In the last post, we looked at a brief but telling example of a game’s direction changing, and in so doing alienating a portion of the playerbase to the point they claimed the game was going to die. And thus, we reached a conclusion: the most likely culprit to boldly state the believed fate of a game is in fact a veteran player.
But the question does remain, then, why do the veteran players so often make this call? Failing that, why do people who have never even played a game at all chime in with the same chorus of “game’s dead” when the first veteran makes the statement? Why do new players never seem to fall into this trap? And, of course…
Do games die as a result?
The short answer is:
The other questions are all pretty damn easy to answer too, and I’m willing to bet a number of you probably already came to the same conclusion.
Veteran players – gamers as some might call themselves if they’re feeling really snooty about it – are a surprisingly fickle bunch of people. We all know the phrase “you can’t please everybody” and it is perhaps never more true than in the gaming community where online games battle and compete to keep surviving as both playable games and as profitable products for their publishers and developers.
With the necessity of retaining profit being the particularly big deal for a lot of these online games, there oft comes a requirement for development and change. This is also where the biggest pitfalls lie for any game and development team behind it, because nothing gets a veteran gamer angry than the idea that their game is going to change. And, if I’m being honest? I can understand the anger.
If we’re all being honest, we invest a lot into our games. For online games especially, our investment is perhaps more important to us than those of single player games. You can always install mods in Skyrim to make replaying it fun, or even make use of the development console to effectively progress back to a certain spot.
Online games are not rare, but are unique in the fact that the data is frankly never your own. It might be your account, and it’s your money that paid for the game and the expansions and the subscription fee, but that data could disappear at any given second and that would just be it. You would never see that character again. And it isn’t just an investment of money, either, but it’s a huge investment of time.
I have well over two thousand hours on Guild Wars 2 – and those are really rookie numbers compared to other people that have been playing just as long. I have three legendary weapons, I have fifty eight characters (of which twenty are at the max level) and I have accumulated an account worth tens of thousands of in-game gold, equivalent to literal hundreds of real life dollars. (Well pounds, actually, for me. But that’s besides the point.) So you see, my investment into Guild Wars 2 is more than my investment into a game like Skyrim or NieR: Automata or ARK or Far Cry 4 or basically any single player game could ever hope of being.
Which also means that the changes to the direction of Guild Wars 2 just mean more to me on a fundamental level. I’m entitled to my opinion much like everybody else is on whether I think the game is headed for good or bad things – even if the reality is that my investment into Guild Wars 2 doesn’t actually make me entitled to anything more or less than that opinion.
It’s a quandary that every veteran player of any online game has. It is almost necessary for us to review the future of online games that we have invested in, if only so that we can assess whether it would be worth continuing to invest in equal amounts. But this does lead to the events that can happen when the direction of a game seems to be going sourly South. Perfect World International was a good example of a game that was turned into a cash shop cow on the backs of the veteran players that had supported it for months before, and invested into a vastly different game than what it turned into. When the decision was made to introduce pachinko gambling packs every other few months, to effectively allow players to start buying everything from levels to gear, the veterans didn’t just feel like the game had abandoned them in favour of fishing for whales, but they felt like the game had in fact abused them to reach such a point.
So rang the cries of “Game is dead!” and “GG!” throughout the Perfect World International forums, and veteran players that had stood steadfast by this game since its doors had opened promptly jumped ship over the railings, never to be seen again. Of course, the game did not die in their absence. Whether it retained many veterans for a long period of time or not, I can’t say; I too eventually abandoned my investment in the knowledge that I would never be as good as I once had been without spending real money I didn’t have on pixels that I was outgrowing. I know the game continues to exist and has seen a minimum of two expansions in the years since I’ve played it, so whatever is happening to it, it most certainly didn’t die.
For me, Guild Wars 2 is becoming another fine example of a game that faces a similar problem. There have always been content issues with it, I feel, always an inability to keep their veteran players once they’ve hit level 80 and completed their story. Raids, of course, appealed to the lowest common denominator of the online gaming world (and please don’t misunderstand, I’m not using that in a derogatory way.) Their “Living World” updates also try to keep adding in free patches to draw people back, yet it seems to be a consistent back-and-forth trickle.
Leaks related to the next expansion planned for the game both intrigue and concern me. As a veteran player of GW2 with considerable investment, I find myself carefully needing to assess what might very well happen to the game and that the direction of the game may have drastically changed from when I first started to play. Not surprisingly either, considering the change of hands in the Director placement, but that’s another opinion story for another day.
Veteran players are vocal about the future of the games they play because they are arguably always the players with the most to lose. If the game goes sour too badly, they will inevitably be met with the reality of needing to find a new game. And for many people, especially newer players or those of an older generation, this doesn’t seem like a big deal – and they would be wrong. Because you aren’t just telling me to give up pixels on a screen; I have money invested in that account across four and a half years. I have friendships there. And, most importantly, I have four and a half years of my time invested. This is why giving up games is a far bigger deal to veteran players, and it is oft why veteran players are always the more vocal about the changes they see happening, sometimes to the point of being too bitter.
It isn’t that they’re mean spirited or don’t care. Rather the opposite; they care a lot, and they feel like they have an investment worth protecting because you don’t invest in a game at all if you don’t like it.
Do games fundamentally die? Well, not strictly. We’ve seen games come back from the brink of disaster time and time again.
But for future reference… Even though veteran players understand that as long as new players can be acquired, the veterans themselves are unneeded, that doesn’t mean they’ll be any less jaded to feel abused by a game only to have the direction change last second. Sometimes those “Game is dead” cries are not meant to signify the game would actually die if it implemented those changes, but are the gaming equivalent of one generation handing over to the next generation. Sometimes that “Game is dead” chorus is even used to try and drive new players away in a vindictive last effort to sink a ship they feel is already sinking. Whether it works or whether it doesn’t regardless, if a developer makes a decision that leaves the vast majority of veteran loyal players utter that dreaded and stupid phrase…
It might be worth paying a whit of attention as to why.