Escapist Podcast: 75: "Toxic" BioWare Forums & Steam Sales

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75: "Toxic" BioWare Forums & Steam Sales

This week, we discuss Dragon Age's lead writer calling the BioWare forums "toxic" and when you give up on a series. We also talk about the Mars 500 experiment and UI design in games.

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Yay, birthday podcat!

Am I the only one that likes the Charlotte airport? Leaving from Wilmington, NC I either have to go to Charlotte or Atlanta, and Atlanta's airport is purgatory.

Just to point that Schuyler is credited here, but last I heard he hadn't had a sex change operation and changed into a woman :-)

David Gaider is actually really good at interacting with the community. He is good at taking feedback, good and bad. The problem is that a lot of the "feedback" that are on the forums now are just people screaming that Bioware employees should be fired, or stuff like this

shiajun:
Just to point that Schuyler is credited here, but last I heard he hadn't had a sex change operation and changed into a woman :-)

Ah, thanks for pointing that out!

I don't think that it's forum anonymity that makes people say the extreme things.
I'm just speaking for my self but if I was face to face with any Bioware writer I'd give them a piece of my mind about everything they did wrong.

But in a face to face interaction there's no delay so that leaves room for interjection. I can say 1 thing, they can respond discussion ensues.

On the internet it's all text and there's delay so I have to say everything that's on my mind, anticipate their retort and preemptively defend against it just in the name of efficiency.

And when you see a really long post on the internet, regardless of how calm the poster might have been it's easier to assume that if it disagrees with your opinion that they WERE YELLING IT AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS!!!!! Even if that's not the case.

Where are these cute animal pictures?

I WAS PROMISED CUTE ANIMALS!

Yeah, I stopped with Halo after Halo: Reach (which is still an awesome game) because it just feels, to me at least, that after you 'Finish the Fight' in Halo 3 why would you carry on?
Where has this extra fight come from? Isn't there a finite amount of fight in the universe?

Clearly not, but whatever. :P

And I also think that the Escapist has a vested interest in toxic forums as everyone from those forums who don't like it will come to this forum and that's why the government is run my lizard aliens and money is imaginary but everyone is too embarrassed to say.

sindremaster:
David Gaider is actually really good at interacting with the community. He is good at taking feedback, good and bad. The problem is that a lot of the "feedback" that are on the forums now are just people screaming that Bioware employees should be fired, or stuff like this

This.
I remember back when I actually hung out on the BSN - I was actually really fond of Gaider's posts, he was almost always reasonable in his discussion and gave interesting insight to why they did the things they did - but inevitably because his answers weren't always exactly what a given person wanted to hear he end up being told about how wrong he was.

He'd do his best to engage with fans and get treated like shit for it time and time again.
I don't really seeing too much of him actually getting "heated" with fans, but then I eventually left the place because I was getting sick of the amount of negativity in the place.

It's saturday. Here's the remixed version of the podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/airon-extv/escapist-podcast-20130111-075

can we pack in the idea that doing something just because it will make you more money, is not a bad thing? i personally couldn't disagree more.

What is that song during the break?

Humm, I'll give a pass to most of this week's casts. Outside game UI, the rest of the subjects were too far from gaming to engage me.

Tanakh:
Humm, I'll give a pass to most of this week's casts. Outside game UI, the rest of the subjects were too far from gaming to engage me.

I'm guessing you don't listen to this podcast on a regular basis.

Eric the Orange:

Tanakh:
Humm, I'll give a pass to most of this week's casts. Outside game UI, the rest of the subjects were too far from gaming to engage me.

I'm guessing you don't listen to this podcast on a regular basis.

I do and skip most of it on a regular basis. Last week was the rare exception.

Ahh, the classic topic of "selling out"... and Bioware is involved.
Yeah...it's sad and quite aggravating when you see real talent have to sell out to stay afloat.

I mean, a lot of people (myself included) sling a lot shit at EA, and some of it is completely justified.
Though sometimes, I have to wonder whether EA's influence and business decisions were the cause for Bioware's descent into mediocrity (well, in my opinion anyway), or if Bioware just doesn't have another great game "in them".

Criticism: TotalBiscuit had a great VBLOG regarding this subject [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-98ZFl1sKt4 ] in short; most people don't know how to give good criticism. While they know something to be true to their heart/mind, actually understanding how to properly translate that to proper communicable criticism is hard.
Often tho, people on the BioWare forums often let themselves get swept up into the heat of the moment - just letting all anger flow out, instead of forming a thought, writing it down, save it, think about it for 24 hours, redraft it, and then submit it. I mean, I bash BioWare for a lot of problems, but I at least try to make sure what I'm saying is at least 95% correct, 5% based off my own perception. But there are some who just straight up make up lies and crap, and then try to fully blame BioWare for said problems.

