In recent years, a disturbing trend has manifested where video game developers are verbally attacking gamers on social media. Part of the reason for this is players are becoming more invested in the video games that they play and as a result are holding developers and studios more accountable. Naturally, there are some developers that are terrified of the additional scrutiny that fans are sending their way, so they lash out in fits of rage.
As our culture becomes more divided, many game developers are becoming more insular and detached from players. As a result, an unhealthy “us versus them” mindset is beginning to take hold in the video industry and in the entertainment industry. Players and audiences are accused of being entitled if they dare to critique the horrible games and films that have been foisted upon the public in the past few years.
Over the weekend, veteran SOE, Daybreak, and Darkpaw developer named Alan VanCouvering came out of hiding and viciously berated a player named Skuz on the official EverQuest forums. After his unprovoked tantrum was over, he crawled back into his safe room and has not been heard from since.
For those not acquainted with the EverQuest forums, Skuz is one of the most prolific forum members in the EQ community. Although I do not agree with him all the time, he’s a thoughtful and wise EQ veteran player who goes out of his way to help newbies and others. He also is someone who routinely holds Enad Global 7, Daybreak, and Darkpaw accountable with his posts.
Recently Studio Head Jen Chan, posted an EverQuest Producer’s Letter that was a combination of a progress report and a roadmap for the near future for EQ. During the conversation, the technology of the EQ graphics engine came up with Skuz posting his thoughts on how to modernize EQ graphics.
EverQuest Lead Content Designer Alan VanCouvering AKA Absor, who rarely posts on the forums could not help himself and posted the following in response:
I’ve been scanning this thread and this sure stood out to me.
I don’t think you know what a graphics engine is… You certainly don’t know the slightest about making games and certainly nothing about 20+ year old game.
From a logical standpoint, VanCouvering’s reply is makes no sense. He is not a mind-reader. Clearly, he has no idea what Skuz knows or what he does not know. Making broad assumptions about a person’s expertise based on a few paragraphs from a player is reckless and irresponsible. If a player had made similar disrespectful remarks that questioned Alan VanCouvering’s expertise rest assured, they would be promptly banned from the forums. VanCouvering’s own cruel remarks are in fact a violation of the forum guidelines.
From a human point of view, Mr. VanCouvering’s response can only be characterized as contemptuous, mean-spirited, and highly unprofessional. It is even worse when you consider that VanCouvering is a company employee who represents Enad Global 7, Daybreak Games, and Darkpaw Games for over 16 years. Alan VanCouvering got his start as a community manager with EverQuest. To perform that role effectively, you must have good people skills which include the art of diplomacy. Sadly, Alan’s people skills have atrophied over the years. In an industry rife with nepotism and cronyism, too often the role of community manager — an entry level position — is given to friends and family who are unqualified for the job.
Alan has a reputation for being cranky. Insulting jibes and barbs are nothing new for the irascible VanCouvering. A few months ago, he made this unproductive remark to a player in the bug forums:
It is ironic that Alan refers to Dale Carnegie’s classic book: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Perhaps he should read it before using it as a clever put down.
There is nothing helpful in VanCouvering’s response to Skuz. Instead, we see the unvarnished thoughts of a bitter person who used his authority as a developer to try to make someone feel small. Skuz is not just someone who came out of the woodwork to comment on the Producer’s Letter, he’s an articulate person with a well-established track record of caring for the EverQuest franchise.
Here is Skuz’s restrained response:
Yeah that’s the way to make the game better, rather than use your vast knowledge of the game to spread some wisdom just belittle someone unlikely to have anything like that kind of knowledge.
But hey if that cathartic release (of whatever nastiness that was from) made it less likely for you to unleash it on some poor sap who can’t handle it then I am happy it was me not them. I hope you feel better now.
I got something wrong, big deal, woulda been nice to learn something from it but that’s not happening here, so moving on.
