There is a saying; “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, it is known as Hanlon’s Razor.
If I was allowed to coin a catechism for the gaming industry, Hnatiw’s Razor if you will, it would be:
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by greed.”
(I know Hnatiw’s Razor isn’t as catchy but just let me have this)
I want you to participate in a thought experiment with me. Close your eyes (or don’t, I’m not the boss of you) and think of the trends in the gaming industry that you hate. It can be anything; Pay or Wait games like Clash of Clans or Kim Kardashian Hollywood, malicious DLC and Season Pass practices or a lack of in-game diversity from a gender or race standpoint. It’s easy to hate on Supercell for being terrible or say that the games industry is just a toxic boys club but if thats how you’re thinking I’m here to start throwing wrenches.
Because every single trend you hate in the gaming industry exists because it makes money.
Take DLC, Pre-Orders and Season Passes. Nearly every games media outlet agrees they are annoying, that they divide the community and force gamers to shell out more money on top of already expensive purchases. Publishers know this, it would be ignorant to believe publishers are unaware of the feelings of gamers, but the ugly truth is that they simply do not care. DLC makes a lot of money, whether it’s map packs in Call of Duty or cosmetic changes, people are paying for it. Games media calls it exploitative or mocks it like Oblivion‘s horse armor but it doesn’t change anything. I’m sure major publishers would enjoy having every aspect of their company praised by games media, but if it is a choice between millions of dollars and fewer negative articles and tweets its not hard to guess what EA or Ubisoft would pick.
The same goes for issues of diversity in games. Yes, a considerable amount of video game protagonists are white men but I don’t think this comes from a desire to keep gaming a boys club, a cathedral of misogyny or third buzzphrase. Publishers believe (perhaps misguidedly) that in any given game, a male protagonist will sell better than a female protagonist. This isn’t my hypothesis, this experiment was performed on the gaming industry. Dontnod Entertainment developed Remember Me; a game with a female protagonist engaged in a heterosexual relationship. The creative director Jean-Max Moris told Penny Arcade Report in 2013 that a publisher said to him “Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.”
Again, its easy to say the bigwigs at EA, Ubisoft & Activision are just misogynists or racists but truly they are something more mundane: incredibly risk-averse. These companies are not driven by the artistic merit of games or a desire to see everyone in the world represented positively – they are driven by money. When you are trying to guarantee success for your game, the best source of information is past sales data. Publishers can look back at the recent history of video games and see a lot of games starring white dudes making a ton of money. To a publisher, putting out a more generic product they believe will sell well is not anti-progress, it’s pro-keeping their jobs. I’m not saying a female protagonist or a black game cast should be shied away from, far from it, but analysts will point to deviations from formula as reasons their latest AAA game failed. Taking a dramatic risk can be great if people like it, but with the massive budgets AAA devs are working with these days, a failed risk can mean the end of a company.
The video game community has an enviable sense of camaraderie and optimism, which are some of the reasons I love it so much. But at the end of the day, to the companies perpetuating these trends we are first and foremost a source of money. People recognize these issues, and talk about them, a lot. But no amount of pro-diversity blog posts or angry rants on how Pre-Orders harm the industry will matter while these practices remain profitable.
If you think the trends I’ve mentioned above are massive industry spanning issues or you’d just like less DLC and a few more games with female protagonists, the solution is the same. You need to make the things you hate unprofitable for these companies. If the poorly outlined DLC for Evolve doesn’t sell, that hurts the case for elaborate DLC plans. If Rise of the Tomb Raider sells 15 million copies, it helps the case for more female protagonists.
To effect change you want to see in the gaming industry you need to change up tactics. Don’t spend your time yelling at Electronic Arts, I’m sorry to tell you that they don’t care. Let’s not shame developers for conforming to designs required by publishers in order to get their games shipped. Instead of just pointing out the negative things in the industry that lets not forget everyone knows about, I want to give you the tools to effect real change in the gaming industry that we all love.
If there is a trend you hate, showing other gamers why it is evil will do far more than Twitter callouts of publisher employees will. If a game comes out that does representation well, sing its praises from the rooftops instead of vilifying all the games that don’t measure up in your eyes. Every game released that breaks from the generic trends of the gaming industry and fails makes it that much harder for the other games working with 100 million+ budgets to take those shots. It’s simply not enough for you to vote with your wallet, you need everyone to vote with their wallets. So if you want different, if you want better; tell your friends how DLC is a waste of money, encourage your friends to play the games you think are great and for god’s sake don’t let anyone pay money so Kim Kardashian will be their friend.
The market isn’t malicious. It doesn’t want to screw gamers out of their money or see a select group excluded from gaming; it simply responds to incentives. Right now the market has been told that all the things you hate are great ways to make money. If you want to see that change, you need to convince the market otherwise.
Do you think I’m right about the causes of these trends? What gaming industry trends do you hate? Tell me in the comments, it makes me feel popular!