Bioware Is Not Your Bitch (Yet)

George R.R. Martin is by all accounts a great fantasy author, and his lengthy work A Song of Ice and Fire is considered by many as one of — if not the — premiere fantasy series of the past decade and a half. Unfortunately for his fans, the latest book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, has been ‘forthcoming’ for five years now. This has led to increasing discontent among readers, and as Wikipedia concisely puts it, “The delays surrounding A Dance with Dragons have polarized some of Martin’s fan base, questioning his commitment to finishing the series.”

A year and a half back, a fan of Martin by the name of ‘Gareth’ wrote another extremely famous sci-fi/fantasy author, Neil Gaiman, asking if Martin’s long hiatus was professional and if it was appropriate to feel anger or disappointment with the delay. Most relevant to this here post was one of the questions Gareth posed:

With blogs and twitter and other forms of social media do you think the audience has too much input when it comes to scrutinising the actions of an artist? If you had announced a new book two years ago and were yet to deliver do you think avoiding the topic on your blog would lead readers to believe you were being “slack”? By blogging about your work and life do you have more of a responsibility to deliver on your commitments?

Gaiman’s summed up his response in six words: “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” An artist, Gaimain continued, works at his own time and has entered no binding contract to meet the demands of his fan base. Put another way, the purchase of the first book in a series does not obligate the artist to finish said series.

This past week, there’s been some (alot? an insignificant amount? I can never really tell) of hubbub concerning Bioware’s The Old Republic. A post in the TOR forums, “Engaging The Community: Good or Bad?“, has grown to 19 pages, with Massively bringing further attention to it. The initial poster, one DroidLife, shared his concern about the ‘secrecy’ and ‘silence’ surrounding TOR:

I stumbled across this blog by Luke Halliwell where he talks about the reasons for the All Points Bulletin catastrophe, and one major point he is making is that the attitude towards engaging the outside world during the development process was severely lacking.

I feel there is to much silence on these forums and fear that the same culture of secrecy dominates the TOR team. I wonder if it is not better to engage the potential consumers to a greater degree and show off elements of the game more often than to withhold information out of fear of showing things before they are “perfect”.

There is talk of a spring release, and still we have yet to see any lenght of actuall game play or insight into how the game is going to work.

The argumentation seems to go something like: “A failed MMO has been accused of failing because of secrecy. In my unilateral opinion, TOR is engaged in a similar form of secrecy. Ergo, the chance of TOR failing as an MMO increases in direct proportion to the length of time this secrecy continues.”

I have some issues with this line of reasoning. There is a latent assumption that 1) APB’s failure can be monocausally traced back to alleged ‘developer secrecy’, that 2) Bioware is doing the exact same ‘secrecy’ thing (which is debatable), and 3) that — and this is really the whole foundation upon which this argument is based — secrecy, i.e. not providing ‘enough’ information (whatever ‘enough’ might be), is inherently bad.

If the thrust of this post isn’t obvious yet, then here it is explicitly: Bioware is not your bitch (yet).

There will come a time when Bioware will be your bitch. Unlike the purchase of a book in Gaiman’s example, the purchase of a game should compel a game developer to fulfill (and continue to fulfill) some basic obligations toward their players. In a single player game, patching is the most obvious obligation, with multiplayer support a close second. Given that playing an MMO is conventionally predicated on the player continuing to give the game developers money, an MMO is (well, should be) bound by an even more stringent ‘social contract’: server stability, reasonable up-time, and continued support in the form of new content are basic tenets that sprung to my mind.

But we’ve not reached that stage yet. Bioware has taken no money nor begun to provide any service. They can take any tack they want with the release of information. I think the largest mistake naysayers are making is that they believe a lack of information-in-the-hand corresponds to a lack-of-content. Yes, it might behoove Bioware to release certain information in a certain way — but, reiterating my initial point, they are still under no obligation to do so.

Halfway through writing this post, I debated scrapping the whole thing. Reading through the 19-page thread, it seems that level heads are prevailing — in that sort of environment, what need is there for a post like mine? For every ‘this secrecy is teh doom’ post, there’s four or five that recognize that either Bioware isn’t yet obliged to provide information, or that Bioware is actually doing a pretty good job keeping future players abreast of developments.

To be fair, though, Bioware’s previous releases have had their own PR missteps — anyone remember Marilyn Mason, or the cursing Jack? But even sans a perfect PR engine, Bioware has delivered in the past, and I don’t see any immediate cause for panic now. If Bioware’s lack-of-information really does turn out to be a lack-of-content — well then, that sucks and that’s a cause for anger.

But in the meantime, Bioware isn’t your bitch.


16 thoughts on “Bioware Is Not Your Bitch (Yet)

  1. For those loyal readers who just read and commented on my farewell post — I apologize. I have no real idea about the future of this blog, but I have read that there’s nothing like a declared hiatus to spur a writer to post more frequently. The spirit moved me, and I wrote.

  2. I think some folks are just letting impatience get the better of them, and they channel their frustrations by tossing out empty threats. If they think their arguments will make Bioware want to release their game any faster, they’re mistaken. Like you said, at this point, Bioware isn’t beholden to anyone. They’re not going to release everything in a flood just because someone somewhere says secrecy = fail.

