Something has really been bothering me over the last several months regarding the gaming industry as a whole. I’ve played several different roles within the gaming community. I’ve been a gamer first and foremost. I’ve critically covered games both from a writing and video perspective for TechRaptor and myself over at my YouTube channel. I’ve talked with fellow gamers about games, and I’ve given advice to programmers who are looking for some information regarding their games (yes, surprisingly I can talk about it because I have a degree in Software Engineering).
Yet there is one thing always strikes me when I start up a one on one conversation with my fellow gamers: things tend to start on a more positive note more than anything else. Sure, there are certain games and topics that will get people going on the negative side of things—just ask the rest of the TechRaptor staff about my rants on Alone in the Dark: Illumination and Resident Evil Revelations 2. But it’s about seeing the good that comes out of the gaming world more than the bad.
Which is why the latest trend across the gaming landscape has me worried. Because it’s been a trend to talk about what an element in the gaming world may do in its worst case scenario, and not look at the reasons and motivations behind the decisions that were made. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen before—there’s always a Chicken Little out there. But it seems to have been taken to the next level lately, and it may be the fact that I’m covering video games on a regular basis and see more of what’s going on.
A good example of what I’m talking about is the events surrounding the Framerate Police Steam Curator group and Guild of Dungeoneering. What started as a simple concept in a basic idea regarding informing the consumer of what is thought to be vital information turned into this out of control tornado of negativity. It fed on itself with a back and forth between opponents. and eventually, there were angry people all over the place and developers being threatened. Now note, I covered the game in question over at my YouTube channel and had some communication with the developers. In the brief talks I had with them, they seemed down to earth and reasonable. But Colm Larkin, one of the minds behind it, posted to Twitter on Friday:
To get a true understanding of what went down here, let’s start at the beginning. Well-known YouTube critic TotalBiscuit has long been a person who is known for his ideas regarding the gaming industry and 60 versus 30 frames per second, in particular with the PC platform. Now note, to say that I look up to Mr. Bain would be an understatement—he’s part of the reason I started covering games in the first place. However, if you haven’t seen his thoughts on the topic, I would strongly advise you to take a look at the video below, as it’s a well put together set of thoughts from Mr. Bain regarding the subject, and we share similar opinions on the topic—that 60 FPS is objectively better than 30 FPS in pretty much every case.
There are rare exceptions to this rule, and I’m not talking games like Guild of Dungeoneering, as even that game’s animations would run smoother and cleaner at that framerate. The only real type of title that I can think of that highly benefits from the 30 FPS idea is a game that doesn’t want to look smooth due to its style, ala South Park: The Stick of Truth. Other than that, even some of the old classics such as the original Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog ran over 30 FPS.
Now Mr. Bain is known as an advocate for the consumer, and what he did was create a Steam Curator group to indicate if a game is 30 FPS on Steam and whether or not the game can unlock the framerate in any sort of way. The list is objective: if the game runs at 30 FPS, it goes on the list. No opinions were added to those curation items, only if it was 30 FPS, or if you could unlock the framerate some way. So that would seemingly be to the consumers benefit, to have that information on hand to make an informed decision, assuming that they understand what the information they presented means. For some people, it doesn’t make a difference to them, and they’d seemingly ignore the information. However, what happened here was a downward spiral of decisions, ultimately leading to a lot of angry people and threats. Because it’s what happened next that led to some backlash.
The thread over here lists what seemingly happened, as game creators have the ability to block certain curators from showing up on their store page for any user not subscribed to a certain Curator. At least, that’s what it was thought to be at this point, as several other users in the thread weren’t able to recreate the same behavior. From what I’ve seen, it seems to be the case, but without a developer to test things for me, I can only go so far. But for the breakdown of this incident, let’s assume that it is true. So for example, at the moment, if you are not subscribed to the Framerate Police, you would not see their listing on the Steam store page for the Guild of Dungeoneering. However, if you are subscribed, then you are able to see it. It’s depicted nicely by an image taken from that thread by user Stonium.
Let’s take a second to understand why a developer could block a curator for showing up. You need to remember that the developer is attempting to present his game for sale. The information that the 30 FPS group is presenting is true, that’s for sure, and it can help a person make an informed business decision.
