Titanfall, aka Call of Duty with robots. Image: Respawn Entertainment
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Yes, gamers are angry, but why wouldn’t they be when the games industry hates them?

Gone are the days when you just bought a game and then played it. With the pre-orders, rushed productions and all the patches, the relationship between producers and customers is becoming ever more adversarial.  

With autumn looming, bringing with it many promised new video game releases, it is clear that a newly minted tradition of the last few years is about to play itself out again. The tradition goes something like this. Games are released, most of them are critically praised while disappointing audiences, and the complaints of the gamers themselves are dismissed as them being “entitled”.

The supposedly entitled gamer is a relatively modern phenomena born in a large part out of an increased capacity for disgruntled players to make their voices heard over social media. Gamers got angry back in the day as well, but the options to express the rage were more limited and more importantly gamers back then didn’t have nearly so much to be angry about.

What lies at the heart of the modern gamer’s agitation and sense of entitlement isn’t just that gamers today are worse than they were before. This is evidenced by the existence of many big and cuddly game communities, like those attached to Dwarf Fortress, Skyrim, or Kerbal Space Program and the plenty of other games with friendly fan bases. The gamers haven’t changed at all, but what has changed is the games industry, particularly the big producers.

There was a time and it wasn’t very long ago when you bought a game, and you’d play it, and you might buy expansions for that game, what we now often call downloadable content (DLC), but that was that for that one game. I can remember buying expansions for games as far back as Laser Squad on the Spectrum and it’s never been an unwelcome practice to give the players more of what they want. Equally it wasn’t so long ago that in order to be assured of getting a copy of a game as soon as it was released you might pre-order it, because then you wouldn’t have to wait for new stock.

Those times are gone now of course. Pre-orders are now a chance to coax players into ordering games before they face brutal vivisection under audience scrutiny. Discounts, exclusive content offers, early access to beta versions of the game, what used to just be a guarantee that you’d get your game on time is becoming a sophisticated gambit to get the customer to cave in to marketing and open their wallet on blind faith. The extra content for pre-orders was traditionally a trifling addition, maybe a cosmetic change to the character or a bit of a leg up in the game, but we’re now seeing games like Alien: Isolation offering first dibs on what you’d think would have to be a pretty substantial part of the game. Other games offer items that affect the balance of the game, or provide an advantage in multiplayer competition.

It should be obvious that this is a dodgy practice that people shouldn’t embrace, and yet it is continuing to happen. Games are marketed very hard with budgets for marketing often comparable to the budget for producing the game itself. Tens of millions of dollars earmarked for adverts, press junkets, favourable coverage from Youtube channels and so on. Plus, as we’ve seen with games like Watch_Dogs and Aliens: Colonial Marines among others, players are often being sold on highly polished tech demos that do not reflect the final game.

When a game hits the stores and players get their hands on it, the results can be vicious, and sometimes deservedly so. Very few games manage to hide their badness from their intended audience. Games like Dragon Age 2 can impress reviewers working to tight deadlines, but not always the players. Although there is something faintly ironic about a player spending forty hours glued to a game only declare at the end of it that he has not been entertained.

Pre-orders are a fishy element of business, but they lead to another problematic aspect of the games industry these days which is games that just do not work when you get them. This was a problem for SimCity and Battlefield 4, which were both plagued with huge technical problems at launch, as was Total War: Rome 2 and Watch_Dogs. The ubiquitous nature of the internet has meant that games can be patched, which is great, it means you can fix a game that is buggy at release, but the flipside of this is that developers can now release buggy games knowing that a lot of the problems can be fixed with patches later on. Releases that should be delayed press on regardless while the developers working on the game, usually now deep into the brutal crunch phase of development are made to carry the can for these failures and work even longer after release to bodge together fixes.

So between pre-orders and rushed productions the average gamer is being tempted to fork out top dollar for brand new games that may not have seen much, if any, real critical scrutiny, and which will probably need a patch to work as fully intended. What we end up with is in some ways more of an adversarial relationship than friendly business practices between many producers and their customers.

The game publisher seeks to present the game in the best possible light, regardless of its final quality for obvious reasons, rather than just release the game and let it sell itself through videos and word of mouth, which is vastly more powerful than it used to be. More than ever before we’re seeing the games that deserve attention and that deserve to be played getting that attention, from the likes of Day Z and Dark Souls to League of Legends and Minecraft the good games get found, it just takes a little while. The big publishers don’t have time for that though, they’ll sell most of their copies in the first month.

The elephant in the room though and the reason that the big titles, the AAA releases as they are called, have to push for those early sales is that most of them, well, they just aren’t that impressive any more. A generation of consoles that hung around arguably far too long, followed by a new generation of consoles that sits four or five years behind cutting edge hardware means that mainstream games that can genuinely offer something amazing and deliver on their overblown promises are increasingly uncommon.

