Last month a forgotten survival horror game saw a brief spike of interest thanks to a TikTok meme featuring a quirked up white boy busting it down sexual style on Jason Vorhees, all scored to a 2013 Katy Perry single.
It was a flash in the pan few will remember, but in that moment this forgotten game highlighted a weak spot in the superstructure of video game criticism that demands discussion. With single-player games critics have things pretty well covered. You get a review copy, play the game, write one review and call it a day. If a remaster or substantive story DLC comes along there will inevitably be a second write-up covering the content changes so consumers have a fresh interpretation of the game with the added clarity of modern context.
Content Warning: One instance of a homophobic slur. Have fun finding it.
Online-focused game reviews rarely get that second dose of future context, much to the detriment of gamers everywhere. Sure, there’s no reason to write an entirely new review when a game like Halo 3 shut down its Xbox Live servers. It’s a physical game for a dead console. The series of steps one would have to go through to get the dead multiplayer menu message in Halo 3 one would have to actively avoid learning the Master Chief Collection version of Halo 3 exists. But Halo 3 is from a bygone era where video games were a single-player-first product that came with a multiplayer mode. Granted, the multiplayer mode is a substantive one in the case of Halo 3, but there’s still a whole-ass video game on the disc even if not connect to the internet.
My first ever online gaming experience was an incredibly laggy match of Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock on the Playstation 3, hammered out on the plastic keys of a guitar on a cold December night in a double-wide trailer with shitty DSL internet that cut out if someone called the home phone. A lot has changed over the thousands of hours and dozens of games I’ve experienced since. It’s not uncommon for a game to be released intentionally unfinished. Not in the classic EA fashion where it’s pushed out broken because they know you’ll buy it anyway – mind you – but a game constructed as a solid foundation for a larger project.
If Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was an entire building, modern games-as-service titles like Apex Legends or Overwatch 2 debut as half-finished skyscrapers. A bare superstructure over an opulent lobby designed to sell potential investors on the idea they should invest while on the figurative ground floor so that the tower might reach its full potential.
Reviews from outlets – both full timers and indie critics – have cottoned on to the seasonal nature of games like this, constructing their criticism to include at least one paragraph explaining the idea upcoming DLC and balancing tweaks will change the game over time. They might even return to review specific season passes or big DLC events. But what happens if a promising skyscraper simply stops construction and is left to rot?
Oh look, we’re talking about a game that fits that premise…
The TikTok Trend.
In early June, Twitch streamer RelaxedWindowGaming was partaking in a time-honored TikTok tradition of reposting a clip with different audio dubbed over. In the clip, recorded in a match of Friday the 13th: The Game, RWG’s camp counselor is hiding in a locked room from that’s begin broken into by Jason Voorhees. As Vorhees starts to break the door down, RWG – clad in only a Speedo – triggers a dance emote. This seemingly catches Jason off-guard and stuns him into standing still in awe of the display of gyrating man-meat. One commenter suggested reuploading the footage with Katy Perry’s California Gurlz as the soundtrack, a suggestion that nets RWG his first video with a million views. RWG, sensing a content mine, pivots hard into Friday the 13th content in search of true virality, eventually producing a new California Gurlz clip that escapes his gamer corner of TikTok and nets 15 million views. Millions of users were being reminded for the first time in years that Friday the 13th: The Game exists.
[From here on out I’m going to refer to the films in the franchise with Ft13th and the video game simply as Friday to keep the word count somewhere near reasonable]
Not only that, RWG becomes an honorary spokesperson for the game, going as far as to upload a vlog in which he proposes the game has a healthy future, spurred on by publisher Gun Media posted a tweet promising to fix connection issues that’d plagued the game for several days.
The Two Competing Horrors.
Back in 2016 two online-only survival horror games featuring asymmetrical multiplayer debuted. One had the licensing of a popular horror film franchise, custom music from the composer of said franchise’s original music, and great marketing. The other was Dead by Daylight.
