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The Firing Line: On Firefall forum censorship

Jef Reahard

The Massively tip line is a curious creature. It's cantankerous, unpredictable, and just as likely to bite your leg as it is to rub itself against your shins and let loose with a rumble of contentment. Despite the low signal-to-noise ratio, we do get useful info from our tipsters, often in the form of breaking news, obscure and interesting tidbits, and ideas for further coverage.

This week's Firing Line falls under that last category, as we received word from one tipster that something is rotten in the state of Firefall.

The Firing Line On Firefall forum censorship
If you're a fan of Red 5's upcoming shooter, don't fret. It's still got a better than average chance of being a fantastic game. That fact is lost on some of its official forum denizens, though, and this week CEO Mark Kern decided to address the naysayers directly:
So, I have to say for the first time that I'm disappointed in some of the community. The amount of threads here saying that e-sports is all we care about, despite all the information we've posted about PvE being our focus is disheartening to those of us working hard to make PvE awesome.

More so, the amount of shortsightedness and selfish trolling and self-important pontification I see from armchair game analysts is stunning. We're not done with the game yet. We are showing you our early builds, warts and all, so you can share in shaping the game. We welcome your feedback, but not your Chicken Little "sky is falling" ranting from those whose imaginations are not capable of looking further than the nose in front of their face and who ignore everything we say and do and have done in the game for you.

We do listen to you guys, more than any other game company on the planet, and we have proof because we show you builds so early, that they are incomplete... so you can help us fill in the blanks. But instead of embracing the concept, a vocal minority of you have taken up arms in the forums, with pitchforks and a sense of selfish self-entitlement I have never even imagined possible.

If you intended to frustrate me, you have. From now on, we're going to start moderating the negativity on these forums for the sake of healthier discussions.
The Firing Line On Firefall forum censorship
Whew. It's safe to say that Firefall's forum trolls and vocal doubters got under Kern's skin. Usually this kind of dev frustration is kept behind thick steel doors and guarded by PR types with practiced smiles and automatic weapons. That Kern vented in public is indicative of how different the company's idea of game design is from the norm.

You won't find a more collaborative approach, certainly in the quasi-MMO space, and yet clearly many of Red 5's (former?) fans felt as if they deserved even more. They may be getting less, though, as in less communication, and more crucially, less influence over the final product.

While that's a mini-tragedy in and of itself (what gamer doesn't want to feel as if the devs are adjusting the product to his specifications, even if on a micro-scale?), what's more interesting in this whole brouhaha is the reaction to Kern's call for increased forum moderation. Some Firefall forum-goers were livid, responded in kind, and promptly had their rants deep-sixed by Red 5's post police.

Our tipster used the word "censorship" in suggesting that Massively write about this particular situation, and he joined a huge list of folks who have implored us to expose the evil that game companies do by muzzling free speech on their forums.

The problem is that it's not so much evil as it is common sense. When you join a forum, you're agreeing to play by the company's rules; there's really no such thing as free speech in that environment. If the powers-that-be don't like what a user has to say, they have every right to limit the ability to say it and/or moderate it however they see fit. It's doubly true in the case of a beta product like Firefall because unless you've purchased a Founder's Pack, you're there on the company's dime (and probably not doing much actual testing unless you're more conscientious about it than most of the folks signing up for betas these days).

Gamers are continually surprised and outraged by game company censorship, but in my opinion, they shouldn't be. What for-profit firm in its right mind doesn't put its own financial interests ahead of nebulous notions of fairness and free speech? Controlling the message is as important, if not more important, than developing a good game in today's high-pressure (and high-dollar) production environment, and censorship on some level should be expected.

Admittedly, I'm a casual Firefall follower. I've been in the beta for a while, but I don't have a ton of experience testing the game, nor am I invested one way or the other when it comes to e-sports vs. casual shooter gameplay. It's somewhat disheartening to see this situation unfold, though, even from an outsider's perspective, because Red 5 always seemed like one of the few game companies composed entirely of eager-to-please gamers from top to bottom.

I wonder how much the new mandate for "healthier discussions" will affect development and whether that's just dev-speak for "our way or the highway" going forward.

The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you

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