Back in 2016, J. Allen Brack, the President of Blizzard Entertainment said the words that would echo through the internet for a lifetime. When he was asked about the possibility of classic servers coming to World of Warcraft (WoW). With a grin he responded, “You think you do, but you don’t.” Two years later, developers would take the stage to reveal Diablo Immortal, a game met with plenty of booing after it was revealed as a mobile exclusive game. This brought the developers to utter the phrase, “Don’t you guys have phones?”
In both cases, fans of Blizzard were completely astonished. Hearing a company openly mock their fanbase places a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. The feedback from their fans must have done some damage to the company. After those events, Blizzard’s tone changed. WoW Classic ended up launching, practically doubling the subscriptions to their game. Diablo 4 was also announced and a gameplay demo was made available to attendees of Blizzcon 2019. The good news didn’t end there as the Shadowlands expansion for World of Warcraft was announced as well. Fans (like myself) became instantly excited upon hearing all the improvements made to the game, especially when Blizzard stated how they will be undoing the mistakes made in Battle for Azeroth (the latest expansion).
What we see here is something rather interesting. Fans have finally had their concerns addressed. And that is something rarely seen in the industry. But most importantly, Blizzard actually took the time to figure out what the concerns were, and how to address them. I am not going to hand gold stars to Blizzard for listening to their fanbase. They are a company whose goal is to make money. So if this affects their ability to generate income then of course they will change. I will openly state that they recognized where they went wrong and are attempting to rectify the issues. It might not be exactly admirable, but when you size them up against other companies, Blizzard actually looks pretty good.
The fact of the matter is major triple-A publishers don’t seem to maintain proper communication with their fans. And that is a huge modern problem we as a community are facing. A lot of companies do not consider what they are doing to be bad or outside the scope of public criticism. Or they limit information to community managers, hoping the fans will not question some issues that have yet to be addressed. Developers carry on their business as if nothing has ever happened, and sometimes controversy can stack. One event can happen and before that event is resolved, another situation raises its head. There is a consistent cycle of news that aims to push out old stories in favor of new stories. But sometimes developers hit multiple headlines in a row sparking massive outrage within fanbases.
BioWare have been under a strenuous amount of fire from fans over Mass Effect Andromeda. Until this day, Andromeda is used as an example on why not to buy another BioWare game. But the final nail in the Bioware coffin was Anthem, which was so poorly received that BioWare had to cancel their community roadmap. They even openly recognized that the current game was not what the players expected. BioWare recently stated that an Anthem 2.0 update is in the works. There is no date on when the update will be available, but we can only assume it will not be this year. As this news was released, the fans have yet to rally behind BioWare in any positive capacity. There are rumors that a remastered Mass Effect trilogy is in the works. But after two commercial failures, even my faith in the once beloved company has faded away. A remastered trilogy of one of my most beloved games will not suffice as a band-aid to this much larger issue.
At times I do try to convince myself that not all is lost with BioWare and perhaps they could turn this ship around. After all, Anthem was a once in a lifetime situation and in a way so was Andromeda. I find myself bargaining over the mistakes BioWare made only because they have always been a staple in the video game community. Their past titles stand the test of time and really solidify them as a once great developer. We also have to recognize that since then, BioWare has been slowly drifting away from their grand title.
The one caveat to the development of Anthem was how often they actually communicated with their fans via the Anthem subreddit. They did take feedback to heart and openly conversed with fans over what to do when it came to specific changes. They even listened to fans on specific features such as wanting an area to display their Javelins thus keeping a social element alive akin to Destiny. Unfortunately, fans never got to experience more of Anthem during the multitude of testing phases. Fans everywhere were left with big promises and stricken with anger learning that this grandiose game was actually very small.
As far as we know, BioWare is currently working on the next Dragon Age game and it has a lot of fans in an emotional limbo. We know that the BioWare we have loved so dearly has changed, but what about us? We have grown since the glory days of Knights of the Old Republic, so perhaps we have also set our expectations too high? Even if we do, it still doesn’t excuse the events that occurred. Sometimes answers to important questions don’t come so easy. These days, it could be mere hours before you realize that something is wrong with a game. Lucky for us, Fallout 76 pretty much puts all its cards on the table, wasting no time to show us how far one of the most beloved developers can truly descend.
Yes, I know that critiquing Fallout 76 is as easy as shooting glitched out fish in a barrel, and just as easy as critiquing Anthem. I could absolutely write a master thesis on why Fallout 76 became the perceived death knell of Bethesda. We already know why the game wasn’t met with a rousing applause. With every headline and story, it became more clear to us that the old Bethesda is gone. What the fans wanted was a complete Fallout experience. Similar to Fallout 4 but akin more to the immersion of Fallout New Vegas. Fans expected 76 to just be Fallout with multiplayer. Instead we got Bethesda’s attempt to break into the games as a service market, and it has been critiqued as a disaster.
