A Complaint Has To Be Three Things

A recent post in the Elite: Dangerous Google+ group linked back to a post on the game’s official forums at Frontier Developments.  It was a thread complaining about the recent server problems the game’s experienced which – since the company announced it was dropping the promised offline mode – once again boiled up the still-simmering rage stew that had led some of the game’s supposed ‘supporters’ to direct abuse and even death threats against FD staff.

For the record, I was really cheesed off that they dropped offline.  Really.  I was.  I’d never, prior to ED, played an Elite game – or with the exception of EVE Online, even a space game – that involved multiplayer.  It’s not what I’m looking for; it’s not something Elite’s ever been.  And I know it’s The Future Of Gaming, but if Dangerous could have been the last gasp of the old school single-player sandbox – a closing bracket to the original Elite back in 1984 – I’d have been a happy bunny indeed.

Also for the record, no, I don’t object in principle to multiplayer.  It’s just that, with a couple of exceptions, namely Everquest II (hi, Outcasts!) and Villagers & Heroes (hi, Midnight!), I’ve never found massively multiplayer a particularly rewarding experience.  On the other hand, if I hark back to the mists of gaming history when I was a small(er) person, I can recall many a happy hour spent playing with a few friends in small-group co-op multiplayer over LAN.

Anyway the point is that I don’t want to come over as a Frontier fan-girl, ready and willing to excuse them any and every fault because I’m so desperate to like Dangerous.  I know that’s how people will read me here, because the Internet is nothing if not a place for confrontation, and if I’m not agreeing with you I must surely be in fierce opposition to you.  If that’s how you read me, it’s a false reading: I am still somewhat cross about the offline mode.  I’m still disappointed with a number of elements of Dangerous – the ropey, arcade flight model (including the inexplicable omission of a kill-rotation mechanism in Flight Assist Off mode, and the ridiculous Top Speed In Space restriction); the hugely simplified interface screens (the original concept designs for the trade and map screens were so much more impressive than what we’ve ended up with); and numerous other little gripes that still, somehow, don’t ruin the fun and immersion of playing.

If merely finding a game fun and immersive is all it takes to make a hopeless fan-person, then so be it.

But the point is that while I’m still cross about offline mode, that’s really as far as it goes.  Cross.  Not angry.  Not ‘offended’.  Not ‘betrayed’.  Just cross.  And, moreover, I’m only cross about it in some fairly limited contexts.  So, for example, while I’m at work poring over files, I’m not feeling cross about FD dropping offline.  Nor when I’m watching TV or out shopping, or playing Villagers & Heroes with my wife.  I’m not even cross about it when I’m playing Dangerous, most of the time, because I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

But I do think about the game quite a lot – it’s occupying a big part of my spare processing time just now, because it’s fun and immersive (did I mention that?) – and some of the complaints on the forums do bother me.

It’s not that I think complaining is worthless or objectionable in principle.  Complaining is a valuable thing, as long as you’re prepared to allow it to be constructive: it’s a way of raising dissatisfaction about something that’s flawed, and then helping the responsible party to correct the flaw.  If you love a game, and want to support it, then complaining is something you should certainly do, where it’s warranted.  But, to be worthwhile as far as I’m concerned, a complaint has to be three things:

It has to be realistic.  Complaining because you think Dangerous was better with the old heat mechanic and you think it should be restored?  Fairly realistic: it’s something I imagine FD could do if they decided they agreed with you.  Complaining because Dangerous at release isn’t as complex and full of content as EVE Online with its ten years of development and expansion is not realistic.

The complaint must be honest.  When FD announced they’d dropped offline, some people accused them of breaking a promise.   Which is fine: if you take the view that they promised an offline mode (personally I felt they’d added an offline mode to the development outline as an afterthought anyway) then you may feel that they broke that promise, and that’s a fair basis for complaint.  But quite a few people accused them of a deliberate ‘bait-and-switch’ – in other words, a scam.  That was going too far: it misrepresented FD’s intentions and asserted dishonesty and malice where there was no evidence of either.  The complaint begs the question: it assumes an (unproven) malicious intent then attacks that supposed intent.

Finally, you have to be willing to allow the complaint to be addressed.  The aforementioned server problems saw FD announcing the creation of a server status page – something that many forumites felt they should’ve done in the first place.  A reasonable point, if you’re going to insist your players remain connected at all times.  But what’s the point of complaining about the lack of a server status page once that page has been provided?  “You should’ve done it weeks ago”?  That’s not a relevant complaint.  It refuses to acknowledge the corrective action that’s been taken, and is, as the saying has it, just flogging a dead horse.

More or less since the pre-release Gamma update for Dangerous, the official forums for the game have been a swamp of negativity, and a place I rarely visit because of it.  I like the game, as flawed as it is.  I think it has great potential.  I don’t look to shield myself from any negative opinion or complaint about the game – I have plenty of my own and I’m sure there are others I’d agree with.  But I don’t want to bother with complaints made for the sake of complaining and being seen to complain.

And a thousand words is more than enough to spend on this.

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