Game Companies Are Not Your Friends

Like their zombies, The Walking Dead's release dates are shambling.
Like their zombies, The Walking Dead’s release dates are unbearably slow.

I recently had a bit of an exchange with someone over social media about The Walking Dead: Season Two’s episode release schedule. I originally asked developer Telltale Games if they can please release Episode 4 a month after Episode 3’s release, because I felt the rollout was taking a bit long.

I brought this up because the first episode of Season Two came out for the PC last December 17, 2013. At the time of that comment, it was already the second week of May 2014 and Episode 3 was just about to be released.

Between episodes, there was a waiting time of over 70 days. From Episodes 1 to 2, people had to wait 2 months and 15 days, while the gap from Episodes 2 to 3 was 2 months and 10 days.

If this schedule persisted all the way till the last chapter, we may see Episode 4 sometime in late July 2014 and Episode 5 in the second week of October 2014.

The other person (let’s call him/her Gamer X) explained that Telltale is alternating development between The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. On one month, Telltale releases a Walking Dead episode, the following month is for The Wolf Among Us. Rinse and repeat.

I recall Telltale releasing Tales of Monkey Island almost every month back in 2009, so I opined that Telltale should change their approach because paying customers shouldn’t have to wait that long.

Gamers are “ungrateful” these days

Gamer X then asked me rhetorically if I was “seriously that impatient” because it was just two (insert expletive here) months, and if I knew “how hard they (i.e. Telltale) worked.” Gamer X later remarked something about gamers being ungrateful these days.

Tales of Monkey Island came out almost every month.
Tales of Monkey Island episodes came out almost every month.

So let me get this straight: reasonably asking for a game already paid for to be released more promptly is ungrateful? What exactly should I be grateful for? That Telltale makes great games and sells them at affordable prices?

Look, there was an exchange of goods for money, so I would say that Telltale and I are (somewhat) even. “Somewhat” because I received three out of five paid episodes to date. Telltale actually owes me two episodes.

This needs to be said time and again: even if developers, console makers, and publishers seem nice to you, even if the companies produce excellent and reasonably priced products, you should know that they are not your friends. Like any business, game companies are out only for themselves.

Some try to treat their fans right; others consistently create high-quality products; and many do this because they’re passionate about games. However, you shouldn’t mistake their actions–commendable as they are–as a sign that they care about your personal well-being; they don’t.

Game companies are smart; they know that doing commendable stuff is good for their bottom line.

Need for change

Take note that there’s nothing wrong with this! Looking out for itself doesn’t make a game company the embodiment of evil in this world. After all, they need to be profitable to stay in business; if a company doesn’t make any money, it goes belly up.

Game companies don’t go out of their way to screw you either. If they piss of enough people, they lose money. What companies aim for is the sweet spot between making truckloads of money and making the most number of people happy. To achieve this, they will try to get away with as much as they can.

So unless you push back, companies will keep trying to push the envelope. And no, this will never change.

What needs to be changed, however, is how many members of the gaming community behave. If someone questions or criticises a company whose products we like, some of us will defend the company without question and even go so far as to criticise the aggrieved party.

If you get this urge, try to shrug it off and take aim at the issue instead; it’s most likely the root of the complaints. The criticism may feel like it’s a personal attack towards you because we humans associate ourselves with the brands that we like.

A little exercise

Let’s shift gears for a moment.

I’d like to ask you to do a little exercise: breathe deeply, relax, and try to think about certain events in your gaming past:

  • Do you remember how it felt after your fourth Xbox 360 broke down?
  • Do you still recall how close to impossible it was to play SimCity when it first came out, and how EA handled the entire debacle?
  • How about the time you bought then-named zombie game The War Z, then found out afterwards that the features listed by developer Hammerpoint Interactive weren’t in the game?
  • Do you remember having to pay an extra $5 just to play the hardest difficulty setting in Metro: Last Light?

More than ever, it has become necessary to question game companies publicly to keep them honest and accountable. We may occasionally disagree with the disapproval, but let’s try not to invalidate other people’s views and the issues they raise.

These gamers are just looking out for themselves, just like the company they’re questioning or slamming, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If anything, you should consider backing the aggrieved, especially if the issue has merit, because these people are consumers just like you, and there’s probably a good reason why they’re up in arms. Who knows? Under slightly different circumstances, the aggrieved may have been you.

Of course, “looking out for yourself” as a consumer should be done within reason. Making death threats to a developer because they decided not to support dedicated servers, don’t enjoy combat in games, or changed the performance of certain virtual guns is not reasonable.

Please don’t let admiration cause you to overlook a company’s faults or defend them from criticism. It’s good to appreciate companies that do right, but never forget that they are not your friends, no matter how seemingly awesome they may be.

