Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gaming Communities Part 2

Back in May I talked about the redeeming qualities and the positives about gaming communities and how fans can positively affect the way games are made by voicing their opinions. The opinions of the mob do matter in some cases and they should matter. Fans of video games are obviously passionate about what they support and it is important for game developers to be mindful of what the general consensus wants.

However, there will be times when gaming communities, and by this I mean fanbases of video game franchises, will go a bit overboard and take things out of context, and in the worst case scenario, escalate something to such overblown levels of drama that it becomes a black eye for the video game franchise. As years have gone by, internet terms have been used to specifically identify what kinds of fans conduct themselves in manners that aren't healthy for the fanbases they are in and for the game developers they generally support. To add on to Gaming Communities Part 1, not everyone in the Roman Colosseum Analogy mob will be right in the head. You just have to be careful of where you go and who you interact with.

There is an ugly side to gaming communities and for many of us who go on the internet to just hang out and chat on message boards of our favorite gaming franchises, it may be challenging to keep a good conversation going without Trolls coming in and derailing everything you just said.

It happens too often these days that certain fans who just want to get a rise out of people will do anything and everything to be funny, but in reality they end up contributing nothing to the conversation. These fans are what we call trolls, intentional road blocks that force us to pay attention to whatever they post on the message board. The key here is to not give these trolls what they are looking for, and that would be satisfaction.

Fanboys, Fangirls and Fandivas are all internet terms to define just how hardcore supportive certain fans are of a particular issue, whether it be them supporting their favorite characters, their favorite genres of gaming, their favorite way of game storytelling, their favorite video game console, etc. You will pretty much know a fanboy, fangirl or a fandiva when you read the post of one. In gaming conventions, you will know one when you see one. You can tell that they will be defensive of a particular issue when they start strongly enforcing their beliefs and try to adamantly get others to see things their way. The tones of these internet messages come across as annoying, forced and immature.

Some fanatics really don't know that they are being fanboys when they are not happy with the gaming product that is put out on the shelves. It's one thing to not be satisfied, to be disappointed and to be upset in some ways, but it's another thing to dwell in expectations that you set up for yourself as a gamer, expectations that weren't reached by a particular game that you had high hopes for. It's another thing for you to take your frustrations out on other gamers who may indeed be satisfied and happy with the same product, to drag on conversations that didn't need to go on for so long.

Truer words have never been spoken by a fellow Autistic creator; Charles Schulz.
Fans have a knack for getting carried away by certain things that they are not comfortable with and when they choose to get angry at other fans who are on the opposite side of the fence, then things will get quite messy. Some frustrated fans can be labeled under the internet term of Flamers since they develop a reputation for starting arguments that will end in chaotic fashion one way or the other. Constructive conversations are not the strong points of these fans, but rather talks that can easily be broken down by typing down the most unusual statements to make points.

Indeed the Video Game Industry has to be aware of both the positives and the negatives that fanbases bring to the table and the amount of attention given to both sides of this fence cannot go unbalanced. As an industry, we have to be able to balance out both sides of the fence. We have to be able to understand what our fans want. We have to be willing to listen to the fans who can conduct themselves in the appropriate manner and fans that can get their messages across the right way.

We have to know when to turn away from the more obnoxious and ignorant fans and just let them be. We have to realize that not every fan will support the moves that we make for a video game franchise. We may get most fans to buy in to what we sell, but not 100% of them will. We have to be able to give fans the answers that they need to have, not the answers that we feel they'd like to hear. We have to be mindful of which fans are of which category and not to lump them all in as one. That would be a dangerous practice and it's a mistake often made by the big boy AAA game developing companies.

Managing a gaming fanbase can get tricky at times. Sometimes companies won't really know what to expect from fans before the big release of their new game hits. Sometimes a new direction is taken for a franchise and the game developers take deep breaths not knowing how well the new game is going to perform. How fans react to this new gameplay approach will have to be watched by these companies. Developers have to be able to know what works with a fanbase and what doesn't work.

