Thursday, September 18, 2008

Changes may stink, but no permanent losses

Across formal and informal outlets the discussion about the direction of games journalism has become somewhat of a dry topic, juicy stories withstanding; but the direction of the games industry hasn't. Writers, commenters, teenagers and "older" gamers everywhere are concerned about this or that trend in the games industry.

While there are unfortunate and foreseeable changes coming, none of them mean "never" or "always". Regrettable events occur, but I'm here to tell you that unless you're in Germany or Australia, gaming the way you want it is here to stay.

I'm optimistic because of good things. I'm also optimistic because bad things aren't so bad. First, the not-so-bad bad things.

The Neglect of the "Hardcore"

I can see why this is a worry for some. Nintendo's behavior at the last E3 was disappointing, and did not cater to the more serious gamer. The "hardcore" demographic is being left behind by the Wii.

But this is old news. The "got a Wii, don't play it" attitude is not a new one, and we've still seen lots of great stuff come out for the "hardcore". Not on the Wii, of course, but I doubt anyone who considers himself "hardcore" relies solely on the Wii for gaming.

There are numerous Halo projects coming, Gears of War 2, more Command and Conquer crap, Starcraft II, Left 4 Dead, Mad World, Team Fortress 2 is still frequently updating, Call of Duty 5 is coming out in November. There's also more Rock Band, more Guitar Hero, and more Fallout. Street Fighter IV is hitting early next year. And there are still a great deal many of players playing Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, and Halo 3.

There are enough games to play now, and there are enough new ones coming out to replace them. As long as people will buy these kinds of games like they're chicken nuggets, they continue to be made. Speaking of money...

The Shift of Money

Another common worry regards the "big money" that is involved in games. Some developers wonder aloud about the impact that advertising will have on games.

Advertising will change games that have advertising. Advertising won't change the whole industry--we have no reason to think it's gotten to that point yet. Even as it increases, there will be a split; independent games, "artsy" games, and any other games that refuse to be ad-driven will still be here. There will be a demand for them, and they will be created.

To think the fact that corporations and shareholders are ruining the industry and screwing it up shows a vast misunderstanding of how the industry works in the first place. Every console is backed by a lot of money. It isn't possible to produce consoles without a huge sum of money, and the only people who have a huge sum of money, regardless of whether it is one person of a few hundred shareholders, are not going to spend money solely in order to further the field of video games. They are doing it to make money themselves.

Anything else that is "cool" is also money-driven, even if it has artistic influence. Jonathan Blow understood this. Numerous times he has said that Braid wasn't about money; it was about making a game he wanted to make. Yet he wants to make more games; in order to do this, you kind of need money. So the money matters a lot, even if something matters more.

Any other industry that involves entertainment on a level of mass distribution is going to have big business and money principles behind it. Our other comparisons of books, comic books, music, movies, radio and television have the same shit going on in business deals. Mergers and business failures and sellings-out abound; gaming is not the first form of entertainment to have people howling with joy, laughter or despair at the most recent industry news or the most recent gossip or comment from some respected or infamous insider.

Even if games do get worse because of money, the "indie" thing hasn't gone away. The RIAA, music industries, and publishing industries have gone vastly downhill in the last decade; they are doing much worse than games are. And yet, the way of "indie", the way of how you want it prevails.

So many people want to be in a band, write a book, or make a game that we will always have them the way we want, even if not exactly how we want. Publishing on demand, indie music, and the fact that for every successful indie band, 999 other unsuccessful bands are willing to take a chance and fail ensure us that there will always be something there.

Points of Optimism

The game industry, games, and consumers are all maturing.

Players are getting older. There are a lot of shitty games. I frequently hear people say "gee, there sure are a lot of shitty games coming out." Game reviewers complain about being drained by having to play bad games all day. Their situation is not unique. All serious reviewers mostly review stuff they don't like. Most of the selection that is available is junk. If you go to a large used bookstore, like the one we have in SLC, you can see numerous books from 1900-1950. Rare! Hard to find! Unique! OMG! I once saw 4 of the same one from about 1910. They cost 8 bucks each. I was confused, until I started looking through it: it wasn't very good. It was what you might call "commercial fiction". Music, movies, books, games, TV: the majority is forgotten. 80-90+% of it is crap, especially by any one person's standards. The gems are precious and few. It's always been that way.

The nature of industry news is becoming very similar to that in other entertainment industries. It is a self-aware industry; journalists and bloggers are known by name, and so are company executives and game developers. Because it lends itself more heavily to social media and the Internet, it's a little bit more "open". Game developers and publishers (some of them, anyway) are listening and hearing actual game players more than they have been. Game players know better how to communicate to publishers and developers. And industry coverage provides bridges and forums for discussion; even if it's two people shouting across a canyon to each other, that's better than where we were before.

Take Spore. The DRM has been a hot issue. So hot it mobilized players. They took action, then gaming news outlets covered the Amazon hate, the Sporepedia hate, and it's piracy rate (higher than normal). What did this do? It prompted EA to respond. Not only did they speak directly about Spore concerns, but they also spoke about Red Alert 3; they didn't really have to do this, but they chose to anyway as they'd heard much about it on their forums.

Are they doing anything anyone wants? In the eyes of most, no. Are they at least saying something about it? Yes. This is the worst, but it's still better than where we were before.


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