Gamin’ Good in the Neighborhood!
When I first moved to Raleigh in 1998 I was, for lack of a better term, a pretty standard 20-something American Consumer. I told myself “Hey, Raleigh can’t be bad, there’s a Burger King and a mall!” Growing up in the suburbs of Boston there wasn’t much to do as a teenager, hell, I wasn’t into sports and I didn’t drink or do drugs so it was pretty much school, videogames, and The Mall. Lather, rinse, repeat, and consume, and be a good little American Target Demographic.
This blog isn’t specifically about Raleigh, however, I’m going to use Raleigh and the local areas to make my point about my gaming industry fear and the trend that I’m seeing. I joked a while back that the future of shooters is going to be All Call of Duty, all the time, much like the famous scene in the old movie Demolition Man in which all restaurants are Taco Bell. (Capitalism is about many things, for example profit, giving the people what they think they want, and outspending The Other Guy in marketing. And hey, it’s free market, and people are going to vote with their dollars…right?)
As Raleigh evolved and Epic set up shop in the lovely neighboring suburb of Cary, NC, I found myself simply drinking the Kool Aid and going to the local chains. You know, the same ones that are pretty much everywhere. Chili’s. Olive Garden. Outback Steakhouse. A decent meal for a modest amount of money, and fuckin’ hey, unlimited salad and bread-sticks, amirite?
And then, in the early 2000’s, something started to happen on a national basis, and it started spilling over into our little neck of the woods. People started waking up to what they were eating, they started paying attention. Books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “Salt Sugar Fat”, and documentaries like “Food Inc.” began to open people’s eyes to the fact that an industry driven by profit would do whatever it took to keep shareholders happy and the average American addicted to, well, Salt, Sugar, and Fat. Whole Foods realized this and began to explode nationwide. People began flocking to Farmers Markets, and the whole “Farm to Table” movement took over. Even in Raleigh, our “mini-Austin”, most indie restaurants list what local farms they acquired their ingredients from.
Why am I going on and on about food and capitalism and chains versus indie restaurants? Because I can see a similar thing happening in the video gaming space. My greatest fear right now is that in the triple A space, in the next 3-5 years, there are only going to be a handful of uber brands that are known entities. Just like in your average American town you get Taco Bell, Applebees, and all the other Same Exact Stuff, in gaming you’re going to see Assassin’s Creed 6, Call of Duty 9, Madden 2016, and Halo 6. And each progressive title is progressively going to take less risks than the previous one because of the sheer amount of development costs and marketing necessary to push these titles on an annual basis. (Shout out to Rockstar for NOT annualizing.) The fact that Watch Dogs even EXISTS as a new IP is a testament to some bold folks at Ubisoft on both the creative and business side having the tenacity and strength to push for something new, something fresh, something that should not exist in AAA.
When you go to most American suburbs (and many cities), you see the same restaurants, over and over because whomever “wins” is given the golden rubber stamp and then is able to spawn clones everywhere. I can see this happening in gaming right before our eyes, hell, even Activision’s marketing department knows it and they played into it this year with the “It’s Call of Duty Time!” ad campaign. (“Only in Battlefield” > “Call of Duty Time”, by the way.) I see an ad for a new Call of Duty and I have the exact same response whenever I see an ad for Applebees.
Sure, it’s there, it’s consistent, and it doesn’t really seem to take many risks. It can’t. When a franchise hits that level of success it runs into the classic sequel conundrum, the Innovator’s Dilemma. Change too much and you’ve “ruined” the franchise, change too little and you’re just a re-skin of the product. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but as long as you make your minimum sold in, hey, time to annualize the product.
I don’t meant to slag AAA games, or the console business. There are thousands of developers who have worked themselves entirely too hard to bring these products to market. I’m merely calling out a trend that I’m seeing, a trend that’s easier to see now that I’m not in the thick of the console wars this time around.
This is why, as of late, I’m doing the majority of my gaming on PC and in mobile. There are risks being taken in this space that one seldom, if ever, sees in the disc based AAA market. These markets feel wild, unruly, a market where a mod like Day Z can take over, League of Legends can fill the Staples Center, or an experience like The Stanley Parable can happen. In mobile you see games that are high quality, free, and actual strategy titles that are cleaning up. The ecosystem is built for it, slightly gated by the likes of Valve or Apple, but less of a guarded wall than a console approval process. I want a space dogfighting simulation on my Oculus Rift.
