community, content creator, fandom, fans, fansite, gamer, MMO, personality, streamer, youtuber
This whole blog post was prompted by one Otterdown and her forum post in The Secret World’s forums about how MMO health seems to be intrinsically tied to the interest of a select few community members. It got me thinking very hard about how communities in gaming operate, and how completely alarmist they can tend to be.
MMO’s are things that work better when many people are playing. It fosters a sense of community, it provides a revenue stream for the developers and publishers, it makes a game continue on with new content updates–the whole thing is meant to form tribes of devoted players. And it seems, almost inevitably, that some people tend to become talking heads for a game they love. Maybe it’s born of passion for a game. Maybe they want a reason to become Internet Famous. Maybe they want free swag. For whatever reason, though, folks make themselves to be spokespeople for a title, and others glom on to the content creator as a way to validate their inclusion.
And that’s, ultimately, where I think things go wrong. The sense that inclusion is something that has to be validated.
In my personal experience, this sort of sensation starts off innocently enough. You enjoy an MMO and are keen to maybe find content outside of the game to keep you plugged in to that enjoyment. There are forums. Twitter accounts. Fansites. All of these resources to maybe find friends or strategies. These creators want to grow. They do. Then as they grow, an interdependence blossoms among the game, those fan creations and the players, until there gets to be a point where the existence of a fan creator becomes a litmus test for how an MMO is doing. A way to make you feel right about your chosen game and community.
However, using people in that way is precisely the sort of thing that makes MMO’s a weird thing for some newbies to get in to, and can even make some MMO communities reviled by many. Stating your entertainment choices are more “right” than others because some YouTube personality exists is like hiring toll booth operators who collect fees on fun.
I’m not saying that fan resources are a bad thing, to be clear. The simple fact that people go out of their way to create a resource for players of an MMO is precisely one of many reasons why MMO’s are a more interesting type of game for me than most. What I take difference to, and what Otterdown was saying in her forum post, is that the empire of a game is not built on the shoulders of a few fans. That’s pretty unfair to both hard-working devs and hard-working content creators.
These things cost us, the players, a lot of money. Being repeatedly assured that the spending of that money is a good idea is the job of the developers of said MMO. Those developers do that by providing content that people enjoy on a regular (or at the least a semi-regular) basis. That should be the sum of the equation. Factoring in X where X is “Affable Twitch Streamer” is unnecessary.
This problem isn’t just confined to the game’s insular community, either. Content creators can be watched by those outside of an MMO’s sphere, and it’s those people who can enhance this idea that someone making stuff about a title equals a thriving MMO. To that point, anyone watching someone play a game should probably read no deeper in to It than that. It’s just….someone enjoying a game. Sure, that person can maybe field questions about their thoughts on a title, but really it’s an opinion. A tool that should be used as information, not as gospel of a game’s existence.
If someone wants to stop making stuff about an MMO, it’s entirely possible that their minds have changed about their chosen title. This happens to MMO players all the time. Moreso now that there are more game choices out there. Maybe something about the game shifted away from a development direction they were hoping for, or a game ended up falling short of personal expectations or hype. Really, though, it’s that person’s mind made up. It’s not your mind.
If a major developer lead or president or other person directly associated with content creation leaves, then we can feel unease. But fan creators are just….people who have more time on their hands and more direction than other players. And they can be just as prone to the whims of humanity as any one of us.
Case in point…there was this guy on YouTube I watched a lot who ran a channel called DodgeThisBAM. He was a charming Australian guy who made stuff about Guild Wars 2. He talked up the game, he delighted in the game, he even made a goofy-ass music video about the game’s release. Then, as he played and as content came out, his enjoyment shifted downwards. He explained himself on why he felt how he felt. He verbalized what he thought was being done wrong by the GW2 devs and, ultimately, decided to stop making videos about the game as a result.
I was pretty well let down by the fact that someone who enjoyed something so much got let down himself…but really, I just wished him well and hoped that he would find a game that he enjoyed. Maybe enough to make content for again. His departure from content creation of GW2 has not spelled doom for the game. In fact, I’ve “replaced” his content relating to the title with the very fun to watch Bog Otter and his Guild Missions series.
And that is the point that Otterdown herself made about TSW. Just because someone stopped creating doesn’t mean someone else won’t pick up the torch. However long a creator has been at it, they are just as allowed to find dev decisions mind-numbingly stupid as the rest of us “regular” players or to perhaps experience burnout. You don’t have to agree with their assessment. You don’t have to take their exit as a death knell. It’s just a creative person finding the thing they thought fun not fun anymore and moving on with their life.
And we should too.
We change a lot as people throughout our entire lives. My gaming tastes are very different to what they use to be as a kid. This can be partly influenced by the community. As MMO’s are driven by community you tend to find that friends will move between them at the same time as it’s more fun to play together. As well as this I’ve discovered new experiences that have altered the way I think about different types of game. A game might have been unique once, and as such it felt amazing at the time, but then another comes along that does that same thing even better and suddenly the flaws are more obvious. We can sort of desensitise too, and so we’re always looking for newer, bigger and more novel experiences than what came before. My favourite games change all the time depending on what I’m currently into.
Communities can both attract and drive away new players. A popular gaming personality can help to bring more people in by helping them to feel validated in their choice of game and offering information to new as well as existing players. On the other hand the community can start to feel incredibly insular with a higher barrier to entry. To anybody who’s just starting out the wealth of information required to fully understand the game can be overwhelming, along with trying to compete with other players with years more experience. Many of the game’s surprises have also been unveiled by that point, the discovery of which can be part of the fun of playing a new game. It’s a shame to lose a gaming personality that was beneficial towards the community, but there will be many others who do still enjoy it enough to have a go at jumping in and creating their own content.
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