Man, developers just can’t catch a break. This is especially true for Insomniac. First, the whole puddle thing happened before Marvel’s Spider-Man came out. You probably heard about that one. Now, with the DLC episodes and new costume unlockables rolling out, an oddly large and (more so) loud sector of the fanbase, of people who have played and enjoyed this game, are screaming about a particular suit not being available in the game. Things only got sillier and louder when a social media rep from Insomniac actually responded. While this example is recent and particularly egregious, it’s also the perfect example of the way interactions between fans and devs, fueled by unrealistic fan demands, can get really toxic really fast.
The suit thing in Spider-Man comes from a fan demand for the suit from the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films, which are still looked upon fondly by many. The problem is that suit is a product of a long-out of date movie series, and the DLC is dropping literally timed with the release of a new Spider-Man movie. Predictably, the latest DLC is adding one of the suits from that movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which resulted in waves of anger from this group of fans, particularly on Twitter. Insomniac’s Twitter responded to this anger with the recently-popular soothing technique of “we hear you, we’re listening,” which prompted angry accusations of lying. Then, things got nastier.
The person behind the Insomniac Twitter, clearly fed up with the nonsense, straight-up got down to brass tacks and told a fan that just because a dev team listens to the fans, doesn’t mean it’s going to make any promise or deliver on the asks. This response, in an era of super-controlled PR communication, almost seemed to catch the angry fans off-guard. Others in the dev community (and many fans not participating in the Raimi rage), took the opportunity to support the devs and the tweet. But the anger didn’t go away, with many fans refusing to acknowledge “listening” isn’t “promising,” and that obviously Insomniac should just be able to make the suit, it’s easy, and so on and so forth.
This is almost as silly as the puddle thing and shows just how certain sections of gaming fandom can be way out of control with their expectations and perspective of what video game developers actually do. All you have to do is log on to Twitter and see whatever the issue of the day is being considered as easy as tapping a few buttons on a keyboard. Nevermind development time and costs, legal issues, plans that have already been in place, outside context, so on and so forth. It’s kind of embarrassing, and can even get ugly and almost violent. We’ve seen that happen with things like the response to Dragon Age II and the ending of Mass Effect 3.
“Entitled” is a word that gets thrown around too much, but there’s a reason for it. Platforms like social media have given many fans an inflated sense of self-worth, due to things like PR having the need to open up means of communication as part of things like grassroots marketing. PR takes the passion of the fans and developers and turns it into what feels to the fans like an open communication channel, and fans develop a sense of ownership over things they really have no actual involvement in. While devs do value feedback, and having those open channels can do lots of good for games (especially longer-term service games), a lot of it is very surface-level, especially for more directed titles such as Spider-Man.
What I’d like to see is more transparency in the video game industry, but not in the way many fans ask for. Instead, it would be great to see things like documentary-style content, and other insights into how things work in game development in the regular day to day. We often see little video clips of people sitting in front of office computers and fiddling with 3D models, but we don’t really get insight into what’s happening, making it seem like the sausage just kinda shoots out of the machine without anything more gritty going on beforehand. But with content creators such as Danny O’Dwyer over at noclip starting to do exactly that, getting inside access for documentary content coverage a game while it's still being made, that future may be ahead of us.