Oh and FWIW I know what a Graphics engine is, & what it does – it’s the code responsible for rendering the game world from the asset libraries, for collision detection & managing the memory used for those tasks often in conjunction with other “engines” that can draw the sky, draw trees, draw active flora/fauna, manage particle & spell effects, lighting, interactions with the sound engine, AI engines that control NPC behaviour or even dialogue etc. but hey I must be an idiot cus I never worked on a game for 20 years.
Another poster named Trevor calls out Absor’s track record and lack of tact with the following:
that might be true, but also you know as much about making successful games as you have self restraint
imagine developing a 20+ year old game for a majority of those years and making changes so bad that trilogy private servers have a competitive playerbase with live servers & people reroll on TLPs every year to avoid the newer expansions
a game that only survives on deliberately making new content so unfriendly that people feel compelled to play (and sub/buy expansions on) multiple accounts
it was pretty unkind of you to reply that way, especially in such a fragile glass house
As a veteran EQ player with a game design background, I wholeheartedly agree with Trevor’s assessment of VanCouvering’s game design abilities. In a previous article, I took Alan to task and challenged him to do more to help the EverQuest franchise reach its full potential.
Even if we concede that Skuz hasn’t the slightest clue about making games, I submit that he knows more about EverQuest and cares more about EverQuest than Alan VanCouvering who has consistently shown that he is out of touch with the EQ playerbase and probably despises them.
Alan VanCouvering has set a bad example for the forums that already have an dreadful reputation for having the most toxicity in the MMO industry. Instead of using the forums to improve the EQ experience, the devs read the forums for entertainment. They get a chuckle from the unrequited passion that players share. They rarely if ever communicate with the players. Their sloth and apathy are a big reason why players are so upset. In the final analysis, you get the forums you deserve.
The buck stops with Studio Head Jen Chan. She is responsible for the employees that report to her. Chan is even more reclusive than VanCouvering. She has made no attempt to get to know the EQ community. She has made no effort to participate on both the EQ and EQ2 forums other than a few copy and pasted producer’s letters that are filled with meaningless fluff and precious little substance.
In the real world, if a developer showed public contempt for a player, there is a good chance they would be fired. If any of my staff talked this way to players, they would be immediately terminated.
Jen Chan seems to have a soft spot for old Alan. This is probably because being a diversity hire, she’s in over her head and hasn’t a clue of how to run a studio. The androgynous Chan needs to man up and to take decisive disciplinary action against Alan VanCouvering. He should also be forced to take some anger management training as well as develop some people skills. VanCouvering should be required to make a full-throated public apology on the forums. But what Jen Chan can’t do is to make VanCouvering find the passion that he once had for EverQuest and that’s assuming he had it in the first place.
VanCouvering is a good example of the PETER Principle where employees are promoted to the level of their incompetence. Since Sony Online Entertainment and Daybreak Games work on the antiquated seniority system, people like Alan who’ve been there since 2006 never get laid off. So now we have a person who was hired to be a community manager in charge of much of what goes into EverQuest. Is it any wonder that the EQ franchise is in such an appalling state?
Alan had a good run, but he needs to retire from the EQ franchise. I do not believe he cares about the EQ universe anymore. He’s not bringing his “A” game, he’s going through the motions and producing predictable, uninspired, cookie cutter expansions. Art reflects the artist. Design reflects the designer.
VanCouvering is the last person that should be lecturing anyone on game development. Alan is a mediocre and insecure game designer who’s managed to walk between the raindrops and fly under the radar for far too long. The content and mechanics that he creates in various expansions has a cruelty and meanness about it that serves only to confound and frustrate players. He seems to take a particular malevolent delight in punishing the players that have the misfortune to play his content.
What VanCouvering did by berating Skuz, is probably one of the most shameful moments in EverQuest history. If I had spent all the time that Skuz had on the forums trying to improve EQ and help players I would be devastated by a dev coming on and making such a cruel insult. Skuz has not posted on the forums since his reply to Alan and I don’t blame him.