I don’t want scripted sequences and quicktime events any more, because they yield only one Youtube video.
I do believe that the major console manufacturers do finally grasp the importance of indie games (Sony somewhat more than Microsoft) and things are starting to shift. The biggest challenge to having these unique experiences on the consoles will be the accessibility of these experiences and how visible they will be made to gamers. (Making them as cheaper digital downloads instead of $60 disc based experiences is one of the clear and obvious steps. I love to see more grassroots campaigns for unique games with lower budgets and more risk taken over bloated game and marketing budgets.)
At the end of the day I’m simply at the point in my gaming life cycle (as a lifelong GAMER) whereas I avoid the suburban chains and I seek out the locally owned unique eateries that will surprise me and provide a more pure experience over an extremely well laminated and produced menu that sells ad space between the pages.
(And yes, we’re getting both new consoles on launch day. I hear the controllers are pretty sweet.)
Butch Walker came through Raleigh last night and once again delivered an amazing show. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. He’s sometimes more known for producing acts like Avril Lavigne and Pink, but his original music is absolutely heartfelt and stellar. His fans are incredibly loyal and enthusiastic and every time I’m fortunate enough to see him live I make sure I don’t miss the show.
Needless to say, the show is a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me, because his music has been there for me during some of the best and worst moments of my adult life. Great things were happening for me, guess what, there’s a fun Butch song that goes with it. Heartache? Butch has you covered.
After reflecting on the show and recovering from the beer and the ringing ears and the hoarse voice that I have I remembered that there was a personal story that I meant to blog about for some time now. I’ve told it to many friends, and it’s always a fun one to hear. (It starts sad but later goes into a rather interesting place.)
Several years back my nephew Ben was suddenly killed in a car accident a month after his 20th birthday. He was my older brother’s first born, and he was really a great kid, and to this day I swear he’s haunting me on Facebook. (Weird thing, that is, when someone you known or love passes, and their profile remains as almost a digital memorial for them. I have this strange obsession with reading the last thing posted on these profiles.)
It was heartbreaking. I held this boy as a baby and watched him grow into a young man. In hindsight I wish I had visited him more, but regrets can eat you from the inside out, and it’s important to appreciate the time we get with someone while they’re around. Life can shatter or change in an instant. (Getting a phone call from a relative super late at night or super early in the morning scares the shit out of me now.)
I booked the flight up to Connecticut for the funeral. The whole experience was surreal and I think I watched myself in third person through a fog while there. My brother Tyler (Ben’s uncle) delivered an amazing eulogy and he ended it by quoting the Shawshank Redemption, which was their favorite movie to watch together:
"Sometimes it makes me sad, though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty now that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend."
I still to this day do not know how Tyler managed to deliver that without losing it. But he did, because my brother, as emotional as he can be, is an incredibly strong man. I wouldn’t be able to pull through it.
Cut to the barbecue afterwards in which the family and community came out to send their regards and to remember our beloved Ben when Tyler and I are talking to some of our other nieces and nephews, Alicia and Andrew. Their father is our brother Jeff. (Five boys in my family, and yes, I’m the baby.)
Alicia is 11 years old and precocious and sweet, and asks us what it was like growing up with her dad in that house filled with five boys.
I tell her:
"Well, Alicia, growing up with four brothers we were packed in fairly tight and we had to share a lot of things. For example if we wanted a soda my dad would make a pair of us split one. That sort of thing."
Alicia “What else did you share?”
Me “Well, we only had one bathroom for the boys. We had to share the shower, the sink, and the towels. Frequently we’d have to use one of the towels to dry off that one of our brothers had recently used.”
Alicia “That’s kind of gross.”
Me “I know. So one day I get out of the shower after your dad and I grab a towel and start drying off my face when suddenly I realize… it smells like poo.”
Alicia starts laughing hysterically at this.
Me “And then I pull my face away from the towel and happen to see brown streaks on it.”
Alicia is nearly in tears.
Me “Now you have to understand this is a failure on multiple levels. Not only did your dad forget to wipe his butt on the toilet, he also failed to wash it out in the shower.”
Alicia is rolling on the floor, literally.
Me “So, Alicia, what’s the moral of the story?”
The child looks at me, dead in the eyes, and deadpans:
"Buy dark towels?"
