THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT - PERCEPTION OF DESIGNER & PLAYER "RESPONSIBILITIES" IN AMATEUR & COMMERCIAL VIDEO GAMES

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Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
First note: if this would be better served as an article, let me know immediately and I will port it to that format. It's a bit of an 'op ed' piece, but I do want to foment discussion.

The point of this thread is to posit a single observation for discussion. It's kind of a simple one, but I think it's really important, and hopefully will provide a basis for some unique insight and discussion.

The truth is...we amateur game developers have a completely different argot for talking about commercial video games than we do for talking about our own amateur games.

I've come to this realization gradually over time, watching LTs and reviews and the feedback and debate and overall cultural surrounding them, that amateur game designers and reviewers hold amateur games to vastly different standards than they do commercial games.

If you're thinking something along the lines of "duh", then I need to add that I think the standards that amateur games are held to are HARSHER.

There is a very extreme attitude surrounding amateur games like those produced by our community that 'The Customer Is Always Right' and that, by extension, the designer is always wrong. Very, very rarely is the possibility discussed that a PLAYER might be playing such a game wrong. For a game designer to suggest such a thing, especially of their own game, is viewed as the height of "arrogance" or "ego", the two things that the amateur game design community hates the most. When a chest is missed, when a puzzle can't be solved, when a battle results in a game over, always, always, always the hue and cry is 'BAD GAME DESIGN!' and never..."player, you're doing it wrong!".

Of course, if you look at the way we talk about game design in PROFESSIONAL games, our vocabulary and attitude is very different. Admittedly, as seasoned game designers we are much more likely to point out the design flaws of any instance of the Persona or Dragon Quest series than the average joe RPG fan. But still, the respect, the benefit of the doubtwhich we afford commercial games is far greater than that which we afford each other's creations. If I mention that I had trouble with 'Mechanic X' in 'Final Fantasy Game Y' the response is just as likely to be: "You suck at Final Fantasy, bro." Can't beat Sephiroth? Try playing better.

Imagine if I was trying to explain being unable to get past a boss battle in Eternal Paradise, on the other hand. Maybe I made an LT of it and posted it on RMN? I very much doubt that anyone would come back with "you suck at Eternal Paradise"...not even Ephiam. Instead, the consensus would most likely be: game's too hard, bro! Tone it down!

Why does this phenomenon exist? Here's my theory.

Amateur games are a dime a dozen. We're drowning in them. They're not just cheap, they're free. They're not just plentiful, they're overcrowding the internet. And as our resident asspear is fond of saying: familiarity breeds contempt. Few of us give even the best looking RMN games the slightest fraction of the benefit of the doubt that we'd give the shittiest commercial game...except, of course, for the RMN games made by our close personal friends...but that's another story entirely, the story of RM cliques, and I'm not going there.

Of course, there's more to it than that. Our aim when LTing an RM game is different than our aim when playing Final Fantasy XXIV. We are not, fully, in the 'player mindset'...we are LOOKING specifically for something to complain about.

Tautology disclaimer time:

Obviously, neither of these extremes are correct. It's not true that a perception exists that it's 'always the designer's fault' in amateur games or that it's 'always the player's fault' in commercial games or vice versa. It's not all or nothing either way, and I'm not trying to say that. I'm not positing that we all think all commercial games are flawless or that players of RM games can't make mistakes. Nor am I advocating a system where we assume that the creator is always right/the audience is always wrong. I would hope that's obvious.

But there are strong, conflicting biases in how we evaluate these games, based in part on the arbitrary 'professional' and 'RM' flags we assign to things. (Games like Hero's Realm that are 'community canon', BTW, get assigned the 'professional' mental flag often and are more commonly evaluated on that basis than any other RM games.)

Now that I work as a professional instead of an amateur in the game design business--the kind that doesn't involve pixels, that is, haters rest assured that video game design as a career is probably never going to happen for me--I feel more qualified than ever to say that the distinction between 'AMATEUR' and 'PROFESSIONAL' games is almost completely aribtrary. So I view these divergent standards toward them as a problem.

