As the next-generation of consoles continue to be released, gamers will be able to enjoy new, innovative experiences they have not seen on current systems, but is this time of technology change also a time for gamers to think about changing?
Examiner.com conducted a series of exclusive interviews with the CEO of First Post Studios Jacob Robinson, EA Sports communications specialist Brad Hilderbrand and Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.
Since the debut of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, technology, developers and content has changed, and it has certainly had an impact on gamers.
Robinson said one of the biggest changes he sees with gaming is how there is more competition in the industry than there was seven years ago.
"Gaming culture has changed a bit since the early debut of these systems and most noticeably with competition.
"Competitive gaming has grown over the years on console and so what used to be more of a 'casual console' gaming experience is now closer to that of PC audience of gamers who were often categorized as being hardcore gamers.
"You no longer have to be traveling around the world for tournaments in order to be considered a professional gamer," Robinson said.
Hilderbrand said he thinks the past seven years will be known as the time when gaming became mainstream and that occurrence has also had an impact on gamer's expectations.
"I think this will be remembered as the generation where gaming went mainstream. Many of us who grew up playing video games graduated from school and reached the age where we were driving a lot of tastes and culture.
"Over the past 7 or so years you’ve seen 'nerdy' things become cool (video games, comic books, etc.), and as a result those of us who grew up in this culture find ourselves in an unfamiliar position as taste makers. In that respect I think gamers are demanding more as consumers, and for the most part that’s a good thing," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter said the evolution of gamer's expectations is due to how publishers have treated players in the past.
"I think gamers have grown accustomed to a lot more content being provided for their $60 now than in the past, and I certainly believe they have a high level of expectation that content offered in the future will be of higher quality and quantity. This can be called 'entitlement' or merely 'high expectations.'
"The publishers have trained them to expect more and more, and have coddled them whenever they complain (look at the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy), so they have learned that if they whine enough, the publishers will give in," Pachter said.
He went on to talk about how players have the right to receive high quality content, but they have taken things too far in certain scenarios.
"These guys are paying good money for entertainment, and they absolutely have a right to be entertained.
"However, it’s their ever-increasing expectations that are causing problems, as games are taking far longer to develop, publishers are making less money (and fewer games), and quality developers like the BioWare founders are retiring because the constant whining wore them down.
"I think this is like people embracing movie downloads or Redbox, and killing Blockbuster in the process—we save money in the near term, but have fewer overall choices in the long run," Pachter said.
Hilderbrand talked about how gamer's have the right to expect high quality products and that the rising budgets invested in games are an issue.
"We expect games to be more engaging and impressive than they were 10 years ago, and we have every right to feel that way. The danger now is that budgets are getting bigger and it’s tougher for a lot of publishers to take risks on new IPs and unproven genres.
"We’ve heard a lot about the death of the 'AA' game as the industry requires more and more big-budget, proven commodities to keep things afloat.
"I want there to still be a place for those games (think 'Psychonauts,' 'Mirror’s Edge,' etc.) but I worry about the long-term health of the industry if games need to sell 4 million copies and spawn major franchises in order to be successful," Hilderbrand said.
Robinson also attributed some of the current gaming climate to how gamers have been treated by various publishers over time.
"I also believe gamers are feeling like victims of publishers in regards to the gaming experience and their business models. Thanks to the DLC and account capabilities of these systems, many publishers are creating these velvet rope experiences where only those who pay for certain premium content can have access to it, whereas in the PS2 and Xbox days, you went to the store, bought your game and played it.
"This reminds me of the MMO experience all over again on PC where publishers decided to do the pay-to-play subscription model where a gamer would have to purchase a boxed game and have to then pay to play it after the free trial would run out, which always seemed a bit backwards to me after I shelled out $50-60 to play the game.
"But, there are always two sides to the coin. If publishers did not evolve their business models to provide premium content options, I don't believe they'd be able to maintain providing triple A content and we'd end up seeing a lot more of casual games and less quality core games," Robinson said.
Cyber-bullying is a topic that has seemed to be a problem in younger ages and was more exclusive to social networks; however, with the evolution of online gaming, that issue has spread to gaming in some respects.
Robinson said he has never seen or heard more offensive things in his two decades of being involved with games.
"I've been playing online games for almost 20 years now, and I can say I've seen more profanity, racial slur and bullying in the past 3-4 years than my entire time playing online.
"Typically you'd have profanities and bullying from sore losers. I believe the cause is geographic cultural differences. You will often find that players flaming another play aren't even from the United States, they are from Portugal, Russia, Poland or Mexico," Robinson said.
