The Soapbox: Everybody wins

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|11.20.12

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The Soapbox: Everybody wins
I'm glad to not play WoW any longer, but I don't cheer the idea of everyone still playing it losing their game.
I make no bones about the fact that despite working in this industry for three years, I know there are parts about MMOs and the culture around them that I just do not get. For example, I still have no idea what possesses someone to think that "toon" is a good term for characters. But on a slightly more serious note, I have no idea what makes people cheer for a game to fail.

You see it everywhere. World of Warcraft subscription numbers drop; people cheer. Something bad happens to EVE Online's community; people cheer. A game goes free-to-play; people announce the game's impending demise and begin cheering prematurely. A game closes down; people cheer.

I don't get this. All right, I get it on the most basic level, inasmuch as this is a game you don't like and you're willing to publicly crow about your schadenfreude. The thing is that this is never a good thing. Cheering for a game you dislike to do badly does not result in anything good.

I want CoH to stick around, but boycotting GW2 is just going to end with two games closed instead of one."If this game fails, companies will make the sort of game I like more instead!"

Most of the time, someone crowing in joy about game A failing is unhappy because game A is a themepark or a sandbox or a free-to-play or a Korean import or whatever label someone wanted to toss on. The logic seems to go that if game A is a financial failure, companies will stop making games like game A, at which point they will start making games more like hypothetical game B.

This is true up to the first point. Companies will stop making games like game A. And that's it.

I realize this runs the risk of being pedantic, but companies exist to make money. Full stop. If a company learns that its MMORPG is failing at that goal, that MMO gets shut down. There is no meeting during which a harried executive bursts in and explains that if you had just made the game a sandbox, everything would be fine. The takeaway is "we lost money on this," and any sane developer does not then throw another $20 million into making a completely different game on the basis that the new one might be a success, especially not when the company could be spending that money on games it knows will fall into the "making money" range. And while designers might have these debates about gameplay models, you can bet the people signing the checks aren't.

Every MMO that fails sends the message that putting money into developing new MMOs to make insane amounts of money does not work. That makes the people with money to put into development more skittish around certain projects, something that has been partly indicated by the number of games that have gone to Kickstarter with their hats in their hands. Nobody wants to gamble on these games -- everyone's read this story and can guess the end. I'm not saying it's fair; I'm saying that when games fail, this is what happens.

This was a game that people expected a box price and subscription fee for before it went free-to-play.  Yes, the world is ridiculous."This game does negative things for MMOs as a whole!"

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this one is actively impossible.

Let me tell you a story about Alganon. When it launched, Alganon was essentially what you would get if you slapped some senior-year programming students into a room and told them to duplicate World of Warcraft without reverse-engineering any code. At the time of the title's launch, my first impression of the game was that it deserved pity rather than actual ire or animosity. It honestly offered absolutely nothing to the industry other than a copy of WoW... with the learning skill system from EVE Online included.

And you know, it was relevant. It was interesting. It wasn't a great match for the game that inspired it, for sure, but it was taking a basic model and doing something different and interesting. This in a game what felt amateurish in every way, shape, and form.

That's my litmus test for whether or not a game is actually capable of doing negative things for MMOs as a whole. We're talking about an industry with all sorts of innovative games out there, where even the most banal and unimaginative entry has managed to staple two things together in a novel and interesting fashion. And if even the lowest among us (so to speak) can do something novel, what does that mean for every other game?

Some games tout their novelty, some tout their nostalgia, some just tout one aspect of play or design. The important thing is that every game contributes something to the whole. Even the games that I've played in the past and haven't liked have brought something interesting to the table. I've sat down for three runs of Choose My Adventure, and each game that I played was interesting, even though none of them wound up in my regular gaming rotation.

More MMOs can do only good things for the industry. (And bad things for individual time management, yes, but such is the price we pay.)

I'm so confident that my bike is awesome that I need to tell everyone else their bikes are awful."Game A is failing! Long live game B!"

This is actually the most common justification for this sort of nonsense. You like Guild Wars 2 and you don't like Star Wars: The Old Republic. You like EVE Online and hate Star Trek Online. World of Warcraft killed your grandmother; in unrelated events, you play Champions Online. Thus, you follow stories about the game you hate religiously and explain, usually with abundant exclamation points, that the game you dislike should fail for reasons that only occasionally resemble logical arguments because they're not logical arguments; they're just sheer fanboyism. You're just dividing the world into two teams -- your team is good and the other team is bad -- and you don't need to think about why anyone would play the other game because that's bad.

Moment of truth, though: This doesn't make your game look good. It makes it look worse. If I see a thread about Guild Wars 2 in which a bunch of people are explaining that this game will die and moreover it should die in order to pave the path for EVE Online's continued existence, I'm not walking away and considering GW2 a failure. I'm taking away the lesson that EVE players are jerks.

Obviously, games are in competition. But if your argument consists of "play my game because this other game is bad," you aren't providing me with reasons; you're just trying to bully and shame other people. And when you feel the need to shout loudly that a game is failing, it indicates some deep-seated need to be upset about the game in a public forum.

We're not all going to like the same games, and that's OK. But that doesn't mean we need to cheer the failures of games we don't like. Every game that shuts down makes the overall MMO space weaker. If you really like game A, don't tell me that game B is awful; tell me why you like game A.

Telling me a game I like is bad creates division. Telling me that a game you like is awesome makes me happy for you at the very least. That way, everyone wins.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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