Monday, November 18, 2013

Sometimes millions of people like something… because it's really good.

Back in '99 I was working at ION Storm in Dallas.  I saw a trailer for The Matrix and came back to the office raving about this movie to coworkers; it looked insanely good.  Of course when the movie came out everyone lost their minds and everyone saw it at least 3 times in the theater.

Months later some Matrix discussion came up and one of my close friends kind of pulls a face and tells us he hasn't seen it and doesn't want to.  He made a comment about, "there's no way THIS many people like something and it's actually good".  It was kind of a joke comment, but it was also his case for not wanting to see it.

When the DVD came out, we basically dragged his ass into the nutty expensive THX equipped theater that ION Storm Dallas housed.  He absolutely loved it.  After being forced to watch it, he watched it again several more times over the next couple days, and went so far as to start making low poly models of the Matrix characters on Polycount in his free time.  Now he too could join the rest of us in, well, seeing the series crash and burn after that.  I digress!

In the 14 years since, I've accrued many nearly identical stories about a broad array of games, books, and movies.  Oh man, Call of Duty multiplayer is actually a blast!  Who knew?  Wow, ALL my friends weren't wrong about Minecraft!  It really is awesome!  Why did I wait so long to try a GTA game?!  Woah!  Everyone who wouldn't shut up about Game of Thrones knew what the hell they were talking about?!

Here's one for you… hey, guess what?  Candy Crush Saga is actually pretty stinking fun!

I know, we all imagine we have super refined tastes, particularly as we're neck deep in the age of frowning on AAA and cheering on indie games with artistic merit.  When Twitter is lit up with praise for "Papers Please", who wants to be the guy saying "Holy crap, the new Assassin's Creed game is freaking mind blowing"?  We want to be seen as the person who introduces friends to great new stuff and build up our credibility as a 'true connoisseur' of rare subject matter X.  It's part of striving for validity, and a huge factor in social media.  Surely our tastes are too refined for the likes of a game enjoyed by 15 million other people!?

Welcome to "Green Eggs and Ham" territory.  If you tried Animal Crossing and for the life of you can't understand WTF people see in it… cool.  No harm done!  But you tried it.  Even in the indie world, if you didn't care for Dear Esther, so be it.  But try it, and form your opinions based on experience instead of ultimately petty social pressures.

As a developer, you're doing yourself a huge disservice by actively blocking out games that you view as "too mainstream".  Surely the biggest current MMO has at least one cutting edge mechanic that could influence and improve your current project, even if it's seems unrelated?  With so much to learn, you can't afford to arbitrarily limit yourself like that.

Saying "a billion people can't be wrong" might sound like I'm saying "get out there and make a bunch of mass market bullshit! Weeee!"  I'm not.  I'm saying it's ludicrously unlikely that anything with critical success has done so with no actual merit behind it.  It might not be obvious, but something had to work incredibly well even if you believe they just "fool" millions of players.  You can really improve yourself by trying to understand those successes.

Far too many people take pride in their willful ignorance on various topics.  I'll resist the urge to make political or religious jokes to follow up that point.

As always, thanks for reading!

1 comment: