A group of angry Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 fans is trying to round up support for a 24-hour multiplayer blackout in an attempt to make the hit military shooter’s developer alter certain aspects of the game.
A video uploaded to YouTube on March 26th lists about a dozen gripes that range from the specific – like lag compensation and the need for an "Akimbo machine pistol nerf" – to the vague, including demands for “more hardcore game modes” and “better elite playlist options.”
To show developer Infinity Ward and publisher Activision that they mean business, the group is asking the game’s fans to not play online for a full day on April 20th. It looks to be a small but growing movement; the YouTube video had 18,000 hits as of this writing but had seen a substantial upswing in traffic on Friday, gaining nearly 5,000 views in the space of just a few hours.
Given the timing, it seems likely the movement's founders were emboldened by Mass Effect 3 fans who successfully petitioned developer BioWare to revisit the game's controversial conclusion. Studio head Ray Muzyka said last week that his team was working on new downloadable content that would address fan concerns.
The troubling thing about these consumer-orchestrated campaigns is that they seem composed of people who passionately believe they have been grievously wronged and deserve compensation for it. In the case of the Call of Duty video this sense of entitlement is plainly evident when the narrator confidently states: “We are the community. We are Call of Duty. And we will not be denied.”
Interestingly, many fans clamouring for change seem to believe their demands are justified due to what they consider to be “promises” made in pre-launch interviews with the games' developers. BioWare’s Casey Hudson apparently pledged that players would experience closure and divergent endings depending on the choices they made. Infinity Ward’s Rob Bowling said in an interview that his team would focus on listening to fans and addressing their concerns during Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s post-launch period.
Whether they’ve accomplished these goals is open to debate. And, in truth, it doesn't really matter. When investing in any form of entertainment the audience assumes a risk: They may not like it. Up until recently, I thought this risk was plainly obvious to all concerned. Apparently not. Some people seem to think it's okay to demand that the creator continue working until the entertainment in question satisfies their own personal criteria for enjoyment.
Me, I'd voice my disappointment another way: I wouldn't buy their next product. Call me old-school.
My worry is that a dangerous precedent has been set. Clearly, BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts felt their businesses were being threatened by angry fans. But by promising to address concerns regarding something as fundamental as the ending to a painstakingly crafted 100-hour narrative, they have essentially said that their creative license is held hostage by consumers. Of course this has always been true (game makers who make games no one likes quickly go out of business), but it’s never before been so explicit, nor such a danger to developers' artistic integrity.
The outcome of the Mass Effect 3 lobbying movement was bound to fuel others. For all we know, it served as inspiration for the Call of Duty campaign. It doesn't take much for people to learn that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and that’s bound to make many angy gamers even squeakier.
Given this new climate, were I a game maker I’d strongly close the tap on the flow of pre-release information and reconsider giving any pre-launch interviews. At the very least I’d force my staff into some intense media training sessions outlining all of the topics that ought not to be broached prior to sitting down with journalists or bloggers. After all, why offer tantalizing words about the concepts you’re trying to construct when fans now seem bound to spitefully throw them back in your face if, in their minds, you fail to succeed?
Of course, it might be hard for developers to keep a lid on things when publishers are breathing down their necks to build awareness and excitement prior to a game’s release. But there are good reasons to stay mum. Not only can a lack of information help build hype (Rockstar Games disseminates tiny morsels of information about their titles at the pace of a slow but highly addictive IV drip), it also helps manage expectations and mitigate post-release outrage.
It comes down to this: If a developer, excited about his game, promises what sounds like the world to equally excited gamers, he's bound to wind up with plenty of fans punching out exhaustive, point-by-point accounts explaining how his game did not, in fact, deliver a living, breathing globe into their hands. Better instead to leave the content of the game to players' imaginations for as long as possible. At least that way he won't run the risk of incurring the wrath of what has become an overly entitled gaming public.