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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | Classic PQ | Damned
   

The Damned Of All The World

By Andrew Smith

The Problem

Have you ever got back from work at night, sat yourself down in front of the TV, and started to think about how the world is full of morons? You probably have. Let's face it - very few people approach every situation with the most appropriate attitude, and we don't always make the best decisions. Chances are, at some time or other, we all become one of the morons that we curse so often.

The Damned Of All The World - By Andrew Smith

What has this got to do with us, the online games communities? Well, over the last year or so, and especially the last six months, almost everybody within this community seems to have forgotten some of the most important values that we, as consumers, need to remember. Not only have we turned into the morons that we hate so intensely, but our actions have served only to damage our rights as the paying customer.

Rights? Yes - rights. No matter what games companies might try to tell you, we have rights. They might insist that it's their game, and that they'll do whatever they want with it, but we're the ones that hold the cash. When a company tries to sell a game, they're trying to sell it to us. To me. To you. You can decide whether or not to buy that game. You have the right to give the company your money, or to keep it in your pocket.

The most important concept to recognise in this situation is that of consumer pressure. You, the consumer, have the ability to put pressure on a company. No matter what the values and ideals of the company's employees are, no matter how pure their motivations are and how dedicated they are to creating a quality product, at the end of the day there is only one thing that will determine the success or failure of their game - whether or not you choose to buy it.

That is exactly how it should be. The games companies should have to try and impress you, the consumer. They should have to create a quality product that you want to buy, so you'll give them your money. If you like the game, you'll buy it. If you don't like it, you won't. Correct?

No.

This is where we have lost our sense of judgement. We have dropped our standards. We have decided to accept the standards that the games companies have dictated, rather than the standards that we really want. To a greater or lesser extent, we have surrendered our rights as consumers. Rather than acting as one powerful force, with one powerful voice, we have subdivided, and are now regulating one another, forcing ourselves into a situation where exercising our own consumer pressure is no longer tolerated.

Nowadays, if one person makes a demand on a games company, no matter what it is, he or she is immediately shot down in flames by that company's fans. Those fans are then attacked by fans of a rival company, and before anyone has even given any thought to the first person's original demands, they are forgotten about, very conveniently for the company in question.

It's with this subdividing that we've shot ourselves in our collective foot. The very essence of a commercial society is that the market will be fed by the providers, who will act on the demands of the market. It's a loop. Neither can exist without the other, but still it is the market that is in control. The market dictates what it wants, when it wants it, and how much it is willing to pay. To survive, the providers must find a way to meet the demands of the market, because the market is a powerful beast, and it has very sharp teeth.

This simplistic view illustrates the most fundamental element of market pressure - the fact that there must be two distinct sides. The providers - in our case, the games companies - must be committed to their own survival, and the members of the market - us, the consumers - must be committed to getting what we want, when we want it, and for no more than what we are prepared to give.

As you read this, are any alarm bells starting to ring? Are you realising that we, the members of the online community, have completely undermined the concept of market pressure?

By subdividing - forming distinct groups with allegiance to particular games companies - we have removed the critical line that divides the providers and the market. If one member of the market makes a demand, another member counteracts it. The more members of the market that make demands, the more rival members there are to counteract it. The market has torn itself apart from the inside, surrendering the power that is so crucial to us, and we are no longer able to make demands.

This article is only meant to illustrate the situation in very basic terms, because as a community we seem to have lost sight of the things that are important. The scope of this article does not extend as far as discussing particular companies, or individual games, because that would only serve to participate in the very rivalry that I am trying to illustrate as destructive.

As a part of that illustration, though, I am going to include two very specific examples of where certain games companies have acted in a way that is not in the best interest of us, the consumers, and where their actions are clearly a result of them recognising that we have surrendered our power. So as to keep this article on a completely neutral level, I shall only mention the two games on either side of the greatest rivalry we have at the moment - Unreal and Quake 2 - and I shall give one example for each.

Unreal

I first became interested in Unreal at the beginning of this year. When I first read of it, I understood that it was due to be released within the next few weeks. As each week passed, though, and a new preview or feature appeared in another magazine, the release date was set back another week.

Chances are, those particular release dates were nothing more than the result of an overactive imagination on the part of journalists and editors, but then a few months ago the official Unreal site went online, complete with an official release date from GT Interactive, the game's publisher. Almost immediately, anxious posts started to appear on the official message board, asking for confirmation that Unreal would be released on the stated date, and time after time the now fabled "when it's done" answer was given.

The subject of the release date, perhaps the most contentious in Unreal's history after several lengthy delays, had got to the stage where people were being given an official release date by the game's publisher, but then being told by the developers (Epic) that the date had still not been set. For every person that complained of lies or misinformation, another would spring up in Epic's defence, saying that we should all just leave them alone to get on with making the game.

The situation reached somewhat of an ugly climax when GT removed the release date from the official site. The message board started to fill with the same question - why had the release date been removed? Had Unreal's release been put back again? The response from Epic was blunt and absolute - there had never been a release date, the game would be released "when it's done", and they would not waste any more time answering the same question over and over again.

