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The Fanboy Culture

You’re a Mac. You’re a PC. Can I be both?

Whenever Eurogamer has a piece related to Origin (EA’s digital download service) one can expect a torrent of comments from readers flogging the service with a passion. Among the cries of ‘You cannot trust EA’ and ‘I only installed it because I had to for Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3’ there are countless comments commending Steam for the excellent service it provides and practically adoring Valve. It seems that, more than any other consumer, gamers are defined by brand loyalty. Hardcore brand loyalty to be exact. It’s not enough to buy products from a particular brand. Gamers have to criticise any other brand that is not their preferred choice.

A quick look at any forum or message board  paints a singular picture: individuals who are objective about brands are few and far between. Most people stick to their preferred brand like their life depends on it and they become vicious should anyone say anything remotely critical about it. Let’s conveniently forget that Steam sucked royal ass when it was first released in 2004 (What? I have to go online to activate Half Life 2 or otherwise I cannot play?!). Never mind that Origin today is magnitudes better than Steam was a few years ago. Don’t dwell on the idea that having only one service is not at all a good situation for consumers.

This holds true for various ‘brands’ in gaming: the aforementioned digital download services, hardcore first person shooters (Battlefield vs Call of Duty), gaming consoles (360 vs PS3), MMOs (WoW vs everything else) etc etc. Why does this happen?

Here is some marketing talk:

‘Customers can manifest their loyalty to a brand in many ways: they may choose to stay with the provider, and they may increase the number of purchases or the frequency of their purchases or even both…’

I did not study marketing in any way shape or form so I can only speculate on the reasons for this. It is realistic to acknowledge that in many cases brand loyalty occurs because the consumers are satisfied with their purchases. When I used to play WoW exclusively it was because I did not have any interest whatsoever in trying out a new MMO. WoW was satisfying my massively multiplayer needs so that was that. Limited resources (mostly time and money) may be another reason for brand loyalty. I only have an Xbox 360 cause frankly if I bought another console I would still have difficulty finding time to play games on it. This kind of reasoning clearly explains loyalty, but there is another part.

More marketing talk from the same source:

‘….(customers) may even become advocates of the brand, concerned by playing a powerful role in the decision making of others, thus reducing the brand’s marketing communication cost’

The entertainment industry has coined another word for ‘advocate’: Fanboy (or fangirl if you happen to be a lady). It’s quite easy to understand why someone would stick with one product in certain circumstances but why on earth would anyone go on a personal crusade in favor of that product and against competitors when, at face value, there seems to be no gain for them? I believe it all boils down to personal investment. A look at all the examples I listed previously should illustrate my point. All of the ‘brands’ I mentioned require a significant investment of time and/or money from the player who decides to take them seriously.  MMOs in particular require a strong investment of both from serious players. A good MMO is prone to making you invest more in the game which in turn makes you more likely to stick around since moving on to other things would trivialise your previous investment. The advent of competition, while objectively a good thing, is subjectively a negative for people who have invested much in their game. Competition may take away players (and therefore revenue) from the community and this jeopardizes their investment as a whole. Their preferred game may fail! It may be shut down!!! When you think about it it’s no wonder that players are so passionate about their games when the stakes are so high for them.

In the pre-order trailer Rift reminded you that ‘You are not in Azeroth anymore’. WoW players everywhere ran for their pitchforks

In this environment competition is seen as a  threat, not just by the company managing the brand but also by the consumer making use of the product. This would definitely explain why fanboys are so prevalent in the gaming sphere. Moreover, fanboyism is profitable for brands so they tend to encourage it whenever they can. The great console battle of the 16 bit era was built on the creation of fanboys with marketing departments subtly crafting the us vs them mentality. An army of fanboys are a big investment since they reduce marketing costs in the long run. It does not help that youngsters and adolescents seem to be more prone to mindless brand loyalty. The industry has learnt to capitalise on this fact and we often see protracted public feuds between industry bigwigs. Who can forget the banter between EA and Activision prior to Battlefield 3’s release?