I think, the biggest problem for BioWare was the massive growing pains. They developed great stories for very niche genre audiences, which is perfectly fine when a team of 30-40 could make a game in 2-3 years. But as each year graphics became more demand heavy, and they also decided to start introducing very complex morality systems with long term choices/consequences that carried very large changes the game - they found themselves with very complex games that just couldn't be sold cost effectually to niche genre's anymore. To grow in some aspects of their game, they had to make other game elements easier to understand (or just straight up toss out) make the game have a broader mass appeal to pay for said game development.

Of course, its my opinion, and I'm sure many share them same... but partnering with EA caused a lot of their issues today (or caused the biggest jump in change, instead of the slow trend they had been moving in). If EA is going to spend big capital on a game, it isn't going to get developed for a niche audience; it's going to get changed for mainstream acceptance as much as possible. Look how much Mass Effect and Dragon Aged series changed between pre-EA and post-EA buyout.
Before EA, BioWare largely catered to the "hard-core" RPG fans. Post EA, BioWare was changed to focus on the Action-Adventure RPG-lite fans. Not saying that Action-Adventure RPG-lite games are bad; but changing series genere's mid stride... all while allowing those key writers for said series quit to write for a (now failed "WoW-killer" clone)... and they can't understand why players are suddenly so hostile?

Out there in the internet, thousands or millions "LotR-Fans" that never read the books (but of course listen to this podcast, because it is great) are asking themselves:
Who the hobbit is Tom Bombadil ?

In response to the Bioware feedback issue, I find this kind of disturbing, both in the developer's response and in the way The Escapist is responding. The thing to understand is that when communities are turned hostile there is usually a pretty good reason for it. Bioware's community remained positive for a pretty long time, but then things like the development of "Dragon Age 2" and "Mass Effect 3" turned the community against them, and from how this sounds to me, the developers want to avoid negative feedback rather than taking action to rectify what is upsetting people. To be honest when it comes to Bioware there are a relative handfull of reasons why people have turned on them and gotten so nasty, and those reasons are enough to eclipse a lot of the positive things they did. I'm not alone in saying that the ending of ME3 wasn't just a bad ending, it killed the entire series for me, and knowing how it ends, it prevents me from taking any joy in any other aspect of the franchise. Bioware's refusal to actually change the ending has brought this upon themselves. When it comes to games like "Dragon Age 2", understand that Bioware did things like ask the community if it was okay to remove race and origin selection from the equasion in return for giving Hawke a voice, the answer was an overwhelming "no", and Bioware not only did it anyway, but had the audacity to claim it was due to positive community response to the idea. To hear a developer formally claiming they are going to "zone out" the negativity, and the implication that people should largely be positive when companies have done things like this, is kind of disturbing to me, and demonstrates exactly what's wrong with the gaming industry and the people working in it right now. You make a popular product, then annoy your fan base enough to turn on you, and then refuse to do anything to rectify it, and you should expect this. The idea that this is all lies and all of the positive feedback is being "drowned out" is the height of arrogance, especially in cases when there was at one time more positive feedback to begin with, when your seeing this level of negativity it's a message in of itself.

I'll also touch on WoW as this is an example used from the Podcast itself. The reason why the community changed so heavily over a short period of time is Blizzard's own attitudes. Right from the beginning they promise to do some key fixes, balancing, and overhauls, and they never got around to doing this. Or in cases where they did finally take action it was too late to make a differance, or the solution was totally half arsed and ineffective. Let's not forget that WoW is the game where they pretty much let imbalances balance the game in favor of The Horde for ages, even leading Penny Arcade to refer to rolling Alliance as "one of the biggest gips in gaming", and leading to all kinds of problems with PVP in paticular. Balance shamans? Blizzard's answer was "we have no idea how to fix this" despite being told how to do it, eventually they just gave each faction the other's exclusive class. Then let's look at the whole Cataclysm insult where you had The Horde receive the "Goblin" race with free global bank access, haste boosts, innate DD and blink (rocket jump) abillities, and a bonus to what is perhaps the best money making tradeskill in the game, Alliance got the "Worgen" whose special abillity is a run speed boost for a few seconds which many observers jokingly pointed out involves them bending over in the classic position to receive anal sex. Blizzard is the company that also famously said in response to criticism "we make games, not promises".

