Constructive or Destructive Criticism?

As consumers of video games, we’re quite fortunate to have such a deep level of social integration.  Our feedback is able to reach the creators of the content we love in a matter or minutes, and quite often those creators take those words to heart, and make changes based on our reaction (Xbox One anyone?).

That is a blessing and a curse.  Game developers often hear what the consumer enjoys about their games.  Just as frequently, however, many developers hear about the major grievances stemming from the initial release all the way to the most-recent updates.  There is no problem with that.  Games can genuinely improve when problems are verbalised.  The problem lies in how these things are communicated.


I’m certain that by now, you’ve heard that Fezz II has been cancelled.  In the hours leading up to the declaration, Phil Fish got into a heated discussion with Marcus Beer via twitter.  Beer had expressed his frustration earlier in the day in an episode of GameTrailer’s Invisible Walls.  In it, Beer went on for a short period of time about Jonathan Blow’s and Phil Fish’s reluctance to talk about Microsoft’ decision to make each Xbox One a functional devkit.  Beer called Blow and Fish, effectively called “Blowfish” hipsters, tosspots, wankers, and also called Fish a “fucking asshole.”  Blow and Fish have more or less become poster children for Indie developers in recent years, so their opinions about such a development would presumably be invaluable.  Beer is also well aware of this, and even more maddened by the fact that Blow and Fish didn’t want to comment on it.

This escalated while Fish and Beer exchanged insults, some worse than others.  At the end, Fish announced that Fez II was canceled, and that he was done.  Polytron studios would confirm this soon after, apologizing for the disappointment.  Fish has yet to backpedal on the statements made, and there is a chance that he isn’t coming back.  Fish has said that this isn’t the only factor that caused him to leave the industry, but it can’t help but come across as the icing on the proverbial cake.

Many gamers know that Fish doesn’t exactly respond well to criticisms, complaints, or comments against his work/behavior.  That doesn’t mean that Beer is in the clear either.  Beer isn’t exactly known for holding back when he sees something he disagrees with. The industry does need people to offer an opinion that juxtaposes what is popular.  Otherwise, we cannot develop as a community.

But there’s a way to say things when the intent is for the other person to listen.  Last I checked, calling a person a tosspot has a questionable track record when it comes to building a legitimate conversation, and few people would really try to hear out what Beer was really communicating that day, should they find themselves in that position.  Fish is no saint, but it still doesn’t mean that his reactions justify the way he has been treated.

Of course, this isn’t the only issue as of late.  Recently, Treyarch design director David Vonderhaar said via twitter that a couple items and abilities for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 had been tweaked:

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To most people, a small difference like that wouldn’t matter much, but to a dedicated few, this was an inexcusable offense.

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Unlike the example listed above, this example is a lot more straightforward.  Regardless of whether or not the person issuing comments like this has any intent, it is still purely unacceptable to behave in this manner. As big a juggernaut as the Call of Duty franchise is, much of the louder behavior of the fanbase becomes assimilated into the general public’s perception of what a gamer is: immature.  The gaming community, if anything, should be offended that such a group can pass as a representative sample of what we’re about.

Activision’s Community Manager Dan Amrich weighed in on the diatribe via his personal website:

“[…]a gun’s stats being adjusted should not be a surprise to anybody at this point.

Yet Vahn often gets told he should die in a fire or kill himself or is a horrible person. If anybody thinks for a second that this is okay, it is not. But if the loudest voices in the Call of Duty “community” act like an angry mob instead, guess how the entire world views Call of Duty? Now consider that these Internet Tough Guy rants and demands are not unique to COD, but exist everywhere, in many gaming communities. This is why the world often does not take gaming seriously; this is why gamers are assumed to be immature, whiny assholes. Because the immature, whiny assholes are louder.

Take a look at Vahn’s Twitter stream today; look at how he has responded to the people who found issues and sent him calm, useful feedback. It’s clear that many gamers understand basic human communication, and it’s doubly clear that developers respond positively and gratefully to this kind of feedback. Maybe Vahn is super patient. Maybe Vahn is super human. Maybe Vahn is heavily sedated. But the fact that he focuses on the useful feedback, puts that intel to good use fixing the problem, and doesn’t irrationally lash out at the immature, whiny assholes is amazing.”

It isn’t enough to use the argument that employees in the game industry shouldn’t be in the industry if they cannot handle criticism or the scathing comments of the public.  Such an argument allows people to be subject to such hate, and in many examples, excuses the behavior of the person responsible.

In this age of technology, it has also become a lot easier to spew vitriol while still maintaining a degree of anonymity.  This emboldens many, and the use of demeaning language escalates when the person you’ve addressed sits in another room.  Talking in a hostile manner will not encourage a dialogue, but will succeed in making for a more toxic environment.

I will always maintain that many gamers are rational-minded beings, but it’s the angry gamers who are the loudest.  Perhaps we should be just as loud about what we like, and offer good reasons for why the things when we come across something we don’t.