It is important to be conscious of this fact since I believe fanboyism is, in the long run, detrimental to the industry as a whole. It undermines competition and stifles growth. It also leads to a situation where one or two brands rule while everyone else tries to catch up. Gamers need to understand that if they spent 3 years enjoying a game then that is a good enough investment right there and it is ok to move on and try something different. More importantly we should all shed our marketing trousers and don our consumer pants.

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12 thoughts on “The Fanboy Culture

  1. “It is important to be conscious of this fact since I believe fanboyism is, in the long run, detrimental to the industry as a whole”

    Honestly, I believe the overuse of terms such as “fanboy” and “fanboyism” (and also “troll”), generally in pejorative terms, to be far more detrimental to the industry than brand loyalty could be. This notion that people who defend a brand/game/mechanic are “fanboys” is used to disparage anything they might say, to dismiss their relevance almost in entirety. Freedom should be there for people to criticise or defend a product without having labels applied or we all lose the ability to have and voice opinion.

  2. The problem is (and this is the difference between being an advocate for the product or a mindless fanboy) that too much of the criticism isn’t constructive at all. It serves not to make a point against or in favor of a product but rather to defend our investment. ‘EA are greedy pigs’, ‘Sony sucks’, ‘I hate Modern Warfare 3’…. You have to substantiate that with an argument. Everyone has the liberty to be a critic but it has to be at the right time, in the right place and done in the right way.

    On a side note: I agree that ‘fanboy’ should not be used in a derogatory manner although the vocal minority of fanboys tend to create a bad image for themselves when they cannot articulate any convincing argument and just spew hate and insults.

  3. “and this is the difference between being an advocate for the product or a mindless fanboy”

    “On a side note: I agree that ‘fanboy’ should not be used in a derogatory manner”

    You do it yourself throughout your piece and even in the same comment that you agree that it’s pejorative use is a bad thing.

    In addition : ” You have to substantiate that with an argument” – this is the gospel according to who exactly? just because people don’t wish to share their reasoning doesn’t make their opinion less valid than anyone else’s. It might be annoying and infuriating at times, but it’s not wrong. It’s the same argument that means you cannot pass an exam unless you show how you arrived at the answer – just because you don’t write down how you got there, doesn’t make the answer invalid (or make you some kind of cheat who should be made a pariah!)

  4. Fanboy is not the same as mindless fanboy. Just as religious guy is not the same as religious extremist. Just as politician is not the same as corrupt politician. You get my drift. Bottom line: Not all fanboys are mindless – it just happens that a vocal minority are (a minority out of millions still constitutes a lot of people mind you). The bad connotation did not come about because people used it as an insult but rather it started to feel like an insult because it was given a bad name by irresponsible behavior.

    If they do not wish to share their argument then they should not share their opinion. It’s the very definition of trolls who just put their opinion out there to cause a ruckus rather than to generate discussion. And yes: it IS wrong just because its annoying and infuriating. Its also childish. If you are speaking to your boss and you just tell him/her that you do not like the way he/she operates without validating your claim they will not think very kindly of you.

    Your example is very apt. In an exam they want to see how you got to the answer cause THAT is the important part not the answer in and of itself. The reasoning shows that you can work out the problem, not a correct answer. Likewise when giving out criticism. Your criticism is meaningless unless you back it with a good argument.

    To conclude: I understood your point. Hopefully you understood mine. I don’t think we are going to come to an agreement here 😉

  5. I do understand your point, and I do agree that it is infuriating but I don’t agree that this alone inherently makes it wrong.

    Also about the term fanboy itself not being insulting, I have to strongly disagree – just look at the word itself. The second part of the word is “boy” – the whole point of the term is to “juvenile-ise” the target. The term is not simply fan or defender or even “fanman”, it’s “fanboy”.

