Making Gaming Better

Written by Cliff Harris

April 24, 2008 | 14:57

Tags: #cliff-harris #column #community #demo #developer #forum #guest #list #n00b #smacktalk

Companies: #indie #penny-arcade #positech

Gamers like to complain. I like to complain too. When you care about something, of course you are the first person to point out its problems and what needs fixing. Most of the time, we assume that fixing those things is somebody else's job, but actually there's a lot that we can all do to make gaming better for everyone – it isn't all just on us developer-types.

So, here is my personal list of things we can all do to make gaming a better experience.

One: Don't act like a jerk online.
This is probably the biggest one. Few other hobbies or sports lead to as much swearing, abuse and general yobbish behaviour as online gaming. Give someone a mouse and keyboard and an anonymous Internet account and watch the sparks fly. We've all seen people in online games act like a jerk, and to be honest we have probably all lost it once or twice ourselves, but it doesn't have to be that way. Rule of thumb; don't do anything in an online game you wouldn't do if it was real-life game. Do you hurl abuse when you lose at tennis? I hope not. Don't respond to abuse with more abuse.

Two: Confront bad behaviour online
If someone joins an online game with a racist or homophobic name, or hurls such abuse, tell the server admin. Get them kicked. And tell them you are doing so. People naturally keep acting like jerks until society stops them. Don't be part of the silent majority, be the vocal majority and confront people who are ruining the game for everyone. Not everyone online is eight years old – and immaturity is no excuse. Criticise bad behaviour and most people will support you.

Three: Buy the games
Piracy is a topic in itself. It goes without saying that devs need to eat and if a game doesn't sell you can kiss goodbye to support, sequels and similar games. If you are playing a game you haven't bought, you are invisible as far as the developer is concerned. Only by buying the games you like can you possibly encourage similar, good quality games to be made. And confront other people who are pirating games too. You are subsidising them getting free games, so make sure they know how you feel about such freeloading. People asking for cracks on developer forums are the worst of all – report them, and tell them it's not acceptable.

Four: Don't believe the hype
Why are games hyped? Because it works! Why are games based on movie licenses and released without a demo? Because it works! The only way this will stop is when gamers start seeing through the hype and demanding a playable demo before buying. If screenshots are provided by the developer, can you trust them? Gameplay videos are a much better option, but nothing beats a playable demo. Don't be tricked into pre-ordering a game nobody has played yet. You deserve to see what you are buying, but you have to demand it.

Five: Seek out niche games
Have you played Tower of Goo? What about Lux? or Pontiflex? These are awesome games that you won't see in many magazines, and certainly not on the covers. Contrary to what some people claim, PC gaming isn't dying – we're just getting fewer 'triple A' mega budget games. That doesn't mean there aren't tons of fun games waiting for you to try. Go beyond the front page and dig around to find the smaller budget games – chances are there are a ton of niche games out there you would love whose developers just don't have the PR budget to reach you.
Six: Don't defend the indefensible
We hate it when gaming gets attacked in the media, but do we ever stop to see if they have a point? Manhunt, GTA, Bully – these are the games that attracted big media attention were labelled as gratuitously violent. The developers know that they will be able to shock the media into giving them free PR, and know that every gamer will leap to their defence even when the game in question isn't well liked (GTA being an exception).

To the mainstream media, Manhunt is a typical PC game, though we know better. Don't defend that view without thinking – be the first to stand up and say this is not true. Point out what is good about gaming and don't be tricked into playing the Manhunt PR department's game. Games sold purely due to shocking violence should not be the public face of gaming.

Seven: Embrace newcomers
No other hobby or sport I'm aware of is as antagonistic to newcomers as gaming. I know when I started out in archery I was treated courteously and politely by everyone, though maybe always holding deadly weaponry helps.

The sad fact is that "n00b" is considered an insult in games. People who are new to the game need advice and help, and it's in your interests to make them feel welcome. There are lots of different demands on peoples' time, so if they show an interest in gaming, especially the same genres you enjoy, you should be keen to make them feel welcome. And again, confront this behaviour in others. Embrace the n00bs!

Eight: Try to buy direct
Most people know that buying direct from the developer earns the dev a bigger share than buying from a store, but do you have any idea how much difference it can be? In some cases it's a tenfold difference! I've nothing against publishers and retailers, but the whole system collapses if the guys making the games don't do well. It makes a huge difference if you can buy direct, and if your favourite developer doesn't sell direct, email them and let them know you would buy direct if you could. It takes five minutes.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my list, and I expect a lot of people will imagine I'm a pipe-and-slippers dad figure cursing "those darned kids", but think about it. The gaming community is made up of just the sort of people reading this article. If we want to improve gaming, there's nothing to stop us all playing our part.

What's missing from the list? Tell us in the forums.

Image courtesy of Comedy Central.
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