Just take the antics of companies like Capcom and Sega as of late. Whenever talks amongst fans have risen about game franchises they have loved such as Mega Man and Phantasy Star Online, Capcom and Sega would respond in ways that not only weren't favorable in the eyes of fans, but rather in very poor taste and pretty much disrespectful. It's one thing for a company to poke fun at themselves and make a harmless joke out of something that they know they messed up on, but it's another thing to make a joke out of something that is viewed by the fans as an important issue.

American fans of Phantasy Star Online have been wanting to know for the longest time when the latest update of the game would appear in the States but Sega has dragged their feet on the entire issue, either staying quiet about it or making light of it. Meanwhile, Mega Man fans have been wondering if the latest installment of the franchise would finally come after a few years on hiatus, minus spin-offs and side projects, but Capcom has simply given the fans the cold shoulder, knowing that they are not doing so well economically. Of course, Capcom is now up for sale as I type this.

Let's Players like The Runaway Guys (NintendoCapriSun, Chuggaaconroy and Proton Jon) provide more entertainment than actual TV shows. Who knew?
The 3 guys pictured above partially represent a better example of how to interact with a fanbase. None of these 3 guys are associated with a big name game developing company. These guys are just Let's Players, gamers who play games and provide commentary and general editing of YouTube videos for fans to enjoy, and these guys do a solid job of communicating with their fanbases. They know when to interact and when not to interact. They know which fans to interact with and which fans to just leave alone. In a nutshell, The Runaway Guys are just typical Average Joes who play video games like you and me.

It's because of the personalities of Chuggaconroy (Emile), NintendoCapriSun (Tim) and ProtonJonSA (Jon) that people can relate to, and naturally fans come to their YouTube channels to hang out and listen to the creative chaos that unfolds in their YouTube videos. Being a fan of The Runaway Guys, it has come easy for me to know what to expect from this fanbase.

We will have fans who love Timothy Bishop for his bathroom humor (IN THE BATHROOM!), and we will have fans who don't like Tim and say that he's no good at competitive gaming. We will have fans who will enjoy listening to Emiliano Rosales' bad puns and random jokes, but there are fans who believe that Chugga is a bonafide annoying jerk. (Their words, not mine.) As for Jon, well fans in general will mention the fact that he's Canadian, but that's neither here nor there. Honestly, I don't know the negative fan views on Jon, the Classy Hobo. (Jepscon reference)

As seen in the above picture, The Runaway Guys will host panels at gaming conventions and it goes by the name of Thrown Controllers. It's sorta like a game show where members of the audience can participate and they will pick from 1-10 on a board to see what task they will perform, whether it be Trivia Questions, gaming challenges against other audience members, solo challenges or gaming challenges against The Runaway Guys. Thrown Controllers has proven to be a fun interactive experience where fans can feel that they are a part of something while also allowing gamers to be gamers. It's a win-win situation.

I only use The Runaway Guys as one example of a group of people organizing something with their fans to keep them involved. I use this example because sometimes I feel as if the big boy gaming companies truly take their fanbases for granted, lumping the entirety of the fanbases together and assuming that all fans are acting a certain way. I know that conducting good business and solid PR can be important for the AAA game developers, but do you really need to dance around the bush and throw your fans, no matter how young or old, under the bus just to stay relevant?

There will always be bad eggs in everything, including gaming fanbases, but the key for every company should be to have the knowledge of handling the fanbases with class, dignity and professionalism and showing respect to the fans. We will have out rowdy fans who will just be too hyper for their own good, and yeah, it's unsettling to see, but you need to be strong if you are in a position of influence.

Fanboys crop up because they are so stuck on their own beliefs that a certain way to game is the correct way. Fangirls crop up because they want to see their favorite male video game character hook up with their favorite female video game character. Fandivas venture about and increase the drama in everything they view as bad. Fanbases are like that and it doesn't matter what media form you work in.

Overall gaming communities are worth the investment and they are worth bringing along for the ride as long as its done in honesty, with good intentions. If you're going to pull a Capcom or Sega and not be honest with your fans, then you are in the wrong business, in my honest opinion. No matter how many things the bad egg fans have done to get on your nerves as a company, you cannot intentionally oppress your fanbases. That is the kind of thing that will unravel and undo everything you as a company did. At the end of the day, the mob will give a thumbs up to something and the Emperors of the gaming industry must listen.

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