In fact, you should make it a point to criticise the game companies that you love because you want them to do better.

Going through changes

So whatever happened to Telltale Games’ episode schedule?

The wait for the next episode of The Wolf Among Us has gotten shorter.
The wait for the next episode of The Wolf Among Us has gotten shorter.

The developer later announced that they will be releasing Episode 4 of The Wolf Among Us on May 27, 2014, just two weeks after rolling out Episode 3 of The Walking Dead: Season Two. I seriously doubt that the shorter turnaround time was caused by my earlier comments, but I believe I wasn’t the only one who was unhappy with the schedule.

That being said, I also doubt that Telltale sped up the release schedule just because.

*****

Here’s a question I want to ask you: have you ever defended a company you like even in the face of criticism from other gamers? Or have you encountered a fellow gamer who attacked you verbally for questioning/blasting a game company over an issue?

I’ll hazard a guess that many of you encountered either or both of these scenarios. I would love to hear your story!

  • I really don’t see any reason for the rush? you signed up for episodic with variable wait times between episodes when you paid. I like the relatively random timing of the episodes coming out. It makes sense for them to spread stuff over the year so they always have something current out, get featured on Steam, etc..

    I can’t really fathom being annoyed by it to be honest. 🙂 The things you list in your little exercise are all in a totally different league.

    • Admittedly, my complaint about the slow rollout is nowhere near as bad as the ones listed in my exercise; I merely used this to illustrate my point.

      What gets my goat, however, is the attitude that fellow gamers have when people criticise companies that they love. They blindly rush to the defence of their beloved company, as if the entity were some close friend, even if the complaints are within reason (e.g. not involving death threats).

      Here’s what I find utterly bewildering: critics who fight for the rights of customers and call out game companies for questionable practices actually get a lot of flak from fanboys, even if these critics are advocating everyone’s (including the fanboys’) rights.

  • CuriousCynic

    Excellent article and a very obvious point that is obfuscated for many players.

    I’ve never understood the extent which some gamers will go to protect game companies given their mishandling of “Feature X.”

    Case in point: WildStar’s headstart release was May 31st. The launch was an absolute disaster with queues upwards of 9 hours on certain servers given that the server list was released 2 days before the launch of the game. They screwed up. There’s no way to other put it.

    However, as expected, the White Knight Crusaders mightily rode into the forums on their shining white horses defending this mess by telling the proverbial and never-ending quip related to MMO launches: “Well, it’s an MMO launch day, what did you expect?”

    That attitude enables this kind of mess up. That’s what we expect. And the entitled gamers who come in telling others to not be in a fuss over not being able to play for a software they’ve paid over $60 (including taxes) are essentially doing free PR for those very same companies.

    Everyone has a privilege to be stupid. But many gamers truly abuse that privilege to the extent that we’re the consumer group with the worst consumer rights.

    • Console Gamer

      Wow. That is indeed messed up. “What did you expect?” Are you sure those “gamers” weren’t actually NCsoft or Carbine Studios employees? No, seriously.

      Reminds me a bit about Microsoft’s former employee Adam Orth, who told customers to “deal with it” after people complained about the Xbox One’s then-mandatory internet connection.

    • Wow. That is indeed messed up. “Well, it’s an MMO launch day, what did you expect?” What kind of an excuse is that? Okay, to be fair, that excuse could work if the game were free, but it’s not. Are you sure those apologists didn’t work for NCsoft or Carbine Studios? No, seriously.

      • CuriousCynic

        Unfortunately, 99.9% probably don’t. I’m sure there are two or three accounts where actual NCSoft employees are probably promoting free-PR for the WildStar but players, like you said, jump at the chance to protect the brand they love even though they receive no love on their receiving end.

        I’ve been playing MMOs since the days of EQ in the late ’90s and it’s always been like this: gaming consumers rushing to protect the mishaps of game companies. I’ve never understood why. When merit is due, merit should be given. When badly handled launches happen, they should be effectively castrated (strong word, I know) for it.

        Yet, we have massive amounts of people who devote their times on forums rather than playing to defend people who they’ve never met and will probably never meet instead of actually playing the game.

        I don’t get it. I never will. Some people are subservient to authority. And it’s reflected in their nature. Also, a general dose of “naive optimism” that the company is looking out for them since they want to keep them as consumers might be their way of thinking.

        Gamers are most likely the most abused consumer group I’ve ever encountered and yet they really don’t help their positions but rather (as you’ve already said) make their situation worse by protecting and defending industry-worse practices. It’s a sad state of affairs.

        • I think the closest possible explanation is how we associate ourselves with the brands we like. So if someone attacks the brand, they feel attacked personally as well.

          As for how we can get around this thinking, I have no idea. People get defensive when you call out the company they love. When this happens, no amount of reason or facts will ever sway them.