DBD was quite different at launch compared to the monster it has become. Six years ago the roster was a mere three Killer characters – all living in a comfortable you-can’t-sue-us zone of approximating three horror icons – and four Survivor characters. Of the three Killers only one made the box art: Evan “The Trapper” MacMillan. His lore, as is true of all early DBD lore, is easy to summarize: he’s a sensitive little rich boy pushed into be a swol anti-union murderer with extreme daddy issues. And no, that’s not a snarky reductive read of his lore. His villain origin story is based around hatred of unions.
Early DBD lore is a wild ride.
Suffice it to say: Evan MacMillan, DBD‘s beefy horror boy in a white mask with a machete, looks like what you’d get if you attempted to purchase Jason Vorhees from a Dollar Tree.
The formula of DBD is relatively simple: Survivors repair five of seven generators scattered around a map in third person while avoiding a copyright-skirting killer playing in first person. The Survivors’ only defense is using the environment to stun the killer, bonuses from perks that assist escaping, or annoying the shit out of the killer with a flashlight blind mechanic. While well-received, players and reviewers alike lamented not being able to fight back against the killer while working on only one path to successfully escaping.
Enter old man Vorhees several months later.
Friday offered a few things DBD didn’t. Its take on Survivors had several more strategic options for escape and a simplistic combat mode at their disposal. If backed into a corner, a lone camp counselor with a weapon had a chance at beating the shit out of a horror legend in hopes of running away during Jason’s brief stun period. As is true in the movies, Jason always gets back up. He can teleport too, but that’s not as faithful.
Friday also offered actual Jason Vorhees instead of Trapper’s amalgamation of his slasher archetype. Not only that, one gets access to a stable of Jasons to choose from, all lovingly crafted to replicate his looks across the majority of the Ft13th franchise. There’s even an adorable purple Jason as a nod to the infamous Ft13th game on the NES.
With six years of separation it seems the consensus of mid-to-negative reviews centered concerns that Friday was lacking in content and would need constant support to grow and sustain a healthy base in the face of competition like DBD.
That’s what we call a foreshadow.
The Half-Hour From Hell.
During the first week of newfound traffic over his California Gurlz clip, RelaxedWindowGaming was hard at work in the content mines. He produced a clip in which several identical Speedo-sporting counselors (a congregation he dubbed ‘gigachad’) knock out a Jason player and start doing the dance emote over his body, all timed to the closest thing California Gurlz can offer to a beat drop. This is the video that skyrockets past the 1 million view solo Chad dance, cementing RWG as The Friday Guy for the time being. As of this writing, 11 of the top 16 videos to use California Gurlz on TikTok are Friday memes either by RWG himself or inspired by his gigachad posts.
This is about the time I encountered the meme. I was deep in the throes of a months-long hyperfixation with DBD and had a passing interest in similar asymmetrical multiplayer games. Evil Dead: The Video Game released to extremely positive reviews from both establishment critics and streamers looking for something fresh. Video Horror Society, though infested with loot boxes and a Fortnite-style timed storefront, is nearing the end of its beta test and the general temperature in the room seems to be positive. Then a RWG meme reminds me Friday exists.
As someone who didn’t specifically pay attention to this subgenre in 2016, I had vague memories of positive reviews and some vocal players singing its praises at launch. For $15 it could be a fun supplement to the DBD itch. These are thoughts that now I know I wasn’t alone in thinking. Then I saw the Steam reviews.
Steam reviews are so god-awful they demand an op-ed of their own. It’s so common for gamers to leave meme positive reviews in hopes of farming awards and engagement, it’s damn near impossible to tell when a bad game is astroturfing to boost their score. Hell, sometimes gamers will accidentally astroturf a negatively-received game because a content creator they like made a meme about it. Even if a review’s continents are sarcastic or critical, the joke of listing that review as Recommended still counts as a Recommend in Steam’s eyes. On Friday’s page, sprinkled in amongst the Katy Perry quotes and references to gigachad, I see a handful of negative reviews and they’re all the same story. Each player loved the game at launch but the Friday has declined over the years. In the end, the downfall of Friday’s salad days was a lawsuit between the original Ft13th’s director and screenwriter. Gun Media issued a press release declaring they wouldn’t be releasing the nearly-finished Jason X DLC and would not produce any more content for the game.
That was in 2017. Friday has been left without new content for four years.
