by

Smashmouth

Warhammer Online moved from Closed Beta to Open Beta this weekend, and Goa, Mythic’s longtime European partners, had servers that melted under the stress.

Apparently, European Warhammer players were unhappy about this. Warhammer is Quite A Big Deal in Europe, and the players who couldn’t, well, play, were quite miffed. The newest Warhammer blogger, especially, blamed the Internet.

Why do some people feel it is okay to threaten, curse, abuse and be downright hostile to other people over a game, especially in this case when it is only over access to a game that is still in testing (Open Beta Test = Not Yet Ready For Prime Time Players)? While I’ve become quite cynical over the decades, I still find myself amazed at times at certain people’s reactions to stuff like this. I don’t mind when people get upset but to treat other people in such a callous, mean and immature manner is really a bit much. Again, it’s not the complaints I mind and nor am I excusing GOA or Mythic when we mess up but to apparently take things like this so personally is just hard for me to understand even though I know that most of the very hateful things are being said just for effect. However, I’ve worked with online communities for a long time and I do know that some of what was being said around the ‘Net was really coming from people’s hearts. I won’t quote any of it here, since doing so would simply encourage more of it, but I would ask anyone who said those kinds of things and who reads this blog to look at yourself in the mirror and ask how you would like it if you were treated this way in the real world? Are you really the kind of person who thinks it’s socially acceptable to threaten people just because you are having problems with a game? Are you and your life so perfect that you don’t have your own issues or make your own mistakes?

First off, one quibble – when you start an “Open Beta Test” one week before a game’s release? If it’s not yet ready for prime time, even bad SNL references won’t save you. Let’s be honest here – this isn’t a beta test. The game’s locked down (at least it had better be), and you’ve moved to a marketing preview/encouragement of pre-order sales. Once you let effectively anyone who wants to kick the tires and light the fires of your game, it had better be ready for prime time, because that is what your early adopters are looking to test – and badly managed open betas strangled any number of games stillborn. You don’t get the “but it’s still in testing!” excuse when you open the floodgates, any more than you get the “but it just launched!” excuse a week later.

 

More to the point, Mark is apparently rediscovering the joys of Internet discourse, where “aww, is poor widdle baby butthurt?” is considered a witty riposte. I can only conclude that he wasn’t paying attention during, you know, every single other MMO launch. I especially remember in the year after DAOC’s launch, as the DC sniper was stalking the local gas stations, our helpful wonderful players were wonderfully helpfully suggesting that people forward the shooter pictures of Mythic employees. You know, so he would know where to aim. I’m not sure what provoked this strong desire for us to all DIE. I seem to dimly remember something about clerics. Or maybe it was archers. Whatever, it was certainly cause for us to be shot.

My point isn’t that this sort of psychopathy should be excused, or even really expected. I don’t even really think it’s limited to MMOs, or computer gaming. I would, in fact, argue that in the past couple of decades, public discourse in general has become “smashmouth“. You don’t just run the ball, you run it straight down their throats and make them CHOKE on it. You don’t debate your opponents – you BREAK them. Civilized discourse is for the WEAK.

As our national – no, make that global community deals with disagreements through the strategy of smashmouth, why should our micro-community be any different? After all, if someone disagrees with you, the response isn’t merely to respond, but to respond EN MASSE, SHOUT THEM DOWN, AND DESTROY THEIR WILL TO RESPOND. Every campaign has a War Room, every public relations firm a Rapid Response Team, every challenge has to be responded to the same day in a blizzard of paper, every natural disaster an occasion to dump bad news. So how do you make yourself heard in such a microtrend-plotted environment? You amp up the volume. You say something outrageous so it stands out in the storm of thousands of responses, all demanding some sort of response or recognition. And having the President of the company complain about your post in his blog certainly qualifies as recognition.

My point isn’t that this is acceptable behavior, or even expected behavior. My point is that in smashmouth community management, our communities are simply reflecting our wider community, and these are not issues that are going to be resolved by fixing an authentication server.