Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bad Blood

Antagonism is nothing new in to the world of video games. There's been plenty of rivalries over the years. Not just between leader board high scores or companies like Sega and Nintendo, but also between fanboys. Even iconic talking heads go at it from time to time. Most recently Annoyed Gamer (GT) and HipHop Gamer (EGM) have been doing a bit of tit-for-tat. What I haven't really seen though in the last couple decades is the level hostility we're experiencing now between the people who buy games and the people who sell them.

Sure, there has always been some degree of conflict when it comes to internet piracy. What's really getting out of control is the antagonistic nature of publishers. Granted gamers can bitch about anything and everything, but that doesn't mean all complaints are equally (in)valid. Word spreads fast now via twitter, youtube, facebook and various forums allowing a greater degree of communication that ever before. Gamers, if they really want, can put pressure on companies that rub them the wrong way. So to counter this publishers have been engaging in a number of tactics.

For one they have tried to cozy up to media outlets as well as restricting their voices by way of NDAs. At the same time they push for pre-orders which is a great way to ensure bad games still sell well out of the gate. Another trick is to take a beloved franchise "hostage", claiming that if it sells bellow a certain target no sequels will be made. Thus putting boycotting prone gamers in a major imposition. Speaking with the wallet is a gamers best voice, but "hostage taking" tends to misdirect that voice.

DLC sales also drop off the longer a game is out, but rather than making better DLC many companies deiced to simply make it day one.  Or else have a "season pass" which allow them to pre-sell content. That way they get gamer dollars regardless of the quality of the final product. Marketing deception is an issue too. How many games came out last year that were trying to copy Call of Duty? I guarantee it was a double (if not triple) digit figure. Ads also have increasingly focused on the lowest common denominator, obfuscating genres and aiming for the least industry savvy demographics.

Lastly, and this is the one that irks me the most, is front-loading. Supposedly there are statistics out there that show only a small percent of games sold are actually played to their finish. So, somebody got the bright idea that the solution is to cram all the good stuff in the beginning and pad out the end. Dead Space 3 is probably the most recent example, but even games I personally like (such as the Witcher 2) suffer from this. It's nothing new. Dark Forces had this problem at it came out in 1995, not to mention a myriad of JRPGs. That said, it still sucks that we haven't moved beyond this.

So, where are we headed? I'm not sure, but the ball is in Sony and Microsoft's court.  For everyone's sake let's hope they make it a good serve.

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