Unprecedented communication between gaming community and developers has created a consumer base that expects recognition. Yet this is not a model that applies to other industries. What makes gamers different?
The loot crate debate that is currently gripping the gaming industry is showing no signs of abating. The most-downvoted Reddit comment of all-time – from DICE studios, in an attempt to justify their pay-to-win model for Star Wars: Battlefront II – has produced a flurry of immediate consequences.
Battlefront II has yet to reintroduce item crates, and Belgium is currently reviewing the micro-transaction system out of fear that it resembles gambling. But the consequences of a consumer coup in the gaming industry will be far more severe than first anticipated.
A unique world
It is hard to picture a big brand in any other industry being susceptible to pressure from their consumer base. With the rare exception of TV shows that resume production after a crowd-funded plea for resurrection, dialogue between customer and manufacturer tends to operate behind a wall of advertising.
The gaming industry is home to a thoroughly unique system of conversation between developer, publisher, and consumer; indeed, developers consider it a mark of good practice to devote time to this exact conversation.
Epic Games, the developers behind the global sensation Fortnite, are a strong example of a company who respond consistently to consumer request. There is rarely a negative thing: it manifests as a strong social media or forum presence, and a game that receives regular updates.
And though it is arguable that this effort has come at the expense of Epic Games’ other projects – MOBA Paragon shut down not long after Fortnite took off – it reveals an unparalleled dedication to the majority of their community.
Dedication to the gaming community, then, is the aim of the game. So when it came to light that EA and DICE were enforcing micro-transactions that influenced player progression (‘pay-to-win’), the community responded in force, and since then the gaming industry has been tiptoeing around the subject of paid content.
Downloadable extras are now available free of charge; developers are explaining their every move, promising that pay-to-win loot crates are a thing of the past. Accountability within the gaming industry is at an all-time high, and triple-A developers are reviewing business practices thoroughly.
This is undoubtedly a good thing. Creating a skill gap that depends upon real-life currency is a frankly underhand way of forcing a consumer to make continual purchases. Of course, the term ‘season pass’ is now a mainstay of the gaming lexicon, and as the ‘games-as-service’ model becomes widespread, it is important to temper expectation. Psyonix, the creators of Rocket League, operate one such model. Their loot crates, however, only offer cosmetic items, and the proceeds fund free downloadable content and a growing eSports scene.
A difficult crowd
Of course, an increase in communication between developer and consumer will come with risks. Epic Games, for example, admitted to reallocating staff and resources to Fortnite from the ailing Paragon. Development teams who are too intent on pleasing their community will find that it is an impossible task; gamers are notoriously hard to please, often disagreeing over fundamental mechanics or game features. A game that is in a constant state of flux as a result of ‘bullying’ from a discordant fan-base will inevitably suffer.
The gaming community will always express a desire for acknowledgment. In the wake of EA and DICE’s catastrophic error, it is clearly easier for the community to have this desire serviced.
That said, it is a step in the right direction for developers and publishers of triple-A titles. But it is also crucial that smaller developers do not lose sight of their vision for an IP simply because their intended audience is not comfortable. More often than not, the audience in question is simply expressing emotion, not undisputed fact.