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When Namco Bandai stated last week that they'll be going in "guns blazing" and handle the upcoming sequel to their niche cult-hit Dark Souls as a "massive, massive" AAA release, it immediately put many Demon's / Dark Souls fans like myself on notice in regards to its future. The escalating potential of the series ultimately succumbing to a similar fate as that of Resident Evil, Dead Space, and all the other misguided, bloated and grossly compromised AAA failures released over the last few years has become quite disconcerting for a good chunk of its modestly-sized yet fiercely dedicated fanbase.
In a recent post, Jim Sterling of The Escapist puts the legitimate fears of the game's fans and the broken mentality of AAA publishers into perspective quite well: click here for the video link.
There's not really much that I can add that wasn't pretty much covered in the vid. All I can say is that despite my mild amount of forced optimism, it's getting harder and harder to not see the writing on the wall. A part of me always knew the respectable success enjoyed by the series up to this point was like blood in the water, attracting industry sharks who would inevitably seek to devour everything that made these games what they were.. all for the faint chance of being the next mainstream approved clone of the current western-developed cashcows.
Aside from their growing number of overhyped failures, there is one thing that I can say AAA publishers have consistently succeeded at these days: making it loud and clear to any niche title's fanbase that their loyal patronage will simply never be enough. They've firmly established that it's just more important to them to risk everything in an effort to appeal to larger audiences that'll never actually give a sh*t about their games, than it is maintaining the fixed audience that actually does. To them, why settle on the revenue their franchises can realistically produce, when they can shoot for a grander piece of the pie they can never truly have outside of their own personal delusions?
In the wake of more DRM-related controversy and the last of the new console reveals being due next month, it's become clear that the game industry has come to a significant crossroad, with time rapidly drawing near the point where consumers must finally confront a number of proposed next-gen transitions head-on. The belligerent manner in which these looming industry shifts are being pushed forth by game publishers and console makers has become a cause for apprehension, though, which has led me to question whether or not gaming is heading anywhere gamers might actually want to go.
If the last year or so of drama involving the likes of Diablo 3, SimCity, and ex-Microsoft creative directors is any indicator, quite a few following the industry have also come to share this concern.
A growing number of gamers are not particularly happy with the current course being taken by major publishers and hardware makers, and it's easy to understand why, their arrogance and delusion have hurt the industry more than any used or pirated game ever could. It's not really a mentality that is conducive to a glowing future for a callow industry already amid serious growing pains.
At this stage of its development, the balance of the game industry is way off where it needs to be for the type of service it provides and to whom it is being provided to. This imbalance has led to a growing number of poor business practices that will only continue to undermine its future if left unchecked. How these practices are (or aren't) addressed will play a large role in defining the medium in the years ahead.
But what exactly has led to the business side of gaming to become so brazen in their aggression? What role has the various groups of gaming played in allowing the medium's culture to devolve to the point where this approach is acceptable? And in what ways must gamers change their handling of the modern industry in order to reassert their influence on its future?
My first focus was obvious: the short-sighted greed of bumbling game publishers and it's toleration by a number of passive gamers, which has led to eroding consumer rights and confidence over the last generation.
As a few of the Gamespotters I've had the opportunity to discuss the industrys troubling anti-consumerist trends with over the years might attest to, this particular set of discussions have become quite frustrating. It's the same cycle time and again. 'Outrage' that leaves as quickly as it came over the latest example of the industry attempting to overstep its bounds, with most participants either becoming distracted by the next trend to prattle on about or just losing interest altogether. This of course is followed by complete surprise when the next instance arises and they find that doing nothing of substance and still throwing money at a problem somehow hasn't changed the results.
The only aspect that seemed to separate the recent controversy surrounding the Orth tweets from the usual cycle was how closely it hit home for a number of gamers who were content with ignoring the festering DRM problem because it usually just affected 'other people's games'. The potential of seeing those same problems being laid at their own doorstep (with that type of antagonistic attitude no less) through a total infection of a console they were looking forward to buying appeared to burst quite a few bubbles of intentional ignorance.