  6. Looked up the definition of fanboy and it does usually have negative connotation (for different reasons depending on where you look). So let me reiterate. I agree that you should not call anyone who voices an opinion and provides a good argument a fanboy. Then again that was never a point of contention in my post although I have to confess it does make the title a bit misleading (nothing new there!).

  7. The MMO corner is especially touchy on competitors since the market is basically mutually exclusive, or at least almost. console gamers frequently own several systems and play/collect many games, also simultaneously. the same cannot be said for MMO players, especially in times where subs still exist. plus the nature of MMOs is longterm dedication and loyalty. small wonder that discussions are particularly heated for this genre sometimes and then there’s also the aspect of how well/bad the few big titles out there do, which can have disastrous effects on the future of the entire market. even if some don’t realize it, the financial success or failure of titles like GW2 or TSW this year influence everything to come after them (and also how willing devs will be to keep innovating away from WOW). maybe its just me, but as a player that wants to see the genre progress that adds tension for me personally when discussing certain topics with others.

    1. I think MMO developers are learning that creating an MMO which shoehorns players into exclusivity (whether due to the payment method or the hardcore nature of the game) is not something that is profitable in the long run. Turbine has said time and time again that they are content with players treating LotRO as they on and off game which they play on the side. Likewise Blizzard made huge strides towards changing WoW from a hardcore oriented game into one that really caters for casuals – players who play for one hour a day either because they are too busy or because they play other games. With the advent of free to play and the move towards MMOs which can be experienced in small chunks playing two or more MMOs at the same time is more viable than ever.
      Both GW2 and TSW are trying something different so, like you said, a lot is riding on their success. However I do believe that TSW will be one of the very last games to demand such an expensive monthly subscription in a long time. If that game was F2P or introduced some form of F2P hybrid I would have been the first to give it a go.

  8. Never mind that Origin today is magnitudes better than Steam was a few years ago.

    What sort of argument is that? Origin does not get to be judged in a vacuum, it is judged by its peers and current competitors. And by that measurement it sucks. Will it be better in 4 years? Maybe, who cares? I am looking for the best service now, not some time in the potential future.

    This is all besides the point that “competition” between the two services is actually making consumers’ lives worse right now. EA games are being pulled from Steam, and reside on a platform that does not have as deep of discounts. Will EA have 75% sales? Maybe, maybe not. In the meantime, consumers lose.

    If they do not wish to share their argument then they should not share their opinion.

    And your argument supporting that opinion is “because it’s annoying to me?”

    1. In my opinion the biggest advantages Steam has over Origin are more popularity, the larger library and better integration of social features. Two of those are directly related to the fact that Steam has had such a big head start. Do you really expect Origin to live up to Steam when it has had a 7 year head start? In just one year Origin has become the second most popular digital download service on PC surpassing others such as Gamestop (ex Impulse) and Gamefly which have been around for longer. Right now Origin is only playing catch up but I believe soon enough we will start seeing some innovation.

      I will not comment on the fact that not all EA games are on Steam. I will just say that no Valve games are on Origin. I do not feel like I am losing as a consumer because of this. If something is too expensive I will simply not buy it as I have been doing since forever. On the topic of sales: I am not a big fan of 75% off sales as proposed on Steam. I would rather have smaller, 50% off summer sales (or whenever) but lower prices the rest of the time. (Call of Duty Black Ops is still 60€ on Steam -out of sale- which is much more expensive than the physical retail copy). I hate having to constantly wait for sales to get a proper deal. Then again that is just my opinion. Plus, for the record, Origin also have had one such sale.

      I blog. I give opinions. When you see one sentence posts in this blog saying ‘this sucks’ or ‘that’s great’ feel free to call me out. As regards my argument for supporting that opinion (so you don’t have to go and read my reply again) is that its childish. Adults discuss and argue. Just giving out opinions and stopping there is just plain childish. And that is why its annoying and infuriating.

