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Hearts and Minds: Winning Back a Gamer's Love

Gamers, right? They're fickle, sometimes to the point of hair-pulling frustration, especially after they've been hurt. It takes but one mistake to burn a heart-felt fan of a gaming series, and so many more things done right to win them back. Here's how to do it right, and subsequently how to do it wrong.

Movie fanatics are stereotyped as bitter and angry; incapable of enjoyment. Food fans are labeled as picky and smug. But the followers of video games have quite the notorious reputation of being reactionary, and passionate: We are quick to react to something we don't like, and when we don't like something, we don't like it VIOLENTLY. You see it pretty much everywhere, and if you look hard enough, you can probably see it every day. The most recent event to switch on the "Gaming Rage" button is Nubageddon, by which Nintendo had the gaul to sell us a cheap, optional peripheral which added another thumbstick to our 3DSs.

I know, right?

Anyway, even someone who casually follows the world of gaming news knows that gamers are a hard bunch to please. None know this better than the developers themselves, who's continued well-being practically depends on making us happy. Each development studio has but one goal in mind: Make a good game that gamers will enjoy playing, and I have no doubt in my mind that working at a game studio is not an easy job.

However, sometimes developers just pull the wrong stick from the Jenga tower, and everything comes crashing down in a maelstrom of fire, rage, and hate. Sometimes these are big towers that everyone sees and hears about, and sometimes they are towers way off in the distance that you probably didn't know existed. Still, developers and publishers mess up sometimes, and a fall in reputation with their fanbase usually follows.

It is in these moments that a developer either shines their brightest, or reveals their darkest secrets. They are the moments that define both game studios as a whole, and the future of a franchise...Because this is the moment where they do things right and redeem themselves, or do things wrong and perminently cement themselves in the eyes of their fans as has-beens.

While there are probably bigger debacles out there than the two that I'm going to use as examples today, these two are the ones that I have the most personal experience with. The two franchises that I talk about today are different in genre, but are actually quite similar in their developmental patterns and problems.

This whole idea started when I was talking to my girlfriend about video games, and we got on the topic of our two favorite series: Mine being Halo, and hers being Silent Hill. The more we talked about one or the other, the more we came to realize that both the Halo and Silent Hill franchises are in the same boat: They're both in a bit of a low point, and hardcore fans are more than a little skeptical about the future of their favorite games. This prompted me to write this blog, because how both franchises are being handled is a prime example of how developers can either redeem themselves, or keep making the same mistakes.

First, lets talk about Halo. With the release of Halo Reach, and Bungie putting the franchise behind them, Halo is in a transition period that is leaving fans uneasy for a number of reasons. The first of these reasons is that we're left with Halo Reach; Arguably one of the worst (If not the worst) game in the franchise. Casual Halo fans may disagree with me on this one, and some hardcore fans may as well. But rest assured that there is unrest in the community over Halo Reach. It's a big split, with some fans loving all the new changes, and many more fans hating them. There is a war of ideals going on, and it can get very, very ugly in those forum arguments.

The change in development studios is an issue of controversy as well. Long-time Bungie fans are now feeling betrayed that their studio has left the Halo name, and claim that any future Halo titles will just be a milk of the franchise because they do not have Bungie's magic touch in them. They claim that no studio can make a Halo game like Bungie can, and that 343 Industries will undoubtedly botch the series.

343 Industries is really between a rock and a hard place right now. They've got to essentially redeem the Halo series in both the eyes of those who hate them, and in the eyes of those who are looking to them for help. Everything rides on Halo 4. As much as I want to work on Halo one day...That does not sound like a fun place to be.

Fortunately, 343 Industries seems to be more than up to the task. Franchise director Frank O'Connor recognized early on that for 343 Industries to develop good Halo games, it had to have good building blocks. He's stated many times over that people who work for 343 Industries are not there to work on games. They are there to work on Halo games, and nothing else. They are just as passionate and driven as the community they're trying to please, and that foundation seems to be helping them make good decisions right from the start. For you see, 343 Industries threw a "Hail Mary" with a gamble that could have either cost them all their badges, or given them some serious brownie points.

That throw was Halo Anniversary, and it looks to be paying off. Big time.

I know that there aren't many Halo fans here on Destructoid (In fact, I see A LOT of Halo hate around here...), but while some of you may see Halo Anniversary as a desperate cash grab...I just need to inform you that you don't know what you're talking about. Halo fans had been clamoring for a HD Re-release of Halo: Combat Evolved since before the trend of HD remakes started. When the rumors finally ended and the game was announced, the Halo crowd went wild. It was a moment where I, as a Halo fan, knew that the developer of my favorite franchise was listening. I knew from that moment that they were as committed to this franchise as I was, and they were going to do their best to listen to us and make us happy.

Halo Anniversary boasted the original gameplay, untouched, but with beautiful visuals...Exactly what the fans had been asking for. On top of this, they included optional story bits in the form of terminals, 6 multiplayer maps from older Halo games, and a modified version of Reach's multiplayer to go along with them that helped replicate a more "classic" Halo feel.

The good decisions continued with the planned release of a Title Update for Halo Reach, something that nearly ALL Reach fans were begging Bungie to do. This really only matters for the most involved Halo fans (Jenga towers in the distance, remember?), but to them it is a very big deal indeed. They'd felt betrayed by Bungie's bull-headed attitude of "We're right, and don't play it if you don't like it". 343 Industries has gained vast amounts of good rep with both the Halo community and the MLG community for this decision, and is currently sitting pretty in eyes of most Halo fans. 343 has done a lot to boost the spirits of Halo fans and gain favor with those who were initially very skeptical. They've got along way to go yet, but they're doing all the right things by listening to their fans and putting out that extra effort to actually follow up on that feedback.

