When The Conversation Gets Tiring: On Easy Modes, Epic Games Store Exclusivity, and Everything Else

Let's talk about talking.

War may never change, but the topic of that war can certainly shuffle around. Currently, the gaming industry is in the middle of two different heated discussions. On one side, the community feuds with developers and publishers that have decided to bring their games to the Epic Games Store. On the other, FromSoftware's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has us arguing again about difficulty modes and accessibility.

I'm not going to directly address either of those topics here. Both topics require enough discussion and nuance that it would make this twice as long; instead, we here at USG will likely tackle them in standalone articles and ongoing news coverage. Instead, I'm going to talk about talking about these topics and others like them.

The previous Borderlands games pay for the sins of the newest game.

First up, is the act of actually talking. Feedback is important in the gaming community and industry. If you like or dislike something, by all means, let the people behind that thing know when it's relevant. If you feel Epic Games is going the wrong way about challenging Steam, you can certainly say that on articles, forums, and Reddit threads on the topic. If you feel it's great Steam finally has a challenger that is nudging them out of a non-competitive rut, you can say that too. If you feel Sekiro needs accessibility options, or even different difficulty modes, you can say that.

If done in a civil manner, that's your right. That's what this is all about. Feedback like this is one way you have an ongoing discussion with the rest of the community, developers, and publishers. I may not agree with you, but at least if you're not throwing shit and yelling in my face, we might have a conversation. Worst-case scenario, we go our separate ways. And the developer can have a completely different take on the situation from players, one informed on behind-the-scenes knowledge.

Most of this discussion is happening on the internet though. Harassment can be the norm, especially when a throng of angry players have a direct line to who they perceive to be behind a choice. Then on comes a deluge of angry tweets and emails, because everyone has to take their pound of flesh. It can get violent, and many developers simply close ranks and say nothing, hoping to survive the tide. Those who do decide to take it all in, whether on their own or through community teams, still have to sift through the mess, because a large part of invective isn't useful feedback. Anger on its own isn't useful for a developer or publisher trying to fix a problem, it's just catharsis to whoever posted their screed in the first place.

"Oh, did they patch it or something?" | Valve Software

There's also the review bomb, a tactic which sees disgruntled fans descending en masse to post poor reviews on a game, often not even related to the game's quality. Last week, fans review bombed the prior Borderlands games due to the announcement that Borderlands 3 was going to be an Epic Games Store exclusive. These are games that were previously "Positive" on Steam, whose ratings have tanked not because of anything directly related those games. As feedback, it's a poor one, obfuscating the point of user reviews in the first place.

Another thing I tend to find odd is some feedback is treated as an existential threat. Someone will ask for a feature, like the aforementioned easy mode, it is taken as raiders at the gate, baying for the blood of children. I understand the mindset—"I like a thing as it is and if the creators listen to you, I won't have it anymore"—but it misses the point.

Folks should have the ability to ask for the things they want, and they're not coming for you personally. They're trying to communicate their own desires and needs. Some want easier modes, some want harder. Part of our community has disabilities that prevent them from playing the same way you or I do. Some are trying to play games with their kids, or with family members across the globe. Others want to just play alone. We all have different needs and different feedback. That can be important to a developer.

But some are firmly focused on the idea of their potential loss. We had a fairly heated discussion within the USG Slack channel in regards to Fire Emblem, which some believe has suffered overall in its turn towards more casual play. The classic fans believe the strategic focus should be stronger, whereas I argue that Fire Emblem: Awakening opening up is why the series is alive at all. I think the genuine love and endearment of the new audience was worth the addition of the easier mode, new character designs, and focus on relationships. I argue that Intelligent Systems still delivers with games like Fire Emblem: Conquest and classic modes of difficulty, while the classic fans among us pine for the Fire Emblem that would result if the developer wasn't dealing with all of the other stuff. They fear that in reaching a larger audience, Fire Emblem has lost something.

I mean, the Wolf does fight with one arm. | FromSoftware

I feel like the Sekiro discussion is based heavily around this fear. It's only been a decade since the release of Demon's Souls and eight years since Dark Souls acted as a tonal change within the gaming industry. It proved that very hard games could thrive, and created a whole culture around this idea of overcoming. That has become very positive for some folks, and as a result, they equate such feedback as trying to take away all the emotions and memories that surround these "hard" games. I get that, but y'all need to chill.

Developers and publishers do not have to listen to anything. They are perfectly able to take any and all commentary and discussion surrounding their games, print it out, and then toss the reams of paper into an incinerator. This is true even from journalists, streamers, and YouTubers; we in the media have more visibility, but the content of my statement is ultimately the same as yours. It's something for creators to do with as they see fit.

