The Needles

The Needles
Left 4 Dead 2: Why the Boycott Is a Good Thing

Andy Chalk | 16 Jun 2009 17:00
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Did you hear the one about the guys who got so excited over the announcement of a new game that they all banded together and refused to buy it?

It's not actually a joke. It's the L4D2 Boycott Steam Community Group and it has about 30,000 people standing behind it, united in anger over Valve's E3 announcement of a sequel to the hit multiplayer zombie killfest Left 4 Dead. You've almost certainly heard about them by now, as the group's enthusiastic opposition to a new addition to the franchise has received widespread coverage, much of it not terribly sympathetic, in the gaming press.

Their anger isn't directed at Left 4 Dead 2 so much as it is at the perception of Valve's inevitable failure to adequately support the original Left 4 Dead, as well as the schism the new game will cause in the community as fans are presumably forced to focus on one game or the other. The group's manifesto therefore calls for Valve to "honor its commitment to release ongoing periodic content for Left 4 Dead" and that Left 4 Dead 2 be released not as a full-priced sequel but as an expansion to the original game, free or, at the very least, at a discount to owners of the original game.

That seems unlikely. Soon after the game's announcement, Left 4 Dead writer Chet Faliszek said in no uncertain terms that what Valve wanted to accomplish simply wouldn't be possible in an update. "It just became very clear that this was a cohesive, singular statement we wanted to make, not a more slow update thing... too much stuff was tied together with too many other things," he told Ars Technica. "The Common Infected - now there is destruction in different parts of their body, to ship all the new Common Infected, even with an update, would be a huge thing."

But when I asked one of the administrators of the boycott group about Faliszek's explanation, he rejected it outright. "Considering Mr. Newell has admitted on other news sources that L4D2 was primarily motivated by the limited DLC system on the Xbox 360, we feel that Chet's response was not valid," the admin, who goes by the name Mr. Pancakes, told me in an email exchange. "Looking at the DLC provided for their other major multiplayer title, Team Fortress 2, the argument loses its weight. Every time they've added a weapon, update, power-up or drop item, it has 'changed everything'. Any new variable you add to a game changes the whole landscape, so it's easy to see that as a platitude rather than a real response."

It's a rather presumptive argument and, unless Valve suddenly confesses that it's all a big lie and this is really just a naked cash grab, one that inevitably leads to deadlock. It also hints strongly at the possibility that no explanation will satisfy the naysayers, no matter where it comes from or how rational it is. Furthermore, calling Chet (and Gabe Newell, and by extension everyone else at Valve) a liar does nothing to bolster the group's credibility and has even generated some mocking backlash. But Mr. Pancakes doesn't feel the criticism being directed at the boycott is representative of Left 4 Dead fans as a whole.

"As with anything else that gets popular, there's always people who have to stand out by railing against it. We just try to take the criticism and insults with good humor," he said. "If we were really screwing up that badly, I don't think that we'd have over 27,000 members so far. [Nearly 31,000 at press time.] Unlike some of our critics, we are not comforted by the ambiguous language Valve has been using in its statements as of late."

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