Three days ago, Riot Games released an updated version of League of Legends character Fiora. The gameplay changes involved making the fencing character a bit "more of a skirmishing duelist and less of an assassin." The character's visual style was also changed a bit, in both her base design, additional skins, and splash artwork.
Looking on the official forums, you'll find a lot of discontent about the visual changes. Some fans hate the new face, which makes Fiora look more like a stoic, French aristocrat with angular features. Others dislike the new model, which tweaks the design for certain skins. The dissatisfied fans want the old model, the old face, the old hair style, or small changes to the current model. Some lament Fiora's changes as a "SJW crusade" affecting all of Riot's redesigns. (The last one is a bit hard to swallow, considering one of the other recent Champion Updates was Miss Fortune, who remained largely the same.)
This isn't the first time Riot has updated and redone a character, Champion Updates actually happen on a regular basis. This is also not the first time that fans have been less than pleased with certain changes; you can't please everyone and Riot's redesigns are no different.
What situations like this illustrate are the limits of the concept of "creative freedom" when it comes to commercial art. (Something I've written about before.) Some fans dislike the changes made to Fiora, despite the fact that those changes were made by specific choices of the creators. Their feedback is an understandable thing. If you dislike what a creator has done, via a release or preview, you should make your voice heard. As long as you do so in a civil manner, rock out. More speech is a good thing. Saying "I wish this design did not exist" or "I want more designs like this" is speech. "I wish they updated a different character", "I wish they used these resources elsewhere", "I don't like this plot point", or "I think this mechanic reinforces certain themes" is all speech.
Others don't have to agree and they can argue the merits of their personal position. That is, theoretically, why things like forums and other websites (including USgamer) exist: to connect fans to each other and creators. The internet has allowed your feedback and criticism to reach those behind your favorite games almost immediately. It's a power than can be used for good or ill.
I find that when these discussions happen online, "creative freedom" pops up when the changes being asked for are those the commenter disagrees with. It's intended as a hammer to shut down speech. In turn, when that commenter wants a specific change, they have no issue demanding that it be made. We are all customers or potential customers; it only makes sense to offer our input into the development process. But it's disingenuous to say the creator must be unfettered only when it's not beneficial to you. I'm sure there are those who prize pure creative freedom above all else, but I've rarely found them when it comes to discussing entertainment. Most feedback is a statement that something could be better if only it was done this way.
Creators have always had and will always have the ability to listen to your criticism or ignore it. That is the creative freedom they have, not the freedom from any feedback they may disagree with. It might touch them financially depending on which direction they choose to go, but the freedom remains. This is why criticism is not censorship. Those fans above who dislike the changes are not censoring the creative talents of Riot's artists. League of Legends is a commercial work and every choice is a compromise of creative and business realities. In this case, Riot made a design choice for creative and gameplay reasons and now they must decide if further changes or a reversion is needed.
In this case, Riot has said that it hears the feedback from fans. Will the changes certain fans want be coming? That's another story.
"We'll be following up later in the coming months most likely with a dev blog or other such post going into why as artists we're shifting gears towards a more stylized approach to character design," wrote senior concept artist Michael Maurino on Reddit. "This should help to inform people as to why we do what we do. Right now though, I'll clarify some things."
"We are updating some of the assets (splash, models, etc) to adjust for more of a softer take. That being said, we most likely will not be moving the hair part to where it was originally. There were also some deliberate design choices made there that can be elaborated on in later posts."
"To make a long story short, we have a lot of design philosophies surrounding characters as it relates to read, clarity, hierarchy, intellectual property development/world building, creating distinctiveness in roster, etc," he added. "There's very deliberate decisions we make along the way of any character design. I'd like for us to expound upon that and do a deep dive to show players the reasoning behind our decisions."
If you have something to say about a game's art, story, mechanics, or whatever, say it. As long as you do so in a civil manner, then you are doing the right thing. Speech is good. More speech is great. And occasionally, businesses will make decisions about the things they create and distribute based on your speech and the speech of others. They may release more. They may retract or change what they've already put out into the world. That's their prerogative. That's the way the system works. That's commercial art.