There is literally nothing forcing creators to take feedback seriously. Hell, players of some games have noted that they feel outright ignored. If I point out that a depiction or a scene is racist, a creator is under no obligation to change. If you say, "Hey, this breaks the game!" then it may or may not be addressed in the future. A creator has to deal with the hit (or boost) to their reputation, but they're not forced to do anything.

Waypoint can ask for an easy mode for Sekiro. That's not really a threat to you. It's more visible feedback aimed at FromSoftware, a developer that has made a name for itself by grinding happy players through its digital murder machines. The studio just delivered Sekiro, which is harder than previous Souls games. Does anyone honestly think FromSoftware will add easier modes, while at the same time compromising that ethos? Probably not. And if they do, that's a studio decision made after weighing all the options, and deciding what needs to be done for its personal future. Feedback is the ocean swirling around a creator, but they still are the ones steering the ship.

So calm down. Don't tell folks they can't offer feedback. You can disagree with what they say, but let em say it if they're civil about it. We've all asked for a change in a game once. Do you want Final Fantasy to be turn-based again? Ask for it. Do you want Fallout to be more like the modern entries in the series? Say that. Would you like King of Fighters to be 2D again? Rock out. That's the point. Tell creators what you want and let them make the decision. And tell them in a civil, useful way, not yelling at them to kill themselves or review bombing their past work.

Make the discussion better and it works out for everyone.

Major Game Releases This Week: April 8 to April 12

Here are the major releases for the week of April 8 to April 12. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Dangerous Driving [April 9, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: Three Field Entertainment, found by some of the folks behind Criterion, have been working their way up to this project. Dangerous Driving is classic Burnout revived for the modern era. It's an indie game, made with a small team, so you should keep your expectations in check, but it's time to do some more crashes and Burning Laps!

  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy [April 9, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: The first three games in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series are coming to multiple platforms this week! Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Justice For All, and Trials and Tribulations are all in a single package, giving veterans the chance to relive the series and neophytes their first shot. Investigate a series of zany crimes and then question a cavalcade of odd witnesses to find out the truth.

  • Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain [April 11, PS4]: The long-running, cult-favorite Earth Defense Force series is getting another spinoff. This time, development has been handed over to WWE 2K studio Yuke's, with the remit of making an EDF for a more Western audience. A new setting, new mechanics, but the same old bugs. Is Iron Rain a new start for something equally as special?

  • Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04: VR Kit [April 12, Switch]: It was the subject of patents, but Nintendo has finally shown off its shot at virtual reality with this upcoming Labo Kit. Make a shell for your Switch, complete with VR-ready lenses, and take part in several Nintendo-developed VR games. The big hook is new VR modes for Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which should pull in a number of fans that skipped previous Labo kits.

This Week's News and Notes

  • Speaking of virtual reality, at PAX East 2019 I took a look at the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest. While the Rift S is just an upgrade on the original Rift, the Oculus Quest feels like the first real step towards mainstream VR. It's a little more expensive and a little weaker than I'd like, but it felt good to explore VR within the device.

  • At the end of the week, Kat finalized her review of MLB The Show 19. It's always hard to review any annual franchise, but sports games make it particularly hard. That's why it's great when a developer like Sony San Diego offers a real improvement to the formula. It's welcome, especially right before the proposed jump to the next generation of PlayStation.

  • A random image in The Division 2 led to speculation that the next Assassin's Creed would involve the vikings. That speculation was backed up by Kotaku, who has previously confirmed other Assassin's Creed settings far ahead of time. The report also reminded folks that Ubisoft also teased the next Watch Dogs' setting, which should take place in London.

  • Sticking with the Kotaku talk, most of last week was utterly consumed by that outlet's report on what went wrong with Anthem. It's a fairly lengthy report, talking about a general lack of vision and severe crunch culture over at BioWare. General manager Casey Hudson admitted that the problems outlined were real and several former BioWare developers chimed in with the same.

  • Axe of the Blood God: As we enter the endgame of our Top 25 RPGs of All-Time list, this week's episode of Axe of the Blood God highlights all the games that didn't make the list. The beloved honorable mentions get their shot this week!You can subscribe to the podcast here

If you enjoy reading about great video games, you'll find a neat collection of more in our ever-growing list of the best games of 2019. It's easy to lose track of new releases, so use this list to make sure you don't miss the games we think are essential.

Tagged with Action, Epic Games Store, fromsoftware, Opinions, PC, PlayStation 4, Starting Screen, Xbox One.

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