Because sometimes even in 'amateur games' IT IS THE PLAYER'S FAULT...and I'm sure that many a developer has made wholly unnecessary and maybe even destructive changes to their game because of our failure to realize this. Because of the communal, attitudinal insistence that 'the customer is always right'.

To support my point...has anyone ever played the classic SNES platformer 'Out Of This World'? Can you imagine if that had been released as an RM game, how immense the pressure would have been to make the (awesome) introductory sequence much, much easier?

Discuss. Not just the silly off the cuff Out Of This World example, hopefully, but the whole ball of wax.

Coming next time on 'Max McGee Stirs Shit Up...':
Mapping doesn't actually matter all that much, you guys, chill out about it.
I agree with this, but why isn't it an article?
EDIT: derp just read the disclaimer. yes it should be an article.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
Because I was unsure. If any of the staff members agree with you, I will probably do that.
I can only possibly be in agreement with this.

It is a common attitude around here to assume that any design choice not in alignment with the unspoken group assumptions of what is good is an error or an oversight and that's very grating.

author=Max McGee
I've come to this realization ..watching LTs and reviews and the feedback and debate and overall cultural surrounding them, that amateur game designers and reviewers hold amateur games to vastly different standards than they do commercial games.

... amateur games are held to are HARSHER.

Very, very rarely is the possibility discussed that a PLAYER might be playing such a game wrong. ... When a chest is missed, when a puzzle can't be solved, when a battle results in a game over, always, always, always the hue and cry is 'BAD GAME DESIGN!' and never..."player, you're doing it wrong!".

Our aim when LTing an RM game is different than our aim when playing Final Fantasy XXIV. We are not, fully, in the 'player mindset'...we are LOOKING specifically for something to complain about.

In most of the rm let's try I've seen the people run through everything, skip all the dialogue, avoid or run from battles, etc. They rarely look like they enjoy rpgs and usually just look like they're playing to make fun of something. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons to justify this like video time limits but still.

Everyone is a critic (I'm guilty of this too). Whether the maker asks for it or not. Sometimes people just want to share their work. They don't always want to hear what someone thinks is wrong with their work. But this is the internet and opinions are like

Part of the reason why amateur games are judged harsher than commercial games is because the amateur games have a playerbase that is much smaller when compared to commercial games. As a result, the players assume that the designer is obliged to listen to their complaints and act on them, which commercial game companies will never do unless a large number of players seem genuinely dissatisfied.

If players gripe about game difficulty or accessibility of goodies, the amateur game maker will probably say "OK buddy, I'll look into it and see what I can do." The professional will probably reply (that is, if he replies at all) "Its supposed to be the way it is. I have thousands of gamers who aren't complaining so you must be doing something wrong." The professional has an excuse to blame the player. The amateur normally does not.

Players also have low expectations from amateur developers. They jump the trigger at the slightest perceived abnormality without thinking that the developer may have wanted to concentrate more on quality and less on spoon-feeding, in order to provide a more wholesome gaming experience and a true sense of fulfillment on finishing the game.
Yellow Magic
Could I BE any more Chandler Bing from Friends (TM)?
3154
The point on LT'ing RM games solely to ridicule them is...interesting (although I have seen plenty of LT's of games such as The Way and ABL....). I might have a go at trying a "legendary" game for the first time and see how that turns out.

As for your overall point I don't think it's really a matter of debate unless you are blind as a bat or something, so yeah, it's probably better off as an article. Really well-written though!
I don't think there's much to discuss about this. I think it's all up to the developer to make the right judgement, if it's obvious that you didn't spend a lot of time balancing the game to make sure everything plays right then you know it's up to you to fix it.

I believe having a 'thick skin' when it comes to amateur game developing is helpful as every little critique is really just an opinion of what someone thinks and shouldn't be taken so seriously unless you get multiple masses of people telling you the same critique.

