A common reaction to basically any complaint on the internet, but especially in gaming, is “no one cares”. No company is going to change their minds because you complain on twitter, so they say, because after all who cares about one person?
Well, this common knowledge has turned out to be very clearly false. Since just 2013 a myriad of major changes in gaming have occurred due to “internet” outcry. (it’s important to remember that “internet” doesn’t actually make a thing less real, every complaint is from a real, flesh and bone, meat and organ human being.)
The most recent example is the supremely bad “augment your preorder” promotion the new Deus Ex game had–which has now been canceled, with “internet outrage” more or less cited as the direct reason for the cancellation. According to them the campaign, where rewards were “unlocked” by preorder count and mutually exclusive rewards could be selected by preorderers, was created due to negative response to differing offers in different regions. It’s apparently too hard to realize that offering the same options in all regions is a far simpler way to do that.
But this is hardly the first example, nor will it be the last. Just as a quick run-down:
Ubisoft actually showed pre-alpha footage of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and and is now not only including a choice of female playable characters, but also the first trans* character in the series. It seems incredibly unlikely they would do either of these things if not for the respective backlashes of Assassin’s Creed Unity’s many many launch day glitches and performance issues and publicly stating female playable characters weren’t included because they cost money despite including 4 player co op as a major selling point of the title.
EA changed it’s practices after winning the “worst company in america” “award”, amusingly enough this was the cause of much outrage insisting that there were better companies to name for such a title–perhaps so, but EA changed, and I do doubt Bank of America would have (gaming does not have a captive audience).
Sega apologized for “betraying” its fans and seems to have learned a bit from Atlus (a company known for, unlike Sega, actually localizing video games on occasion). We haven’t seen very much from this rather recent change, but it’s clear they thought it was worth saying something and it would look pretty bad if they didn’t change anything after admitting they screwed up.
Square Enix actually updated a demo of Final Fantasy XV to address assorted complaints. Square Enix’ game output in general seems to have improved lately and personally I find it hard to believe that anything but fan response to titles like Bravely Default would have caused their sudden re-acceptance of the JRPG–and in the west too no less.
And then there’s the big one. In early 2013 the Xbox One was announced with a confusing, off-key message. Over the following weeks the plans for the console came out, which you probably recall: almost-always-online DRM, severely restricted used games, a basically digital-only system and an extremely strong Kinect. People were pissed (rightly so) and thus, over the next year or so, the entire course of a console that cost Microsoft somewhere between hundreds of millions and billions of dollars to make. Almost every major feature from that expensive, “well” researched living room trojan horse was reduced in scope, changed or removed entirely.
Why would they do that? It turns out, by some crazy twist of fate, that people on the internet are also people online. So if hundreds of thousands of people are saying they won’t buy your product online…those people probably won’t buy it offline! Isn’t that just the craziest shit?
The Xbox reaction was so great that even Sony actually responded to it, making a concerted effort to twist the knife in Microsoft by more or less marketing the PS4 as “not the Xbox One” at E3, to great success.
Anyway, I understand why people think companies ignore them. Last gen, and gens prior, did that to us. Social media used to either not exist or it was a minor footnote, something easily ignored. But now there are a billion daily users on facebook, a hundred million on Twitter, even the most out of touch companies can no longer ignore widespread reaction. It’s free marketing data after all–information you often used to have to find out after your product bombed, so why not pay attention when people are calling for your head?
So if you’re a dev, you have to pay attention. People, on the internet or not, can be stupid, but if a lot of people are saying something negative about your product, it’s worth looking into. And if you’re a player–say something. It’s very clear it matters, even if not all companies pay attention, or not all campaigns are successful. The evidence very clearly shows that you can make a difference.