Loose Screws – Communication, Killer Instinct, and the Struggle to Fight Negativity

I was browsing Twitter and I saw a long thread that was pretty eye-catching, especially as the FGC moved forward into a more corporate type of atmosphere. In the thread, HitBox Controller representative JohnXuandou argues that the reason why people get so heated and negative about people they perceive as “shills” in the FGC is really because of two reasons:

  1. The accused is not doing a very good job of reviewing how their tweets may come across to an audience
  2. The people doing the accusing aren’t really trying to understand where and how the accused may have messed up and instead have a blind, angry reaction

The point of the whole thing was that communication, as important and critical a skill as it is, is very difficult and most don’t really make the effort, and when they do, they often make human mistakes that further exacerbate the issue. I thought about that a lot, and it’s why I wanted to make this new blog post; the problem I was thinking of had a lot to do with communication, especially on social media.

Today on Loose Screws, I wanna talk about how communication, whether between developers and players or player to player, can sometimes break down to the point of becoming a constant wave of negative, unfortunate discourse that hurts a community and serve as a reminder that yes, words can actually hurt.

I’m going to be linking some posts from some folks who I feel, intentionally or not, contributed to this negativity, but for those reading, please don’t take it as a personal judgement! I don’t personally know many of these people, and, unfortunately, my only perception can come from how they choose to represent themselves on social media, which as I’ve already said, can be tricky.

With that said, let’s discuss Killer Instinct.

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Yes, that’s The Arbiter from Halo. This ain’t your mama’s Killer Instinct!

Killer Instinct was a new installment in the long dormant franchise, which first invaded arcades and Nintendo home consoles back in the mid 90’s. There was a big buzz about it, since it was going to be the first official next (now current) generation fighting game, and it looked amazing. Particle effects out the wazoo, redesigned versions of classic characters, and a soundtrack by the video game soundtrack maestro Mick Gordon that oozed awesomeness. Even top video game shill Max “Maximillian_Dood” Christiansen was fully on board, pushing out a ton of content towards hyping up the game

Unfortunately, despite all that buzz, it was also coming out amidst pretty substantial adversity.

For one, the game was announced early on to be exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox One console. I’d need a whole other article to explain why, but suffice it to say, Microsoft did the poor console no favors in the buildup to its release. Not only was it going to be released on a maligned and controversial console, but it was also an experimental release: developers Double Helix explained that the game was going to be a downloadable title, with the option to purchase the full game, the full game plus the two other characters to be released as downloadable content, or a free version that would only have one character. Any tournament organizer would tell you that having a game that was tied directly to an online profile  for access is far more difficult than actually having the physical disk. The exclusivity on a brand new console also meant that for tournaments to run the game, the organizers would have to shell out the $499 USD for a console that was really only going to be used for one game.

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Tournament Organizers as they listened to the logistics involving running KI

Luckily, the game still ended up at tournaments upon release, and running fairly smoothly, but the most damaging news would come a few short months after the game’s release in November of 2013. In February 2014, Amazon announced that they had purchased Double Helix Studios, effectively cutting short the company’s support of the game after just a couple DLC characters. Naturally, some were skeptical about the game’s future, although it turns out there wasn’t much to worry about.

Only a little bit of time passed before it was announced that the Chicago-based Iron Galaxy Studios were picking up the development of the title, which meant a new developer with a new creative direction for the game. To add to that, the game’s lead designer was Adam “Keits” Heart, a longtime figure in the FGC most known for running the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament for many years as well as being a formidable Tatsunoko vs. Capcom player. Right away it was clear that, unlike the relatively silent Double Helix (most likely as a result of their imminent buyout), Iron Galaxy would be open across social media to fans, willing to hear feedback from any and everyone.

And this is where the troubles began.