    I also think some people see it as a personal insult when they don’t get the information they want right away, but come on…somehow I doubt Bioware’s withholding details just to spite potential customers. It’s also one thing if Bioware’s slacking, but we can clearly see they’re not.

    • ‘Beholden’ is a fantastic word! I wish I had remembered it while I was writing this.

      Another thing to consider is that this brouhaha is happening right in the nest of the most active and opinionated potential players of TOR. These are the same gentlemen and gentlewomen who are most concerned (and ‘concerned’ can take any shade of meaning you want, from ‘worried’ to ‘happily awaiting a prophesied crash-n-burn’) about the nature of TOR. These are the same people that have so readily devoured all of the information currently available, and are most likely the people who, a week or two after the game launches, will complain about a perceived lack of content.

      I think the tone of this post would have been different if I had been getting different vibes off of you, who I consider to be a good baseline for the ‘interested but not fanatical’ future player.

    • Quoted for truth.

      I’m just really glad that Enlightenment philosophers used words like “social contract” and “moral obligation”, rather than saying “hey, maybe the government should be the bitch of its citizens, rather than the other way around.”

        • If you think about it, MMOs really are a panoptic society.

          Dude, I should write a post on that! Right after I discuss the implementation of Marxist thought in EVE Online.

  3. I’ll have to disagree with you here old friend. There is a significant difference between novel writing or painting (or even a standard video game) and an MMO. The former are passive artistic enterprises – they can be successful whether people buy into them or not. That is absolutely untrue of MMO’s, which require the interaction of large masses of people to exist/be complete. Bioware became “our bitch” the moment it solicited feedback. The assertion of the masses is that without that feedback, the creation will not be successful, and they are correct.

    The argument now is over this – *how much* feedback is needed for the creation to become successful? And history says that if Bioware continues to give so little information, it will not get enough of that feedback to be successful. I don’t like betting against history – and I wouldn’t think that you would either!

    • I was pretty certain that we’d disagree on this point, but I’m glad that you (apparently) took no offense at my writing. whew, that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.

      I’ll be the first to admit that my analogy isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to the sticky issue of ‘player feedback’. If pressed on the matter, I’d say that feedback is how developers figure out what ‘tenets’ of their social contract are currently in need of attention.

      I didn’t even consider discussing player feeback, in part because STO has taught me that game forums are a terrible quagmire of dumbness and entitlement, with a few islands of structured, reasoned discussion. More to the point, the thrust of this post isn’t about feedback, in part because there are so many ‘moving parts’ to that concept. There’s the actual act of solicitation (who solicits? who is solicited? where does this transpire?), then the dialog (just how much time should devs spent on forums?), then the implementation, and then how players perceive how their advice is implemented.

      DroidLife doesn’t mention player feedback — he’s (seemingly) concerned only with the release of game information. The Massively post also sticks to secrecy vis-Ć -vis openness. While the role of player feedback is almost certainly wrapped up in all of this, I don’t think I was somehow doing a disservice to the argument by limiting my scope to the content of the original post.

      If it’s player feedback we want to talk about, Rowan did a very good job summing up my thoughts in the comment below. There’s a careful balance between listening and doing your own thing, and more generally than not, the fanatics in the forums have their own agenda. At this stage in the game, it seems that Bioware is soliciting player feedback not through the information released on Fridays (which is the venue through which DroidLife would like to see more game-related material, I assume), but through the closed beta.

      • I would never take offense to you writing what you believed in! GeeCee and I have disagreements about Bioware all the time, and I love her posts and her writing. (-: Moreover, I am thankful that you (and she) allow me to speak my peace in the comments section. (-:

  4. Also, as I understand it from my brother (a big Martin fan) the issue has not been his illness – the issue was that at some point he said he was working on the book and then it came to light that he had actually been working on another project instead.

    • I know nothing of any illness — but this is exactly my point. Martin should be ‘allowed’ to work on any damn project he pleases, illness or no.

      That said, I disagree terribly with Martin’s stance on fan fiction, so I’m not the biggest fan.

      • I would agree, but I’m not cool with him lying to his fans either. (-:

        That said, I’m still going to watch the series on HBO, and the book is currently sitting next in my “to read” queue. (-:

  5. All I can say is look at Blizzard, a company not exactly known for being open about its projects and that often famously says, “We’ll release it when it’s ready.” The same company whose MMO success all others would sell their kidneys to approach.

    Secrecy =/= Fail

    And soliciting feedback is not submitting to the whims of a few overzealous fanbois. Just because a developer opens up a bulletin board forum for interested people to join in chats about a game does not mean the developer has to acquiesce to everything or anything the people who post on those forums dictate; some of which would probably be impossible to do anyway because of mutually conflicting ideas.

    BioWare has a reputation for quality, entertaining games. I, for one am will to give them benfit of the doubt. They will release TOR when it is ready. Better that a rushed-to-market, half-finished PoS that nobody will want to play past the included first month.

    • I’ve been playing EVE too long — I saw ‘PoS’ and thought ‘Played-owned Starbase’. -_-;

      Outside of my complete dweebiness, I totally agree with you.

    • Woah there. Blizzard is perhaps one of the most open companies when it comes to testing and feedback. The NDA on Cataclysm came down six months before it released!

      Secondly, I will agree that nothing holds true 100% of the time, but can you think of an MMO that held to the kind of secrecy Bioware has and yet still managed to be a success?

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