Recently we experienced E3 2018. As I stated in my E3 2018 post, I thought this was an exceptional year for the show. The best I’ve seen in years actually. As with any E3, many announcements were made. And as with many if not most gaming announcements, there was some controversy. This is of course because entertainment is subjective and people always have different opinions and preferences when it comes to their entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what’s become a huge problem in the gaming community is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.
Let’s be very clear, when talking specifically about game design choices such as mechanics, genre, and art style, there are very few wrong opinions. As an example, some people like their games in first person. Some prefer them in third. While there are certainly good and bad arguments in support of both, neither can be said to be objectively right or wrong. When talking about issues not related to design choices, there are certainly wrong opinions, such as that it’s not OK for a woman to be on the cover of an FPS game set in WWII. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking specifically about the validity of differing opinions on completely subjective topics within the world of game design.
Everyone has the right to an opinion and everyone has the right to voice that opinion. But what’s become the norm is people trying to stop other people from voicing their opposing subjective opinion. This is a problem for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re not right. Your opinion is an opinion. The opposing opinion is an opinion. Neither side has more of a right to voice their opinion than the other outside of more specific contexts, which aren’t relevant to the discussion here. Everyone should be able to voice their opinion on a game’s design choices without being attacked for it. But that’s not even the biggest issue.
A shill is a person who appears/pretends to be a member of the public that is secretly working for a company. Shills use the perception of being a consumer to try to influence other consumers to support a company both financially and critically. The key feature of a shill is that they’re paid by a company to covertly influence the public to support that company. While I don’t like shills, I respect them. Like with any job, they are paid to provide a service and they do it. It’s no different than being a lobbyist, lawyer, or IRS agent. They have a dirty job that often calls for them to act unethically at the expense of hardworking people but it is their job and they do it because they have bills to pay too. But there is no excuse for unlicensed shilling. When a person is not paid by a company and goes out of their way to defend them and argue for them against other consumers, it’s not only illogical but also counterproductive for consumers as a whole. Getting paid to do a job is sensible. Doing a job for free is the height of stupidity. This is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.
Negative reception isn’t a bad thing for consumers. In fact, it’s an objectively good thing. When people send out angry tweets, write critical blog posts, post negative remarks on Reddit, and make dissenting YouTube videos, that’s a good thing for consumers. Even when you disagree with the negative opinions voiced, it’s still good for you as a consumer. Realistically speaking, larger studios and publishers no longer go out of business due to lack of sales. EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Sony, and so on aren’t going anywhere. There are too many power house franchises and so many customers worldwide that it would be almost impossible for any of these larger companies to go bankrupt. Studios within those companies like Visceral Games can be shut down, but that’s not a question of financials. It’s simply management making decisions about the future direction of the company. What that means is that there is no excuse to defend these larger companies because the longevity of their business is in no way affected by consumers posting their views, whether positive or negative, on social media.
The benefits of negative opinions being pushed out on social media is that companies respond to them in a number of ways, that either help all consumers or at least the unhappy ones without harming the ones that weren’t unhappy. Negative reception causes prices to drop faster. Negative reception causes free additional content to be released. Negative reception adds additional gameplay options to games to meet demands. Negative reception almost never harms players, unless it’s so bad that a game gets cancelled because of it, which is very rare in the AAA space. So there’s really no excuse to fight against other consumers about opposing opinions on social media because you’re only harming yourself in the long run by removing cause for these companies to grant extra boons to the entire public.
I’m of course talking about larger studios only. Indie studios and games work a bit differently because of limited budgets and manpower so in many, but not all, situations there is a valid reason to shill for them. It’s very possible that enough negative reception could kill off an indie studio by driving it into bankruptcy. So let’s be very clear about the context of this discussion and stay focused on larger studios and projects.
Two notable examples of unlicensed shilling I saw during this year’s E3 surrounded Smash Bros Ultimate and Cyberpunk 2077. The reception to the Smash Bros Ultimate announcement(s) were overwhelmingly positive. This game has every character that’s ever been in the franchise returning for free with no paid DLC, as of yet announced, plus new characters and stages. This is great news for all Smash Bros. fans. But let’s not pretend like the Smash Bros. franchise has a perfect track record and that the team hasn’t screwed many players over throughout the franchise. I’m a Roy main. It’s been 10 years since I could use my main. Do you know why Roy is back? It’s not because for the past 10 years me and people like me have been silent and not voiced our anger about our mains not being available. It’s because we were vocal about it. There’s no paid DLC characters in this Smash Bros. like there were in the last one. Do you know why? It’s not because Nintendo decided to be benevolent this time around. It’s because a large number of people voiced their anger over this issue since the last game. It was the voicing of negative opinions that made Smash Bros. Ultimate the great game it will be. Not the positive opinions and the shills defending everything Nintendo does like mindless drones. Negative posts made the franchise better. Unlicensed shilling made it worse.
