The Double Edged Sword of Gamers

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 | 1:36 pm

A little snippet for those familiar with the old company. At GenCon, I had a mission to buy some WARS TCG. This was one of the final card games produced by The Company, and was a redesign of the revolutionary Star Wars CCG mechanics, which is pretty much the sole reason I am here in the US (thus I can indirectly quote SWCCG as the reason I am married).

Anyhow, when me old mate Holty came over from Oz for my wedding, he mentioned how he liked the one game of WARS we had over a year prior (he is an old casual SWCCGer), but I have hardly any cards from that game to play with–I was well out of the marketing and design areas by then, which is where the freebies usually accumulated. So I decided I needed a few boxes of WARS for old times sake.

So standing at a card retailer booth at GenCon, bargaining them down to 6 shekels per booster box, I am also glancing through the SWCCG stuff they have there. A big gamer waddles up next to me, and starts orating about how SWCCG was the best CCG ever. I agree, and we pass a few back and forths on the good old days. We chat briefly about how the rules were pretty damn tricky (thus WARS CCG), and I laugh and mention that I should know, I use to have to write them for Decipher.

This shows how long I have been out of gaming–rookie mistake. His eyes light up and he launches in with the classic line you always heard sooner or later when someone realized you were an employee: "I always meant to write that company a letter and complain." (like that would have worked...)
"Really? Why is that?" I ask idly while glancing for an escape route.
"I never liked the way the mixed Episode I cards in with the classic tournaments. I just wanted to play with classic cards"
I injected a little lateral thinking here, "Well, if you told your tournament director he would have arranged such a tournament if the demand was there. And regardless of what Decipher sanctioned, you can play any format you want at home." (ahhh... for an all creatures deck...)
This truly seemed to stump him momentarily. He mumbled about "I suppose so", gave it a last half-hearted attempt, then the fire went out in him and he was quite a civil bloke after that.

Damned if that doesn't just summarize the interaction you always had as an employee. Face to face, nearly anything could be explained or resolved (c.f. SWCCG Worlds 1998). But via email, message boards etc, it just festers. People want to complain, but more to the point, they want to know that you (even involuntarily) listened.

Trust me, The Company firmly deserved some of the grief it got, but gamers (and I include myself in this category) are remorseless nitpicking machines. If you are another player asking us what we think of a game we love, we can defend it to the end of the earth. But if you are an employee of the company that makes the game we love, you can expect a laundry list of problems (who gave droids ability anyhow).

Although this helps keep game designers honest (they know they aren't dealing with fools, and will hear about it if they treat them as such), it can also fortify the gap between them. Designers usually have only one place to go and bitch about players (remember we are gamers too, so we like to bitch), and that is each other. If you generalize the species "game designers" as often not possessing social interaction skills at the level of say, salesmen, then the effect can be even worse: designers who will go to great lengths to avoid perosnal interaction with players (unless they can control the interaction i.e. virtual).

That's one edge of the sword that you wield when you make a product that is people's hobby, their passion. You can benefit at the sales end from their purchasing irrationality, but have no doubt that it will sting you also if you don't get their buy-in. That affable geek may have spent a lifetime extolling the virtues of your creation, but you go and make a change he didn't ask for, and you can expect no end of grief.


At 16/8/06 4:34 pm, Blogger Shocho said...

This reminds me, somehow, of recent talk about the film Snakes on a Plane. Said movie was changed during filming because of comments made by fans on the internet. Soon, we will see what they think of the movie they asked for. Sometimes that doesn't work so well.

Anyway, I am pretty much all the time happy to talk to players of my games, unless I'm eating or urinating or some such engrossing activity.

Very true point indeed that FTF interactions are often more civil than email. Email is The Devil.

At 16/8/06 5:02 pm, Blogger Aussie-Askew said...

Samule Jackson mentioned this last night on Daily Show. basically, they studio tried to make it PG-13 or something, and the blogosphere "found out" (somehow!) and helped reverse the decision.

Power to the people!

Then again, Colbert is trying to name a bridge in Hungary after himself through the power of internet voting. Maybe too much power. ;)

At 19/8/06 3:39 am, Blogger TheGirard said...

heh...1998. That was a great yea...wait a second. You BASTARD!!!! :(

It wasn't my fault I miscounted the number of cards in my deck.


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