      1. just one year Origin has become the second most popular digital download service on PC surpassing others such as Gamestop (ex Impulse) and Gamefly which have been around for longer.

        Requiring Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and funneling most of SWTOR players into the service certainly will increase its “popularity.” I am aware that Valve did the same thing with Half-Life 2 in the beginning; my point is that such popularity is artificial, as opposed to popularity derived from the merit of the product itself rather than its prerequisites.

        Yes, Steam has a head-start. No, that does not excuse anything. If I started a car company tomorrow, no one is going to be looking at it and be saying “the Honda Civic beats it in every single category including price, but… hey, everyone starts somewhere.”

        I will not comment on the fact that not all EA games are on Steam. I will just say that no Valve games are on Origin. I do not feel like I am losing as a consumer because of this.

        My copies of Mass Effect 1 & 2 are on Steam. My (PC) copy of Mass Effect 3 has to be on Origin. The clause that got everyone up in arms was that Valve requires a game’s DLC to be serviced through Steam too, rather than through the company website. Valve presumably gets a 30% cut of DLC sales, but for consumers that means that when the game itself goes on sale, so does all the of the DLC. That is a huge win for consumer, given I have never seen Mass Effect/Dragon Age DLC discounted (excluding a GOTY box).

        I would rather have smaller, 50% off summer sales (or whenever) but lower prices the rest of the time. (Call of Duty Black Ops is still 60€ on Steam -out of sale- which is much more expensive than the physical retail copy).

        How much is Mass Effect 3 on Origin, by the way? Or Saint’s Row 3? Or Battlefield 3? Actually the latter is still “on sale” for $39.99, but the others are still at full price. Digital retailers default to to MSRP as a general rule, and I agree that that is annoying when the margins are so much better for them (and they pass nothing on to us).

        The thing about Steam sales is that they are often much, much deeper discounts than you could ever get at retail. And they include a game’s DLC, which never happens at retail at all.

        Re: Opinions.

        My problem with that original sentence is that there is often not much point in expounding upon reasonings that are based on emotional judgments or subjective experiences. No real discussion can occur – if I found the combat in game X clunky, and you found it responsive and nuanced… okay, now what? Other than you being wrong and me being right, of course.

        We can say that “This game sucks” or “Paladin mechanics are bad” are not particularly useful bits of feedback for designers to use, but I do not expect everyone to be able to enunciate the finer intricacies of their emotional reactions. If something feels off, chances are it is actually off, independent of one’s ability to explain why and how. “Justify your opinion or shut up” leads to *less* conversation overall, as people simply don’t bother to speak.

        P.S. While my tone may come off as aggressive/accusatory, no personal offense is meant.

  9. @ Azuriel: While you make valid points I still maintain that it is way too early to judge Origin. I feel that they need more time to prove themselves and I do believe that they will prove to be a worthy rival to Steam. Time will tell I guess.

    I took no offence to your posts. On the contrary your in depth comments and opinions are more than welcome! I always feel flattered that someone took the time to make a good reply to a post on this silly not-so-old blog even if they do not share my opinions. (plus you write a great blog!)

    I fully agree that some opinions cannot be argued. I thought about exploring this in the original point but felt that I would be going off at a tangent. If I say I like the color yellow best I certainly do not need to give a reason. That is a matter of taste and its very personal. Likewise if I say I hate MMOs with a sci-fi setting it would be feeble to argue with me that I should not. As you aptly said: Subjective experience cannot be argued with. However, very few people are subjective in their criticism. At the end of the day there is good criticism and bad criticism.

    The whole point of the post (which, seeing the replies, I failed to properly get across) is that many gamers would do well to stop pledging allegiance to one particular brand and instead open themselves to everything that the gaming world has to offer. I recognize that most people don’t have the liberty to try out more things due to lack of resources but they should not go all out against any ‘rival’ brand just because of that.

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