In Joss We Trust
Outstanding interview with Joss Whedon in this week’s EW that further reinforces his wit and creative genius and incredible insight.
"Every time somebody opens their mouth they have an opportunity to do one of two things - connect or divide."
"Subtlety is for little men."
"I took my first paycheck and I put it in the goddamn bank. Then I took my second paycheck and put it in the goddamn bank…I never wanted to take a job because I needed money, and I never have…The one thing a creator can bring to the table when everybody else has all the money and power is a centeredness and the ability to walk away. Never sit at a table you can’t walk away from."
"The Twilight thing, and a lot of these franchise attempts coming out, everything rests on what this girl will do, but she’s completely passive or not really knowing what the hell is going on. And that’s incredibly frustrating to me because a lot of what’s taken on in the oeuvre of Buffy is actually a reaction against it. Everything is there except for the Buffy. A lot of things aimed at the younger kids is just ‘Choosing Boyfriends: The Movie.’"
"You don’t go to see a movie about a guy who already knows he has a wonderful life. We used to call Sarah Michelle Gellar ‘Jimmy Stewart.’ We realized every time we turned the screws on Buffy, the show got better."
"Everything is a drug. Family, art, causes, new shoes…We’re just tweaking our chem to avoid the void."
I will watch anything this man touches for the rest of his career.
"Going Back and Going Home"
I finished Gone Home early this afternoon after playing it into the wee hours last night. I gushed on Twitter about it but I feel that the experience was much more profound than 140 characters will allow me to express how much this game hit me in the gut. I’ll attempt to put feelings into long blog format here, but again, remember I’m no Tom Bissell or Leigh Alexander. I blog from the heart in straightforward conversational style.
(And if you’re going to read this blog through the lens of “dudebro game creator guy who made brown games about buff guys” kindly close this window and go back to whatever cave you crawled out of, thank you. I may love entertainment that is often seen as “dudebro” but I also love musicals and I cried while playing not only Lunar but also during Phantasy Star 2. People can be dynamic and not simply one dimensional.)
Okay, now that that’s out of the way…some spoilers below, beware.
This game moved me in a way that I’ve never been moved by a game before. (Bioshock Infinite moved me, but I’m also in the camp that can get “the feels” from the ending of a game where you shoot 4000 people in the face, so it was a different kind of feeling.) In order to understand where I’m coming from, let’s get a bit personal.
I was born in 1975 and raised in the suburbs of Boston. Comfortable middle class; my dad worked for Polaroid. You know those holograms on your license? He was part of the team that helped prototype those. I remember seeing boards of them in the back of our wood paneled station wagon as he’d drive to the General Store to pick up his Malboros.
I’ve always been a big dreamer, and nearly every other night I dream of my childhood home. Some nights it’s a lot like the atmosphere of Gone Home, empty, dark, creepy, and dream-like. Other nights I’m on the rooftop fighting off wave after wave of cybernetic ninjas while my mother is in the kitchen cooking up potato pancakes. Regardless, I can picture every nook, cranny, wallpaper, piece of furniture from that place. At the end of the day your home is just some wood, concrete, and materials, but it’s what occurs in that space that makes it truly home. Family, and the family dynamic.
The house OOZES 90’s. I could identify with so much of the setting that I found myself outright laughing in parts. The I Want To Believe poster. The Magic Eye posters. When games are at their best they can act like a time machine of sorts, or a transportation device, and while the graphics weren’t exactly taxing my PC they were certainly good enough to give me that “My god I’m in someone’s house snooping around in the rain in 1995” feeling.
Impossible love is always a theme that I’ve found incredibly compelling. (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?) Halfway through the game when you realize what Sam is feeling and her obvious parent’s disapproval I immediately thought of Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” which was confirmed to me via Twitter by one of the developers as a movie he’s a fan of. If you look at what’s happening in this world in 2013 and the gay rights movement it’s really astonishing that a game like this might cause a stir for all the wrong reasons had it come out in 2002. Not only did this game manage to make you care about a love story, it made you care about a love story between two young lesbian girls.
In a video game.
(I had chills and my eyes were watery when I was listening to the last bits of audio narrative.)
After playing this experience one of my favorite songs came to mind. For those of you who don’t know who Butch Walker is, look him up. As an artist he’s one of the most underrated rockers out there who has actually had more commercial success producing pop acts like Pink and Avril. His music has always spoken to me on many levels, but one track in particular has always resonated - Going Back, Going Home. Long story short Butch’s house burnt down a few years back and crafting this song was a sort of therapy for him. (look it up) I had this song in my head because the theme of going home has always resonated with me since I moved out of North Andover at 15.
