design

Why it is OK to negatively criticize a free game

You’ve probably read it a couple of times. There’s a free game, say, on Steam, and people complain about stuff and then others talk down to them, claiming since it’s a free game, they are bad people.

So let me widen the perceptual horizon here.

Justified critique is totally fine, especially considering that a freely published game, especially on a highly-frequented platform like Steam, is often a promotion instrument, a skill demo, so it’s not exactly for the pure love of the world. You’de be surprised how many people are way more egoistically motivated than they pretend to be. But you’d only be surprised when you find out, and you only find out when you can manage to put them to the test. (I’m digressing slightly here.)
Furthermore, critique is free consulting, so they’re actually getting a good deal. I mean, there are game devs who are totally inept design-wise, publish a piece of crap of a game, then collect the tons of critique and get to work implementing the suggestions and thus don’t need to be anything but a hacker monkey who is being force-fed with game design training. That business scheme seems especially popular with early access. People will even pay for crap and on top of that give you free consulting services, all fueled by the hope that the game becomes great one day.
In the most extreme case, an early access game is little more than: “OK, I made an empty world space. Pay up, then I’ll allow you to tell me what you want in it and I’ll put it there. (Unless I don’t want to.) Isn’t that great? Your own personal ideas implemented in a totally not generic game. Your ego must be so st(r)oked right now. Buy your own little piece of immortality today!
And the next day there’s an empty space with a pickaxe and a zombie.

I was inspired to write this when I learned about a free Steam game (Serena) that had some issues related to Steam being crap and Valve not caring (the usual), and I read up about the game, and it’s advertised as “…the result of a massive collaborative effort between dozens of fans and designers of adventure games.” while when you press ESC that story-progression-type game immediately quits, without so much as a confirmation dialogue. Unbelievable? Well, I’ve seen some wacky things. Totally justified to go “Dude! What the hell?!

Speaking of incompetence: Is there any major internet business that hasn’t made it its mission to destroy any usability? As I am writing this, I have to switch between Visual and HTML view, because HTML view doesn’t have quick formatting, but requires me to add code manually, while Visual doesn’t know what a line break is (!), yet in HTML view it doesn’t even need/show the code for it.
I’m not even gonna explain how to do it more elegantly. They need to figure such basics out themselves. My consulting services aren’t for free, since my expertise is apparently scarce.

The problem with World of Warcraft in one anecdote

They introduced profession daily quests, I think with Cataclysm. One of the fishing daily quests required you to swim in the waters of Stormwind Harbor and collect crawfish from traps on the sea floor.
And there were sharks. Highlevel sharks, so if you weren’t level-maxed, their aggro range was especially high.
And this was so much fun. Few things get your blood pumping in that way. (Another example would be covert enemy city infiltration.) Because there was an actual risk, requiring you to pay attention. The sharks had that habit of approaching just when you weren’t looking, from the somewhat murky water. It was a constant sense of danger and you’d look around nervously all the time, trying to not stay at one spot for too long or getting cornered. And this was OK, since you had been given a buff that increases swim speed and gives water breathing. So the challenge was just to stay away from the sharks.

And apparently some OCD babies whined that this hassle interfers with their mindnumbing daily quest routine. And Blizzard does what they always do … cave to them. Probably based on the business dictate to appeal to the lowest common denominator, for profit maximization.

So the sharks got nerfed to level 15 … which of course felt pathetic, disheartening.

Sharks should never be the target of pity. It’s just wrong.

And the water there is also crystal-clear now.
Oh and did I mention the comfort of the water breathing buff that you automatically get when accepting the quest so that you don’t even have to buy potions if you want to be lazy? How this further takes the appeal out of alchemy? Well, the potions AND the buff are pretty much pointless now, since at this point, breath time of characters has been increased to an insane THREE minutes! Unmodified by whether you swim or fight or get hit or anything. As long as you don’t stay submerged for more than 3 minutes, you’re fine. And then, if you still don’t catch a breath and let that extremely long timer run out, you get ANOTHER warning in the form of health loss every two seconds, so that it takes another 12 seconds of health loss before you actually die.

As mentioned in the title, this is just one of many possible exemplary cases that show what kind of mindset ruins the sprit, the magic, of World of Warcraft.