Groundhog Industry

lostmysmileIt’s been over a month since I wrote the infamous piece about the Consumerist vote, in which I made a reference to Aspergers’ patients voting in the poll form their parents basements. The fallout was swift – if anything, exceptionally so as it was over in two hours – as I was posted to 4chan and things went from there. What many people outside my friends circle don’t realize is that i actually made some phone calls that night. I called the Autism Hotline (never called me back), and a few friends who either had, or dealt with, Aspergers’ Syndrome and autism as a whole. They gave me some good feedback and helped me understand why it wasn’t as minor of a problem as I thought. I went into that weekend ready to write up a piece addressing the issue, one caused by a D- line in a C+ piece.

I never ran it. I didn’t even write it. How come? What stopped me? Was it cowardice? Or something else?

I’ll come back to this later.

The Xbox One announcement was a great time to be a prognosticator, because so far, everything that’s happened is something I predicted. I predicted that Microsoft would veer away from the “core” gamer in their pursuit of taking over the entire living room, and the non-gamers within it, because that’s where the 360’s been going for years so it makes sense for Microsoft to continue that. I predicted that Kinect would be a requirement because the next step for Kinect is for Microsoft to sell some of that data that they are always collecting (seriously, go read their TOS). I predicted that indie and single-A games would fall by the wayside as Microsoft focused more on a few big-name blockbusters. Basically, any big prediction that there was to be made about the Xbox One, I nailed it, and that’s not even impressive. I don’t talk to any big-name industry people at this point, I haven’t done an interview in well over a year, and I basically get my news and information from the same places every schlep on the internet does at this point. That’s not impressive, and in fact is a bit sad; I was able to predict the Xbox One reveal based solely on how the industry’s worked in the past.

In addition, what’s worse is that I’m likely going to be right about the future of the Xbox One as well. Microsoft is in full-on spin mode, outright lying to some members of the press while others give contradictory information, and then blaming it on the press themselves. At E3, they’re going to show off a few exclusive games, and the press will fall in line swooning over them, forgetting everything they’ve been writing this past week and a half about how awful the system was in that time. In the end, the Xbox One will sell, and sell well; it might even win the console generation, what’s left of it in the wake of the iPad and the Galaxy Nexus, despite everything going so wrong in the beginning. Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade recently stated in a similarly toned piece on the matter that “companies don’t care about what you say, they care about what you do… Twitter is noise, they care about what you do with your wallet”, and not only do I think he’s right, I’m going to extrapolate and say the One will do quite well at retail, with a heavy launch.

Honestly, that’s depressing. It’s depressing that a system that, by default, takes away so many of our rights, being sold to us by a man who so blithely disparages the complaints of a significant subsection of his customer base, will likely have no problems at launch because of a combination of name recognition, marketing muscle, and a few AAA, exclusive trinkets that Microsoft “punched” out to force gamers to acquiesce. However, what’s more depressing is that gamers who are upset about the Microsoft One actually think Sony – who, I remind everyone, have had some problems being forward-facing when caught with their pants down – is going to be the “good” company, who will singlehandedly save console gaming and respect our rights. Fucking SONY is going to be the white horse of the industry!?!? They, who were installing rootkits without user knowledge or consent with music CDs? They’re going to save us from Microsoft and their recording robot brain that never sleeps?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. As predictable as the backlash has been, the counter-backlash, from fanboys, PR, and journalists alike, has been equally as predictable. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being lectured by people calling me a tin-foil hat wearer because I am concerned about a device that is always listening to everything I say and then tells me that I have no expectation of privacy while it runs, which is always, unless I pull the plug on my unit every time I want to shut it off. I’ve also watched with glee as PR people on all sides – including Nintendo, who have basically pulled away from the games press altogether, choosing to use Nintendo Direct instead – have outright lied to the press, then attacked the press for running stories based on their lies. The journalists – themselves just fanboys with a soapbox – are not immune to criticism either, oftentimes getting outright snotty with people for criticizing their writing, either directly or indirectly.

What bothers me isn’t that all of this is happening. What bothers me is that I’ve grown so adroit at recognizing what’s coming and when.

Let’s go back to that article I never ran. As I stated in the lead, I never wrote the article I intended to write as a mea culpa of not only a stupid statement, but my overall feelings on autism, Aspergers’ Syndrome, and everything that led to my article getting blown up. I actually had a very powerful statement to make regarding a conversation that made me rethink my position, and I was going to lay it – involving an extremely painful personal memory – all out on the line.

The reason I didn’t was because it would have done virtually no good. While everyone was still hitting me for my EA piece and reading it by the thousands, I would have drawn the usual couple hundred hits on my new article. Few people would have commented, and hits from it would have died after the first day, once it dropped off of Google News. The few people who would have responded would have just cussed me out, or just “lol’d” it off. What’s the point of laying out a well reasoned response to something you wrote when the intended audience would not be receptive to it, instead choosing to flame you for your original piece to make themselves feel better, or worse, wouldn’t be there at all?

Ultimately, the problem solved itself. Once I got offline for the night – not a problem for me as I was suffering from a nasty flu bug – comments kept rolling in for about an hour. Then, suddenly… nothing. Silence. The problem literally disappeared within an hour as the people who hated me so viscerally found another shiny object to bat around. Perversely, they actually proved the point I was making in my original article – the one relating to short attention spans followed by a laser-like focus on minute, insignificant details – correct.

In short, my way of making the problem go away was to put up the walls, ride it out, and wait for my attackers to run out of breath. Which is exactly what EA did for SimCity, what Activision does for their controversy of the week, and what Microsoft is going to do once things get a little hot with the One.

It’s that tidbit that drove me over the edge with this industry. The reason seeing things like this – even when I’m the beneficiary, if you want to call it that – is depressing is because I know, deep down, there’s nothing I can do about it. Irreverent, controversial people like Jim Sterling can’t change customer behavior; he, and others like him, are preaching to the converted in a lot of cases, and even among that crowd, there’s a significant portion of people who just want him to shut up, write funny things about games, and stop being fat, an ironic statement from a customer base anecdotally known for mass Doritos and Mountain Dew consumption. If Sterling can’t change minds to any significant effect, with his huge following on three well-read sites, what the hell can someone like me expect? At my best, my average article was drawing four digit hit counts, and like others, I am largely preaching to the choir.

That ultimately means that nothing will ever change. Twitter hate against the new systems will burn white hot until the day they’re released, at which point they will sell out to the same gamers who so vociferously “hated” these same units days prior. Critics will be singled out and purged as “haters”, among other less charitable terms. The majority of the press, so dependent on access, will continue to gloss over larger issues or outright mock the critics. Companies will continue to turn the screws on their consumer base because history has shown that they can get away with it. The process will begin anew, lather, rinse, and repeat itself, much like it has for the seven years I’ve
been involved in this industry.

To use an analogy from a popular anime from the past few years, my industry Soul Gem is getting dangerously dark.

It makes me wonder what the fucking point of even bothering is.

Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.