Going back home for my high school reunion I swung by and saw my old childhood home for the first time in years. And as fondly as I’ll always think of that home (and remember/dream of it) I’ve accepted that it’s no longer truly home. Where I live with my wife in Raleigh is now my home, and I plan on keeping it that way. Yet somehow while playing Gone Home I had that feeling of going home, wrapped up in a tasty mystery of player driven narrative. It stuck with me, and I think it’s going to resonate for some time. (Not to mention the discussions Lauren and I will be having about what I found and what she found.)
I love that this game was crafted by former AAA traditional developers (look them up) who said “screw it, let’s make a game that no traditional publisher would ever want, make it personal, and put it out there.” Bravo to that.
I love the fact that you could burn through this experience in an hour, or spend three hours in it.
I love that through platforms like Steam a $20 experience like this could even be released and flourish due to word of mouth.
I love the lack of cutscenes, the “Sleep No More” game mechanics (look it up) and the fact that the “What Happened Here?” genre from games like Myst are coming back.
I love that the protagonist doesn’t have a lot of personality. Katie is mostly a blank slate for a reason. In first person games, especially, there’s a reason why the lead is often silent, or barely there. It makes it easier for you, the player, to slip into that person’s skin and inhabit their world. If your hero suddenly starts crying and you’re not feeling very emotional an immediate disconnect hits and you think “Uh why is my character feeling this when I’m not?!”
I enjoyed this game/experience more than many console games I’ve played in the last year.
Chew on that for a minute.
I wasn’t thinking about if the experience was padded, I wasn’t bombarded with a slick marketing campaign, I wasn’t sold microtransactions. I just…went with it.
Even though I’m running Windows 8 and the game was darned near entirely black due to a bug the entire time - it was still that compelling for me…So much for a graphics dominated world.
On a final note in this scatterbrained blog, I wanted to point out that a game like this is ideal for the Oculus Rift. Not Team Fortress 2, not Doom 3, but this. A game that you drive at your own pacing that is just as much about atmosphere as it is about exploration.
I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Dynamite Fishing: An Open Letter to Phil Fish
We’ve hung out a few times and enjoyed some beverages and rather animated conversations together. I don’t know you that well outside of those interactions. I found Fez to be refreshing in a chic retro way (you were doing that style before many others, which is a tiny bit hipster, sorry!) and the fact that you were so much of the project reminds me of myself in the Jazz Jackrabbit era. Waking up every day (or in some instances, the early afternoon) to sit right back down and stare at that PC as you paint your own mystery, pixel by pixel, line of code after line of code can wear you down. Not to mention the sheer magnitude of legal bullshit involved in running your own legitimate business as well as whatever the heck was going on with your old partner in Indie Game: The Movie.
I also know that, when it comes to any form of journalism, be it a profile piece or a reality TV show or documentary the viewer or consumer only sees what the author wants them to see, through their often very skewed lens. I’ve said before that I identified with your frustration at PAX showing off your baby for the first time. That pressure is only amplified when Pajot and crew are sticking a camera in your face. Any grown person might act strange under that pressure.
Right before the Beer-Twitter explosion I saw that you acquired your Oculus Rift and your tweets about it were extremely exciting. I could only imagine what talented, nutty Phil would craft for a device that I believe in so much that I put my own fucking money into it. (There’s your disclaimer.) I’d like to think that I know a good thing when I see it in life.
Read this fantastic article on Giant Bomb on your situation and the internet in general. I personally have been called every name in the book. Even back in, what, 1999 when I made a website about scanning cats on a flatbed scanner (look it up, folks, I exploited cats online before it was cool!) I got hate mail that was insane. Someone telling me that I should have “died in a gas chamber” (assuming my last name is of Polish/Jewish heritage; only half right.)
My first time being flamed online happened when I was 15 on a BBS the summer my father died suddenly from heart issues. I was learning how to code and I wrote a simple screen saver; one of those dancing multi colored lines programs. I released it to a BBS and someone anonymously posted “Your dead father could have coded something better.” I was furious, hurt, and I replied with an implied death threat. The website called my house and I got in trouble for the comment, but the damage was done. I went back to mowing my neighbor’s two acre lawn with his shitty push mower for ten bucks and Bionic Commando. ;)
My skin started to thicken, as did my resolve to do something with my life.