That’s so long Friday developer IllFonic not only developed a second asymmetrical game with a film franchise attached (this time Predator), that second game’s population has fallen into a death spiral. According to Steam Charts, Predator: Hunting Grounds can’t break 100 concurrent players even at peak hours. The only thing that’s changed about Friday since 2017 is Gun Media shut down its dedicated servers in 2020. All matchmaking is now done through peer-to-peer servers. Clicking the matchmaking button in Friday now simply tells the game to look at all player-made custom servers and find one with an open player slot. This move makes the game relatively cheap to keep alive while also opening the door to all sorts of unsanctioned mod fuckery.
None of that evolution is reflected in the original reviews for Friday, not even the ones suggesting the game will get better with age. Take, for instance, the penultimate paragraph of Tyler Wilde’s PC Gamer review at launch:
While I can’t review what isn’t there yet, it’s worth noting that the developers did want to add maps at one point: the Kickstarter campaign included unmet stretch goals such as a Manhattan map based on the awful Jason Takes Manhattan, one based on the space station in Jason X, and the option to play as Pamela Voorhees (the killer from the original, when Jason was just a boy in a lake).Tyler Wilde – PC Gamer review of Friday the 13th: The Game.
I hope those ideas make it in. It’s twice the price of Dead by Daylight, but with richer comedic potential and more to do in any given match…
[In a true twist of fate, DBD now costs double Friday’s Steam price.]
I knew this full well going in and still had an open mind. I hoped I’d be diving into a micro-community of people who love a certain film franchise and love running around as goofy 80s archetypes. To give the game the best chance possible I streamed Friday on a Friday night, usually a good time to find full servers in a healthy game.
After half an hour of trying I was only ever able to join one server. A server that it had been modded within an inch of its life.
By design a Friday server should only be able to hold seven camp counselor characters and one Jason. The server I found fluctuated between 20 to 30 players with multiple Jasons wandering the map, seemingly confused and woefully outnumbered. The server was so stretched to its limits the game would reach win condition every few minutes yet somehow the game would continue on for multiple ‘win’ states. Everyone present had an atrocious connection to the host, occasionally rubber-banding across the map like bad stop-motion. Just an army of underdressed twunks vibrating across the landscape.
Any sort of moderation was impossible as the game’s player list was not designed to have more than 8 people. Those who joined after the initial eight players physically disappeared off the bottom of the screen to a phantom zone where they could say whatever they wanted in voice chat without being muted by other survivors. As you might expect, this encouraged some Xbox Teen behavior. In addition to the usual nonsense, one player blared California Gurlz through his mic while promoting #SaveTF2 in his username, giving off the vibe it was a 40-something Steam player attempting to rekindle the salty days of his youth voluntarily rotting his brain on /b/.
Even if the game was still being maintained by IllFonic and Gun Media I don’t think it would’ve mattered much, as the text chat clearly wasn’t set up to censor slurs. You can’t say ‘ACAB’ or ‘teabagging’ in DBD text chat but you sure as shit can watch a Friday player call someone else in the server a fag in chat. Happy Pride.
Before anyone asks: Yes, I tried to make my own not-modded server to act as a sanctuary for the unplayable mess that was the only other server. After several minutes of nobody being sent into mine – despite evidence there were more than one game’s worth of players disconnecting and re-joining the modded one – I gave up. It’s not my job to babysit what has effectively become a custom game-only version of an online-centric game.
So, what happened? Wasn’t Friday this forgotten gem with a healthy community that a handful of TikTok streamers promised was worth buying? RWG shifted his entire channel to grinding out humorous Friday clips, there must be something there.
A quick check of Steam Charts shows the peak player population on the night I could only find one server was 494 people. With the handful of players that kept cycling in and out of the modded server I estimate I met 6 to 10% of the entire population in 30 minutes. To put into perspective how bad that is: DBD’s community occasionally groans about long wait times for matchmaking, waiting upwards of five minutes to get placed with four other players to make a match on weekday. “Not a lot of players” at off-peak time for DBD is 35,000 people. Not only that, every player gets to specifically choose what role they want to play. Friday – in an effort to be fair and accommodate lower player population – randomly selects who gets to play as Jason in a given round. Not only does it suffer from a lower player count, there’s a high likelihood some people in every match are playing roles they didn’t want.
