(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
Regular readers of my column or viewers of Jimquisition will know by now what I think of publishers in the mainstream retail game industry. In case you ever felt like I’ve been ambiguous, I’ll say it plain — I think the vast majority of them act like complete and utter pricks. I despise business models built on adversarial competition with the consumer, where the aim is to psychologically beat them into submission, treat them like criminals, and focus on punishing those who aren’t being loyal enough over rewarding those who are. Be it DRM, excessive DLC, microtransactions in $60 games, online passes, or the constant desire to provide less content for more money, there is so much afflicting the business side of the game industry that it’s making it more difficult to appreciate the art side. However, through it all, there’s one type of person who manages to dismay me more than any of the executives in any of the publishers — those customers so enthralled, so utterly defeated, that they stick up for these degenerate shits with some of the limpest logic imaginable.
I am, more specifically, singling out the “Companies exist to make money” crowd.
Here is how the argument goes: Companies exist to make money. Sorry, were you expecting a more nuanced rebuttal than that? It doesn’t get more nuanced, unfortunately. For some, the reason for something’s existence is justification enough for whatever it does to get there. It’s the ultimate “ends justify the means” assertion, except where that argument is usually applied to some noble goal achieved through dubious methods, there’s no nobility. It is, instead, an argument used to validate base avarice. Electronic Arts is not curing cancer. Ubisoft is not ending famine. Why the fuck, then, is their desire to make money considered a good reason for the things they do? It really, truly isn’t. The basic statement may be true — these companies may consider themselves nothing but money vacuums, and they may not care where the cash comes from or how it’s sucked up, but just because they have a goal in mind, it doesn’t protect them from criticism.
Many things have goals. Many things exist for a single purpose. Heroin exists to make money in the same way corporations do. Does that means people are supposed to be okay with the fact it makes such money by creating a chemical dependence and destroying the lives of not only those addicted to it, but their families? A computer virus exists solely to replicate and infect your computer, so does that mean we can’t be angry at them when they do? The “it exists to do something” argument only works when it’s on a topic you personally don’t think is a big deal, but more than likely can be used to dismiss any subject that does rile you up. It’s such a universal statement, and it says so little, that it’s an utterly pointless one to make. Yet people do so — constantly.
You might not be mad at a game’s atmosphere being punctured by reminders to buy DLC or check out the microtransactions. You might not think it’s a big deal to fuck around with inputting online pass codes when you want to get into some multiplayer. You know what? That’s fine. It’s absolutely fine if you choose to be the consumer that doesn’t care about it — so long as you’re happy with a given situation, that’s absolutely cool. Happy consumers are fine by me. But when those happy consumers suggest less happy consumers need to march in step with them, because it’s a company’s job to make money and we’re not allowed to question the means of doing so, that’s when I think bounds are overstepped. I’m not telling you that you definitely have to be mad over something — but don’t tell others they can’t be.
It’s just not a valid excuse to say, “It’s their job.” Valve’s job is exactly the same as EA’s. As a company, its ultimate goal is to also make money, but it’s managed to do so in a way that’s not made savvy consumers completely fucked off with it. By treating the customer with respect, by protecting digital rights in ways that reward them rather than punishing them, in fostering a community and reaching out for feedback, Valve has made money without being a total piece of shit. Then we have Xbox Live versus PlayStation Plus. Both exist to make money through subscriptions, but where the former did it by taking features away from non-paying users, the latter gave stuff to them. There’s a way to make money while respecting customers and treating them with the same loyalty you want out of them, and there’s a way to do it with prejudice and spite. Acting like any company has to do the things EA’s done over the years is off-base, illogical, and evidently not true.
Yeah, companies exist to make money.
They don’t exist to be fucksticks.