Besides the persistent issues pertaining to glitches, there are several in-game problems that could only be solved if you invested in their cash shop with real money. Subscribing to their premium service also gives you the key to unlock the solution to your inventory woes. Even the physical collector’s edition didn’t deliver on the promises that Bethesda made. In return they offered everyone some cash shop currency which still didn’t help players when it came to getting something worthwhile.
Prior to the announcement of Fallout 76, fans were expressing their dissatisfaction with Fallout 4. There are a myriad of issues and a laundry list of player-reported problems that were never fixed. In the case of many of Bethesda’s games, a lot of the problems could have been avoided before the games even launched. Even as the latest expansion for Fallout 76 introduced NPCs to the game, the glitches are still prevalent and the game only seems rewarding to a minority.
The saddest part about the Bethesda situation is how quickly they dismissed their old fans. The players who loved the good-ole days of Morrowind and Oblivion are no longer the main focus nor does Bethesda seem to want to attempt to regain their lost fanbase. In any case, Bethesda continues to support Fallout 76 for the people that still play it. I can’t fault them for delivering upon their promises just like how I can’t blame BioWare for attempting to fix Anthem. Despite that fact, I just can’t help but think that the relationship isn’t genuine. No company should be allowed to release a broken game and then ask you to pay more for it.
When I think about Bethesda, I don’t just think about Fallout 76. I think about all of their games, and what they focused on. Fallout Shelter is a mobile game with micro-transactions. Elder Scrolls Blades was another mobile title that recently hit the Nintendo Switch and it also features micro-transactions. Then there is Elder Scrolls Legends, a mobile card game that features, you guessed it, micro-transactions. Bethesda was also responsible for Elder Scrolls Online, which is not a mobile game, but it was an attempt to cash in on the MMO genre. With all of these trends, Bethesda fell into the pit many other companies fell into: creating games that no one asked for in order to cash in on genres that are successful for other companies. Of course Bethesda wants to break into the MMO market. It was a lucrative concept at the time and it’s the exact reason why they jumped into the virtual card game platform. By standing aside and not jumping into these markets, Bethesda is leaving money on the table. You can bet that Zenimax, Bethesda’s parent company, would not allow money to be left on said table.
Not every company ignores their fanbase or attempts to spread itself thin in order to obtain as much cash as possible. There are still companies that listen to their fanbase and understand the market that they are in. Microsoft is one of these companies that has seemed to commit themselves to a better customer experience. Did they have any other choice? Not really. But at least with Microsoft there is an element of genuine care when it comes to their player base.
After shooting themselves in the foot with the initial Xbox One launch, they recovered in a swift 180 degree spin. Play Anywhere titles allow gamers to play some games on Xbox and PC. They drove the industry forward in the crossplay conversation. Then Gamepass Ultimate really sealed the deal when it came to establishing a vast ecosystem. Perhaps the biggest complaint was how Microsoft offered little to no first-party exclusives so they’ve purchased and grown their portfolio to 15 studios.
Microsoft saw what gamers were saying, and they reacted properly. They didn’t double down, they didn’t blame players, nor try to steal from them. They could have easily made gamers pay for the over the top features yet they didn’t. Instead they put value into what they are already doing and it even made companies like Sony adjust some of their own practices to compete. To be perfectly honest, Sony doesn’t really need to compete, but they see what others are doing and they react properly as well. Microsoft saw what was bad, which was practically the entire launch of the Xbox One, and turned it around.
I’ll make the obvious statement; we know that Microsoft wants to make money. After all, that is what a business does. To briefly mention some of the concepts codified by motivational speaker and business consultant Simon Sinek; Microsoft understands the reason why they do what they do. Why does Microsoft offer these features that most people would see beneficial? Because it lends itself to their message, to make gaming a fun and wonderful experience. Making money is just the result of that, not the reason behind it.
When you are looking at developers and publishers and you start to notice the patterns such as studio closures and rushed sequels; it’s always a good tactic to step back. Look at why these companies do what they do, and then ask yourself, “why do I support these companies?”. I can only speak for myself why I write about games, why I care so deeply, and why I am so passionate about this industry. Video games has always been an escape, an art form, something that I can disappear into and experience a wide range of emotions. Video games have been there through some crazy times in my life, as I am sure they have been there for you. So I ask this question as I leave you here: why do you like video games?