That is not to say that games are getting worse, but their power to blow audiences away has been on the wane for years. When a games company promises the Next Big Thing™ and it turns out to be merely Assassin’s Creed with a cellphone or Call of Duty with robots, the inevitable disappointment breeds resentment and cynicism. That cynicism is what fuels the so called “entitled” behaviour.

The cure to all this is simple. If publishers and developers want a less hostile and seemingly less entitled audience, they need to stop treating the customers like marks in a short con. Gamers act like they are entitled to more because year after year they are promised more and year after year nothing really improves. Getting expectations closer into line with reality would be a very smart move for everybody involved.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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Marvel has moved past the post-credits teaser, and it's all the better for it

Individual stories are suddenly taking precedence over franchise building.

The lasting contribution of 2008’s Iron Man to contemporary cinema comes not from the content of the film itself, but in its Avengers-teasing post-credits scene featuring an eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson. While post-credits scenes were not invented by Marvel, their widespread adoption in other blockbusters is a testament to Marvel using them to titillate and frustrate.

Fast forward nine years and Marvel’s direction has significantly altered. Having moved to a three-film-a-year structure ahead of next year’s climactic Infinity War, their two releases this summer have featured less explicit connective tissue, using post-credits scenes that are, in typical Marvel fashion, self-reflexive and fun – but this time with no teases for films to come.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have trailed characters donning superhero mantles, confrontations to come, or more light-hearted team ups, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decided to lovingly poke fun at Marvel grandmaster Stan Lee, leaving him stranded on a godforsaken space rock in the outer reaches of the stars. Spider-Man: Meanwhile Homecoming targeted filmgoers who had stayed until the end in expectation of a tease, only to receive a Captain America educational video on the virtues of “patience”.

That isn’t to say that connective tissue isn’t there. Marvel seems to be pursuing world building not through post-credits stingers, but through plot and character. In the past, teasing how awful big bad Thanos is ahead of the Avengers battling him in Infinity War would have been done through a menacing post-credits scene, as in both Avengers films to date. Instead Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses character as a tool to explore the world at large.

Nebula’s seething rage is, rather than just a weak excuse for an antagonist’s arc, actually grounded in character, explaining to Sean Gunn’s loveable space pirate Kraglin that Thanos would pit his daughters, her and Gamora, against each other, and replace a part of her body with machine each time she failed – and she failed every time. It’s effective. Thanos’ menace is developed, and you feel sympathy for Nebula, something Marvel has historically failed to do well for its antagnoists. Her parting promise – to kill her father – not only foreshadows the events of Infinity War, but also hints at the conclusion of a fully formed arc for her character.

In the high-school-set Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stakes quite rightly feel smaller. The inexperienced wall-crawler gets his chance to save the day not with the galaxy at risk, but with an equipment shipment owned by Iron Man alter-ego and billionaire inventor Tony Stark hanging in the balance. While such a clear metaphor for widespread change in the MCU might be a little on the nose, the set-up is effective at plaing the film at street level while also hinting at overall changes to the structure of the universe.

Stark gifting Peter a new (and oh so shiny) suit is a key set piece at the end of the film, whereas in 2015's Ant-Man’s Hope Pym inheriting her mother’s own miniaturising suit it is relegated to a teaser. Peter’s decision to turn it down not only completes Peter’s transition past seeking the approval of Stark’s unwitting father figure, but it also leaves the Avengers in an as-yet unknown state, still fragmented and incomplete after the events of 2016’s Civil War. To anticipate Spider-Man joining the Avengers proper is to anticipate the forming of the team as a whole – keeping our collective breath held until we stump up for tickets to Infinity War.

With this happy marriage of the macro and the micro, individual stories are suddenly taking precedence in the MCU, rather than being lost in the rush to signpost the foundations for the next instalment in the franchise. It’s a refreshingly filmic approach, and one which is long overdue. To suggest that Marvel is hesitant to overinflate Infinity War too early is supported by their refusal to share the footage of the film screened to audiences at the D23 and San Diego Comic Con events in recent weeks. Instead, the limelight is staying firmly on this November’s Thor: Ragnarok, and next February’s Black Panther.

Stan Lee, at the end of his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post credits scene, cries, “I’ve got so many more stories to tell!”, a hopeful counterpoint to a weary Captain America asking “How many more of these are there?” at the end of Homecoming. With Disney having planned-out new MCU releases all the way into 2020, entries in the highest-grossing franchise of all time won’t slow any time soon. We can, at least, hope that they continue their recent trend of combining writerly craft with blockbuster bombast. While the resulting lack of gratuitousness in Marvel’s storytelling might frustrate in the short term, fans would do well to bear in mind Captain America’s call for patience.