quickfire mini-rants

Welcome everybody to the first edition of the QMR, where I talk about several things, none of which are deserving of their own article but are nonetheless things that I want to gripe about. They aren’t in any particular order, they’re not grouped by theme, they’re just things that I have noticed and want to talk about at the moment. Ready? Let’s begin.

It Ain’t the Users, It’s You

There’s a fairly horrific customer service principle that everybody knows: “The customer is always right”. This is a shite principle in a lot of ways, because it encourages an essentially slave-like existence on the part of people working in retail or customer service, but it’s actually a fairly sound software design principle. Broadly speaking, the implication is this: you (the software designer/owner) cannot complain about how the users aren’t using your software correctly, because you’re the one responsible for ensuring that the software reinforces the correct usage patterns. When I worked in the medical software industry, I had the incredibly unfortunate position of being essentially cornered by a clinician who wanted to unload a whole heap of complaints about how our software was a piece of shit. But you know what? She was right, a huge amount of what she said was absolutely bang on the money. Admittedly, I wasn’t in a position to do anything about those complaints (my job was, broadly, data migrations and integration), but the complaints were valid.

Cut to the games industry, that seemingly has no objections to consistently blaming their userbases in ways that would be completely unacceptable in almost any other technology-focused industry. They’re also not without a considerable number of morons who’ll do the online defending for them, no community interaction required. Nightmareishly toxic community that makes even the most vehement forum-arguer cringe? Well, our community just has to do better, despite the fact we gutted all community interactions from our game in the name of monetisation. Ship some absolute crap that stirs up a load of outrage? Well, we’re terribly sorry that it didn’t live up to their expectations, and it didn’t give them the experience they wanted, but I had a blast! Complaints about game difficulty? Git Gud lmao, absolute moaners complaining about the game being challenging.

I heavily subscribe to the theory that you should always listen to what people are complaining about, but never listen to what their solutions are. Users are terrible at knowing how to fix a problem, but are the single greatest method for detecting them. If a whole heap of people are saying that the game is far too hard, then that’s cause to reevaluate your expectations on the player: it’s not a reason to accept Johnny69’s suggestion that you should start Dark Souls with a glock. I also heavily subscribe to the notion that your userbase is entirely shaped by the systems you’ve created. If your game has a difficulty that is nigh-on unplayable, you don’t get to say “the players are doing it wrong”, because your game should have taught them the right way of doing it. If your community is a toxic waste dump, maybe analyse your community moderation features and the quality of player-to-player interactions, rather than creating a goddamned moping video essentially victim-blaming (it’s been years since Blizzard made that video and I’m still mad about it). It astonishes me that playerbases are seen as second-tier, roiling barbaric masses by developers, rather than as people who bought their product.

But Medieval Houses Didn’t Have Toilets

I apologise that I keep subtweeting/dumping on this game without directly engaging with it, but I have to talk about Back 4 Blood again. When I played in the beta, the bot AI for survivors was some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a modern video game. They wouldn’t revive you, they wouldn’t heal you, they would man guns and then refuse to shoot them, the list goes on. My understanding is that the release version bots are better, but still have serious problems. What is the response that I see a lot when people mention this? “Well, Left 4 Dead had bad bots on release too!” Left 4 Dead came out thirteen years ago. Why do you have the same problem as a game that came out while we were still playing on PS3s and Xbox 360s? I saw this being mentioned with Age of Empires IV’s slightly wonky unit pathfinding. “It’s better than Age of Empires II’s”. Great, I’m glad the pathfinding bar has been nudged slightly above where it was when I was seven years old. If only there wasn’t a litany of games that did pathfinding extremely well, that demonstrate this issue is one that is solvable, you just need to care about it. Oh wait, there is. Why do people put so little stock in the passage of time? Why are we dealing with problems that we had decades ago? Is it because they’re intractable, or is it because they figured customers would just grit their teeth and put up with it again? I know my answer to that question.

Are you currently playing a multiplayer game without the following features?

  • The ability to, in one or two clicks, join a game that a friend is playing.
  • Integration with the friends list of the platform is was delivered via (Steam, Epic Games, etc)
  • The ability to, in one or two clicks, add a friend to your friends list.
  • The ability to, in the case of games with lobbies/servers, form parties and move between them in a group.

Was this game developed in the last ten years? If so, congratulations! You’re playing an embarrassment. The year is 2021, and I’m still having to wrestle with incredibly basic social systems that have existed in games for absolutely forever. For a company that desperately wants people to use its platforms for everything, why is it that the Xbox friends system is still such an atrocious dumpster fire? Why doesn’t the multiplayer of Forza 5 work properly? Why is Halo Infinite shipped via Steam, but using my Xbox friends list? I’m not asking the world here, I’m asking for the ability to play with friends without having to navigate seventeen menus. Look, if you’re going to use the medium of human interaction as a mechanism for infinite monetisation via exploitation of the innate desire to impress others with our plumage, you could at least make joining friends actually fucking work.

Fudging

In the first episode of Dusk, a D&D4e series that is being DM’d by Matt Colville, a dwarf attempts to hit a target with a throwing axe as part of a game, after missing with a dart (as the game is intended to be played). Matt rolls for the dwarf, and rolls a mightily shit 4 on a D20. He then goes through the following faces:

In the process of making these faces, he describes how the throwing axe pins the target to the wall. How could this be, with a roll as bad as that? He fudges the roll. Now he has a big “FUDGE” graphic that appears over the screen, lampshading the event, but do you know what I see in that third face after the deed is done? You know what I see? Shame. That is the look of a man who is ashamed at what he has become, such a colossal fraud that he’s forced to fudge on behalf of his dwarven warriors. Matt has argued in favour of fudging in the past, and explained why he thinks there’s nothing wrong with it. Yet his face betrays it all. No intellectual artifice, no sophistry, no attempts at justification can ever cover up a shame that is felt at the bone. That is the shame of the fudger: the knowledge that they have lied to their players, lied to their viewers, and worst of all, lied to themselves. Spare a thought for his soul, dear reader, such that he might be delivered from this evil wrought by his own hand.

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