Hilderbrand said one way or the other; the Internet and online gameplay have changed the industry forever.
"For good or bad, the Internet in general and online gaming in particular have developed reputations where people will say anything, even if it’s utterly repugnant.
"On the one hand, it’s freedom of speech at its absolute base; you are (mostly) anonymous, you can say nearly anything you want and there’s practically no enforcement. At that point, it’s completely up to the individual to decide how they’re going to comport themselves amongst the faceless masses," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter thought one of the biggest issues with online gaming are the children who are being exposed to such adult language.
"The tragedy of your question is that “kids” are allowed to play these games. One of the reasons games like 'Call of Duty' are M-rated is that there is a recognition about online profanity and bullying that goes on during multiplayer," Pachter said.
Hilderbrand did go on to say that no matter what medium a person is on, there would always be bullies and people who are looking to ridicule just for the sake of doing it.
"First off I’ll just say that, regardless of the medium, there will always be bullies. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the human experience. In that respect, individuals need to take whatever precautions they can to protect themselves.
"In the case of online gaming that may involve muting other players or outright refusing to play games at all where such bullying communities are present. In those cases I think it’s the responsibility of parents to know what games their kids are interested in, understand what those online communities look like, and make informed decisions.
"On the other hand, people who are just vile online don’t deserve to get away with it. Stronger reporting measures need to be in place and more stringent punishments need to exist for those who are being overtly offensive or who are being pure bullies.
"There’s no excuse for treating someone with no respect just because they can’t actually see your face. The 'Golden Rule' analogy is trite, but it’s also fitting. Do you really want people berating you and saying awful things to you when you’re playing a game? There’s really no excuse for being a jerk online just because you can," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter said certain people who use such offensive language should be banned, and that the onus is also on the parents to monitor their kid's activities.
"It would be great if bad people were banned from XBL and PSN, but they generally are not. It would also be great if parents were educated and didn’t let 9 year-olds play 'CoD' multiplayer, but if you listen to all the high-pitched voices in the game, it’s likely that more of them are underage boys then mature women.
"Parents should know what their kids are doing, and unfortunately, there are a lot who don’t bother to ask or check it out themselves. Of course, there are occasions where people are 'joking', but the lack of sensitivity, particularly when involving women, is really striking," Pachter said.
Robinson said the vast differences among cultures, and people who troll games just to ruin experiences for others, are two contributing factors to various online topics.
"Now that Internet bandwidth speeds have increased globally and it's not so difficult for someone across the globe to be able to have a ping under 200ms on a USA server, it's very common for these players to interact with USA.
"What's more challenging is that a lot of these cultures collide due to the diversity in sense of humor, language, and how they handle competitive behavior, and then of course you have the "trolls" who simply want to ruin another player's game since they just want to prank and frustrate other players.
"When it comes to who's responsible, I believe the responsibility will always be the parents when it comes to a child consuming content and interacting with other kids or adults alike.
"What's unfortunate is not all of these individuals doing the bullying and profanities are kids, many are grown adults who should know better, which only then makes it the responsibility of the publisher or developer to moderate these experiences, since who else can control an adult's behavior?" Robinson said.
Xbox Live and voice chatting has changed the industry and online gaming forever, which for the most part is a good thing, but then again, it can be an area that is abused.
Robinson said he believes Xbox Live and voice chatting have significantly helped in the competitive and social gaming sectors.
"I believe it has helped immensely when it comes to competitive gaming and social. The current generation of gamers really prefer to voice chat, and so it helps when you can plug-in your microphone into your controller and play as a team in a game seamlessly. In fact, without voice chat in console gaming, it's near impossible to coordinate anything.
"Most gamers have gotten used to the 'mute' functionality in games and often disable it before even playing a game, not only because they don't want to hear some random guy screaming, but because they are also concerned about it using their bandwidth and reducing their ping to server," Robinson said.
Hilderbrand also agreed that both components have changed gaming significantly, and really, there are steps people can take to avoid offensive treatment online.
"Voice chat has fundamentally changed gaming, and it’s something that will be with us forever. The funny thing about it is, I really don’t know anyone who sits in general chat during a game (outside of the titles which require a lot of teamwork); everyone either creates a group chat with friends or mutes the other players.
"When I play random games online I’ll create a party chat even if I’m playing alone just so I don’t have to listen to strangers question my sexuality or imply terrible things about my mother.