Let's not forget this is the game that is so imbalanced factionally that we've actually had it spilling into RL at cons, and while later recanted Blizzard's own house band was even basically encouraging harassment of alliance players.

Blizzard is in a unique position where it's pretty much gotten away with dumping kegs of gasoline onto the fire for years because it runs a pseudo-monopoly. Simply put, Blizzard has no real competition for this level of MMO, you either play WoW, or your stuck with something that's a mere shadow of it content wise. Every game coming out trying to compete with WoW has failed due to bad design (neglecting to plan for the endgame which is where all players wind up, and what keeps them re-upping subs) and simply not producing enough content to compete with what WoW grew into now. It's only a pseudo-monopoly because in theory other games can compete, but the reality is that it's impractical for many to invest the resources to even consider playing on the same field.

Sure you can praise Blizzard for a lot of things, among them they were smart and focused on their endgame after launch, realizing that was where a game is made or broken, and stuck with developing that way. But at the end of the day there is only so much you can say when a company is this antagonistic. When you build up a certain degree of hate, and then refuse to change it, nothing you do is going to matter until those core issues are addressed. There are problems with WoW that have existed since Day #1 that were never addressed adequetly.

In short developers and companies have no right to QQ over their treatment, when things like this happen they tend to bring it on themselves, and it's in their hands to fix it and rebuild relations. To be fair most game companies that are successful enoguh to maintain forum traffic for this to be an issue fall prey to the kind of arrogance that leads to this kind of hatred. This is a big part of why so many people (like me) become anti-industry/anti-developer/anti-publisher since it ultimatly has it's origins in the same, basic, avoidable behaviors, and entirely scewed priorities when it comes to what to address. In general what your players are telling you needs to be fixed is probably a bigger deal in their mind than what YOU think needs to be fixed, and they are the ones paying so well..

Of course there is the whole irony of this, especially with games like WoW, that due to a borderline monopoly the people spewing the hate also keep re-upping subscriptions, oftentimes in hopes that thing will get better.

Also when it comes to video games, MMO or single player, there is also the issue that if the customer base costs the company money by not paying for the product, the producers will rarely fix it or work on doing a better job, they will cancel it. Enogh people leave an MMO, the MMO goes down, it doesn't get rehauled and have content added. When a franchise gets tanked, it just gets cancelled due to poor sales and reception. As a result you wind up with the ironic situation where the people wanting something, but wanting it fixed or improved, tend to spend money on a product which only sends the message to the bean counters that they are happy with it when that's hardly the case.

Under the circumstances, and given attitudes within the industry, and a general lack of response, it's pretty obvious why you see the "die in a fire" attacks. The situation leads to outright hatred of the people involved and helping to keep the cycle going. This developer from Bioware deciding that instead of dealing with the issues he'd rather just avoid the forums is exactly the kind of arrogance and the very attitude that leads to people wanting to tell him they hope he dies from testicular cancer. Someone cares enough to write dozens of forum rants, and the guy on the receiving end chooses to just elevate himself above it and ignores it, making "reading your responses something I will only do or care about on my own time, and if they meet my approval" the perceived attitude... and golly gee, that just makes so many friends and wins over so many hostile audiences.

Apologies about length, not sure how many people will read it, but such are my thoughts and observations.

Murmillos:
all while allowing those key writers for said series quit to write for a (now failed "WoW-killer" clone)... and they can't understand why players are suddenly so hostile?

As if writers are the only ones responsible for determining the design of a game.

Didn't read the description ahead to see the intermission song and was very pleasantly surprised to hear a Final Fantasy IX remix.

On the topic of the notes pages in old manuals: Hey, I used to use those! Like, most times that I used them was for solving a logic puzzle in an RPG or writing down a combo in a fighting game so that I didn't have to go through the menu or something like that.

EDIT: Also used them for writing down the location of a currently-unreachable treasure chest, so that I knew where to go back to when I had the ability to get it.

ThriKreen:

Murmillos:
all while allowing those key writers for said series quit to write for a (now failed "WoW-killer" clone)... and they can't understand why players are suddenly so hostile?

As if writers are the only ones responsible for determining the design of a game.

Well, the TOPIC is about how a WRITER avoids the forums...

JoshasorousRex:
What is that song during the break?

It's in the description as well.