The Need for Modern Reviews
This piece took so long to write the Steam Summer Sale has come and gone. Friday went on a huge sale from its retail $15 down to $3.74, causing the player base to double from the Hell Night I experienced. Even with this boost in player base, it feels like what little bubble has popped. As one of the few people on Steam who bothers to write multiple paragraphs with such fancy things as conclusions and punctuation, my reviews on games tend to get a handful of upvotes and rewards. My negative review of Friday on Steam that warns people away from believing the TikTok memes’ promise of a fun ‘hidden gem’ online experience has gotten the most engagement of anything I’ve posted on Steam. At the moment it’s still on the front page of ‘most helpful reviews in the past 30 days.’ The majority of comments left on that review tell the story of someone who either purchased the game already and regretted it, or almost purchased it before seeing the two visible negative Steam reviews hidden under stacks of California Gurlz lyrics..
Remember those reviews in 2016 that brought the game down to a 61 on Metacritic? The ones that said it had the bones of a good multiplayer game but it’d need a few years and some DLC to pad things out? Now Friday has DLC, it’s had several years, and the store page brags about how they’ve updated it to include content from the first six Friday movies featuring Jason. It’s the subject of a TikTok trend so strong the top three ‘most helpful’ reviews on Steam are all references to said trend, pulling in far more helpful votes and awards than the two top negative reviews.
Meme reviews dominating Steam is by no means a new phenomenon. It’s a cesspit out there. It’s so bad it’s a large motivating factor to me taking my own reviews and Steam Curator posts seriously. The system is inundated with content on par with the nonsense people type into five star iOS reviews to get an app to stop bugging them for a review. I’ve had enough.
Not to be mean, but let’s be honest: nobody gives a shit about Friday the 13th: The Game in 2022. Not on a substantive scale, at least. Still, it stands as a case study in what can happen with online-only games that find a home in the vacuum left by “it’ll get better with time” reviews that never actually come back ‘with time.’ The modern online game is designed to be a moving target partially so it can evolve and become something better, but also it conveniently offers an excuse to pivot and regroup if they fuck up and lose customer trust.
Gun Media, ironically, is still gunshy and did nothing to capitalize on Friday becoming a meme. They posted a tweet promising to fix the compromised online when it crashed a couple weeks into the meme and had the Friday Twitter account retweeted it. That’s the sum total of engagement with Friday having one last brief moment in the sun.
There needs to be more space made in the game criticism sphere for the re-review, be it updates to the original review document or a new post meant to act as an addendum. Something has got to change along with the business of how games make money before the business evolves to the point it takes advantage of those weaknesses. Friday getting a little bump in player count and some online notoriety was lightning in a bottle. Gun Media didn’t hire RWG to meme Friday back into the public consciousness. There’s a laundry list of content creators with wider reach one would’ve gone to first. But what happens when a corp with money and connections eventually hires influencers to casually push their followers to buy an otherwise abandoned game? A game that doesn’t reflect the context under which the original positive reviews were written?
I’d love to be wrong, but we both know the worst thing a person in the gaming industry can do is give mega-corps the benefit of the doubt. James Stephanie Sterling has made a career out of not giving corps an inch. They’ve been proven correct so often it’s awe-inspiring, frankly. Perhaps Friday having a brief reprieve from entropy wasn’t enough to change the industry, but it stands as a sign what might happen if a company actually tried to manipulate consumers into buying a fundamentally dead online game. For once, just this once, it might be best to let Jason rest.
Well, at least when RWG’s views dry up, as he’s still on that grind. A new Chad video went up just 50 minutes before this article went live.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for your time. This piece took a lot of effort to write and was a true labor of love. I cannot thank Elena Fernández Collins enough for their help editing this beast.
Usually this is the part where I ask for Ko-fi donations, especially since it’s my birthday next Sunday, but what I’d really like is your follow to my Steam Curator page if you’re a PC gamer. I put a lot of effort into my full reviews and the Curator mini-recommendations, and I think there’s some banger games in there you should know about (along with god-awful capitalism-addled monstrosities worth avoiding).