The KI community, much like the community for Netherrealm titles, is one that is largely made up of players who just play Killer Instinct, whether it be the 2013 game or the older titles. That’s not a bad thing at all, but the inexperience of the community when it comes to competing in fighting games often means that there are certain things they are less understanding about, chief among them balance. The first thing most players will do when confronted with losing is “how did so and so make it through the game” or “This shit is busted” instead of rational, developed thoughts, which is perfectly normal. Unfortunately, without the experience of knowing that many fighters are often these giant melting pots that sort of come together by accident, that perceptions at the moment WILL change, and that there are no “rules” when it comes to fighting games, a lot of players never move past that initial bratty phase and instead just vent louder to a wider audience.

With KI, this happened gradually. When Season 2, consisting of the Iron Galaxy-made characters, was coming out, there was a pretty decent negative reaction in the competitive community. Now, some of this can be attributed to the fact that almost every new character had page-long lists of bugs that would get fixed within a month, but would play havoc with tournaments and online play until that happened. But there was also definitely a push to say that this new season didn’t reward the mythical “fundamentals” of fighting games, that too many things “broke the rules.” Iron Galaxy had taken the game from Double Helix and shifted it from the game that was ruled by fundamentals to this new derpy game that made no sense, according to some (including its Evolution champion, who began to fall off hard right around this time). Stream chats and what little forums there were for the game filled up with complaints about the game, which again is pretty expected, but the top players were also joining in: the game was now “scrubby” and was going to “die” all the time. I lost count of how many times KI died and then made it to the next tournament on its last leg.

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KI from 2014 to now, according to some members of its community

The saddest part is that there was a lot of people really doing their best to make it work. Ultra Arcade, based out of Texas, fronted a nice chunk of cash towards a legitimate Killer Instinct World Cup, similar to the Capcom Pro Tour. Evan “8BH Zombie” Gengo and
Benjamin “OneSixStudios” Beleren founded the 8Bit BeatDown, an online tournament series that often tied into the KIWC and was a big community showcase any time it was on. The developers were fully on board and would promote the stuff as well as save announcements about new characters, costumes, etc. exclusively for streams of those tournaments. Any time there was a major patch, one could expect a stream with Heart and a few of the other designers talking about the new character releasing, as well as a very long list of patch notes that included reasoning behind almost all the changes. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a developer goes as above and beyond in the process of delivering information to the competitive base that Iron Galaxy did during Seasons 2 and 3 of KI.

Even with all that support, however, the negativity just kept coming. Heart, a prickly customer on his best day, was not shy about sharing his feelings on gameplay balance on social media or Twitch chats, but it got to a point where he was pretty much just sparring with known top players on a weekly basis. Players like Darnell “HollywoodSleep” Waller and Jonathan “Rico Suave” Deleon, both Evolution champions in the game, were quick to say that Heart and co. should “be more open” to game balance suggestions and that they definitely knew how to best balance the game (totally altruistic, folks!) for competitive play. It got bad enough to the point that a nasty rumor got started that a certain character wasn’t being changed because a high roller in the scene was bribing the developers so said character wouldn’t get nerfed. Eventually, even Heart tapped out, deciding that being as open as he was wasn’t worth the trouble anymore

With Heart’s self-imposed dismissal from being as open as before, business continued as usual. Top players quit forever only to be seen at the next tournament or online event, still full of complaints but never making the commitment to actually quitting. Some would make videos that were hours long, running down their grievances for the game and claiming to know why players and stream views were dwindling. Whether they were or not, I have no actual clue, but people sure seemed to say it a lot. Even an innocuous series of tweets from FGC figurehead David “UltraDavid” Graham was construed as being “really bad” for the game and a sign that something had to change. The fact that an Evo finalist was willing to be so childish when it came to defending his views toward the game all that needs to be said about KI during the past few years.

Even the 8Bit BeatDown guys, already overworked with the efforts of making the event work, decided enough was enough. A bit before shutting down the event for good, the two gentlemen responsible for the BeatDown posted an open letter that took the community to task for how bad the stream chats were getting and expressed genuine dismay at the decay of the small community they had worked hard for.