Music courtesy of OCRemix.org: "Final Fantasy IX - Vamo Alla Django"

First of all, I think that negative feedback is probably one of the most important things in any creative medium, since even entire art movements have been responses to what came before them. In a way, applying critical thinking to the way we view the world is what art is all about. And it's definitely a worthwhile debate to have.
Secondly, I think there are two reasons that the UK has a different television-planning structure from American television. Firstly, the money to make programs for the BBC is funded by the taxpayer, so it's more about making good television and less about making a return for investors. The other reason that British (and other non-American television) is more tentative about starting long epic dramas is because of the behemoth that is the Hollywood movie industry. Because it's hard to compete in that market, non-American television has to focus on niche appeal that will probably only last for one season.

Carrots_macduff:
can we pack in the idea that doing something just because it will make you more money, is not a bad thing? i personally couldn't disagree more.

Money is just a metaphor for our individual survival. What used to be food in nature has been transformed into currency. And our need to survive is something that is hardwired into our brain-chemistry. Of course, some of the things that people are willing to do for money is morally wrong, but that doesn't mean that the pursuit of money itself is necessarily wrong. It's quite simply natural.

geier:
Out there in the internet, thousands or millions "LotR-Fans" that never read the books (but of course listen to this podcast, because it is great) are asking themselves:
Who the hobbit is Tom Bombadil ?

Tom Bombadil is one of the coolest dudes in the Tolkin mythology. Just like Samwise Gamgee, he's one of the little guys (figuratively speaking), who cares more about life itself than the pursuits of war. I'm seriously hoping that they still introduce him in one of the next Hobbit movies.

Farther than stars:

geier:
Out there in the internet, thousands or millions "LotR-Fans" that never read the books (but of course listen to this podcast, because it is great) are asking themselves:
Who the hobbit is Tom Bombadil ?

Tom Bombadil is one of the coolest dudes in the Tolkin mythology. Just like Samwise Gamgee, he's one of the little guys (figuratively speaking), who cares more about life itself than the pursuits of war. I'm seriously hoping that they still introduce him in one of the next Hobbit movies.

My memory may be failing me but isn't Tom Bombadil that guy that basically has god mode on while in his little corner of the forest with his wife? I remember the ring not affecting him because he is his own master (or something similar to that) and some line that said that if all of Middle Earth were consumed by Sauron, that Tom's little section of forest would remain untouched.

And I think he(or his song) saves Frodo and Sam in the third book while they're captured in the tower in Mordor.

Man, it's been many a year since I've picked my brain for that info. I might even vaguely recall some of how he got there and found his wife(something about following a river but I can't remember any more than that).

I remember not liking Tom's character, he sounded like he could help the party quite a bit but chose not to. His power at that point may have been tied to that location at that time but I may be wrong in that assumption if I recalled correctly he did indeed teleport to Frodo to save him(or I could be mad and remembering that wrong) in Mordor.

-Dragmire-:
I remember not liking Tom's character, he sounded like he could help the party quite a bit but chose not to.

That's one of the things that I love about the character. He's pretty much the only pacifist in the book. He doesn't care for the whole grand-scale conflict. All he cares about is living out life peacefully in his nick of the woods. But then the whole Tolkien mythology is a pretty complex narrative (to understate it a lot), so yeah... even I don't remember everything about this character who is basically just a detail in such an epic adventure. Although I think house was a watermill, wasn't it? That's where you might remember the river from.

Farther than stars:

-Dragmire-:
I remember not liking Tom's character, he sounded like he could help the party quite a bit but chose not to.

That's one of the things that I love about the character. He's pretty much the only pacifist in the book. He doesn't care for the whole grand-scale conflict. All he cares about is living out life peacefully in his nick of the woods. But then the whole Tolkien mythology is a pretty complex narrative (to understate it a lot), so yeah... even I don't remember everything about this character who is basically just a detail in such an epic adventure. Although I think house was a watermill, wasn't it? That's where you might remember the river from.

I saw his pacifism as a result of not needing to struggle to survive. It just rubbed me the wrong way due to the, "I'm fine, I don't need to help" vibe it gave me.

I'm sure if I read it again I'll interpret it differently, it's been over a decade since I've last read the books.

I can tell you for a fact - I can't use a controller with asymmetrical sticks. So 360 is and was always out of question for me. But I use PS3, Vita and PC (Logitech controllers) actively and thinking of Wii U - also symmetrical sticks.

Let me make a prediction before listening to the podcast and see how accurate I am.

They will:

1. Completely agree with David Gaider.
2. Use the word 'entitlement' or 'entitled' at least once.
3. Fail to provide the opposing position or mention Gaider's history of being a jerk on the forums equal to if not greater than most of the trolls he calls 'toxic'.