Never underestimate the intestinal fortitude of the anonymous loser hiding behind a monitor and his or her ability to sling vitriol at someone who willingly puts themselves out there. The fact of the matter, Phil, is that you were trending worldwide on Twitter. How many game developers can say that? Does no one realize that while you may seem somewhat unstable at times you also have Andy Kaufman as your Twitter AVI? (Kids, google Andy, and suddenly Phil might just make more sense to you. Or watch “Man On The Moon.”)
Never forget that the internet can be a fantastic thing, but it can also be fantastically dumb. Reddit is a wonderful community for finding out funny memes or random facts until they falsely accuse someone of being the Boston Bomber or go out of their way to protect the r/creepshots loser. And never forget that the Internet can be one big game of telephone amplified by anonymous myopic monkeys jamming on keyboards who are so angry about their meatball sandwich.
(How do you think I feel when my wife reads a tweet to her that says “come sit on my face” or “you are a bitch”?)
Someone on Twitter asked me how to deal with haters. I have some experience on the subject for well over 20 years now. Blow says you can’t ignore it because by the time you’ve read the words it’s too late. The key with the idiots is to outwit them because the idiot uses hate (and poor spelling/grammar) because the idiot does not know how to be witty. Watch what people like Ricky Gervais and Patton Oswalt do on Twitter. Heck, like him or not, even Piers Morgan is pretty good at fending them off.
Every idiot that you outwit wins you five times the fans and that much more respect.
The other key is to absorb all of that hate into one big fireball of motivation inside of your belly and then pour all of that energy into your work until you can unleash one big giant motherfucking HADOKEN upon the community that wins awards and sells millions and then the haters will truly be eating a giant bushel of dicks as you roll in a pile of money, acclaim, and community love.
You don’t owe a damned thing to any gaming journalist. We’ve seen the rise of many “Rush Limbaughs” in the gaming industry, people who do videos or podcasts digging a finger into an open wound that gets the gaming community going because, hits. You DO owe a great product to your community, something I hope you’ll resume doing some time in the near future. The industry needs people like you to speak with their hearts before their brains because I’m tired of hearing the PR approved appropriate response. I’m tired of games that feel like they’ve been developed by focus groups or clueless executives going “Hey that Call of Duty is big, we need one of those!”
Besides, at the end of the day, that cycle of community feedback and crafting that big fireball is entirely too addictive.
Come back, Phil. We miss you already. Maybe I’ll be right behind you, returning with Adamantium skin.
On Pacific Rim
I don’t really even know where to start with this because I have so much personal feelings involved in my own fanboy reactions to this movie. I’ve kept it pretty light on spoilers, but there may be some minor ones in here, so heads up.
There’s no way I could write a better tribute than Harry Knowles did (SPOILERS) on Aintitcool, so this is just a smattering of feelings before dinner. Just got back from the premiere in LA and I’m actually thinking of going to see it with my Raleigh friends this weekend again just to share it with them.
Why do we go to the movies? There’s an obvious myriad of reasons but one of the primary reasons we go is to escape. Same reason we play games. Inherently the idea of a trans dimensional rift opening up with enormous monsters coming through to attack us and us building giant robots may seem really silly. So is Batman. But execution is everything.
Remember, at the core of it, what you’re watching. Robot versus Beast MMA on a grandiose scale. Some of the dialogue and interactions feel almost…retro, like an old war movie. That’s the point. Gypsy Danger could just has easily been the name of a B52 bomber. This movie is WORLD WAR KAIJU and I haven’t seen a spectacle film that embraces the international effort it would take to deal with a threat of this magnitude in years. (Which is smart, because overseas box office is growing.)
Charlie Hunnam is a stud. Every girl I know who watches Sons of Anarchy adores his tough bad boy persona and he crushes it in the movie. Rinko Kinkuchi seems sweet and demure one minute but then fierce and full of fight the next. (Michael Bay would have thrown a vapid model on screen.) Idris Elba brings some great touches and gravitas to what should just be a fun popcorn movie. And Charlie Day steals the show, as that’s what Charlie Day does. (Actually, Ron Perlman is great also.)