"When voice chat was introduced I don’t think anyone even fathomed to what extreme it would be abused, but it’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle now. When it’s just me and my friends playing together it’s fine, because we all know where the boundaries are, but it seems like all rules of civility go out the window when you jump into a lobby with random players.
"I think the simplest solution is switching from an “opt out” to an “opt in” model when it comes to voice chat. When you start up a game with random opponents everyone should be muted automatically, and if you want to chat then you can manually unmute the other players. There can even be an “unmute all” option to save time," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter also said he mostly sees the good in voice chatting and the use it provides to those who are playing co-op together.
"I think voice chat generally makes games much more fun, and it’s obviously a lot better experience if a player can coordinate with his team when playing multiplayer or co-op.
"I am pretty much disgusted by the few who behave badly, so I rarely play multiplayer or co-op unless it’s with people I know. I don’t think it’s right for people to ever be rude, period, so nobody should have carte blanche to be offensive," Pachter said.
The consumers' voice in any medium is often powerful and correct in many instances, but amidst some people's passions, can result in lines being crossed and outrageous comments being said.
Robinson said players often take things too far on forums and comment sections mostly because of the anonymity factor protecting them.
"Gamers often take it too far on forums, in comment threads and in social streams because there's a sense of security with anonymity and with privacy laws, that won't change anytime soon.
"With the amount of time that gamers invest in each of these games, they often know them inside and out better than the developer, and they know this. The common scenario I see is that a consumer feels like they will never be heard, and so they immediately intensify their post beyond what's really required.
"It's easy to say that gamers should show some more self-restraint with comments online, but this is more of a behavioral issue that goes beyond gamers, even with individuals in the corporate world emailing their own co-workers.
"Interaction via email is nothing like interacting with another individual face-to-face. Most individuals would never say the things they write in an email to a person they're face-to-face with, and unfortunately behavior cannot be changed easily," Robinson said.
Hilderbrand talked about what is truly at the heart of a comment section, but admitted people often take things to a different level with what they say online.
"I’ve had several discussions with journalist friends about comments sections and their effect on online writing. In their noblest form comments sections provide readers a place to have lively discussions with both the author of a story and fellow readers, and it’s a place where ideas can be exchanged and healthy debate can flow.
"Sometimes this actually happens, and sites like Penny Arcade have done a great job of fostering a mostly thoughtful, civil community that show how comment sections can be a great thing.
"Unfortunately, in a lot of cases people use the comments section to say terrible things about people they’ve never met that they’d never say in person. I’ve been told several times that I, along with everyone I work with, need to be fired, humiliated or tortured and killed in the worst way imaginable. I’m not saying you can’t criticize, but make it constructive and useful rather than personal and vengeful," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter acknowledged the anonymity factor as being responsible for most malicious comments that are made, but praised sites that do not allow people to comment anonymously.
"Anonymity provides a safe haven for jerks to say nasty things. Facebook has largely solved the problem by requiring a real identity, and people tend to behave appropriately when they can be found.
"I think that websites that encourage commentary should require an email address, at a minimum, and should require the commenter to post his email address so that the offended party can respond directly. That would cut down on the jerk factor. I disagree that any of us have a responsibility to be discreet; rather, we have an obligation to be civil. There’s a difference," Pachter said.
A blog was posted on IGN back in November that some of you may remember, and it talked about some of the malicious things people were saying to writers who reviewed "Black Ops 2" and enjoyed the game.
An except reads, "gamers today are ruthless and just plain mean. As I was reading through comments of the 'Black Ops 2' review, I was sad to see what our community has become. We have turned into the very thing that made fun of us no more than 5 years ago. People came in (in the comment section of some Call of Duty reviews)...putting every person down just because they like Call of Duty. And it isn't just in the comments, but all outlets of gaming."
For full context of the post, you can read the rest of it here.
Robinson said how people handle comments from consumers is variable, and with so many platforms and titles for people to choose from, it sparks a bit of the outlandish comments people share.
"We're all human, and how we take insults varies from person to person depending on how well they can handle them or deflect those comments. One part of this story is that there are often many choices for a user. PC or Mac, Android or iPhone, 'Call of Duty' or 'BF3,' 'Call of Duty' or 'Halo,' and so forth. This is also the same case of what we see with religion (God or No God) and politics (Romney or Obama).
"With diversity comes conflict, and often freedom of choice has its consequences. Individuals will spend endless hours trying to justify to someone why they should make the same choices as they did, and these debates will often become heated full of insults. What we're seeing with gaming is just a different venue for what already happens elsewhere.
