Been playing a lot of Mechwarrior Online recently…

…and managed to capture this little fight between one of the smallest mechs, and one of the largest mechs, in the game. The King Crab (the large mech) only took LRMs, which are useless at short¬†range. It’s the first time I’ve seen this; quite often King Crabs will take ballistic weapons which will tear something small like a Jenner apart in seconds. So when I realised he was LRM only – time to go for the kill ūüôā

Are Games Simply Worse Than They Used To Be?

MechWarrior Uziel and Mad Dog

One of the amazing creations from the incredibly gifted Pawel.

Many years ago I used to be able to sit down for hours on end and simply game. Every so often I’d put aside an entire weekend just to play my current favourite addiction: no chores, no family, nothing but gaming. Oh how I looked forward to those times!

But for some years now nothing has grabbed my attention in that way. I’ve not had that buzz you get when a new game comes out and You. Just. Cannot. Get. Home. Fast. Enough. To. Play. It.

So that got me thinking: are games simply getting worse? Have game designers run out of ideas? Do larger publishers rely too much on sequels rather than looking for that next big thing? If I can still regularly find new music (thanks Spotify!) that excites and moves me, then why can’t I find new games, the form of media entertainment¬†I prefer above all others, that do the same?

Power Corrupts, Absolute Power….

There is some justification for laying part of the blame at the feet of the Activisions of the world. After all, the dominant FPS right now is Call of Duty, a poster boy for sequels if ever there was one. But is that really the publishers fault, or are we, the customers, to blame? CoD’s core audience are the same people who come back year after year, looking for a refreshing¬†fix of their favourite franchise. And since the ultimate power to force publishers to do what we want lies with us, then purchasing sequels just reinforces the publisher’s bad habits. To be clear; publishers go where the money is – if it’s in sequels, then that’s where they’ll be.

Sometimes the larger publishers will try new formulae. Titanfall was a game I was hoping would be The Next Big Thing. Infantry and mech combat in a fast-paced game from a top publisher with a AAA budget. Hallelujah! Unfortunately it did not live up to its hype (although it was far from poor). A free weekend spent with the game and I’d had enough. To put that in context, when MechWarrior 4, which is another mech game, came out in 2001, I spent two years solid getting up at 4am to play with my Euro and American buddies. In fact the guy who made the image on the top left of this post inspired me to spend several years modelling, texturing and animating mecha.

Is Small Really Beautiful?

Elite, a game from the early 80's.

Elite, a game from the early 80’s.

That leaves the smaller publishers and indies. There are a wide variety of games that have, and continue to be, created by this dynamic group. Steam’s Early Access gives some of them access to the funding they need and deserve, and Kickstarter can also be a great place for funding (just ask the Exploding Kittens guys).

Many of these games¬†are great, and I’ve tried quite a few, but again none have¬†caught my eye across a bar, winked seductively and literally tied¬†me up for several weeks until I’m too exhausted to carry on. If the spark ain’t there, then it just ain’t there.

All of which leaves¬†me in a quandary. If there are more games available than ever before, with at least the indies really pushing the edges of what you can call “a game”, then why am I so jaded?

The Final, Bitter Truth

After more than 30 years of gaming, with more disappointment than elation from games that have promised so much yet delivered so little, I’ve come to the conclusion that my standards are now so high a game would have to be virtually perfect to really grab me like MechWarrior 4 or Battlefield 2142 did. Epic doesn’t even come close to describing those games, they had an indefinable quality that hooked me¬†and kept me¬†wanting more.

Not only do today’s games not measure up, but they have to compete with the rose-tinted spectacles effect. I remember that BF2142’s launch was a screw up of magnificent proportions – as was BC2, BF3, BF4….you’d think DICE would have learned their lesson by now. But despite that I can forgive BF2142 because it was just so frickin perfect. The later games were not, especially when measured up against BF2142.

As for MechWarrior Online, the latest installment in the MechWarrior franchise, meh it just does not match up to its predecessor. Even the fan-made and very brilliant MWLL was better.

So maybe this is a challenge to development studios – and I include the studio I work for in that shout out – to make games that hook and cajole and wink and seduce just like games used to. Make something different, make something fun, make something that’ll appeal, and in return I’ll take off those rose-tinted spectacles and put them here to one side.

Why Community Managers Need To Use Tough Love

ProfileIt’s early on Sunday morning as I start to write this. Bacon’s sizzling in the pan, a cup of tea is brewing, the smells are floating through the apartment, and I’ve been going through some of my favourite forums and social media to catch up on what’s happening in the world after last night’s fantastic ASUS ROG winter invitational CS:GO tournament.

There’s a couple of things in particular that’ve tweaked my interest around t’internet. Specifically¬†this tweet by Moxie, and this forum over at MWOMercs.com.

Toxicity

Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of forums, from a user, admin and community manager perspective. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that an unregulated forum will very often become toxic. The BF3 alpha forum over on Battlelog had no admins when it launched. In fact I don’t think it even had the ability to have admins. That forum got to the point where it was totally pointless posting any kind of feedback, which defeated the point of having it in the first place.

More recently the H1Z1 Steam forums on release had very little moderation, and I spent a weekend watching with morbid fascination as that forum went to pieces very rapidly.

This is where strong, active, consistent forum moderation comes in. Either by a volunteer group of mods, or more preferably a dedicated community management team who have a direct link internally to someone who can answer their questions. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if there is no-one active on a forum who is knowledgeable and can answer questions, then answers will be made up by the community.

The community warfare¬†forum over at MWOMercs.com is a classic example of this. It’s a F2P game, which by its definition relies on constant community interaction to ensure the survival of the studio. They rolled out a beta of a major new game component just before Christmas, but since then there has been practically¬†no dev interaction with members discussing this new facet of the game on the forum. Almost¬†since community warfare’s release there’s been a tension between organised groups and PUGs, but I cannot remember once when a dev stepped in and engaged the community in the discussion on the forums.

Tough Love

But that’s only half of the story. Ensuring the community is listened¬†to, have¬†their questions answered and receive pro-active information will hugely help community relations. Unfortunately though there will always be people who are there to troll, harass, cause problems or simply be jerks. This is where tough love is needed.

Your forum rules need to be clear, and need to be enforced, so that people who join and take part in your forum can do so without worry. Clarity is king, and consistency is key. On the Interstellar Marines forums we’ve always had one clear rule: you can be positive or negative towards our game, but you must be constructive. Saying you don’t like the game because of X, Y or Z is fine (even better if you give alternatives which you think would make the game better). But, “you’re all shit devs and I hope you get cancer and die faggots” will result in an immediate permanent ban with no hope of removal.

I genuinely think that some studios, or just individual admins, are simply too worried or scared about public opinion to enforce these kinds of rules. To me it’s common decency. Behind every computer is a human being, and we all deserve to be treated respectfully.

If you set the tone of your forum early and ensure as much as possible that people are fairly treated, you’ll see your community members start to back you up. They’ll become self-moderating, helping new members to enjoy the community and working with the development studio for the benefit of the game. It’s a win-win scenario for both sides, but is only earned¬†at the cost of professional, fair, active and consistent moderation.

Oh, the tea and the bacon sandwiches? They were fab, thank you ūüėÄ