I grew up watching Force Five in Boston with robots like Gaiking. That was my Kaiju. (Not Neon Genesis; not Power Rangers; maybe a little Godzilla.) This movie brought me back to that feeling that I haven’t felt since I was a boy, sitting on the shag carpet with my brother watching these episodes and then play fighting to re-enact the combat we just saw. Never mind the toys…you could get a TWO FOOT TALL plastic one that had FISTS THAT SHOT OUT or there were smaller ones that were made of DIE CAST METAL which means those figures will outlast you.
I was fortunate enough to see an animatic a few years ago of an opening scene where the main characters have their basic armor and spinal bit applied and then the robot’s head goes down to join the body and I hoped and prayed that they’d pull it together. Six months ago my wife and I were able to see a rough cut (still some animatics, even) and my hopes rose ever more. Then the reviews started hitting. And then I saw it.
The weight of the fights; the scale, the spectacle, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen. I’m not going to try to trash Bay too much here but to be honest I’ve really grown to loathe his handling of Transformers. I mean, putting Hot Rod’s flames on Optimus Prime is kind of the ultimate dick move. The design of Bay’s transformers…just shredded metal. The action sequences are incredibly hard to follow. And the plots are just confusing and meandering. I won’t be seeing Transformers 4, and I’m the guy who just commissioned a 27 inch tall Optimus Prime statue for his house.
Although Rim does have that Kaiju DNA on it it is NOT an adaptation or a sequel, which is becoming a bigger and bigger threat to originality in gaming and at the box office. I hope it succeeds and encourages more risk taking at that level. If you’re worried if this is a Guillermo movie, rest assured, it is. He’s always loved monsters and you can see that as fierce as he made the Kaiju there’s a little bit of sadness in there when they get beaten senseless. When Charlie Day goes to the asian market it feels like Hellboy could be hanging out in the corner. When they’re handling the Kaiju fleas and analyzing Kaiju guts…The elephant trunk like appendage on the Kaiju part in the holding tank that touches the glass. You can see it. And it’s not only big, bold, and exhausting, it’s also quirky and fun. (The Newton’s Cradle shot KILLS ME it’s so great.)
The fact that this movie is going up against Grown Ups 2 this weekend feels like the ultimate Box Office Showdown of Us Geeks versus Those Idiots. Go vote with your dollars and spread the word. A giant robot movie that’s actually fun and has some heart deserves to crush it at the box office.
I could go on and on about the dreams we’ve all had where you’re being chased by a giant something or other and trying to hide, or how amazing the CG was, or how the jokes were timed perfectly, but hell, just go see the fucking movie already - and see it in the biggest, loudest 3d experience you can.
Brutal, honest thoughts on this whole debacle
Of Sony vs MS/Used/etc..
Before I get into this subject, I need to lay a few ground rules.
First off, making deep or well outlined arguments in 140 characters is nearly impossible, especially with a subject as complex as DRM and used games.
Second off, yes, I’ve done well over the years and I enjoy sharing my success with the community. I remember seeing pictures of Romero’s Ferrari as a teenager and it MOTIVATED me to make my own kick ass games. I hope that by having fun and sharing things with the community I may motivate someone out there to do the same. If you throw the fact that I like sharing pictures of my cars and what not close this blog right now and go back to whatever other site you were reading before this.
Third, I’m pro developer. I do, at the heart of it, believe that you can be profitable and pro-developer while being pro-consumer…if you’re careful with how you message things. I’ve been in the trenches for many years alongside brilliant peers and I’ve heard stories at conferences of talented people getting fucked out of money they deserve. Families lives put in peril due to layoffs. Families forced to move to a strange new city; kids who have to change schools and find entirely new sets of friends. (And don’t give me that First World Problem bullshit, because what I just mentioned sucks no matter who you are.)
Fourth, if you think this is back-peddling understand that I firmly stand by everything I’ve said. I’m writing this to give a surgical explanation behind some of my more…inflammatory posts on Twitter.
(And if you refer to Microsoft as M$, wow, you’re totally blowing my mind man. How creative of you.)
This console launch is the most unique in the business’ history. Even last time when we did have the internet it wasn’t as vocal or amplified as it is now. Giant Enemy Crab, anyone? (Sony’s terrible showing at that e3 proved to not really matter as the PS3 went on to do well in the long run.) What bothers me is the internet pitchfork mob who can only see 6 inches in front of their face without thoughtfully analyzing a situation. Any idiot can go to quickmeme.com. Try writing a fully thought out article on a subject, like the folks at Polygon, Giantbomb, Rock Paper Shotgun, or Kotaku do. (Sorry Gamespot, back of the bus.)