But as much as I'd like to discuss that issue further, it's a secondary topic. The more I examined recent anti-consumerist trends, the more I realized they weren't the main cause. Consumers condoning this type of business is a symptom of deeper rooted issues.
My next focus was the rather dysfunctional relationship between the three corners of the game industry.
Brendan Sinclair actually put out a pretty interesting article last month, Entitled Gamers, Corrupt Press, and Greedy Publishers, that covered the bizarre dynamic between the respective groups, a recommended read for those who haven't sat down with it yet. It touches upon a few valid reasons why each corner carries a measure of resentment for the others and why the hostility is still persisting, and pretty much covers most of what I considered adding to the matter.
The problem is though, while I did agree with many of the points brought up in the article, the closing paragraphs is where the piece started to lose me a bit. Dealing with the dysfunction will need to be much more than a 'just wait things out and hope for the best' mentality, or simply asking for one of the corners to take a chance at offering respect to the others as equal participants in the business. The latter sounds great in theory, but part of the problem (the true dysfunction as far as I see it) is the two corners putting their hands out for payment seeing themselves at an equal, or higher, level of the corner that is expected to open their wallets.
I realize that the need for respect is a given if anything is going to improve, but respect in and of itself is not enough in a 'service' industry, it must be observed from the appropriate perspective. Much like how respect between a boss and employee is important to a functional workplace, but proper work is really only possible when accepting their role in relation to one another.
Everyone working within the industry does deserve to be treated with civility, but they knew what they were signing up for when entering their professions. Instead of railing for the consumer to drop their expectations, any journalist or developer that can't accept the reality that they do continually owe the consumers need to do themselves a favor and find another day job. I can't say I have much patience for anyone in the industry resenting their fanbases for supposedly being a "bottom-less well of wanting", mostly due to the fact that gamers routinely tolerate nonsense that you'd be hard pressed to keep a straight face hearing about other entertainment industries trying to pull, all while swallowing a higher cost of entry.
But again, gamers finding themselves falling into this type of dysfunctional relationship with those colluding against them is another unfortunate result of the imbalance, not the cause.
The Consumerist's response to EA CEO Peter Moore's comments leading up to and after their repeat winning of the 'Golden Poo' for the Worst Company in America is what caught my attention next, and in the end struck closest to what I feel is the core issue of many of the industry's problems.
Moore resorted to every diversionary tactic in the book to distract away from the fact that, despite it obviously being a silly little poll, a major presence in an entertainment industry that is still relatively new to the mainstream getting this kind press coverage does not reflect well on the culture of their industry at all.
Response to Moore's pre-emptive press release:
"Gaming might be a multibillion-dollar industry that attracts the worlds biggest names in entertainment, music, and sports, but it is nonetheless treated by both the media and the business world with a reductionist shrug. Companies like EA are happy to foster the misinformed perception of your average gamer as a whiny, nitpicky loner who will complain about anything, as that image only helps to discredit those who have a valid complaint about a relatively pricey consumer product.
Heres our question to Peter Moore: If your entire industry is engaged in the production of something so trivial as to not warrant inclusion in a contest that features a poop trophy, why do you even work in it?"
Following EA's repeat status being announced:
"Moores note also marked the second time EA has tried to deflect criticism by pointing to previous winners of the Worst Company tournament, as if to mock consumers who dared to express their discontent with a mere video game publisher.
Make no mistake: Video games are big business. A company like EA and Activision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, and Sony, etc. merits just as much scrutiny as any other business that plays a leading role in a multibillion-dollar industry. Its only a fractured, antiquated public perception that video games are somehow frivolous holdovers from childhood that allows gamers to be abused and taken advantage of by the very people who supply them the games they play."
All things considered, I feel the lingering insecurities still held by many gamers have had the most impact on the medium this generation, the level to which it has emboldened publishers and console makers has become hard to ignore.