Now none of this is to say that KI was completely destroyed by these bad eggs; the community is still healthy thanks to the great online and you can still find it at tournaments where the dedicated players will play, even without the big money prizes of the KIWC. Current KI, despite a PC and Steam release, still has accessibility issues, but it’s also hard to argue that it wasn’t, in many ways, stunted by how hard of a push its own players made to seem like the game wasn’t worth playing.

Watching all of this happen was pretty disheartening. I really dived into KI during the first half of season 2, and I quite enjoyed the game. I had a great local scene and I enjoyed what the top players were showing off at the major tournaments. Even though I stopped playing for reasons I’ll keep to myself, I was happy that the scene was growing bigger and bigger. As much of a bummer it was to see the way the KI scene turn out the way it did, it opened my eyes to the same types of behavior that has been plaguing the Netherrealm games for some time now. I’ve talked about this before in previous posts, but it’s still a wild thing to witness.

With each new game, the NRS staff has begun to open up to the community, doing streams of new characters and balance changes and having a very dedicated community outreach person who is always available through Twitter or Reddit. Despite this willingness to be open, large swaths of the community seem desperate to ignore everything that is being communicated.

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NRS Scene when Devs try to explain bugs

I’ve heard criticism that NRS has been “radio silent” in the wake of the Injustice Championship Series that ended in October, despite a character trailer, stream, and release happening at almost the exact same time every month. If a bug is reported in the forums and then answered by a developer or similarly involved NRS staff member, the answer is made fun of and mocked because its not what they wanted to hear. Steve “16 Bit” Brownback, a quality assurance lead, is often cited as the reason a particular character is as good as she is and not “properly” nerfed. How a QA lead as an effect on what is ultimately the decision of another, much higher ranked person is beyond me, but this is what people think.

Much like KI too, players will discredit the game by saying its random or a game of rock, paper, scissors meaning that its balanced poorly, and so on and so forth. The one thing that separates it is that while the sect of KI players that want to shit on the game will do it just blatantly, NRS players will do it behind nineteen layers of ironic memes and lingo. It’s just as bad, but also far more annoying to read.

I’ve always wondered how things like this happen, where the disgruntled few get to have such a voice and why people who seemingly like a game can sound so bitter towards it, and I found some great explanations. Infil, a Canadian FGC member, has done a ton to advance KI beyond the negativity; he posts all the time on UltraCombo.net, the official KI forums, as well as creating this awesome KI mega-site that is essentially a one stop tutorial on how to play KI at a high a level. He made a series of posts last year that really seem to hit the nail on the head.

I’ll let you read them for yourselves, but to summarize, he talks about how the stress of playing can inevitably cause burnout, especially when top players are doing it for months and months on end. Unfortunately, a lot of young top fighting game players aren’t really mature enough to realize that the same burnout would happen in any game at any time. Instead, that negativity is cultivated toward the game they’re playing and it just builds and builds over months and years. He also mentions how being amongst a group of negative people can accentuate what would otherwise be minor quibbles. I think all of this applies, especially since it’s not really a secret that many top players in both communities tend to be in private chats away from forums.

It all comes back to what I mentioned in the beginning of the post: communication. The way we communicate on social media and forums and other places is really important because I don’t think some players understand that their voices carry significant weight. A seemingly innocent post like this could be construed by someone as “SEE, EVIDENCE THAT GAME SUCKS!!!111”, all because the person who posted it wasn’t really thinking about how their post could be interpreted, they just did it.

Which is the problem.

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Still the best response to salt

I don’t mean to say that you can’t be “real,” or whatever goofy thing people say to defend when they say something kind of dumb. I’m not even saying that you have to be polite and respectable; we’re all passionate, we make mistakes, and we shouldn’t have to live in fear that we may say something silly on social media. But it’s a two way street – you can say whatever you like about a game, but understand that there are plenty of people who will use what you say, especially if it’s negative, to validate their own thoughts and agendas. If you plan on competing in a game long term, it’s probably in your best interest to  see to it that you don’t plant the seeds of discontent, because you can’t dig them out once they’re in.