I don't know the main reason other why people make games but for me I find it enjoying that as long as someone finds my work entertaining then it's all worthwhile. This same question "Is the customer always right?" can be applied to nearly everything that isn't professional, amateur art, novels, music and etc.

If your willing to put your own work out there you should be able to take criticism but not let it hurt your pride at the same time, because the critique just might be helpful, I believe that is YOUR responsibility as a developer.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
This phenomenon I've noticed a lot more prominently here than at the other RM sites. I don't think it's a matter of familiarity breeding contempt (though that may be a contributing factor). After all, plenty of games are embraced and celebrated at other RM sites even though they're ripped apart mercilessly here.

I believe it's because RMN is not a cooperative site. It's a competitive site, which is reinforced by every aspect of its design.

To get attention, you have to compete for the front page.
You have to compete for high review scores.
You have to compete for monthly feature.

When you have to compete, it's often easier to drag down the competition than it is to uplift your own work. Therefore, it's in one's best interests to harshly criticize other projects in order to lower their perceived value and increase yours. I doubt (many) people do it intentionally, but everything about this site encourages this behavior.

You might counter that with "well, you shouldn't do that. If people stop doing that, then this'll be a nice place", so I'll raise a rebuttal. I want to believe that most users here aren't that vindictive, but the fact remains that this community is held together by a system which encourages that behavior to succeed. As long as the site encourages competition, users will naturally compete with one another.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
There is truth in Max's words, but I feel like some people use this as a shield to deflect criticism. Belief that their design, their vision, is flawless and sacrosanct and anyone finding fault with it is playing wrong or just looking for something to complain about. I wouldn't recommend anyone to disregard criticism so easily. This is a distressingly common mindset around here, just look at the RMN Bros projects.

If one person complains about something, you might be able to blame the player. If twenty people have a problem with something, it's time to take another look at it.
There's a point when you, as a developer, just have to let some things slide. There is only so much a single person can do, so you have to weigh each criticism carefully in your head and basically pick out the ones that aren't worth worrying about.

EDIT:

This has given me an idea for a blog. I might write it later, I'll probably forget.

EDIT2:

Oh dear god, I wrote "right" instead of "write"...
I think the issue is when a company makes a game, they've got a niche in mind, and generally find enough people that fit into the niche to stay profitable. Here, you get so little attention that the need to appeal to every single person is amplified. Unfortunately, this isn't a particularly sustainable attitude, and can cause people to burn out because they're so busy reworking their game to suit everyone that they're no longer getting anywhere.

Hands up if you've changed something in your game because of criticism, only to have someone complain about the exact opposite issue in the new version. People have different tastes, and the key is recognising who your market is, and which criticisms are down to taste and which are down to quality.
author=Max McGee
If I mention that I had trouble with 'Mechanic X' in 'Final Fantasy Game Y' the response is just as likely to be: "You suck at Final Fantasy, bro." Can't beat Sephiroth? Try playing better.

Imagine if I was trying to explain being unable to get past a boss battle in Eternal Paradise, on the other hand. Maybe I made an LT of it and posted it on RMN? I very much doubt that anyone would come back with "you suck at Eternal Paradise"...not even Ephiam. Instead, the consensus would most likely be: game's too hard, bro! Tone it down!

There are millions of people who has beaten Sephiroth, so we know that he's perfectly beatable. As for LTs, I have noticed that sometimes the LTer is playing the game really poorly. Maybe I should speak up when I see it?

To be frank, It's very rare that a commercial RPG made in the last ten years is particular difficult. If someone complains about a mandatory boss being to hard, it is usually so that the player is rather poor at the game. This does not necessarily hold true in RM games. I have seen a lot of people aiming towards making their game challenging, sometimes without giving the player the proper tools to overcome said challenges. So, often it actually is justified that you tell someone to get better when they can't get past a boss in a commercial RPG, while you tell the creator to tone it down in a RM game.
As for LTs, I have noticed that sometimes the LTer is playing the game really poorly. Maybe I should speak up when I see it?

