As much as fans of the gaming persuasion enjoy their favorite hobby, they often find themselves at odds with those responsible for creating their pastimes. Publishers, and sometimes developers, oftentimes find themselves in the role of the villain. Whether this is due to cash-grab DLC policies, ridiculous DRM, and sometimes poor development choices, gamers often struggle to be seen as an audience rather than simply a prospective pile of cash.
One would imagine that producers of a product would take into a account the interests of their target audience. After all, if the fans want it and they give it to them the money must flow! Right?
But, frequently this isn’t how it works. Numerous factors are at work in a game’s development and distribution, and the fans don’t always have as much of an imapct as they’d like to think they do. Let’s look at some of the prominent examples in gaming history both recent and relatively old to see what really happened.
First, whenever someone mentions a fan drive to influence gaming, the topic of Operation Rainfall must come up. It’s kind of like a law. It is, after all, one of the best publicized fan drives to ever occur. It will also claim to be the most successful. For those not familiar, Operation Rainfall petitioned Nintendo to localize Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower.
As most know, those games were released in Japan and then Europe – and North America was conspicuously excluded. Fans took to the Internet in a storm, spawning Operation Rainfall. Eventually, all three games saw North American release. Operation Rainfall met with success – or did it?
Nintendo of America, after releasing the games, took to the pulpit to set the record state. In response to being asked how fan drives such as Rainfall affected their decisions, NoA president Reggie Fils-Aime replied, “I have to tell you it doesn’t affect what we do.” Extrapolating further, he says:
I’m paid to make sure that we’re driving the business forward?so we’re aware of what’s happening, but in the end we’ve got to do what’s best for the company. The thing we know [about petitions] is that 100,000 signatures doesn’t mean 100,000 sales.
Seems pretty clear cut. Whether Nintendo wants to avoid the idea that the fans influenced their decisions or it’s simply the truth that fans had no effect, their public stance doesn’t carry any ambiguity. However, as Nintendo only localized these games because they knew they would sell in North America, can we really say passionate voices of fans meant nothing here? It is difficult to be sure.
While petitions may or may not influence so strongly the business decisions of various companies, fan support can still be influential in other ways. Moving back in time from this popular example, we encounter the beast known as Neverwinter Nights. Released in June of 2002, it was hyped and hailed as a masterpiece of 3D graphics and sound for the Western RPG. Its gameplay was similarly praised, but the main story of the game was somewhat panned. Usually the kiss of death for an RPG’s longevity, BioWare released the Aurora toolset free with the game.
Giving the gamers the power to make their own adventures with a relatively easy-to-use platform transformed the Neverwinter experience. The Neverwinter Vault quickly sprung into existence. Players modded and modded and modded. Before the game’s glory days ended, Neverwinter Nights saw over 4,000 community-created adventures, item packs, and other enhancements. BioWare themselves also released many iterations of the game, providing players with “premium” content to add to the game.
Going beyond the topic of fans influencing releases, Neverwinter Nights was a game that thrived on its fanbase. Beyond the official expansions and premium offerings were literally hundreds of hours of fan-made content. Much of it was very good, and some of it comparable to (or better than) professionally made games.
The game survived and earned a lifespan far beyond BioWare’s release calendar. Even when Neverwinter Nights 2 was put out by Obsidian, it took a substantially longer amount of time for that community to focus efforts on the new sequel thanks to the thriving nature of the original.
The success enjoyed by Neverwinter Nights, one of the earlier PC games to be packaged with free modding tools, has since been echoed by others. Nexusmods now serves as a major modding hub, and the Steam Workshop (despite Valve’s paid mod miss) is a fantastic center of user-created content.
Games seem to rise and fall out of popularity fairly quickly, but the ongoing success of Skyrim be attributed at least in part to its fervent modding community. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 thrive on their fans in this regard.
Looking back, it seems that a fan’s best chance to support a game is still to do whatever they can. Whether that be contributing support to a release campaign or participating in the modding community, fans can’t lose heart. Though mods definitely extend a game’s life, the power of a fan-driven petition for a game can’t be overlooked no matter what the execs in power say.
It is the responsibility of gaming companies to run a business, and if a business can reap the benefits of listening to the fans, it could become a standard practice. Money speaks, after all, but in the meantime fans can only stay as vocal as possible. Only then will they be given a chance to make a positive difference in this medium.
Maybe then Nintendo will release that Pokemon MMO.
Have any other examples of how fans help the games they love? Let us know in the comments!