Nowaday, when I see really negative posts about a fighter from a pretty dedicated top player, I think of a famous quote from tennis legend Andre Agassi. Agassi is considered one of the best players to ever swing a racket, and he was probably one of the most dominant players of his time, but he revealed in his autobiography that he hated the sport, “hate[d] it with a dark and secret passion and always have.” It seems incredibly contradictory, but I think I can understand it. Like Infil pointed out, the pressure to be on top in a fighting game, in the age of better online and big money prizes, can be incredibly stressful and cause you to not really have fun in playing so much as insuring your survival. And as we move into the era of half or whole year-long tours, burnout can settle in quicker than ever. Even if you like the game, you just get sick of the stress it brings you. Who can’t empathize with that?

At the same time, if you are feeling that way, airing it on social media (especially if you are a person of influence) is dangerous because it’s really easy to say the wrong thing, and lots of people aren’t going to make the effort to understand. And words matter; look at how much of a drop Street Fighter V had in Evo attendance from 2016 to 2017, or how Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is talked about now. You may think “I’m just being salty it’s not a big deal,” but not everyone knows that when they just scroll through Twitter and see that. There is no such thing as a perfect game, and complaints about mechanics and characters are valid and probably expected, but vitriol robbed of nuance just adds fuel to the fire instead of simmering it down.

Everyone has the right to play or not play whatever they want, and for any reason, but there are more constructive ways to communicate that, and Killer Instinct and its (at times) turbulent community is living proof that all it takes is a few bad eggs to spoil a good time.

Thanks to all who took the time to read this. I don’t want this post to seem overly negative, so I want to again plug UltraCombo.com and ki.infil.net as THE resources to go to if you want to learn how to play KI, and TestYourMight.com where you may learn some occasional Injustice 2 stuff if you can wade through all the Dragonball Fighterz talk. Thanks again, and until next time,

 

4 thoughts on “Loose Screws – Communication, Killer Instinct, and the Struggle to Fight Negativity

  1. Thank you so much for writing this up man. I honestly cannot tell you how much I have lost interest in this game JUST BECAUSE the top players constantly talk shit about it. I still play the game but the people that I used to view as the community heads have shown to be the most spiteful of the game and everything about it. Brandon Alexander is one of those people, he talks shit about the game on Twitter all the time when it comes up. When you have top players going to Facebook and getting angry that someone asked them to start helping the community and responds with, “No top players owes shit to the community”, it just burns you out from wanting to get good enough to even get to know these people through playing the game.

    There’s still communities trying to do good for this game like the KI Discord and all of that jazz but even there the burnout is strong and you see more and more players going off to play whatever other game because those games have communities that actually like their game.

    Like

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed it! And I do feel legitimately bad, because I see the FGC as a good brotherhood, and it sucks to see something people are passionate for be torn down by bad communication and egos. I appreciate the comment and I hope you keep following, brother!

      Like

  2. Why the article now and not a year or so ago? There are similar ones like it, one that was recently covered on SRK. It’s pretty much retelling the tale and drawing eyes again to the negativity. We need some positive articles about the game. Like, how well it’s doing in Japan still, or how there’s a huge audience in the Russia community playing on the Steam version of the game. Stuff like that. Not things we already know about and are tired of hearing. That doesn’t do us any good.

    Like

    1. I’ve seen the interviews with Japanese players, and I think that’s a great thing. I specifically point out in the article that the community is well and alive, and I hope it continues to persist.

      The point of my blog is to point out blunders and mistakes that various communities make, so that we can learn from them. I realize that this is not news to the KI community, and I wasn’t aware of the SRK article, but I do feel there are important lessons to learn.

      I’m thankful for your comment and I’m glad you took the time to read

      Like

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