Entitlement is a funny word in the game industry. In other consumer based industries it’s a sign of respect and verbal contract from the seller to the consumer. When you go to the store, you are entitled to buy products that have been through quality control and are how they are advertised.
But in our industry, when someone mentions entitlement, it is used as an insult to shut people up who complain about parts of a game or want more done to it. The problem and part of this debate is that there are more parts of a game product than there are in other consumer industries.
Thanks to the rise of digital content, more and more games are being released with DLC or have new content developed over time. And when one game does something incredibly right, it’s not long before gamers ask that other designers do the same for their games. Better menus, more weapons, cleaner UIs are just some of the many requests that players ask of the designer.
So far things are fine, as it’s normal for consumers to make suggestions about their favorite products. But then we have people who demand that things get added. For example: because one game changed their AI around or added in new difficulty settings, that means that other games should do the same.
This is where the negative definition of entitlement comes from. Just because one game adds new content, doesn’t mean that every designer can or should. Creating a new unit or level for a 2D platformer, is a completely different scope when compared to a full 3D game using the latest version of the Unreal engine.
Now that doesn’t mean that the designer could add it at some point, but demanding additional content to be made after launch is unwarranted. Buying a game entitles you to whatever content came with the game at launch. Anything else created either free or DLC, should be considered a bonus.
At this point, things sound reasonable, however there is another side to game content that needs to be discussed.
As mentioned at the start: Consumers are entitled to get a quality product with their purchase. But what happens when the quality of the product is less than standard? Such as when a car is released to only discover afterwards that there is a defect in the airbags. The company will fix that problem and provide some form of compensation to those that bought it.
Obviously there are no life or death quality issues with video games, but that doesn’t absolve designers of not making a quality product. We have seen plenty of cases where games were released too early, and were filled with bugs or broken design. If a game is released in a state where there is a lack of quality, than the consumer has every right to demand changes from the designer.
But as you probably guess by now there is a big problem: what do we define as quality? Is it considered quality that every game released comes with modding tools? Or the ability to quick save and load at any point?
A few years ago Stardock announced the Gamers’ bill of rights– a set of guidelines that all game makers should abide by in terms of releasing a game. Even though Stardock has gotten some deserved flak for the state of Elemental at launch, the bill of rights does make sense.
To me, quality is defined as being able to play a completed game as the developer’s intended. Completed meaning that the design of the game makes sense and there are no major graphical or game breaking bugs.
When Dead Island was released on the PC, the developers released the Xbox candidate version as the PC version, along with graphical and voice chat related bugs. You can bet that there were a lot of annoyed people on the message boards, and they had every right to be.
Another problem with quality and entitlement is with the use of updates. PC games these days rarely stay the same for long. As mentioned above, designers have begun supporting and updating their games for longer periods of time.
This has also led to the issue of games being released early and then the designers taking the time after launch to fix the issues. When this happens the same situation always comes up: someone asks if the developer will compensate those that have been playing since launch.
Again this raises the entitlement insult that people shouldn’t complain as they got to experience the game for all that time. I have to raise an objection to this opinion. If a game was not at the level of quality (or even finished) that the designers originally promised, than they should give something to the people who had to use an inferior product during that time. Going back to Elemental, for being one of the many who preordered the game, I’m getting their next two stand alone expansions free of charge as compensation.
Another point is if the game’s quality after a few months has been fundamentally changed since the release. With Diablo 3, someone who played inferno mode from launch to patch 1.03 would have a different experience than someone playing it after patch 1.04. The changes to enemy balance, loot drops and the paragon system have done a lot to change inferno mode. Personally I think Blizzard owes something to the people who had to deal with inferno mode after the majority of the fan base complained about it.
Should it be something as big as with Elemental? I don’t think so. Even something as small as an in game achievement or mark on the player’s profile would be good.
The reason is that cases like with Diablo 3 reinforce the feeling that it doesn’t pay to buy a game at launch and instead wait for a sale down the road. As you know by then, you’ll have a superior product compared to those who bought it on day one. Providing some form of compensation would ease the minds of prospective buyers, knowing that they won’t lose out on buying a game at launch.
Video games are not vital products to our everyday lives. But, no designer should ever feel that they are above people complaining about issues with their game, and that people should feel grateful for their titles.
The second a company decides to charge money for their game, in my opinion they must adhere to making a quality product.
Whether that game came from a 2 man studio, or cost several million dollars to make. If a game ships with major problems and quality issues, it is up to the designers to make things right. With publishers and retailers complaining about sales costing them money, finding ways to instill consumer confidence in their products should be a priority.