Video game players, particularly MMO fans, can get pretty attached to development and publishing companies. We anthropomorphize them a bit, even. Official forums and player blogs alike are full of statements like, “Blizz, why won’t you help me?!” and “Man, Bioware, dumb move.” Players like to think of development houses in particular as a paternal force for good, an entity who loves you and wants you to be happy. You can relax and know that they are looking out for you, the player.
Except really, you can’t.
Now, I’m not saying that development and publishing companies never want to create and distribute good games that make players happy. On an individual level in particular developers and designers and their related colleagues tend to be folks who are passionate about games and who want to help the medium progress. However, while yes, a company would like to make or distribute a game that is a success with both consumers and critics, the final goal at the end of the day is to make money.
And I don’t mean that in a perjorative way. Obtaining profit is the end goal of the vast majority of businesses! Sure, EA loves having their name on a game that is a critical masterpiece and sells a bajillion copies, but they’re also pretty okay with having their name on a game that is not really that good but also sells a bajillion copies. Blizzard would like to have 10 million happy subscribers who play every day, but it’s little difference to the balance sheets if they have 10 million kinda meh subscribers who play every six weeks.
I’m bringing this up now because there are two issues floating around lately that I think benefit from examining the MMO consumer’s business relationship with the developers/publishers, and those are the Mass Effect 3 day one paid DLC, and WoW’s fancy new Scroll of Resurrection offer. Both have caused quite a bit of outcry in the player communities, and while I’m not arguing that either of these aren’t sucky situations I’m not sure we should be so surprised or outraged.
I could write an entire post about Day 1 DLCs, but let me cut to the chase: while I appreciate that developers need to pay rent too, there is absolutely no way to make paying two fees for a game on launch day palatable. It just can’t be done. But even more importantly, to my mind, is that we are being asked to trust the distributors that the content is a) not just part of the game that was pulled out for extra money and b) worth the price — I’ve seen $10 on everything from extra missions to an appearance pack.
I’ve spoken with a number of eager developer types whose pro-DLC argument essentially boils down to, “trust the developer/publisher because they are working hard” but I think that is asking for more leeway from consumers than you’d find in most other business relationships. EA is under no obligation to change their DLC release dates to be nice, and I am equally not obligated to buy a day 1 DLC to support creativity or be a team player or whatever.
A lot of people are also cranky about Blizzard’s new returning subscriber bonuses. I have seen so many responses where folks are almost pleading for affection from Anaheim: “I’ve been a loyal subscriber since day one, even when Cataclysm came out and half my guild quit, so why do you hurt me like this?” Again, this is a company with a goal of profits, not of being cuddly. Creating a crazy deal to lure back old subscribers seems pretty par for the course and I would bet it’s going to be successful, much like cell phone or cable company plans.
When you’re passionate about a hobby it’s easy to assume that we’re all on the same team because, hey, we all love games and gaming culture, right? Right? But it’s foolish for us, the game consumer, to expect anything from developers and publishers aside from.. well.. a game, and not always a good one at that. Don’t waste energy expecting them to treat you like a dear friend or even a valued asset, and don’t trust them to be looking out for your best financial interests. If they do, then great. And if they don’t… take your dollar elsewhere. It’s your right as a consumer.