A Cautionary Tale: The Rage of the Mechwarrior Online Community
(Editor’s Note: This piece is a summary of events, feature additions, and community interactions by PGI leading to the current Mechwarrior Online forum situation. The author offers his personal analysis of said events at the end of the article.)
If you want a look at how enraged a community of dedicated and passionate fans can get, the community around Mechwarrior Online and the rage it’s currently feeling is a good place to start.
To those reading the Mechwarrior Online forums now, as opposed to six months ago, the change is marked. Gone are the days of typical forum behavior: quiet threads toiling in the background with the occasional drive-by trolling or derailment. Instead, the community is in full riot mode, slandering the developers in announcement threads and creating signatures insulting Piranha Games’s competence. The phrase “PGI Lied, MWO Died” has taken on a weird sort of life amidst the disgruntled players.
This wasn’t spontaneous, however. The road that led to MWO’s fanbase banging on PGI’s gates with pitchforks and torches was a long one, and the situation acts as an interesting case study in how to gradually alienate your players. Or, at least, the players on your forums.
Cool Shot Controversy
It all began with the inclusion of a consumable in MWO known as “Cool Shot.” Cool Shot is a variant of a feature known as “Coolant Flush” from previous Mechwarrior games. That feature allowed players to “flush” their built-up heat from their fighting ‘Mech tanks. Heat is a resource that rises every time the player fires a weapon, and its levels must be lowered in order for a player to continue firing their weapons — too much heat, and the ‘Mech is forced to shut down. By drastically reducing ‘Mech heat almost instantly with Coolant Flush, players could continue to fire their weapons without risk of overheating and shutting down, which normally would expose them to enemy fire.
The ability to flush heat essentially allowed for continuous, heavily-damaging fire in multiplayer, and drastically changed the way players fight and strategize in-game; essentially, instead of managing heat by carefully deciding which shots to take and when, Coolant Flush removed that skill component. Dedicated Mechwarrior fans point to the inclusion of the feature — along with the addition of a third-person camera perspective — as one of the reasons previous Mechwarrior titles have had mostly dead multiplayer components.
PGI, before the launch of Mechwarrior Online and during the sale of “founder’s packs,” or packages of in-game items and mechs players could pre-order at a discount before the game was available, told players that Coolant Flush would not be added to its game, much to the relief of many potential players. However, the developer later changed its mind on the feature, and included Cool Shot as a consumable that cost either C-Bills (the in-game currency) or real money, depending on the version of it players purchased.
This sent the forums into a much milder version of the rage seen today, with plenty of people decrying PGI’s behavior but few people acting on it. Many were upset that they’d bought into the game by purchasing a founder’s pack when PGI said it wouldn’t include Cool Shot, only to have that change once they’d spent their money; others were upset that players could spend real money to get a significant boost over other players buy purchasing Cool Shot. A number of rage threads were created about the feature, and many players threatened to quit, but the community was calmed thanks to communication from PGI and nerfs to the real-money version of the consumable.
However, this was the beginning of distrust of PGI, and several players Game Front spoke with mentioned that their misgivings began here.
The Death of Forums and Metagame
The next big outrage occurred with the dissolution of Mechwarrior Online’s “General Discussion” subforum. General Discussion pages are usually the main sections of forums — in fact, they’re a staple of Internet forums everywhere. PGI claimed that the subforum was removed — and many new subforums created in its place — in order to better categorize threads into more appropriate locations. Meanwhile, critics claimed that General Discussion was nuked from orbit due to a tendency of its inhabitants to openly criticize PGI.
Both sides have partial validity to them: General Discussion was being used as a “thread dump” and was hard to navigate, but its removal did see a sharp decline in threads openly critical of and negative about PGI.
While these forum changes were mostly benign, a metagame began to emerge in MWO that focused on high-damage alphas — basically, attacks that saw all weapons fired at once. These barrages of weapons fire would often core enemy ‘Mechs in a single shot, and the use of the strategy led to the rise of “poptarts.” Players would pair highly accurate Particle Projection Cannons (more commonly known as PPCs) and Gauss Rifles with a ‘Mech sporting a “jumpjet,” or extremely limited jetpack. In lay terms, players utilizing the strategy were essentially acting as jetpacking snipers.
PGI attempted to cut off the use of poptarts with the inclusion of jumpjet shake — a system to rattle the player’s view when they jumped into the air — but later rescinded most of that change after players complained of severe motion sickness. The drastic reduction of jumpjet shake again allowed a rise in sniper-oriented ‘Mechs, which is where the Mechwarrior Online metagame sits to this day.