ArenaNet And The Player Influence Crisis

In the event that you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you may have missed the debacle that has come crashing down upon the heads of ArenaNet, the developers of the popular MMOs Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2.

To sum up the events without going into too much detail, what shook down was this: a fan of Guild Wars 2 took to Twitter to air some of their grievances regarding the narrative decisions of the latest DLC update for the season-based MMO.

In no time, one of the game’s narrative designers jumped to challenge the claims. Fast forward to the present moment, and both the developer in question and an associate who stepped in to defend her statements on Twitter have been terminated by ArenaNet. Lo and behold, the company caved into the demands of the fans, and the event has reverberated across the gaming world.

If you’re wondering why I’ve elected to keep the names and details of the developers out of the description of events, it’s because for the sake of this piece, we won’t be focusing in on the details, but rather at the larger picture in question: the precedent that ArenaNet has set for the rest of the industry.

The video game industry is no secret to hordes of outspoken fans demanding to have their needs met. One would be hard-pressed to find an account of “passionate fans” blowing up the developer’s forums with numerous suggestions on how the game in question could be made “better”. Not to detract from the genuine passion of those that want to see their favorite game succeed, but there’s a reason the stereotype of a forum troll exists in the first place.

Many of those that take to brigading and spamming the developer to get their way may argue that their actions come from the best of places, but their actions tell a far different story. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine that someone who spends hundreds of hours logged into a game which they had to pay for would want to have their say in how the game’s continued development progresses – but the trend that has been progressing is a very worrying one.

What is currently happening within game communities is that players are enacting what can only be viewed as a form of unionization – albeit strictly from the side of the consumer. Somewhere along the line, the desire to voice one’s opinion has become militant. Perhaps it is a by-product of the pervasiveness by which social media has infiltrated nearly all aspects of modern life, or the cause of something else entirely – but the result is very clear: there is a profound underlying shift in the manner which consumers view their agency toward entertainment companies.

Where does this put us now?

ArenaNet’s actions have emboldened not only their community, but many others within the game-o-sphere. In an era where toxicity online appears to be skyrocketing, there seems to be no end in sight to the rising tide. Should the momentum be left unabated, we could be in for some very rocky relations soon.

Game development is an incredibly unique creative process. Due to the iterative and digital nature of development, fan inclusion during the pre, during, and post-development periods are all opportunities afforded to developers and their game-playing constituents. Player feedback has been vital to ensure the success of titles since the games of yore and proves to still be the case.

There is a possibility that what transpired between the fans and the ArenaNet devs remains an isolated incident and we all go back to treating one another with the respect which we deserve. But – call us pessimists – we just don’t see that happening; at least not in the current political climate.

Alas, all we can do is brew up another pot of coffee, blow through the latest DLC episode of GW2, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.

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