Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.
This week’s question comes from Crystal. We’ve discussed a lot of items regarding what we like and don’t like about the industry lately, but we’ve never really addressed the core of the problem.
If you could change any one thing about the gaming industry, what would it be?
Christopher Bowen: I’m aiming big: the death of traditional publishers or publishing.
I could conceivably tie most of our industry’s major issues to traditional publishers. The proliferation of constant, yearly sequels with minimal improvements and no new ideas comes about because publishers have become risk-averse. The crippling bugs we see in our games today can be blamed on the fact that publishers lose market share if they delay a title, so they ship out a terrible game and hope to patch it later just to make street date. Staff-burning crunch is so stressful and constant with people being moved from one crunch project to another, and it comes about because large publishers are huge enough that middle managers are effectively killing their people for their own advancement. Online passes exist because large publishers have the leverage to destroy the first sale doctrine by way of technology. The sports video game market is desolate because one major publisher owns exclusive licenses to all of the key leagues. SecuROM and other intrusive forms of DLC exist because publishers know that our desire to play their beloved franchises supersedes our desire to not turn our systems over to them in most cases. The day-one DLC is around because publishers decide for marketing reasons to cut out parts of their games for the purpose of selling it back to gamers after the purchase. And don’t even get me started on subscription services such as Call of Duty Elite or EA’s Season Pass.
Still need more? Check out what Electronic Arts and LucasArts did to Goldeneye 007 developer Free Radical via this write-up at Eurogamer. That piece should be required reading for anyone who cares about this medium.
Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft, Square-Enix and their subsidies, Capcom, etc. They are the problem in every regard that I’ve noted. Granted, there are other problems within the industry, most of which trace back to Zynga and the companies that try to copy them. But virtually all of the truly hurtful advances, things that hurt gamer and industry worker alike, have come about because beancounters in large offices in what are now publicly traded companies decide that it would help their bottom line, or at the very least train consumers to adjust to hostile practices that would eventually lead to revenue enhancement as they became the norm (such as online passes, on-disc DLC, and the like). The whole point of a business—and the legal responsibility of one publicly traded—is to gain as much market share as possible, getting as close to being a monopoly without incurring the wrath of the SEC. They will do whatever they can do accomplish that, consumer be damned.
Of course, it’s hard to be sympathetic to consumers when they keep displaying all of the traits of Stockholm Syndrome. Call of Duty ’12‘s trailer is out, and it was announced during the best time to grab a real gamer’s attention: an NBA playoff game. It will predictably sell millions of copies and push millions more of their $50 annual Elite subscription, which will be necessary for gamers who want to be at least semi-competitive online. That in turn creates a situation where it costs $110 to play a game that will be irrelevant in twelve months and whose single player campaign is over in six hours. This is all irrelevant, though; the game will push sales that would break industry records if Activision’s other games were taken out of the equation. Capcom pulled Mega Man Legends 3 because the company has decided that the West will simply get “Western” style games. Note Capcom’s U.S. site, for instance, which features Capcom X Tekken and three different Resident Evil games, the newest of which Masachika Kawata is on record as saying had to abandon its survival horror roots because those games don’t sell in the West. All gamers can do is create online petition after online petition, whining like sycophants for their lords in Japan to bestow their light of salvation upon our benighted lands. It’s pathetic.
Obviously, the alternatives have their own problems; e.g. the mobile market is scattered enough for Trip Hawkins, EA’s founder and the head of Digital Chocolate, to say that the market needs publishers for better games to be noticed as if they’re sheriffs coming in to clean up the town. I think the alternative is better than our current system of a few really big players carving up the market—our medium—for their own financial benefit at the cost of their customers. I, for one, welcome our new Kickstarter-funded overlords.
At least until they get bought by Zynga.
Mohamed Al Saadoon: There is a lot wrong with the industry these days, but if I had to choose one, it would be the removal of restrictive DRM.
Shitty DLC practices, buggy games, and Online Passes are all things I can avoid or ignore for the most part, but when it comes to DRM, that’s fucking it. If a game has SecuROM or Starforce or other inane bullshit, I can’t play that game. End of story.
