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And these are the fans…

November 16th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 5 Comments · Uncategorized

Wired’s Lore Sjoberg has taken the time to dissect online game forums. (Spotted at Broken Toys.) The real payoff is in the opening paragraph.

If you play an online game that you enjoy, there’s one surefire way to spoil the experience: read the forums on the official site. There you will find a vast underworld of lost souls keening their misery onto your screen. A game you thought was entertaining, well-balanced and attractive will be torn apart before your very eyes and pronounced lacking in every conceivable way.

Many game forums fit this mold, not just MMOs. Have you read the Neverwinter Nights 2 forums? One of the best reviewed RPGs of the year is being raked over the coals. Not that some of the complaints aren’t legit, but I actually had one die-hard NWN1 fan say to me “They ruined my favorite game” even though, as far as I could tell, the original NWN is safe and sound.

Game forum communities can be broken into two categories. First is the complaint box, which Sjoberg captures quite well. Even if the requests are phrased politely, the forum is usually an endless series of wishes or desires, whether it be in the name of accuracy, balance or perversion. There are constant pleas for patches, along with greybeards tut-tutting that no one needed patches back in the old days.

Second is the echo chamber, wherein the forum’s sole purpose is to stroke the ego of the developer. The echo chamber is most common in niche games and is typified by frequent developer interaction with the community. Contrary voices get shouted down and bad reviews are discredited as evidence of feeblemindedness. As a company gets more established, the echo chamber might morph into a complaint box as the developers get away from what made their original game so cool.

Whatever form it takes, it is becoming increasingly important for game developers to have someone in charge of community relations.

Then, of course, you have magazine forums, gaming website forums, general gaming forums, specialist genre forums, each with their own particular dysfunction.

Back in the old days, we had to talk about games with our friends and the only ones who knew if we liked them or not were those same friends. Or maybe some wingnut on the local BBS. Word of mouth is faster than ever and it gets hard to isolate yourself from the chatter. Gametab tells me what people are talking about, Gamerankings gives me a snapshot of collective wisdom and game forums insist that the smallest thing is in fact a game-breaking bug. I love my internet, especially since so few of my adult friends are serious gamers now.

But the hype machine has its costs, and I think Internet forums are part of the cost. After being told by everyone I know that World of Warcraft is, in fact, the greatest game they’ve ever played, I know that my experience can not live up to that. And, as immersed as I am in game culture, I won’t be able to escape thinking about the debates on class balance and DKPs and DPS and whatever else.

I’m not completely sold on the idea of gaming addiction, but gaming obsession is certainly out there. Some people become too close to their games. I didn’t think the South Park World of Warcraft episode was all that funny, but couldn’t help noticing that the boys started as role-players enjoying how cool the scenery was. “I’m a dwarf!”, etc. The more they got invested in the mechanics of the game, the less it sounded like a game. It was all crafting, keybinding, buffing, etc.

I think part of why I never get really good at many games (besides the fact that I have to seriously play five or six new ones every month) is that I prefer to stay in that early zone.


5 Comments so far ↓

  • steve

    “I think part of why I never get really good at many games (besides the fact that I have to seriously play five or six new ones every month) is that I prefer to stay in that early zone.”

    I’m the same way. I can’t reduce a game to a spreadsheet. I know the numbers are spinning back there, but I can’t be bothered to figure them out or care one way or the other.

    So I mostly dabble. I play on easier levels so I can win and just relax. And I rarely play multiplayer because everyone will kick my non-hardcore ass.

  • Kieron Gillen

    Ditto. I’m a mayfly gamer and always have been. Occasionally I feel bad that I’m not in that WoW guild with my six level sixties or something – almost *fake* – but mostly I just enjoy myself.


  • Ken Wootton

    It’s not the early zone for me at all. It’s the only zone. The DKP and DPS chatter goes over my head. I can’t escape it but I ignore it out of habit and desire.

    This is exactly the reason why I never made it past level 9 in Everquest. I was sitting in line waiting for some skeleton to spawn and it suddenly hit me: I was playing a game. From that moment on, I couldn’t bring myself to play. My spreadsheet was no longer fun. I couldn’t shake that feeling.

    The mechanics of the back room remove the pleasure. I don’t want to see behind the curtain.

  • Krupo

    Partly pushed by this post, and by the fact that I have a ton of games I got but have yet to finish, I started writing up a little list on my machine of the games I have and want to finish playing, or making a meaningful start on.

    I have ten titles I came up off the top of my head, and those are just the ones I remember buying this year.

  • Troy

    I have so many games that I haven’t finished that I won’t even dare to compile a list. I just need to look at the bookshelf or CD case to my right. I haven’t even finished a decade of team management in the latest Out of the Park Baseball. I barely started a career in Silent Hunter 3. I installed, but never got started, on Perimeter: Emperor’s Testament.

    The beauty of a new computer is that it has fewer ghosts of false starts past.