BUH! That was a lot of information to take in, I know, but it all needed to be said. I think 343 Industries is a perfect example of how to take a series that's at a low point start to turn it around. Stuff like Halo Anniversary might not be financially viable (They're shipping it at 40 dollars), and committing time and resources to things the fans really want - like doing a Title Update for a game that isn't yours - is all part of getting that respect and confidence with a fanbase that was hanging by a thread. 343 put in the elbow grease, and its paying off in leaps and bounds.

Sadly...Not every story is a happy one. While talking to my girlfriend about all this, we also talked about Silent Hill, a franchise that (to put it mildly) is not doing very well at all. Like Halo, the recent forays that Konami has approved have not been up to par in many of the fan's eyes. They've somehow managed to sell enough to produce sequels, but fans of the series are really desperate for a game that's returning to form. They're also looking to Konami and their respective development teams to start taking the franchise seriously again.

While I don't have a lot of personal experience and knowledge with the woes of the Silent Hill community, I know enough to know that Konami is definitely not doing things right.

This may seem a little contradictory to the outsider (I know it did to me!). With the announcement of Silent Hill: Downpour, it seemed like Silent Hill was back on the right track. This is actually pretty accurate for the most part, as the hardcore fans of the series are actually pretty happy with what Downpour is shaping up to be. It looks to be a good return to form that leaves behind old characters that needed to be retired, and focuses more on capturing the "Living Nighmare" feel that the older Silent Hill games had.

Unfortunately, that seems to be about the only thing that Konami is doing right in the eyes of Silent Hill's fans. Before we had the announcement of Downpour, and after the rather lackluster offering ofHomecoming, the fans got Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. What fans were expecting was the original Silent Hill game redone with more current-generation graphics. What they got was a "reimagining" of the series with non-HD visuals and a plot that only had loose ties to the plot of the original game. To put it mildly, fans were not happy. The game did not sell well, and did not perform well critically. In a lot of ways, this is how Halo: Anniversary could have turned out if 343 Industries had not gone the extra mile and listened to what their fans really wanted.

As far as taking the series seriously, we have Silent Hill: Book of Memories which is...

"A big departure for the series, focusing on cooperative multiplayer action rather than traditional psychological horror."

Honestly, the video speaks for itself. What you see here is not a horror game. It's not even really a Silent Hill game...And it certainly isn't what "Taking the series seriously" is all about. Rather than focus the name "Silent Hill" on a singular idea, Konami just slapped it on what appears to be a random top-down action game so that it can give what should have been a new IP more exposure.

While Silent Hill's main games might be looking a bit better, fans are still very unhappy with Konami and are rightly pissed off that their favorite series of video games are being butchered and hacked in such a way. Konami has clearly not learned its lessons, and while they might be doing something right, it's probably out of pure chance and happenstance than actually listening to fan feedback and realizing the error in their ways. Unlike 343 Industries, Konami is still off in their own bubble, almost willfully ignorant that their fans are crying out against their handling of the series. Unless something changes soon, many Silent Hill fans will have to find another outlet for their horror fix.

I know today's blog has been wordy and long, but it takes a while to explain this stuff without any details being missed along the way. When a series hits a low point and fans start to get angry, a developer must tread very carefully and change their tune if they hope to gain back that love that they may have lost momentarily.

The important thing to remember in all this is that franchise fans may be a fickle bunch and react violently to things they don't enjoy, but they do so more out of love than anything else. Halo fans don't get on the forums every day and haggle with each other for the sheer thrill of it...They debate back and forth (or YELL back and forth, depending on where you are) because they're truly passionate about the future of the franchise. They want to see their favorite video games of all time be the best they can be.

The developers of both Halo and Silent Hill (and many other franchises) may have a very tough time pulling their series out of the mud, but it's a job that's very doable if done right. Once a developer has showed their fans that they want to improve and get their series back on track, the fans will respond.

As quick as they are to hate, gamers are quick to love as well, and all it takes is a little extra effort from those in charge to make that connection happen.

Thanks for reading, those who managed to read it all.

Until tomorrow!

P.S. Never, under any circumstances google "Nub Love" without thinking VERY HARD about what that means when you aren'treferring to the 3DS Nub add-on.

P.P.S *facepalm* I just fapped to myself by accident. Take THAT out of context!
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About Time Glitchone of us since 1:17 PM on 07.09.2010

I am a gamer, and I like to play games.

My online beginnings were a long time ago, in the land of Halo 2 and primitive Xbox Live. I have grown since then. I have conquered the world of the PSN and Steam. Truly, I am a learned man of all forms of gaming...Except the ones I suck at. Of which there are many.

I'm mainly into FPSs. They seem to be the games I'm best at, so I generally enjoy them more =P. However, I'm not entirely foreign to fighters, RPGs and RTSs. In fact, some of my favorite games of all time have included many RPGs, like Mass Effect and Oblivion.

I wish I had more time for gaming these days...But college is important, and someday I want to work on games.

Can't get enough of me on a daily basis? I'm on Twitter! I post about gaming, and my life. It's like a mini-blog!...Oh right that's the entire point of Twitter...

Xbox LIVE:Time Glitch
PSN ID:Time_Glitch


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