* * *

Edit after listening:

1. Mostly correct. They sided almost entirely with Gaider.
2. Nope! I was wrong about this one.
3. Mostly correct. They mentioned in passing that Gaider got "heated".

Can I just say, Ma'idah Lashani has an amazing sounding voice. She could read the dictionary and I'd listen intently all the time.

One point they made was just objectively false. Dragon Age: Origins outsold Dragon Age 2 by well over a million copies, and most of Dragon Age 2's sales were based on the rollover love from Dragon Age: Origins. The idea that their shift to a more "button awesome" style made the game a big hit is just wrong.

The problem is that they just aren't making games for the demographic which predominantly populates the forum (PC gamers). There really is no discussion possible when the majority of the forum wants "no paraphrasing and less autodialogue" and when the developers want "paraphrasing and more autodialogue" for instance. There is no constructive criticism possible ... it's just purely opposing views. Throw that on top of the back to back disappointments of DA2 and ME3 and you get negativity and pessimism.

Pandabearparade:
Let me make a prediction before listening to the podcast and see how accurate I am.

They will:

1. Completely agree with David Gaider.
2. Use the word 'entitlement' or 'entitled' at least once.
3. Fail to provide the opposing position or mention Gaider's history of being a jerk on the forums equal to if not greater than most of the trolls he calls 'toxic'.

* * *

Edit after listening:

1. Mostly correct. They sided almost entirely with Gaider.
2. Nope! I was wrong about this one.
3. Mostly correct. They mentioned in passing that Gaider got "heated".

I had a similar set of expectations and was surprised by the balance. Given that during the ME3 ending controversy The Escapist sided nearly unanimously (except Jim) with Bioware and joined in with Kotaku in referring to people expressing their dislike of the ending as being entitled (lost a LOT of my respect).

Ultimately, the problem is not just the fan, Bioware needs to learn how to set up the forum to channel comments and make them useful. Failing that, they should at least be happy that fans care enough about the product to RAGE about them. Soliciting that level of anger indicates that fans are tied up and involved. Bioware though has seized onto this victim role, and now they seem to feel a strange entitlement to act without criticism, and that people will just continually suck down the increasingly pablumized games they shove down our throat. ME3 ruined the damn series. ME had such promise, it was then diluted for ME2 and destroyed in the 3rd. Bioware should've recognized this, owned it and fixed it. Instead they essentially told fans to "suck it, we're artists".

Now they are angry that the forums are toxic? Could this be a reflection of their own attitudes?

Pinky's Brain:
The problem is that they just aren't making games for the demographic which predominantly populates the forum (PC gamers). There really is no discussion possible when the majority of the forum wants "no paraphrasing and less autodialogue" and when the developers want "paraphrasing and more autodialogue" for instance. There is no constructive criticism possible ... it's just purely opposing views. Throw that on top of the back to back disappointments of DA2 and ME3 and you get negativity and pessimism.

No, the problem is that Bioware's PR is run by idiots and assholes who are constantly stoking the flames.

First off, they've got a wee bit of an honesty problem. Instead of just openly saying "We're going after a larger demographic, and that might mean that we're not making the kind of game you want from us anymore," they keep insisting that they totally are still going after the demographic. They reveal things that point toward their next game having paraphrasing and more autodialogue, then deny that the game will have paraphrasing and more autodialogue, then the game does have paraphrasing and more autodialogue. The fans had DAII pegged for what it was as soon as it was announced. Bioware told them they were wrong. They weren't. This kind of pisses people off.

Second, their response to criticism has been consistent passive-aggressive arrogance. They never just admit to having made a mistake, they have to talk about how many people liked their mistake first, then imply that it wasn't really a mistake, and that the reason that people think it's a mistake is because they're cretins, but that Bioware is so gregarious that they're going to take their stupid little opinions into consideration anyway.

Third, Bioware is far too willing to openly insult its fans. As the developer, they need to act like the adult in the room. They don't. When one of your writers says something stupid on your forums that gets everyone pissed off at her, tell her to put a lid on it. Don't let her go out and respond with something that you average forum troll would be embarrassed to have to their name. You're the company with the professional reputation on the line. Don't let people who can't take the heat speak in the name of your company.

Bioware is a company that has been on a long slide toward mediocrity and below for a while now, but that's nothing new. Plenty of companies have done that. Bioware has gone the extra mile to turn every misstep into an explosion of internet rage by acting like a bunch of snotty auteurs and forum trolls.

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