A lot of people are angry about Waluigi not being playable in this latest Smash Bros. Personally I don’t care about this topic but I respect their desire to have him playable and I support them voicing that opinion. Yet tons of people have gone out of their way to try to put down the pro-Waluigi crowd from voicing their desires. Why? What do you gain from telling people “he’s already an assist trophy”? With enough support of the issue, Nintendo may patch in Waluigi as playable later. Why try to prevent this? Why even get involved? Nintendo doesn’t need your help. They’re a multi-billion dollar company with teams of lawyers, PR reps, and marketing teams. There is no reason for you to come to their aid. If anything, you should be helping your fellow consumers have their needs met. Nintendo will be just fine even if millions of angry tweets are posted calling for Waluigi to be playable.
To clarify, I’m advocating people voicing their negative opinions about game design choices. Not attacking private citizens who happen to be game developers. Attacking people in their private lives for doing their jobs is never OK. I don’t think Sakurai is a god like too many people do, but there is no justification for attacking him personally for any choices made concerning Smash Bros. If you aren’t happy with something tweet Nintendo and the Smash Bros. account and keep your posts focused on the game. If you see someone attacking a developer personally, you should come to that developer’s defense. That’s not what I’m talking about here.
I would say Cyberpunk 2077 had an even more polarizing announcement during E3 this year. CD Projeckt Red announced that the game would be a first person shooter. Many people, myself included, were unhappy about this and took the time to voice that opinion. Many people were also very happy about the announcement. The difference is that the pro-FPS crowd went out of their way to attack those of us voicing our desire for the game to be in third person. Now there are many legitimate reasons to be unhappy with this game being an FPS game. If you want me to go into those in detail, let me know in the comments. But it’s not the purpose of this post so I’m not going to do that here. The real issue is that so many people felt like it was necessary to come to CD Projekt Red’s aid over this issue. No one is worried about the game being cancelled. No one is concerned that the negative reception may get the studio shut down. These are not issues on the table for discussion. What is on discussion is CD Projekt Red adding the option to play in third person. What is on the table is many people not buying the game at release because it’s in first person, causing the price to fall faster for everyone. Neither of these things are/would be bad for consumers. So why try to stop them from happening? The first doesn’t affect you if you want to play the game in first person and the second helps you if you aren’t a day one buyer regardless of the reason why you aren’t a day one buyer. So what is to be gained from attacking your fellow consumers for having an opinion you don’t agree with?
Some people will argue that CD Projekt Red could end up changing the game into a third person only game with enough negative reception as a justification for their unlicensed shilling, but that’s an illogical conclusion. The game is already being made in third person. CD Projekt Red has stated that they intentionally built the map to work “better” in first person. Many people are excited to play the game in first person and have stated as much. Even with all the negative reception in the world, what would be the logic in completely removing the first person gameplay option altogether? That wouldn’t make any sense. What can, and should, happen is that both first and third person gameplay options are made available like in Star Wars Battlefront and later versions of Skyrim. Why anyone would be against giving players the option to play in their preferred view is beyond me.
The point is that you stand to gain for every negative post made about a game and gain literally nothing from the positive ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t post when you’re happy about something a studio announces because you definitely should. These are hardworking people who take pride in their work and enjoy being commended for it. But that in no way means that people who aren’t happy about something in a game shouldn’t be allowed to voice their opinions as well. And all consumers stand to benefit from those negative opinions being posted. So please stop shilling for free. It’s serves you in no way, makes you look like an idiot for being illogical, and costs you possible free benefits such as free additional content and multiple gameplay options in the long run. I liken unlicensed shilling to a person defending the integrity of a pickpocket from an angry mob while the pickpocket is stealing said person’s wallet. Defend your fellow consumers, not the companies that don’t need your help to stay in business.