Let me ask you - if you went to a game's official site, and saw a release date, would you not think it was safe to assume that it was official, and that you could rely on it? Furthermore, if you then approached the company when the date was removed, would you expect them to state that it had never existed and that you were wasting their time with your question?

Of course you wouldn't expect that sort of response. Nobody would, under normal circumstances. In the online community, though, things are different. For every person that asked about the release date, half a dozen people told them not to ask. For every time Epic stated that there had never been a release date, there were Unreal fans there to agree with them.

To apply this example to another situation, imagine if you were looking to buy a new car. You go to the showroom and you're specifically looking for something with four-wheel drive. You find the perfect car and there, on the roof, is a sign proudly announcing that it has four-wheel drive. You take it for a test drive and find out that it hasn't got four-wheel drive at all, so you return to the showroom and ask the manager why they are making false claims about the car.

Rather than admit that the sign was wrong, the manager simply tears it up and insists that it never existed. You argue that you saw the sign with your own eyes, and then you notice that other customers in the showroom are starting to gather round. You expect that they're going to agree with you, but then they go and stand by the manager and defend him, saying that the sign never existed and that you must have just imagined it.

Can you imagine that situation ever happening? No, of course not. All of the other customers would have walked out of the showroom in disgust and the manager would have realised pretty quickly that telling such obvious lies was only going to lose him business. In our online community, though, that isn't what happens - for some reason, we defend companies when they lie, even though we know that they're lying.

Ask yourself - if a company lies to its customers, and the customers defend them for doing so, what motivation do they have to tell us the truth?

Quake 2

Two of the most eagerly anticipated features of Quake 2 were a native Capture The Flag mode and differing player models in deathmatch to reflect which weapon a player was carrying.

I understand that the deathmatch weapons feature was originally meant to be included in Quake 1, but apparently it was not possible to include it in a game that was designed to run on an 8mb system. The minimum target system for Quake 2 has 16mb, so one would assume that it will be included, but this is not the case - we are told that this feature will not be in the retail version of Quake 2 due to time constraints, but it should be available in an add-on pack released at a later date.

As far as Capture The Flag goes, there has been very little said about it, apart from various incidental comments from people at id Software about how certain aspects of the game were being designed with CTF playing in mind. People reading those comments would have been justified in assuming, as I did, that CTF would be included as a standard feature in Quake 2. Again, though, we are told that it will not be included due to time constraints, a revelation that was conveniently made at the time that a demo of Quake 2 was released, sweetening the pill for the members of the community that would not respond kindly to yet another feature being delayed.

The important factor to recognise in the situation with Quake 2 is that id Software have explicitly stated, on several occasions, that it would be released in time for Christmas. Very publicly, they have set themselves a deadline, and they are saying that sticking to their own deadline means that they will not be able to include certain features in the game. This, of course, they claim is purely for the good of their customers. They make no mention of the extra revenue that a Christmas release will generate.

Deadlines are a fact of life. Everybody reading this will have had to work to a deadline at some point in their life. Whether it was having to hand an essay in on time at school, or complete a contract on time at work, we have all had to deal with deadlines and the pressures that they bring.

A deadline is not just a date, though. It is not just a particular day or a time when you have to have something completed by. Think of a deadline as a rule - a rule with two parts. Of course, part of the rule is the date or the time, but the other part is equally important - the part that dictates what you have to do. If you have to write a five thousand word essay by next Tuesday, one part of the rule says that you must write a five thousand word essay, and the other part says that you must do it by next Tuesday. If you don't satisfy both parts of the rule, you don't satisfy the deadline.

What was id Software's deadline? What rules did they set for themselves? They said that Quake 2 would be released by Christmas. The target date to satisfy the deadline is Christmas, and by inference the rule is that Quake 2 will be finished by that date. What did they do, though, when they realised that they couldn't meet their own deadline? Simple - they changed the rules.

They had already stated that the varying deathmatch weapons would be a standard feature of Quake 2, and they had given the impression that CTF would be included, so "Quake 2", as a defined entity, must surely include those features? If it does, though, it won't be released until after Christmas, and id Software will have failed to meet their own deadline.

Of course, faced with the fact that they have no option but to break their deadline, they have realised that there is another way to break it - one that will be financially much less painful for them. Rather than break the rule that sets Christmas as the game's release date, they have chosen to break the rule that dictates how much work they must do - if they drop support for CTF and varying player models in deathmatch, they can still release Quake 2 before Christmas, and they will be able to claim that they have delivered the game on time, as promised, for the good of their fans, even though it is effectively an incomplete product.

Again, to apply this example to another situation, imagine that you're back at school and you're told to write that five thousand word essay and hand it in next Tuesday. If it gets to Monday night, and you haven't written a single word, what are you going to do? Write the whole thing that night? Write it on the way to school the next morning? Maybe you'll just tell the teacher that you hadn't done it and ask if you can hand it in on Wednesday instead?