"When it comes to conflict, it's the responsibility of the content creator to be able to deflect and handle these insults. If you're going to produce content for public consumption, whether it be an article, a game or a film, you should always be prepared for the ugly from individuals who have no care about you or others, and have no qualms speaking their mind, even if it's because they just had a bad day and want to try to ruin yours," Robinson said.
Hilderbrand said it's easy to be a troll and it's easy to try and offend someone, but those who do that don't seem to have a negative effect on the industry.
"It’s easy to be a troll and it’s even easier to do it in a video game. It requires next to no effort to say something that will offend someone, and anytime someone tries to fire back the conversation almost always devolves into pointless insults and name-calling.
"Beyond that, there’s the contingent of people who have been gaming since “before it was cool” and therefore hold some degree of resentment towards those who are newer to the hobby or who like “bad” games from “evil” publishers. It’s the same thing that happens in other forms of entertainment, so we’d be naïve to think gaming would be able to avoid it.
"The good news is that this push back from the “real” gamers doesn’t seem to be doing too much harm to the industry as more and more folks are playing and enjoying games. I think most people in the community are still welcoming and inclusive, and I hope that continues going forward.
"It’s fine if you think 'Call of Duty' is derivative and boring now, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to agree with you and that the opinions of those who disagree are less valid," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter said the harshness of some people's words is born out of passion, and that those over-the-top opinions are found in most areas of life.
"I think the nastiness is born out of passion, and unfortunately, many people have the view that if they really love something (political party, religion, country, or favorite gaming system), anyone who has a different view deserves harsh criticism.
"This phenomenon furnishes the basis for partisan political radio, religious zealotry, jingoism, and video game comments, and it’s very common.
"I get harsh criticism every time I suggest that Nintendo won’t win the next console war, and every time I comment about charging more for games. My favorite weapon is the “block” feature on Twitter, as it lets me send a message to the idiots who cross the line there," Pachter said.
Finally, how gamers change as the next-generation arrives, what the upcoming systems will all feature and what's next from content is something most are wondering about.
Robinson said what's next for consoles is difficult to say, but he believes there is something to be had with cloud gaming.
"It's tough to tell. I believe cloud gaming is still something to keep an eye on and with it what service offering types that may come with.
"Communication options are still an unknown, whether users will start using web cams more on console as they have on desktop games, live gaming feeds via live streaming services, and whether or not they'll move to more mobile devices like tablets for gaming," Robinson said.
Hilderbrand talked about what he would like to see from consoles, and hopes they move toward something that brings all the entertainment in a living room together with one device.
"From a technological standpoint I really want to see something that brings my whole living room together and puts everything I want (games, movies, TV shows, etc.) in one box. We’re heading that way already, but when my console, my TV and my phone are truly connected I’ll be a happy camper.
"As far as the culture goes, I just hope we all take a step back from the general cynicism and negativity that permeates the industry and enjoy games for what they are; fun distractions from everyday life. I hope everyone takes a second to ask themselves a simple question; “Do I love gaming?” If you do, why? Celebrate those reasons and play the games that make you happy.
"If you don’t love games then ask yourself why not and what went wrong. Lastly, be solutions oriented; instead of simply listing out problems, find realistic ways to fix them that improve the industry and make it a little better for all of us," Hilderbrand said.
Pachter said gamers should take a good look at their behaviors and pointed to the "Mass Effect 3" situation as something that was overblown.
"Gamers should be aware that their behavior is driving others to stop participating. If fewer people participate, choices will be limited, and everyone loses. In particular, developers don’t need the grief, and if they stop making games, everybody loses.
"The attitude about the 'Mass Effect 3' ending is a perfect example—the developers both retired a few months after receiving harsh criticism about the ending to a >90 rated game.
"I’m dismayed by the lack of self-awareness of the small and vocal minority who drove the developers to quit, and at the lack of outrage by the vast majority who will be deprived of future enjoyment when they don’t get the same quality of games going forward.
"The community’s anger should be inwardly focused, and the majority shouldn’t tolerate bullying by the minority. I have no problem with civil disagreement, but resorting to ad hominem argument to defend a position is often over-the-top, and always unwarranted," Pachter said.
Next-generation gaming will have many things to offer gamers from all walks of life, but as we go forward, let's keep in mind the one thing we all have in common and why we are all fans of this industry.
We are here because we love it.