Microsoft tried to and ultimately couldn’t have it both ways. You can’t still have discs and then expect everyone to embrace digital. And, fundamentally, if you take something away that a consumer has been used to without some seriously smooth handling they’re naturally going to get upset.
I love community. I always have, going back to the Unreal/UT days. (Remember Ownage?) I used to love hanging out in the UT chatrooms late at night. My interest did wane a bit in the Gears days as I was frustrated with our mistakes that were made in that era and the negativity that came out of it. But now I see the positive aspects of places like Reddit and GAF (not the negative) and I recognize that community is the backbone of any entertainment experience in 2013 and beyond.
What I hate is the knee jerk dog-pile mob mentality that hit. I realized that not all Internet Memes are truthful or make full sense when I saw this one.
Ha ha, fuck the airlines, right? I mean how obvious is this. The plane can carry a FUCKING SPACE SHUTTLE and the mean anti-consumer airline wants to bill me on luggage fees?
Anyone who actually stops and thinks about this situation would realize that it’s about fuel costs. With Americans weighing more than ever and with fuel costs skyrocketing the airlines were forced to charge fees on overweight luggage so when you’re transporting your dumbells for vacation on muscle beach the cost is passed onto you. This is a business decision, albeit one that wasn’t handled the smoothly when it came to messaging, but my gut is telling me that running an airline is probably as hard as running a game development studio. Richard Branson, the ninja entrepreneur responsible for Virgin Airlines is famous for saying:
"If you want to be a Millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”
Now, the other day I tweeted “I mean, I want developers to get money on every copy of their game over Gamestop fuck me right?”
There’s a story behind this. For years Gamestop was a good partner for retail and console games. And then they started looking at their numbers. (And don’t believe what they say about what % of their profit is new to used, believe how they ACT at every single store. Basic life lesson there folks.) And they realized that shit, we keep all of the money from giving someone five bucks on a game that they paid $60 for and we can then go and undercut NEW by reselling the used copy for $55 or so.
Profit. I’d then wager that an executive order came down to rewire every manager to push used whenever possible. And that’s part of the problem. They claim to developers and publishers to want to come to the store for new but when you’re there what is the staff taught to preach? Buy it used!
I’ve said it before, when I was younger and had $42 to my name I traded games all the time and would have bought the shit out of used. Just because I’m successful now doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget that feeling of not knowing how I was going to pay my bills or how wonderful Ramen tasted.
A few years ago Microsoft asked me to go to the Gamestop Manager’s show in Las Vegas. I was knee deep in development of Gears 3 and had already had a ton of press related travel, plus, I fucking hate Las Vegas. (You want to see anti consumer, hoo boy.) But my Microsoft marketing guy told me it would go a long way. He reminded me that it’s a big fun event for the managers who would love to press the flesh. So I flew out there, came on stage, shot a T-shirt gun at the crowd (so fun) met the managers, and did my best to not remind myself that I was in a city that I really don’t like.
Next up was the big exciting midnight launch for Gears 3. Exciting stuff; Big Sean played the event in NYC, the fans were stoked (sent over a few dozen pizzas to the fans in line as a goodwill and fun PR stunt!) and I got to show my future in-laws how amazing this business can be. Cut to flying home and people start sending me pictures of the extremely well put together finely printed leaflets at the Gears 3 launch that said “Trade in this game by November 6th and get more than you normally would on your trade in!”
Motherfucker. We had done a lot of work to keep the disc in tray, but those retail practices are deliberately set up to create a revolving door of game trade in. Folks say “Yeah, but Gamestop helps out a lot of games by pushing them!” to which I quote Chris Rock “Yeah, they’re like the uncle who paid for your college…but molested you.”
Capitalism? Sure. It’s a free market and they’ve got every right to do this. I accept that. However when I see studio after studio closing and the aforementioned alluded titles failing I know something’s got to change.
But Cars and Movies and Books haven’t had this problem, why are games different?
Watch this video, and then come back to this blog, please.