But remember what the developer should be trying to do: present his/her game in the best light for the public to take in the information to sell the game. I equate it to the back of the box blurb you’d see on a console release you’d pick up at the store—you may have hundreds of critics that have talked about your game at some point. And in particular, if you believe the information that is presented to be not core to the experience that you are delivering, you probably don’t want to put it on your front page. You want to show off the best quotes for people to entice people into buying your game.
For example, when you are advertising selling a car, you don’t put a blurb on the advertisement about the floor mats. Floor mats may be important to some, and may be critical to others, but if you’re trying to sell the car, and didn’t make floor mats a priority, you don’t list that as a big blurb on your ad. And before you ask, no, I’m not indicating that 60 FPS is the floor mats of this analogy.
You also have Curators that may not take the system seriously and may be trolling for the sake of trolling as well. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s completely allowed in the system as it is right now given the number of followers one may have, but sadly in terms of actual useful information, it doesn’t provide anything useful for the consumer to actually work off of. That is definitely not the case for the Framerate Police, as they provided a service that people can really take advantage of.
This is where the Curator system would seemingly run into this weird problem: the purpose it’s serving the general public. The information is present for those who follow the Curator in this case, and they could still see it. The information for those who have proven that they want the information is there, but for others, it doesn’t show up. The developer wants to show off information that he feels will help sell his game. There’s only so much room on the front page for blurbs; if you listed every curator on the front page for every game, that would be a load of information to go through. Now, there is a view all curators button there that would make sense to show that curator on even for those who weren’t following it.
But that wasn’t even the reason that it was blocked, surprisingly. In fact, it was much simpler than that. The developer in question believed that the Curator system was meant to recommend games. He said so on a Steam community page later on:
And you know what? He’s actually right on that. While information can obviously be used to inform the users through the Steam Curator system, take a look at what the Steam Curator page says:
Steam Curators are individuals or organizations that make recommendations to help others discover interesting games in the Steam catalog.
By all definitions of this, what the developer said was correct in this case. His interpretation of the situation in question is reasonable given the definition in which Steam has put forward on the Curator page. Now you may be saying to yourself, “But if Steam had a problem using the system like that otherwise against the definition, they would have banned other Curators during that time!” That’s great to think … in theory. But remember, Steam is a huge company that most likely gets thousands upon thousands of emails with hundreds of issues a day. They can’t respond to every “fire” rather quickly, and given what they’ve said in the past, they may have relied on the community to self-inspect in this case.
Now, does that make the 30 FPS group in this case wrong? No, it doesn’t; it’s what the system has allowed for at this time. And in particular, it’s the interpretation of Valve’s statement on how it could be applied to the Curation system that makes it reasonable. If a game is known to have 30 FPS, but there was a way of unlocking it, they indicate it in the Curators page. For someone who was on the fence about the framerate of the game, but saw that it could be unlocked, it may move them over to actually buying it if it was a high criteria for their purchasing decision. Under that definition, then the 30 FPS group is well within the rules of the Curator system. Could that group be small? Possibly, but it’s an unknown-sized group at this time. It’s also problematic in the case of those who’d be sub’d to TotalBiscuit’s normal curator group and saw the group being advertised by his main account but not the 30 FPS one.
Many systems start off with one purpose in mind but end up being flexible enough to handle multiple uses that weren’t considered to be part of the original intent that have strong benefits not only for the original creator, but those who use the product in a variety of different ways. You want an example? I’m currently working on the idea of using a ticketing system for TechRaptor. Why? Because while the original purpose of a ticketing system can be used to track bugs and related portions, it could be modified to hand out keys or to claim assignments, give due dates—that kind of thing. It’s the flexibility of the system in question and wasn’t necessarily its initial purpose. Sometimes, the best thing about the system wasn’t even its original purpose, but what it evolved to.
In essence, both parties were well within reasonable understanding in my mind to justify their actions at this point. But let’s get back to the meat of the problem here: what followed regarding these moves. Some vocal users on various platforms indicated problems with both sides regarding the Curator and blocking of the Curator on Steam and different social media platforms. People claiming censorship—that information was being held back from the user—and that the developer was attempting to restrict information from consumers, not allowing an informed decision. That TotalBiscuit was attempting to put his “subjective” view on framerates and pushing his agenda on the industry for a game that arguably wouldn’t be worth the development effort and benefit to get the 60 FPS out of it.
