WTFBBQ – Big Studios vs Indies


Welcome to this week’s WTFBBQ – we’re starting to get a little low on the fuel barrel, but with some of the things that have been going on lately, that’s not a problem. Let’s get started, shall we? *Tosses log in the fire*

This week’s topic is the battle between big studios and indies. There are big fans on either side and for viable reasons. Some people patronize only indies and call out fans of larger studios pretty frequently. The reverse seems much less common, however, perhaps because we still have the stupid idea of geek cred floating around, which would mean playing a game that gives you no cred at all would be its own forum flame war punishment. That being said, there are those breakaway hits from small indies that explode onto a scene and the next thing you know, fanart is *everywhere*.

It ends up working a lot like gambling, big studios are often seen as your safe bets, with low risks and moderate rewards. They were, up until fairly recently (and still are, to some degree) seen as a guaranteed win, if not much of one. If a studio you liked made a title, you could almost be certain that you would like it and probably buy it. This allowed companies to start banking on their reputation, and well… that’s not turning out so well.

So begins the new flame wars about people who would rather stay with their safe options, their defaults, rather than branching outwards. Now, granted, flaming usually is about specific studios, and the fans thereof, and the supposed unrealistic and unjustified adoration of those studios. The common targets being EA, Bethesda and lately, Blizzard, all for a variety of reasons I won’t get into for… reasons.

The thing is, smaller studios aren’t necessarily not making the same mistakes-some of them definitely are. The difference is, when a small studio makes the same kind of mistakes, they don’t have the revenue to keep going, or the media presence for it become as widely known (yes, I touched on this briefly in another article). So instead of splashing all over the news, they just spark and then die.

There are, however, some types of mistakes that can’t get made by smaller indies simply because of that, and the big one is taking your customer base for granted. That’s a really bad mistake, but it’s persistent and there are some very good reasons why big studios make that kind of mistake.

As I’ve written over the weeks, we have a lot of “versus” topics in the forums. I’d hope it’s enough to illustrate just how impassioned and divided fans can be. And the more you have, the more they divide into camps, and then we have mobs, and we all know a mob is only piloted by its stupidest member.

So, when it comes to comment threads, forums and other public media, the studios, once large enough, really can’t afford to listen anymore. By the time you reach a certain size, your fanbase will obsess about the strangest things and get heated enough to power several cities worth of Christmas decorations for the entirety of thanksgiving through to late January damn-I-should-take-those-down season. And they’re about as informative as said thanksgiving dinner with all your redneck family and racist grandma who hates your entire family and enjoys stirring shit up because she doesn’t get cable at the nursing home.

Instead, they just end up taking stuff in house and making decisions there, and sometimes they pretend to ask or even accept opinions from the public. Which, then, gets found out, because you can only lie to so many people before you get found out. That’s, obviously, also a terrible strategy. Buuuut so is telling the truth. Honestly, how many people do you think could take “we’re doing this because it’s shown on x,y, and z to draw in more profits” without getting angry? Which is, in and of itself, stupid, because if you want your studio to make games you want them to make more money.

Are some studios full of themselves? Absolutely. Are some bad employers? You bet. Do some have idiots at the helm? Almost certainly yes. The fix for all of those, however, requires some heavy social restructuring and to stop letting people get in via gladhanding, nepotism, cronyism and wealth. Which…..yeah ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

But the thing is…every one of those studios was once a small indie. So even if you only support indies, you’re now helping them grow into those same big companies that you hate. So how, do we, as gamers, help fix it?

How about we stop with the flame wars. If you don’t like a company, don’t buy their stuff. If they do something unethical, by all means, share it, just don’t add to the flames. Each time you start screaming into the mob, you’re making the problem worse.

What can studios do to stop being seen as the big evil corporations? Well, besides ethical business practices (which, by the way, are shown to be waaaaay more profitable than predatory ones), they can start with hiring good PR agents and not letting devs and coders talk to the public. Seriously. The programs and certifications for technical qualifications are rough enough and they do not include talking to people. Let the people who know how to talk to people do it. That’s literally their job. One silly question about cellphones at a major con and suddenly your studio is a laughingstock if not openly mocked for months-maybe years afterward.

Secondly, remember that customers are people. They want what most people want. That doesn’t mean honesty, or integrity, or any such nice-sounding but unrealistic things. No, they want free stuff. They want people to be nice to them. They want to feel important and valued. The instant you start treating your customers like dirt, you start running into problems.

Look, I know it’s hard. People are crap, and people in large social media groups are even worse. I’m pretty sure one circle of hell is being a CM for a major studio where you have no choice but to wade into the trenches daily. But, taking it out on those same people will just make it worse. Professionalism is being able to work at your best despite adverse conditions, and one of those conditions is idiots. If you can’t handle it, maybe you really shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

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