Now, I know only blaming used games really does come across as a whiny answer. There was a brilliant post on GAF that was quoted on Kotaku saying “We didn’t ask for increased budgets, or phoned in sequels, or tacked on multiplayer.” It was incredibly well worded (and I can’t find it in the mountain of e3 news now so someone link it to me and I’ll update this blog with the link.) It’s up to the developer and the publisher to find a way to solve these problems. (And yes, by voting with your dollars, the consumers have shaped where we’re at to some extent. In the AAA space there is a certain graphical fidelity required and rich feature set expected that are causing costs to skyrocket.) Add in the fact that there’s more things than ever in 2013 competing for your dollar and you have to have 8+ figure marketing budgets to run ads and what not.
So here’s what’s going to happen now that Microsoft has largely matched Sony’s (well played) move at E3. The shift to digital is still going to happen (FOR BOTH) but it’s going to be slow and subtle. Suddenly more DLC will be made available. More microstransactions will appear. And Day One Digital will (hopefully) be cheaper and will have so many added bells and whistles that consumers (with reliable enough bandwidth) will have a hard time refusing the tasty downloadable edition over the disc based one.
But you know, none of this shit matters if the GAMES AREN’T FUN AND FANTASTIC. And if they are? No one seems to mind throwing money at them. (Zynga, this is your problem now, btw.)
I’ve said before if I worked at Microsoft I would not only POSITIVELY motivate users to go digital but also offer their own trading system in which they give you MORE money for your game than Gamestop and sell the used games for LESS than Gamestop. Include a Netflix style mailing system and move along your merry way by engaging the customer as opposed to treating them like criminals.
Years from now college courses are going to be taught in proper messaging and they’re going to use Microsoft’s E3 delivery as a worst case scenario. I’ve known many of the folks over there for years, and folks, you know better. Before any presser you’re given a booklet that only says “Here’s what you should say if asked X.” They also brief you on the journalists you’re about to meet with “This is the guy from Giantbomb. He’s smart but has been good to work with in the past. He also likes Hot Pockets and long walks on the beach.” With the stakes this high those executives should have memorized that book and not have been rope-a-doped by savvy journalists who laid a trap for them to walk right the hell into. (Fuckin’ Keighley strikes again)
When users were complaining about changes to Gears’ multiplayer my (bad) answer was often “If you don’t like it, play the previous game you liked so much!” (Which is a thinly veiled Fuck You to the customer, honestly. Holy shit I just admitted I was wrong.)
Microsoft was trying to sell well lit houses that require a fully intact electrical grid to a world that doesn’t have that yet. Nothing made this more obvious than the fact that our servicemen and women of the armed forces are often in poorly connected places. Even Gears had a HUGE military following. And nothing looks worse than saying “forget the troops” because hey, your ass isn’t getting shot at or dealing with IEDs, are you?
I’ll admit, the once every 24 hour check was pretty silly. Customers can smell from a mile away when you’re treating them like children, peeking your head into their bedroom on a regular basis in an attempt to catch them doing something. Here’s the thing about Steam. It doesn’t FORCE you to be online. The ecosystem of Steam is so brilliant, from the community, to the summer sales, to the indie games, that you WANT to get online.
My money is on the PC, mobile and tablets for the near future. I wandered around E3 looking at (too many) fantastic games shaking my head and worrying about how many are going to be deemed a failure due to the fact that yes, it may have sold 4 million copies, but it cost too much to make and market, so it was a wash. (Do your homework, several very high profile games have had this issue and no, I’m not going to call them out here.)
At the end of the day I suppose it’s a beautiful thing that so many gamers actually give a shit and are willing to participate in the debate. Just remember one of the (positive) aspects of Capitalism is that it encourages competition. You don’t want one system to “win” because what happens is that the “winner” then becomes fat and lazy and the consumer has no choice. That choice is what often forces a business’ hand. (Look at the mess that is cable right now; many markets only have one choice so you could wind up fucked with Time Warner.)
By the way, Apple may be the ones who wind up “winning” this entire thing now.
Let’s just take a second and appreciate what a badass Justin Timberlake is.
He survived a boy band and went on to become an insanely successful solo artist. (How does a white kid have so much…soul?!)
He can also act rather well, including stealing the show in a Sorkin scripted Fincher flick.
He rocks Saturday Night Live AND Jimmy Fallon EVERY TIME he appears.
He dated Britney Spears…before she kind of, well, lost it. Also Scarlett Johannson AND Jessica Biel.
Though all of this you seldom hear about him losing his shit in public or any drug troubles.
Good for you, Justin.
Okay, back to gaming related shit.