I don't particularly like LTs in the first place, but based on the one that was directed at me, sosososo much this.
This reminds me of this image thread where people were complaining about something the player will look at for all of a minute before moving on, and they wound up driving the spriter to remodel and spend hours fixing it up. What a waste of valuable time.

There is definitely a point where the creator just has to judge a particular criticism as not worth following up on. I'm sure when I make a gamepage for my project (not long now), people will say "the ____ looks like ass. fix it". I'll just have to make an educated decision as to whether it's really worth changing or leave as is and let moaners moan.

But yeah. Commercial games have it easy. There's no feedback mechanism besides the player ending the game, clicking the Contact Us link, and emailing something, and only after the game has been released. They're more likely to go to gamefaqs forums and post their opinion.
A difference between amateur and commercial games is that the latter often has much bigger teams working on it. That's a bigger pool of different opinions to judge things before release and further opinions from the gamer don't weight as much. There's also all the test players, but both sides can have that.
Yellow Magic
Could I BE any more Chandler Bing from Friends (TM)?
3154
author=Dyhalto
This reminds me of this image thread where people were complaining about something the player will look at for all of a minute before moving on, and they wound up driving the spriter to remodel and spend hours fixing it up. What a waste of valuable time.
I hate to say this as many of my favourite members posted there but Jesus Christ that is pathetic.
author=Space
In most of the rm let's try I've seen the people run through everything, skip all the dialogue, avoid or run from battles, etc. They rarely look like they enjoy rpgs and usually just look like they're playing to make fun of something.


Yeah, I don't like this, which is why I avoid most LT. What Sali said has some truth to it as well.
Yeah it's kinda common practice here to confuse opinions, especially if they're insular rmn-majority-backed opinions with objective fact in regards to design choices.

Also there's the point that people here are all "in this" for different reasons with varying aspirations for their projects and their hobby in general. Everyone here probably has a private platonic ideal of how and what their perfect project would be. Half the games on here we like are most likely only granted that special status by us because we can infer that the creator most likely shares some of our ideals and feelings in regard to game making or have qualities we wish we had more of. I know that's certainly true of me.

I've privately applied an "if it's good enough for x commercial game then fuck it" ethos when making stuff, but it's hard to keep that up all the time, especially when you keep seeing evidence to the contrary, sometimes it's easier to go with the flow, I guess, but not really because once you start that habit you're now susceptible to all criticisms whether they're value judgments or legitimate issues. The logical conclusion of this train of thought, for me at least, usually ends in "well if you were serious about making games you wouldn't even be using rpgmaker to begin with, if you learned to program you could be free of annoying engine limitations, and while you're at it you'd better learn make professional quality custom graphics and an original score, you lazy amateur. In fact why not just give up now?" - and the ludicrousness of this scenario, considering that this is an amateur interest and a hobby for the majority of users here, illustrates just how plain wrong most of the criticism dished out to games here is.

Also I hope DE doesn't mind me quoting him, but he made one of the most clear-headed posts I've seen on here in a while following Phantom Legacy's release:

author=DE
OK, now you're overreacting. This is going to be a long post, so brace yourself...

It is my belief that PL is a good game with the potential to become great. Even though it might've seemed I disliked the game given how critical I was about some of its aspects, the sole fact that I spent so much time playing and talking about it means I think the game's worthwhile. It's a solid game, but if you spent more time on it it'd be awesome. There's one thing I don't understand, and understand at the same time. You had a good game before (the old demo) and instead of building upon that you scrapped and restarted it all. You wasted countless hours of your life and work for nothing. And don't give me the crap about being dissatisfied about the old version, people liked it. If you keep remaking your game because IT'S NOT PERFECT!! you'll never finish it and get frustrated. Stick with what you have and expand upon it; it's better to finish a game that COULD BE better, than not finish an AWESOME! game. Only by finishing projects do you actually learn anything (I sense a flame war incoming, but that's my view on it) and not only that, you build your PR and awareness of you as a designer. No one cares about the guy that had mockups of 10 killer games but no releases, people care about the guy that has 3 solid games under his belt. When he releases the fourth one, people will want to play it!