The vulnerabilities that have resulted from these insecurities and the manner in which they've been exploited have been primarily responsible for throwing the balance of the industry off-center over the last few years. The residual effects have helped pave the way for all the issues mentioned above to a host of others. Everything from the persistent attack on used gaming, to the increasing level of heavy handed DRM, to the likes of there still needing to be a debate over game being considered art. All avoidable headaches that have occurred simply because many gamers have allowed them to, because for them to resist these hassles would have involved defending what they have been convinced to feel is 'just' their little hobby of buying videogames.
If we are to expect the gaming industry to grow up and begin carrying itself in a more appropriate manner, gamers must begin to grow up in the way they handle their business. Being a gamer does not mean being a lesser privileged consumer, which is crucial for more gamers to realize before undesirable market trends enacted by game makers get too out of hand. An added level of rational consumerism would go a long way towards preventing publishers from further deluding themselves into believing they are in a position to dictate the course of an entertainment market, especially one dealing pricey luxury items to which alienated customers could easily find alternatives.
At the end of the day, there are no right and wrong answers, and there are certainly no simple answers, but I still feel it's still a discussion that all serious gamers owe to themselves to have at some point. The importance of constructive contributions from gamers of all view points on the matter should not be understated.
It's hard to overstate just how perfect this review is for the recently released SimCity, the latest always-on DRM infested mess whose publisher's desire to hold legally paying customers at virtual gunpoint has unsurpisingly led to yet another high profile launch debacle.
Thanks to both its publisher and a number fans condoning their greed, SimCity was allowed to be turned into another sad example of the industry's stubborn refusal to evolve beyond harassing honest customers amid efforts to fight piracy and pad revenue.
There are few differences between this and the other drawn out DRM dramas of late beyond EA's obvious lack of Valve / Blizzard levels of blind worship once again being put on display, their notoriously inept PR department working overdrive, and various reviewers 'actually' hitting the point of revising their reviews to reflect how awful the game's experience has been since being released into the wild. It has certainly been humorous to see this blow up in EA's face, but seeing another group of longtime fans of a historically single-player series subjected to this? Not so much.
Much like the other DRM-laden hassles released before SimCity, there will only continue to be a growing amount of games in the future whose titles can be simply copy and pasted into the review posted above. It's all going to be a matter of just how long gamers will choose to tolerate this level of brazen greed and consumer contempt.
If publishers like EA are truly as far down this adversarial path with their customer base as they often appear to be, perhaps it's for the best to allow such corporations to die off sooner than later in an effort to unclog the road for some new blood and a fresh perspective before things inevitably get worse. However long it may take for the industry to rebuild after losing companies of that size, it would certainly be a much shorter wait than the one expecting them to somehow change their ways without being given a real reason to.
The current anti-consumerist course of the industry, if left as is, may very well lead to the need for another industry crash for any semblance of proper balance in the digital age. What being released today is actually worth supporting the publisher power grabs that would possibly lead to those type of problems in the future?
My Recent Reviews
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May 24, 2013 6:22 am GMTKingOfOldSkool added Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen to their owned game list
May 24, 2013 6:21 am GMTKingOfOldSkool added Dragon's Dogma to their owned game list
May 24, 2013 5:38 am GMTKingOfOldSkool began Following Dying Light
May 22, 2013 6:51 am GMTKingOfOldSkool began Following Lords of the Fallen
May 22, 2013 6:48 am GMTKingOfOldSkool began Following Murdered: Soul Suspect
May 22, 2013 6:41 am GMTKingOfOldSkool began Following Muramasa Rebirth
May 22, 2013 6:34 am GMTKingOfOldSkool added Alan Wake's American Nightmare to their owned game list
May 22, 2013 6:32 am GMTKingOfOldSkool added Zone of the Enders HD Collection to their owned game list
May 22, 2013 6:29 am GMTKingOfOldSkool added Resident Evil Code: Veronica X HD to their owned game list
May 22, 2013 6:29 am GMTKingOfOldSkool added Resident Evil 4 HD to their owned game list