I feel justified yet disgusted with myself at the same time
I've been thinking about the word hardcore as it's used in the context of gaming, and think that it should be replaced with enthusiast.
In some circles (not mine), hardcore tends to carry connotations of elitism, snobbery, entitlement, etc. I personally think that it sounds pretentious, like calling yourself a hardened badass just because you sink more time and effort into more complex games than the general public. It also seems to divide "casual" and "hardcore" into opposing groups like oil and water, and can lead to passionate yet short-sighted people into claiming that the other side is too much of one thing and shut out each other's viewpoints.
If there's a polarizing but generally panned game, the asskissers will tell the vocal critics to stop complaining, and pretend the industry is all flowers and kittens. "It's not bad, it's just different!" they exclaim. "You're just hating on stuff because you're a bitter, angry, lonely man that has narrow desires and doesn't want any compromise!" they say. "Because of this, I don't have to listen to what you're saying, because you're not here for fun, just to troll!"
I don't deny that there are people like this (and those that truly are should be ignored), but many of the so called hardcore, while in their passion come across as arrogant, simply want nothing more than honest discussion and higher standards because they love the medium so much. It does a disservice to everybody to disown any dissenters as "elitist trolls," not only because flamewars suck, but because it perpetuates the very problem these people like me talk about, even though we could stand to express it better. Sometimes, there ARE bad practices, and it's best to acknowledge it and have an honest, open discussion, than to plug our ears and pretend everything's okay just because some think that those who have a valid point are mean so what they say doesn't matter and dismiss it as a veil for irrational hatred.
What I'm getting at is that regardless of whatever goes on at the consumer level, this poisonous thinking has entered the minds of many publishers and developers, and among many of them it has practically become the instinctual, default dismissal of vocal criticism. It's both an emotional defense mechanism, and a way to make their work easy for them so they don't have to try to think too hard. They feel that it takes a load off their back, because now they don't have to worry all the time if what they're doing is the right thing.
Take a game like Thief 4 for example. A lot of people (rightly, in my opinion) call the game out as a shallow, rushed, watered down mess, trying to appeal to a mass market with a franchise and gameplay formula that does not have mass appeal. I feel that while it uses the same surface gameplay mechanics, the core of the game uses a completely inverted philosophy, which ends up with a game that pleases neither crowd.
The old games were about player-centric gameplay, predictable and reliable mechanics that if you were smart and knew how to use them well, would do just fine. It was about presenting a big, complex problem, dropping you in the middle of it from a safe vantage point, and asking you to formulate a working strategy and solve the puzzle. There were many automated systems at play, and one wrench would set off a chain reaction (emergent gameplay). The world was alive, yet predictable, it was your job to master it and bend the automated forces at work to your will.
The new one is about character and story-centric gameplay, placing player freedom in a small box with no real say in the experience. Not a bad formula on its own, but it has no place with mechanics designed for the OPPOSITE core design. While you still get to play cat and mouse while grabbing trinkets, that's where the similarities end. The game goes out of its way to control YOU, and does all it can to remain within its comfort zone. By contrast, the old game was flexible enough to tolerate you breaking the hell out of its comfort zone, and encouraged it. This Thief doesn't want to create Rube-Goldberg machines from scratch for an autonomous mechanical representation of the perfect heist, he just wants to get to the next objective marker at a point of no return, to get to the next cutscene, as its cinematic setpiece representation of the perfect heist.
Again, this design isn't bad for a Call of Duty or Halo, but here, it's in the wrong damn game. If it wants me to experience a very specific story, why can't it be a well written plot worth caring two shits about? If the surface mechanics seem to tell me that I have freedom, why doesn't it let me write how Garret acts as soon as I start trying to do things the designer doesn't want him to do? Why does it spend so much time and money trying to shove such a stupid, vapid and boring backstory down my throat? The original games certainly didn't have Grade-A storytelling either, but there, it was mere setting. Once you were in the level, YOU wrote the story.
Hellish development cycles and production quality issues aside, design philosophy and the developer attitude surrounding it is this game's biggest pitfall. For years, fans told EM exactly what kind of game they wanted to see. People like Stephane Roy go "yeah, yeah, that's nice, but you're a tad noisy, and I like my ideas better and consider yours and Looking Glass's shit, so I'm gonna dismiss you as fanatics and shut the window. *slam* Ah, now where were we, soulless committee? Oh, yeah, check these tickboxes, and these ones too, and..."
He's running around getting interviewed, acting like the game is completely fine and is just providing some trivial insight in how a fine craft was forged, but it shows through as the self-doubting PR stunt that it is. The sales have been doing poorly, and the only good ratings it gets is from paid off advertisers with the veil of journalism by establishments such as GameInformer.
I might be mocking Stephane Roy, but I don't actually hate him, only how he's behaving. I wish he would do a 180 on ignoring the Thief fanbase, as what they're saying is really quite valid and would benefit immensely from levelling with us.
We're all human. We all basically want the same thing. It's a good idea for all of us to take a step back in the thick of things and refocus on all of our desires. Devs want to make a living exercising artistic and technical skill as a blended science to create cool interactive experiences, and to share that joy with others. Players want to be entertained, challenged, and inspired by these creations. If the walls could be broken down and everyone hears what everyone else has to say, this industry could be a lot better of a place.