Over the last year something strange has been happening to the game community as a whole: we have been getting our voice back. It feels like more and more, our say is having an increasingly more powerful influence in what game companies create. This came to a head last month with the incredible Metacritic user review outcry against Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. While the behaviour of many of the user reviewers was childish (many simply giving the game a score of 0 to make a point), the fact that the chief creative officer of the company, Glen Schofield, publicly tweeted to his fans to increase the game’s score shows how much weight the public’s voice carried.
Make no mistake, I am not encouraging this kind of immature behaviour. But the event has shown everyone how much potential power the gaming community has. This is primarily due to improved methods of communication: ten years ago, Facebook and Twitter were just twinkles in the eyes and broadband was nowhere near as expansive as it is now. While technology has vastly changed the ways we communicate in everyday life, it is interesting to see how it affects the game industry since the industry itself is always at the forefront of technology.
… a £15 indie title that is now competing for “Best PC Game”…
We as players have always had a Darwinian relationship with developers: if we enjoy a game it thrives and sequels and imitations come by the bucket load, if we don’t like it, the game or genre is left to whither and die. However, now more than ever we have an active role in the path of the industry. The game Minecraft, for example, is a £15 indie title that is now competing for “Best PC Game” at the Video Game Awards alongside AAA titles Battlefield 3, The Witcher 2 and Portal 2. The indie community as a whole has evolved from socially awkward bedroom coders to small companies making thousands from short, adventurous titles (not that the former has been completely eradicated, of course).
However, this isn’t an uprising. Some companies have noticed this increase in player power and have encouraged it. Valve’s ‘Item Workshop’, for example, lets players model their own hats and weapons for Team Fortress 2. If Valve put the maker’s item into the game they share the profits. InFAMOUS 2 allows its players to create side missions for the game that get uploaded to a database and rated by the community. Small steps like this have made huge impressions on the gaming community and make people feel more a part of the product.
…a defining year in the way in which companies communicate with their audience.
This all leads to the question: will 2012 be the year game creation is completely dictated by the audience? Of course not, but it could be a defining year in the way in which companies communicate with their audience. Already we are seeing efforts made to include communities in official content, perhaps next year could see the first priced official map pack that is created by the community who also receive a small profit? With the dust beginning to settle on the Modern Warfare 3 Metacritic outcry, it will be interesting to see what steps Sledgehammer Games take to ensure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.
Communicating with the fan base will have to be more common, not just for Sledgehammer Games but also for most companies. Massively Multiplayer Online Game Eve Online has a whole council made from its players. This council fly to CCP Games headquarters every month to discuss what the player base wants and the game’s economy difficulties. However, even with this structure in place a company can falter. CCP managed to cause uproar when they announced that they would be charging for small items in the game. This apparently was not discussed with the council and led to distrust between the company and its players. The events show that communication is key to keeping a community happy, and if they are happy, they will buy their products.
Unfortunately, the Modern Warfare 3 incident raises another, more serious question: are we even mature enough to have this power? While giving the gaming community a greater influence on the industry is brilliant, if we abuse it in ways such as what we saw last month, then what is the point? The game industry as a whole will never be taken seriously if its community behave like children. If we want to push the boundaries of what’s possible in our industry and have a greater say in its direction, then we need to earn the respect of the people who forge it. While 2012 will provide a much closer bond between developers and their communities; it will be the communities’ actions that dictate how far this bond will go.