Do gamers have a misplaced sense of entitlement? It’s an accusation that has become quite fashionable in recent years, and one that’s quite often made by games journalists when defending a developer or publisher against what they see as unwarranted criticism from gamers.
That the people who review and write about video games feel the need to act as defenders of multibillion dollar corporations is probably worth an entire series of articles on its own, so let’s leave that aside for now and focus on the accusation itself.
Let’s take a look at the typical chain of events that lead to the latest article bemoaning gamers’ aforementioned sense of entitlement and to much clutching of pearls on social media about the uncouth behaviour of the masses.
It usually starts with the hyping of a new release by publishers, dutifully assisted by the games media. There will be preview articles, multiple features about its development, maybe some interviews with key people involved. Expectations are created – not ones that merely come out of the blue, but that are the result of the extensive coverage just mentioned.
Next, in our hypothetical series of events, said game is released. Reviews from professional critics may be rapturous, or enthusiastic but tempered by a mention of this or that missing feature. But soon the rumblings of discontent start bubbling to the surface. On social media, gamers start complaining that the game is missing features or options that were touted in the run-up to its release. They complain about a perceived lack of quality or failed execution in this or that area. It could be anything – graphics that have been downgraded from what was shown before release, multiplayer servers that can’t handle the surge of many people suddenly logging on, or delivering an experience that is simply not what most people expected or wanted.
If you visit a website that contrasts professional review scores with those provided by gamers, you’ll notice that professional reviews may hover somewhere around a 9/10, while the user reviews average closer to 5/10 and below. There may even be a bunch of 0/10s, complete with assessments not fit for print.
By this time the think pieces are coming thick and fast, bemoaning the terrible sense of entitlement of gamers and wondering why they are not more grateful for the hard work that developers put into the game.
Before we go on, one thing has to be said: the internet, and social media in particular, can be an ugly place. There is no doubt gamers express their unhappiness in completely unacceptable ways, but this is no different from any other topic of discussion on social media – just go browse some posts about Donald Trump or Brexit, if you need a reminder.
But remember, the criticism being levelled at gamers is not a lack of social media decorum, as such, but rather that they suffer from a sense of entitlement. They wrongly think – so the accusation goes – that developers owe them something. This, we are told, is wrong, and probably the result of too much time spent in mum’s basement (games journalism is one of the few genres where you can repeatedly get away with insulting your target audience).
The latest example comes in the form of some games journalists' reaction to the scathing response from gamers to Blizzard's announcement of the next release in the long-running Diablo franchise: Diablo Immortal. The source of gamers' unhappiness? Diablo Immortal is a mobile game, and you will have to scour the planet for many months before you'll be able to find one Diablo fan who wants a mobile Diablo game.
An expansion to Diablo III? That would have gone down well. A mention that Diablo IV is in the works? Even more so. But a Diablo game on your phone? It's like going to a Ferrari reveal event and watching as the covers are taken off of a Ferrari-branded vacuum cleaner. Who asked for that?
At the Blizzard event, an audience member summed up the feelings of many when he asked if this was “an out-of-season April Fool’s joke” (he has since, bizarrely, been accused of bullying the developers by asking this question).
Mashable.com's Kellen Beck referred to those who complained about Diablo Immortal as "entitled crybabies". "Grow up," he wrote. "You are entitled to nothing. Game companies owe you nothing."
Other commentators chimed in to say that instead of complaining, gamers should be thankful that there are people out there working very, very hard to produce games for our entertainment.
The bottom line
But that is missing the point entirely. Being disappointed in a product is not the result of a sense of entitlement. Games are products, just like any other. Yes, we can appreciate the work that goes into making them, but companies aren’t making these games out of the goodness of their hearts – they’re making them to make money. They are putting them out there into the market to meet a perceived demand.
If someone reviews a local restaurant poorly, would anyone retort that you can’t criticise the food, because the cooks worked hard to prepare it?
Do game developers owe gamers anything? Yes, and no. They very much owe paying customers what they promised them. But are they obliged to create the sort of experiences gamers want? Of course not. And if they do not, then in the long run they will simply fade into obscurity.
Developers, then, should appreciate the negative feedback they get in the aftermath of events such as the Diablo Immortal reveal. It shows that fans are passionate enough about your product to let you know you're going down the wrong track.
They want to give you their money. But, if you insist on creating something nobody wants, then they’ll simply walk away. You won’t have to worry about being insulted on social media because your game will simply never trend.
Wanting a product that meets your demands and the expectations set by previous versions is not a case of being entitled. It’s simply human. And listening to those demands is just plain, good business. As for those who find this state of affairs problematic – we’ll leave it to someone else to figure out what that is.