Three Answers to Impossible Gaming Questions

I wrote this editorial back in 2011 for One of Swords and just found it again. Now that the sun has set on 1oS, I’d like to post it here in hopes it might do more good.

I get a lot of questions from gamers every day. I try to answer as many as I can with sourced facts or, failing that, honesty. Sometimes it’s simple stuff that the Customer Support team can handle without breaking a sweat. But if I don’t know the answer and I don’t have much hope of finding one, I’ll tell you so you don’t feel jerked around.  But I have noticed that there are three lines of questioning that I often cannot answer to anyone’s satisfaction. It’s not that I don’t have an answer, or even that an answer does not exist — it’s that the answer is either incomplete or simply not accepted by the person asking. So they ask again, hoping for a different answer that matches what they wanted to hear in the first place. And that doesn’t work out so well.

Here are the answers I have the most trouble explaining:

1. It’s a creative or business decision.
Creative and business decisions are made by different people, to be sure. “Why did you make this gun overpowered compared to that one?” and “Why didn’t you advertise Game X more instead of leaving it to die on store shelves?” are not made by the same person — but the methodology behind them is pretty much the same: “Well, when we sat down and talked about it and weighed all the other options and their possible outcomes, that was the course of action that seemed to have the most benefit.” Clearly, the person asking the question would have liked more stopping power or bigger billboards, but many times — and it’s partly on the tone of voice of the questioner here — they’re suggesting that a decision that was made with a lot of thought was in fact a thoughtless act. That’s rarely if ever the case. Snap decisions and hasty choices are made when you’re rescuing people from a fire, not when you’re planning gameplay balance or a marketing campaign. “Why did you do it that way instead of the way I see it working inside my head” is almost always “Because our way made sense inside our heads.” At some point, you need to accept that it was a creative or business decision made from a different point of view than your own, and respect it as such — even if you still disagree with it.

The more effective way to get what you want here is to not question the decision, but offer your opinion as constructive feedback, and deliver it directly to the people who made it. “Hey, I played your game, and I felt this was overpowered; any chance of tweaking that?” is totally fine to post to the developer’s forums. “I was a fan of this game but wish I’d seen some more attention given to it — I think more people would have liked it as much as I did” would be welcomed through the company’s website contact form. But constantly saying “You’re wrong, why is that?” will not help anybody, including your future gaming self.

2. It’s none of your business.
What is the formula for Coca-Cola? What exactly is in the special sauce on a Big Mac? And why won’t these companies tell you when you ask? Some people say they know the answer to each, but the companies that really do know aren’t talking. But why not? Because being a customer means you deserve a quality product, but outside of human rights or health concerns, you are not entitled to detailed information of how that product is made.

Games are the same way. If you are offered a tour of the Coke factory or a peek into the McDonald’s kitchen, take it — but demanding info about the nitty-gritty of how games are created and not taking “sorry, we’re not interested in discussing that” for an answer is just as frustrating for the creators as it is for the consumers. And just because they don’t answer, it’s not a conspiracy or a cover-up; it might simply not be something they want to discuss outside of their walls, where all the competitors can hear, and they have that right — just like you reserve some information just for family and friends. Not indulging your curiosity does not make them a totalitarian regime.

I think the fact that so much information is so freely available online makes this one more prevalent than it used to be. But transparency still only goes so far, there’s a difference between wanting to know and needing to know. At some point, you have to find satisfaction in enjoying your Coke, savoring your burger, and playing your game. To learn more about the creative process, create.

3. It’s a matter of opinion or personal agenda. (Or it’s a trap!)
“Why does Coke taste worse than Pepsi?” Well, that’s a personal call based on individual experience and preference — I might not even agree with you to begin with, so how can I possibly answer? When people ask me “Are we to believe that MW3 will be any different than the slop we were handed as Black Ops?” or “Why do you overcharge for DLC?”, these are not questions but emotionally charged statements of opinion with a squiggly mark at the end, and the asker is looking for validation for that opinion.

This question usually boils down to “Why didn’t this meet my expectations?” Aha. Think instead about what led you to those expectations — other games in the genre or franchise you’ve played before, preview articles on websites that focused on specific elements, trailers of gameplay footage that did the same — and look for the disconnect between expectation and experience. Truth be told, nobody can answer this but you — and when I’ve tried to step in, I come off as an arrogant jerk because my answers are so obvious it looks like I’m mocking you just by verbalizing them. If you’re not having fun with your current game…try another. If you don’t feel DLC is worth the asking price…don’t buy it. There is no way for me to offer those simple, logical answers without it looking like I’m treating you like an idiot. And that is not my goal, so I don’t like doing it.

I’ve had things not live up to my expectations, too. I’ve played games, heard albums, and watched movies that disappointed me. Then again, I never talked myself into a guarantee that I would enjoy the experience to the fullest. I go see movies hoping they’ll be good. If they’re not, I don’t ask “Why did your movie suck?” I know the answer: it sucked only because it didn’t match my expectations. To someone else, that was an awesome movie. Just not to me. In matters of personal taste, no guarantees are possible. Many times, I think the people who ask questions like this have not accepted that reality.

And yeah, sometimes the questions are traps, like “Wouldn’t you agree that the Console B version of this game was an afterthought to the Console A version of that game?” Cue the Admiral Ackbar image in 3, 2, 1. And “I know you can’t confirm what’s being announced tomorrow, but you know about it, right?” I can’t/won’t answer leading questions because there is no right answer. Anything I could say, no matter how noble my goal, is going to be incorrect, incriminating, or both. If I willingly let people twist my words to their ends, I wind up beiong source for inaccurate news on media sites, or at the very least, quoted on every hater forum with a “See? Even the guy from Activision says so!” (even if that’s not what I said) until long after I lose my job. So I just can’t even play that game. You ask a fair question, you get a fair answer. You ask an unfair question, you get no answer.

There you go — three answers to impossible questions. Phew.

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