Game Industry, Play

“Master, remember the Athenians”

Reportedly the title of this piece is what Darius the Great tasked a servant with whispering in his ear three times a day. You see, he swore revenge on the Athenians for their part in the burning of Sardis. He apparently took his oath seriously and didn’t want to forget. I would even venture a guess that he didn’t want to forget how angry he felt either. But, more about this in a bit.

In case you haven’t been following gaming news this week, the latest incarnation of SimCity was released by Electronic Arts. To say that the launch hasn’t gone well would be like saying, “The Titanic had a little accident.” I don’t really want to go into the reason (always online DRM) too much given the fact you can Google it or look for the trend on Twitter (#simcity). I want to talk about how we got here. Again.

The easy answer would be to say that the mean old corporate gaming giant did it to us. Again. I’m the first to agree that the mean old corporate gaming giant is incredibly, spectacularly culpable in this. However, there is another entity at work here – something so dark, so persuasive that, at times, most times even, we can’t go against it. It’s us. You and me, him and her, they and them. It’s all of us. Ourselves. We don’t do it on purpose mind you. We’re just wired that way – most of us anyway.

Generally speaking, most of us tend toward Fading Affect Bias, which means that we tend to forget negative emotions more quickly than we forget positive ones. This probably explains why I got talked into getting SimCity after going through the Blizzard/Activision Diablo 3 launch. And I got talked into Simcity knowing that it had an always online DRM.

Big game publisher’s like EA and Activision, I believe, count on us forgetting how angry we were when we couldn’t play our new game for the first couple of days or a week. That’s why EA does it over and over and why I’m betting Blizzard/Activision will do it again. They think because they are selling a game they can get away with doing this to their customers. And they can. As long as we keep allowing them to do so.

Think about it. A video game is a product. A dish washer, a car, your phone service are all products. If any of those last three products didn’t work or worked intermittently for the first 2 – 7 days, would you be okay with that? Don’t you think there would be repercussions for that product failure? There would be! And the manufacturers and providers would work to make amends or see that it didn’t happen again.

Typically a video game costs about $60 for a new AAA release these days. That is no small amount of money where I’m from. And we keep paying companies like EA to give us games that don’t work as intended out of the box. We keep enabling this broken machine to work. Partly because we want the next big gaming experience and partly because we forget how angry those mean big game publishers made us with their last release.

Well, I’m going to try and help us remember and stay angry from now on. Somewhere in my articles for this site from here on I will write, “Remember the Athenians.” You can take that to mean, “Remember the always online DRM game launch debacles by EA and Activision.” Maybe this will keep a few more of us from buying into their shoddy business model and tactics.

4 thoughts on ““Master, remember the Athenians””

  1. Totally agree. The only reason they do this is because people will put up with it and still pay out. Until that changes I would expect to see more of these scenarios, because ultimately the only thing that big publishers are concerned about is the bottom line. Not the game experience. Not the consumer experience. Just making that money and the shareholders happy.

    The funny thing, imo, is that this is the cart before the horse. If you build it, they will come, right? I mean, if you deliver a quality product and don't include mechanisms that actively punish your paying customers, you will likely get good reviews, word of mouth spreads and people will happily buy your game. Now if you keep this up, you start to get a reputation for delivering the goods which translates into brand loyalty and people will be lining up for whatever you do.

    Now let's look at what happens when a dev did exactly that, then made a deal with a publisher who only focused on the bottom line. What happened. There are several examples but I'm thinking specifically of Bioware. There was a time when every game they made was gold. They could do no wrong and had a reputation for such. I was amongst their biggest fans and genuinely enjoyed their games, right up to the point that EA bought them. All of a sudden, dev time was significantly shortened so that products could be rushed out the door, and it showed in the final products. Dragon Age 2 was a HUGE disappointment to the community, and for good reason. The scope was severely limited compared to the first game. Blatantly reused maps and environments. Plot holes and a weak story, maybe the biggest offense since Bioware was THE dev known for delivering a good story. The shortcuts were very apparent and resulted in a subpar game.

    It was enough to put some people off, including me. Like others, I went from thinking Bioware was a "must-buy" to a "wait and see". Which leads us to the next release, Mass Effect 3. Now, I LOVED the first game and the universe it introduced in particular. The second game felt a little condensed to me but I still enjoyed it for continuing the story of the characters I had been involved with. Because of DA2, I decided to wait on ME3 (that reputation thing I mentioned earlier goes both ways), and was so glad I did. I won't get into the whole ending debacle here but again, it just felt like it was arbitrary, tacked on, rushed out the door, etc. Again, the customer's faith was lost and most people could connect the dots, marking the decline in quality that started right at the time of EA becoming involved.

    So now, in this case, Bioware is on the defensive. They had legions of fans who have lost the faith, and it's on Bioware to earn that trust back. Not an easy thing to do by any means. No matter how much money EA wants to throw at marketing, smart people will catch on eventually and be much more hesitant when deciding where to spend their money.

    Back to the original point, the question is if ENOUGH people will catch on and decide that this type of behavior is unacceptable. Time will tell.

  2. Excellent points David. I totally agree. We, the consumers, just need to stop enabling them. Build a quality product and don't stomp all over us and we will come.

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