Let’s make one thing clear: in no situation is physical threats of violence, or threats in general, acceptable in any form. We can have disagreements about the viability of 60 FPS in a game like Guild of Dungeoneering and have a civil discussion about it. We can talk about what the changing focus of what the Curator system can do and talk about it like rational human beings. Can we control people getting angry on the Internet? Of course we can’t. Will threats over stuff like this always happen? Yeah, sadly it will, even over the stupidest of things. But I know that attempting to talk to those people will probably not be productive in any way. Some people do want to watch the world burn at times, regardless of the context.
No, I’m talking about those users who are seemingly level headed and may have gotten caught up in the moment without taking a step back and thinking about the situation in question. Being passionate about what you love is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but understand that not everyone comes from the same perspective that you do on things, and that they may not share the same values. When I see seemingly rational people say the following things …:
I am concerned. Internet culture now a days is about the extremes. It’s about the strongest reactions that we may have, and when they seemingly have a common voice on those reactions, they get amplified. We tend to flock together on things, but in that, forget that there’s an actual human being with reasonable thoughts and feelings on the other side of the keyboard. I urge people to take a step back and try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes that they are getting so heated up on. Because you’ll surprisingly find that maybe, just maybe, you have more in common than you think, and that maybe there’s been a misunderstanding here.
But what can be done about the situation at hand regarding the FPS police that seems fair to both parties? Well, I’m here to make a suggestion. When issues like this break out lately, it usually all comes down to one thing: that some needed service or tool isn’t available at the moment, and you have to make due with what you have. I see it in things like the Reddit Revolt—with the moderator tools—and I see it here. And funny enough, I think the person who has the biggest ability to solve a problem like this … is Valve. Because there’s something that could be done to help provide the information in question to the user base. And here’s a few example of them:
This has been a staple in the PC community for a long time now, and the fact of the matter is, the requirements and specifications have evolved not only from a hardware requirement, but from a user perspective as well. We have the most diverse community of gamers in today’s gaming landscape, as there are ways of gaming like we never have before. We have the ability to play on devices such as the Oculus Rift to provide new ways of interacting with a game. We have options given to users who have disabilities to allow them to play games they may not have been able to before, with color-blind options and different options for control schemes for those who may not be able to use a mouse and keyboard. And my question is, why not extend the set of requirements to a set of gameplay details? Put a tab on the front page under the requirements to indicate what options are available to the user in terms of the game in question so that they can make the decision themselves.
Are there volume sliders? Does the game run in 30 FPS? Can the game run in windowed mode so other things can be done in the background? Does the game appear on any other system? If so, what’s the price of it? Can the keys be rebound for those who need a different key configuration—like those who may be left handed? There’s similarities to a certain checklist made by the PCMR subreddit, and Valve should provide developers a checklist of options that are wanted by the gaming community to be able to be checked off, so that consumers can make the decision themselves.
Steam Enhanced has been a fine example of adding information that the user base has needed—at least on the browser side—in order to help make purchasing decisions. People wanted to know if a sale was truly a sale for the time, whether or not the game had DRM packaged with it, so on and so forth. It’s the kind of implementation where it gave people what they wanted and is a similar concept here. Now that was based on the information that’s available through different APIs, and I’m unsure if there is a website/API out there that has information about framerates readily available, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to request that from those creators.
I know I’m asking Valve, a multi-million dollar company, to take time out of their development schedule to implement a new feature on their Steam store … but I also think that it’s to their benefit. As we’ve seen with the Steam refunds system, the lack of a great alternatives to this information will have people go out and try other forms of getting the information. Sometimes that leads to bad situations, such as developers/content producers getting threatened for no good reason. When there’s unrest, there’s usually a core element behind it that can be addressed, and I think this is the best way to please all parties involved.
Because unfortunately, without something like that checklist, the two sides, regardless of what war they think they are fighting for, may get lost in the haze of battle.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether you think this is a reasonable compromise, or what your take on the Framerate Police and the Guild of Dungeoneering situation was? Do you notice framerate during your gameplay, and do you think even card games should implement 60 FPS?