I still really don’t understand the logic behind putting these DRM schemes in games, either. Publishers must realize at this point that DRM really has no effect on piracy whatsoever and that pirates will always crack a game one or two days after release. Sometimes, they’ll even leak the whole game before the release date. On purely business grounds, this makes absolutely no sense at all: paying good money for a service that does absolutely nothing for you and, if the publishers even care, inconveniences your own customers. In fact, the more restrictive your DRM, the more likely the game will be targeted by pirates as a matter of principle. So this isn’t paying good money for no service, it’s paying good money to slap a bullseye on your game.
Now, I’m not against all DRM. Steam is a form of DRM in itself, but the difference is that Steam provides me multiple services that enhance my experience (servers, friends, statistics, remote installs, offline mode, automatic patching, etc). SecuROM fucks with my system and DVD drives before I install a crack and that’s about it.
No wonder publishers are moving towards more restrictive measures, like Ubisoft’s always on Online DRM and EA’s Origin.
Nathan Wood: Although Chris covered almost every significant issue that’s plaguing the industry right now, there’s something that has really bothered me over the last few years in the industry that hasn’t been mentioned yet: the apparent trend that games must include an online multiplayer component even though the title may have been traditionally single-player. Sure, it’s a part of the game that I can ignore completely, but I try to get all my money’s worth out of any game I purchase because it’s an expensive hobby. I want to at least try and see what the mode has to offer.
Publishers seem to believe that a multiplayer component has to be shoehorned into a game for it to be successful. Hell, Electronic Arts openly stated that “single player games are dead.” I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. Let me list a few titles for you: Dead Space, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Bioshock, and the God of War trilogy. They’re all tremendous titles in their own right that saw, or will see, multiplayer thrown into the experience. Each time a new multiplayer mode is going to be introduced into the series, the studio generally promises that their focus is still on the single-player. However, having any part of the team move away to build a multiplayer experience means there’s just that much less focus on the single-player part.
We already have our Halo‘s, Call of Duty‘s, Battlefield‘s, and Killzones. We don’t need any more of them, and I simply don’t understand why someone would forego all these other titles that have strong multiplayer components instead of thinking to themselves, “I feel like playing Dead Space 2 online.” It just doesn’t happen. Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed some of the newly incorporated multiplayer modes more than I thought I would, most recently Mass Effect 3’s and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. But if the development of multiplayer features detract from the single-player experience in the slightest, which is what I really wanted in the first place, then I’m not pleased.
Thankfully, some notable heads in the industry agree with me, and I’m beyond grateful that titles like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Batman: Arkham City have enjoyed the success that they have as they show companies like EA that there is a market for single-player games.
Moving forward, I sure hope this changes. And couch co-op? Whatever happened to that? I would be more than happy to have that back in exchange for some of these shoehorned online multiplayer modes.
Crystal Steltenpohl: Mohamed basically covered the complaint I was going to talk about, so in the interest of covering something different, I’ll say that I wish there were more diversity within the industry, especially represented in video games themselves. I personally find that I have a much richer gaming experience when the characters of a game have different perspectives and backgrounds. I find that we tend to whitewash a lot of the gaming experience or fall back to stereotypes, which annoys the hell out of me. Some of this problem is mitigated in games where you decide what your character looks like; e.g. companies like BioWare have been cool about same-sex relationships, and it seems to be less of a big deal nowadays when a female is a lead character.
Even so, it just kind of sucks that it’s still considered something to be remarked upon when a main character of a game is some other minority status. I really wish it were more normalized. I don’t mean that we should include characters for the sake of diversity, like making a checklist and saying, “Yep, we’ve got our black guy! Okay, where’s the Asian chick?” Rather, I’d like it if we moved away from including someone who’s just going to serve as a token character or as a portrayal of a stereotype and towards normalizing said populations so that it’s not a big deal when they show up in games. I think if we were able to do this, we’d be able to have deeper storylines and characters who are a lot more interesting. So please, cut it with the stereotypes and stop making it a thing whenever there’s someone who isn’t a white male or female as a lead character.
Maybe it’s just me, but while I love Liara, I think it’s weird that no one freaks out when you can have sex with a blue alien chick who can go into people’s minds, but they will throw a fit over the mere possibility that two dudes could have sex in an MMORPG.