Apex Legends’ Iron Crown highlights the awful relationship between gamer and developer

The Apex Legends community is up in arms over a Reddit thread, in which Respawn developers and employees referred to some of its players as “ass-hats” and called a commenter a “dick” in the wake of its controversial Iron Crown event. The comments made by project lead Drew McCoy and community manager Jay Frechette have received thousands of downvotes, with some saying that they have “alienated” their players as a result of their frank responses to criticism.

McCoy and Frechette’s comments in the thread are surprising. As the gaming community has become increasingly prone to outrage and vitriol, rarely do developers truly open up to their player base. As a result, it’s unusual to see two developers behind a game as huge as Apex Legends being so blunt. McCoy even referred to this change in the players he’s serving: “I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember when players weren’t complete ass-hats to developers and it was pretty neat,” he wrote in a comment that’s received nearly 4,000 downvotes.

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McCoy and Frechette’s comments were made after the uproar surrounding the Apex Legends Iron Crown event, which introduced 24 new cosmetic items that were mostly obtainable in randomized loot boxes. However, as players are capped at earning two loot boxes through in-game grinding, this meant that they had to fork out for extra loot boxes if they wanted to obtain everything the Iron Crown had to offer. With loot boxes priced at $7 a pop, this resulted in them having to pay out around $170 if they wanted all the new gear (via Forbes).

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Respawn and publisher EA changed this after no small amount of backlash, with these items now being purchasable for $18 apiece after being rotated into the normal store. This means that players will no longer have to keep gambling on loot boxes to get the skin they want, but it’s also a lot of cash for cosmetic items.

Respawn announced this change in the Reddit thread, with Frechette noting that the developer had “made a promise to players that we intend to do monetization in a way that felt fair and provided choice to players on how they spent their money and time.” He added that the Iron Crown event had “missed the mark …  by making Apex Packs the only way to get what many consider to be the coolest skins we’ve released.”

However, the response to this post wasn’t exactly overwhelmingly positive. Many criticized Respawn for having restricted the cosmetics to Apex Packs in the first place, while others pointed to the high pricing of the new skins in the store. This is when things got ugly:

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Apex Legends is the tip of the iceberg

The relationship between those who make the games and those who play them is worse than any other entertainment medium. Few major publishers and developers manage to slip by unnoticed, with the growing prominence of microtransactions leading to multiple, seemingly neverending controversies. The concern surrounding these microtransactions and loot boxes is often warranted, though the intensity of each backlash is not. Death threats are sent, individuals with no control over the situation are targeted, and it never seems to slow down until the next controversy rears its head.

Prior to the backlash against Apex Legends‘ Iron Crown event, the gaming community steeped itself in an ongoing debate surrounding Epic Store exclusivity. After Ooblets developer Glumberland revealed the game would launch exclusively on the Epic Store, many deemed its announcement post to be passive-aggressive in tone. The post called Epic Store exclusivity “the latest thing Gamers™ have gotten angry about,” asking those reading to “have just a little perspective about what we decide to get angry about.”

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After the backlash to the announcement message, Glumberland opened up about receiving hate messages. “We’ve been getting thousands if not tens of thousands of hateful, threatening messages across every possible platform nonstop,” the team said in a message posted to Patreon. “It’s especially hurtful since we’ve had such a positive, supportive relationship with our audience throughout development.”

For years, the gaming industry has operated on the basis of the customer always being right. However, with a vocal contingent of these customers taking it upon themselves to target and harass developers over every perceived injustice, maintaining this ethos is becoming increasingly difficult. How can the customer always be right if that customer is sending you death threats over in-game microtransactions?

In the case of Apex Legends and Ooblets, the tense relationship shared between game developers and consumers has never been more apparent. The industry is changing and many don’t like the direction it’s headed in, with loot boxes and microtransactions becoming the new normal in the big-budget “AAA” games industry. Many feel that games are becoming overly monetized, with full-price retail releases often asking players to make separate transactions to obtain all in-game content.

This is an issue that begins at the very top of the industry. Publishers need to placate their shareholders, who push for routine and exponential growth. As we’ve seen on multiple occasions, when a publisher isn’t achieving this exponential growth, drastic budget cuts are typically made.

Cultivating a toxic environment

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Game development isn’t exactly cheap. As such, rather than tasking multiple developers with creating multiple games and seeing which ones stick, publishers now often prefer “games-as-a-service.” This sees games built from the ground-up with the intention of them being played over a number of years, with additional funds being raised from the DLC and microtransactions injected into them. This ensures that one team can work on one game for an extended period of time, rather than a publisher having to consistently move onto new projects.

Theoretically, games-as-a-service maximize profits while simultaneously reducing development costs. However, we’re seeing an increased pushback against these methods, with consumers now warily assessing every game that looks to adopt this business model. Considering that every major publisher is looking to sell more games-as-a-service, this means that a huge portion of the games industry is being treated with constant skepticism. As a result, developers find themselves being routinely targeted regardless of their level of input when it comes to in-game monetization.

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From a PR standpoint, it’s the preferred course of action for developers to nod their heads in approval and apologize when their community lashes out at them. But there are real humans behind these games, and these humans are being subjected to increasingly high levels of toxicity due to business decisions that are typically out of their control. These decisions are made to achieve immense profits, and when those profits aren’t achieved, we’ve seen these developers turfed out by their employers in far-reaching budget cuts.

But because the arguments against pernicious loot boxes and microtransactions are valid, many in the gaming community feel justified in their behavior. After all, the campaigns against games such as Star Wars Battlefront 2 worked, so they’ve been shown that mass amounts of online pushback can work as intended. However, by waging this online war with everyone tangentially related to a video game, the gaming community is posing a similar threat to gaming as its widespread budget cuts; why would talented people continue to want to work in an industry that doesn’t value their work?