The one thing that you wouldn't do, because common sense would tell you that you wouldn't get away with it, would be to turn up at school on Tuesday morning with an essay that was only ONE thousand words and tell the teacher that you'd decided to change the rules. Do you think the teacher would accept that? After all, you were told to have the essay written by Tuesday, and there you are handing it over on Tuesday morning. Of course it wouldn't be accepted - the Tuesday deadline was only half of the rule. The other half, saying that you had to write FIVE thousand words, was equally important. You can't just make up your own rules to suit yourself, but that is exactly what id Software have done.

The Conclusion

The whole point of this article is to express my concern, as a consumer, that I no longer have any right to make demands on games companies, especially the ones with the largest number of fans. If I complain that Unreal is being delayed for so long, Epic's fans will defend them and say that I have no right to complain. If I complain that Quake 2 is having features dropped far too often, id Software's fans will defend them and say that I have no right to complain.

No matter what concerns I, or anybody else, express about a game, the very fact that I am criticising a particular company's game will result in that company's fans leaping to its defence. Whether or not my concern is justified is completely irrelevant - they are not interested in defending what is right or wrong, they are interested in defending "their game" at all costs. The mentality is very much like that of a politician in opposition - no matter what a member of the governing party says, however right it is, it's always wrong.

However, I'm not writing this article to criticise any particular game, company, or group of fans. I'm criticising the whole concept of the community being subdivided.

Part of the problem is that a large number of people in the community are quite young, and do not necessarily realise that their seemingly insignificant actions, such as a posting on a message board or a newsgroup, can directly affect the quality of a product that they won't even get the chance to buy until several years later. One such posting may not make much difference, but thousands of them, from thousands of people, build to an awesome weight.

The children are not the whole problem, though - for every child in the community acting without thought, there is an equally immature adult doing exactly the same. The Internet is a very attractive outlet for people who feel that they do not function properly in mainstream society, or do not want to, and computer games appeal largely to people that would choose to live in a fantasy world rather than deal with the hassles of reality. If you combine the two, as has happened with the online games community, you can't expect the result to be the most focused, considered group imaginable.

Perhaps the most important thing to realise about this article is that it is not merely guesswork, or an extrapolation. It is intended to clarify a situation that we are already experiencing. Many people refuse to acknowledge it, and others simply do not see that it is happening, but it doesn't matter whether or not the ignorance is intentional - the result is undeniable. A situation exists that is wholly damaging for us, the consumers, yet we have so far steadfastly refused to do anything to rectify it.

The current situation with Unreal and Quake 2 is proof that the situation is very real, and very dangerous. Both Epic and id Software are in a position where they have a lot of faithful fans, and if anybody criticises either company, or their respective games, their fans will defend them, usually without question or thought.

In fact, a comparison between these two companies is perhaps the perfect way to illustrate the situation, so let me ask you - how many criticisms of Unreal have you seen lately, and how many of Quake 2?

Over the last six months, criticism of Unreal has continued at a steady rate. Criticism of Quake 2, though, has taken a spectacular nose-dive. Several months ago, a large number of people were very vocal in complaining that Quake 2 would have no support for modem-to-modem games, and they were shot down in flames by other members of the community, even though they felt exactly the same way. When the lack of varying player models in deathmatch was announced, though, there was a stunned silence within the community, and the lack of CTF produced a similar effect, albeit on a smaller scale.

Why, if people are so completely appalled by the decision to postpone these two features, are they not publicly complaining, when they have been so willing to do so in the past? There can be only one logical answer - if they complain, they know that they would have to answer to the wrath of the same mindless fans that defend every action of their favourite games company, no matter if it is right or wrong.

People have realised that there is no point complaining about anything to do with id Software. If any member of the community complains, they are immediately silenced by other members of the community. Somebody that is protesting for the good of the community as a whole will be silenced by that very same community. As consumers, it's metaphorical suicide.

At the moment, id Software is currently several years ahead of Epic in terms of releases and fans. They have several major titles under their belt and they have amassed a huge online following. Several years down the line, Epic may have released several major titles, and may have amassed an equally huge online following. By that reasoning, just as we have arrived at the stage where nobody dares criticise id Software, a few years from now we will probably arrive at the stage where Epic are equally immune to criticism.

It is likely that, over the next five years, id Software and Epic will be the two biggest names in the world of online gaming. However, they are but the few, and we are the many. We, as the consumers - the market - must remain in control of the providers. If we restrict ourselves so heavily that we are no longer able to tell the games companies what we want, they will give us whatever they decide we should have.

If we don't like what they give us, there won't be anything we can do about it - complaining will not be an option, and some sort of en masse rebellion will be an unthinkable last step. The entire system will be - and is becoming - based entirely around sects of the market slavishly following one particular company. The only people that will be able to criticise any company would be the sect that follows it, and to do so would be to admit defeat in the eyes of everybody else. Do you think, five or ten years from now, people will be able to attain that level of strength, when they are unable to do so at the moment?

Call it blind faith, or stupidity, it doesn't really matter - it's happening, it's getting much worse with every passing day, and it is something that we should all make a concentrated effort to change. We are the only people that have anything to lose with the way things are going, and we are the only ones that can realise our mistakes and do something to rectify them. The future, as they say, is in our hands.

- Andrew Smith

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