Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Customers, Customizers, and Citizens

I have been reading a fairly typical RPGnet thread about a game some of my colleagues design and playtest, with the very simple question. What do you want?

And the answer, at length, to another question: what do you do when a game product doesn't give you what you want?

Well, you can make peace with it, or you can act like one of these three characters.

The customer drops the game for something they enjoy better.

The customizer chooses to stick with the game. Maybe they have an attachment to it, or find it too convenient a language of common experience for fellow players to let go. But they satisfy their complaints by making the game their own; customizing it with add-ons and house rules.

The citizen is often seen on message boards; in fact, I think someone who reads a lot of them is bound to overestimate the frequency of this character. This is someone with such attachment to the product that they act as if its makers are a government that is obliged to listen to the complaints of its citizens. What's more, the typical citizen will claim to speak for the majority of their fellow inmates.

Trapped as if by accident of birth in their imaginary country, often you will hear the citizen-fan swearing to boycott and leave, just as some do when their side loses a bitter election. (Forum moderators call this behavior "flouncing.") They may stop buying products - though even that claim is suspect - but they won't leave the fan community, forming a perpetually dissatisfied government-in-exile.

Sometimes the customizer will ask the citizen why they don't just take matters into their own hands and run the version of the game they like. The answer is usually "I don't have the time" - never mind all the time you have spent on the internet haranguing people to change it for you. Or "I paid good money for this product, it is not my job to fix it." So how long are you going to wait for "Hey, The Company Finally Listened to Me" edition?

Perhaps this is why I find the old school community so refreshing, after going on 8 years in various capacities working on the side for a "government" - a commercial game line with a relatively large and highly identified fanbase. With no company to accuse of profiteering, no official products to fall short of the One True Vision of the game, the customizers of the retro-clone movement simply strike out on their own and share their ideas, triumphs and failures.

Normal, mature behavior, perhaps, but refreshing all the same.


  1. You win an Internet Roger. I actually prefer to think of myself as the customizer trying to become the customer. I find myself trying all sorts of different RPGs and games, looking for the one that provides the experience I am looking to have. I don't mind customization, and have even gone so far as to do customizing, but I am ever vigilant for the game that will allow me to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the game as written.

  2. Nice analysis. I truly don't get the Citizen mentality.

  3. Only social psychology can explain it, Matthew. The more a game uses social identity to rope in players and make them stick - clans, splats, or just the fact of being in a community - the more it opens itself up to the entitled citizen mentality. Annoying, but a kind of karma.

  4. So, did the game companies create the Citizen or did they tap into a new market?

  5. I'm not sure, but I think two big factors were White Wolf splat-identification, and the internet, both emerging in the 90's.

    In particular, what the internet gave, as no other experience except perhaps cons could, was the possibility to communicate directly between game designers and fans. This leads directly to "if they can hear is, they should listen to us."

  6. I think my own reversion to a type of old d&d comes from being a repentant citizen. The experience I wanted as a GM was not to be had by the perfect system/book...it is created *in play*. So I needed less rules. I guess that makes me a customizer, who picks the rule system he finds easiest to customize.

  7. Yes - on-the-spot rulings are the basis and very essence of customizing. Most custom rules sets are just memories, or anticipation, of rulings that have to be made.