Over the past week or so, Respawn Entertainment landed in some hot water. In a strange series of events, one of the developers basically said that some people were “asshats" and “freeloaders," among other things. The comments were in response to critics of Apex Legends’ latest microtransaction scheme. As one can imagine, things got out of hand. This eventually led to Respawn’s CEO issuing an apology on Twitter.
On the surface, the situation seems pretty bad. Go deeper, and it’s … still bad. The “asshat” quote in particular apparently came from this particular comment: “I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember when players weren’t complete asshats to developers, and it was pretty neat. I forged a bunch of long-lasting relationships back then.” While not the greatest quote from a developer ever, it doesn’t actually refer to any specific person. One can also argue that the quote is directed at people who probably deserve such a title.
Regardless, the situation does reveal one of the largest contradictions of modern gaming. We expect developers to take criticism, and sometimes personal attacks, day and night. If they are to respond, they are to do so genuinely. If plans change, guess who is going to getting raked over the coals months or even years into the future? The fact that gaming is the only form of entertainment that feedback can theoretically be acted upon instantly only encourages such behavior. Meanwhile, the general public gets to enjoy a layer of anonymity that high level developers will rarely know.
It's certainly not the first time that this contradiction led to confrontation. If anything, being able to direct comments at anyone at any time has led to developers being more cagey. Blizzard seemingly created a different definition of the word "soon" because people pester them about release dates and such. It is incredibly rare to see any developer say anything of substance in their own official forums outside of official announcements. Ironically, they presumably depend on such means of communication for feedback because there is no greater way to playtest a game than to release it to the public.
Still, there’s no real doubt that what the Respawn developer said was genuine. After all, Apex Legends is a free game. By nature, it will attract freeloaders. It’s not like it’s some kind of revelation to discover that some people on the internet have less than acceptable behavior either. Unless a poor choice of words and brutal honesty are crimes, nothing that was said was technically wrong. If the context were any different, people would probably be lining up to praise Respawn for the quick and candid response. Public internet forums are nothing if not sensationalist.
On the flipside, one must seriously ask what Respawn was expecting when more microtransactions were added to Apex Legends. No one’s going to be throwing parties because there are more ways to spend money. The most tame reaction would be if people ignored the microtransactions altogether. But as we all know, the internet doesn’t know what tame means when it comes to games. Everything must be some dramatic gesture designed to maximize outrage. For some on YouTube, generating outrage is evidently their job. The best thing to do was simply to ignore all criticism.
Amusingly enough, aside from creating a modern pearl clutching moment, nothing appears to have fundamentally changed. People are still playing Apex Legends after all. As far as can be told, there's no artificial exodus of players to some other game. By and large, the situation has been forgotten by the general playerbase. The reality is that no one's going to boycott a free game over some mean words. Even if the microtransaction pricing was hot garbage, the only thing being sold (as of now anyways) are cosmetics. Trivial things like skins that you can't see 99% of the time because it's a first person game.
At the end of the day, perhaps both sides need to grow up. It's evident that the rank and file employees have no say in pricing, so there's no need to attack them. There is also no situation where sending a fully capitalized angry and dramatic comment makes anything better. As for the developers, this may seem obvious but don't say that people are asshats. For that matter, don't say crazy things and crazy things won't happen. As much as people bemoan generic PR phrases, they exist for a reason. Stay off of Twitter and the like because one poorly thought out comment is going to stick. Social media is proving to be more and more of a curse than a tool as time goes on, and both developer and consumer should be wary of it.