Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of the author and not PlayStation LifeStyle as a whole.
Over time it’s only natural for a video game fan to begin to feel a connection or attachment to a game publisher or developer. After all, if a company continually puts out something I enjoy why wouldn’t I come back for more? It’s important for companies to build a relationship with their consumers, and it’s why we’re seeing this become more common today. People love to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, that they are part of a greater movement. That can become dangerous.
The issue arises when this loyalty becomes blinding. Some consumers will then feel obligated to purchase everything that a publisher puts out. Their reasoning is that even if they don’t like what is coming out now, they’ll probably enjoy the next thing. Plus, they want to help a company that provided them joy before. This kind of optimism is beautiful in its naiveté, but it’s even more troubling.
Bigger Than Gaming
Brand loyalty isn’t an issue unique to gaming, and it’s one that I’ve even fallen for in the past. The sport of mixed martial arts, much like video games, was once ostracized by the mainstream. This led fans, myself included, to believe that they had to support the fledgling sport in order for it to succeed. This meant plopping down $49.95 on sub-par pay-per-view events with reassurances to myself that it was worth it. After all, if I purchased the event, it would mean that a sport close to my heart become better, that fighters would get paid more, and I’d get to see a better product at the end of the day.
That wasn’t the case. Fighters are still underpaid for their work and are subject to awful treatment. The sport has been hurt by oversaturation and cards have been watered down as a result. Oh, and the former owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship just sold their organization for over four billion dollars. My misguided support only helped the bottom line of the financial elite, not the sport itself.
The point I’m getting at, is that I stupidly purchased products that I felt like I should’ve been supporting instead of products that deserved my money. That’s exactly how a consumer hurts the industry they love, despite their best attempts at helping it. Being a fan is awesome, but not when it has real repercussions and allows companies to play consumers like a damn fiddle.
Make Companies Earn Your Money
Look no further than the comment section on any review of a niche game to see this attitude in action. Gamers will regularly pledge to support a game that they claim to not have an interest in only to support the cause of localization or to help a company. This could be construed as a noble endeavor in 1995, when great games regularly stayed in Japan, but that just isn’t the case anymore. In fact, trying “support” a developer is the absolute worst reason to buy a game.
It’s really quite simple. It all comes down to it being a company’s job to earn the money of consumers, not vice versa. A game publisher should be putting out games that appeal to their fanbase, not games that they buy out of an illogical obligation. For example, I have loved the work that Aksys Games have done in the past and Zero Escape is one of my favorite series. They recently put out Langrisser Re:Incarnation Tensei on Nintendo 3DS, an absolutely dreadful strategy role-playing game. Why would I support their poor decision to localize it?
Supporting terrible products will only lead to additional poor decisions by publishers. It sends the message that quality doesn’t matter, and only the name on the box does. At the end of the day, bad games deserve to fail. It sucks (since even a train wreck like Homefront: The Revolution has had more work put into it than you would ever know), but it’s a reality that needs to exist if the medium is going to get better.
Is There An Issue If Everyone Is Happy?
This attitude of supporting developers also leads to consumers getting sucked dry via microtransactions, albeit voluntarily. Take a look at almost any fighting game, and you’ll see page after page of downloadable content. Now, ultimately it’s the consumer’s choice if they want to spend several hundred dollars on Dead or Alive 5 costumes, but how is that even a feasible choice to begin with? Shockingly, all of that DLC being sold didn’t lead to Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 being localized, so there goes that support theory.
In fact, fans of niche games often jump at the opportunity to be exploited by a publisher. Just take a look at the infamous “Atlus tax” where their Nintendo 3DS games are often 10 dollars more expensive since they include a few dollars worth of merchandise. This does raise an important question: if fans are happy to be used in this capacity, is it even an issue? I would argue yes, but I don’t blame publishers for making an easy buck here. This is a business after all, and niche publishers have been smart enough to turn what used to be an enticing freebie to something they can profit off.
These niche publishers have already found brilliant ways to monetize their small group of fans with extravagantly pricy special editions (sold exclusively on their online stores so they get a larger cut). It isn’t your problem as a consumer to be worried about their survival. They’ll be fine as they already have their fans largely figured out. Perhaps to the point where their fanbase looks like a sucker more often than not.
You’re Not A Stock Holder, Stop Acting Like It
The last thing I want to address is fans feeling like a company’s victory is theirs. This is a common phenomena in sports, as the entire culture is built around people feeling pride in the accomplishments of others. That’s fine, but it grows incredibly toxic when people start to feel superior for backing the winning side. This is why gaming is filled with fanboys who treat company’s successes as their own.
Here’s the thing: the success of others are not your failures, but they sure as hell aren’t your successes either. The gaming community would be so much more welcoming and friendly if gamers stopped acting as if they were stockholders. You don’t gain anything other than my pity by flying Sony’s flag for them, and calling yourself a member of the #PlayStationNation in your Twitter bio. Enjoy being a consumer without the stresses of being part of a business, it’s better that way. Trust me.
Gaming still largely holds an inferiority complex despite being one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world. It’s understandable, but gaming is no longer something that only self-identified nerds do, nor is it something to be mocked. Everyone plays games, and this stopped being a simple hobby a long time ago. Gaming is a business and you shouldn’t forget it.
Always Remember Video Game Business Is a Business