The coffin puzzle was OK, but gave no hint to how it's supposed to be solved, or that it is even a puzzle. I only got the hint AFTER solving it. I'd elaborate on this but I'm too tired from writing the rest of this comment, so maybe later :)

The characters suffered from too few lines that were about characterization. Most of the stuff they said was pure exposition: where do we go, what do we do, who is this guy... This CAN work (recall Valkyrie Profile), but your game is too traditional for it.

Finally, you mention you'd like to pickup pixelart and maybe even learn a new maker. Frankly, this is a road to nowhere. When I started pixeling it was either late 2003 or early 2004. After 7 years I'm finally confident I could make all the graphics for an RPG, and that's after making tilesets for two whole indie MMORPGs. The problem is... making graphics is only half the battle. I'd say even less than that. And this brings me to another issue - when you're free of the shackles that are the limited number and nature of premade assets, you realize you can make ANY GAME YOU WISH. In any setting, with any characters you can dream of, with lots, and lots of awesome effects... You start making a game, and a month later you change your mind, because, you know, this project leads to nowhere and there is another concept that's sooo much better. And then you scrap all the graphics you've made and start anew, because the old ones are incompatible with what you have now in mind. And after some time you change your mind again. And again. And again. And every time you do this you start from scratch. This is the sole reason I haven't been able to release anything after I switched to custom graphics. I have so many ideas about settings and graphic styles it makes it impossible to create a set that would be enough for a whole game.

BUT! As I've said graphics are just a fraction of the assets and work for a game. And they're the easier part. Once you switch to a maker with more power you'll face the same issue again - too many possibilities. This is precisely why there are no fully custom RPGs out there that are not either small projects or indie games (as in semi-commercial, with a budget). It's just too time-consuming and too motivation-consuming to create an RPG by yourself, especially with custom assets. The amount of graphics required alone is staggering compared to platformers. Amateur game designers churn out lots and lots of good action games. Why? Because they're easy to make, at least compared to RPGs. You need few resources, they're easy to draw, you need no plot or character interaction, the engine is easy compared to all the algorithms and balancing in an RPG... I could go on. To finish a custom game you need a shitload of motivation and a good work ethic, and judging by your history of releases you possess neither. And don't take it personally; I think you'll agree with me on this. Not that there are many people that made such games, maybe the Cave Story guy...

The bottom line is - if you're thinking about making a Phantom Legacy-like game with custom graphics, then stop. Stop immediately, unless you like being disappointed with yourself and your work. Bitter? Maybe, however I'd say realistic given the evidence in the game making world. I say keep doing what you've been doing and do it well. As for little feedback on PL, to change it you need to advertise the shit out of it EVERYWHERE. Posting it on just on RMN will generate very few comments. Why do you think Barkley and that Craze game and Space Funeral got popular? Because people talked about them on sites that have nothing to do with RM. You may loathe hype or marketing, but it's the only way to make your game popular and PLAYED. Oh, and just posting about it is not enough, you need to get people hooked with some clever marketing tricks. What tricks? I don't know, I don't hype :)

Wow, this is a long stream of consciousness, I hope I didn't come off as rambling. If you wish to talk about it more, feel free to send me a PM.

I'll end with this thought.

Space Funeral.



I do not know why LTs are getting it hard in this thread... If someone is skipping your battles they're probably boring. I mainly watch YDS's vids and she will play through the battles if they are engaging and aren't attack spam fests. It vexes me that some people are unwilling to see the advantages of being able to gauge players reactions to mechanics or objectives and seeing exactly what they did to deal with them. Yes there is an altered mindset in the player but that's in every testing environment.