc. In the world of goods and services, this is what you call a faulty product, eligible to be replaced with another, functional one. Not in a year. Not in six months. Immediately.
Game Development and Spins
We're no strangers to game design, and we know first hand how excruciatingly difficult it can get. We also know that selling something means it's ready. So it's not ready? So you want both money and understanding. How about I fix you a capuccino, while we're at it?
Let me clear the air here - I empathise with devs when they're getting yelled and mobbed out of their minds, I really do. Even more so when people like Peter Molineux are seemingly made to pay for all the AAA industry's transgressions.
However, I get hot under the collar hearing No Man's Sky creator Sean Murray say how their mistake was being too excited and talking about the game too early, trying to spin the fact that he straight up lied to our faces.
Was the backlash deserved? Probably not. Was it understandable? Damn straight it was. Again, to a civilised person, 'understandable' doesn't mean it's okay to treat them in such a manner, but but did Murray lie? Yes, repeatedly and specifically, on more than one occasion.
Trying to spin it without admitting that he was the one who dug the hole he was pushed into, is as cheap and dishonest as his attempts to maintain the multiplayer lie.
Aliens Colonial Marines used every snake oil salesman trick in the book, only for Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford to strut around playing a victim of journalist-gamer harassment, pocketing a neat sum of harrassers' money in the process. Was the anger unjustified?
Destiny 2 was an overpriced trainwreck that came with an added cost for annual passes, although the aftermath of their split from Activision indicates it was not all Bungie's fault. But the anger was fully justified.
Fallout 76 is so bad that it owes its existence to low gaming standards. Star Citizen was crowdfunded in 2012 aiming for a 2014 release. Metro Exodus switched platforms in the last moment, and Deep Silver has turned into a repeat offender. Anthem made all of the above look good. Were we supposed to be happy about that?
So, Gamers Aren't Just an Angry Bunch?
No, we aren't. When we come to buy a fridge - give us a fridge. Heck, we'll even forgive the lack of bells and whistles if they'll come at a later date. Does the damn thing work? Yeah, mostly. Give it here then.
If you prefer to pull an Anthem though, don't act baffled and confused when angry mobs come at your door. The fact you don't deserve it doesn't change the fact that you hurled the first insult. Not even the bomb-threat cretins justify going radio silent, even though in No Man's Sky's case, the size of the team sort of made it okay. Sort of.
We've recently seen so many narratives spun around gamer rage and not one seems to care that dealing with cheats and liars riles people up. Pardon my over the top expression, but what else do you call people who do you over in a trade? Developers? Publishers? Sure.
When viewed in context though, suggesting we're an uncontrollable bunch is just an attempt to hide the fact we're dealing with a young and, for the most part, unregulated industry. We still love it dearly and are funding its rapid growth wholeheartedly, but don't expect us to be like the Buddha while we're being served the latest episode of Cash Grab Wars.