Everyone is kind of upset over certain games right now; controversy, violence, abuse, things are getting people down. And yet the re-release of Final Fantasy 7 has proven something – eventually, we don’t care about the has-beens that try too hard. We enjoy (and buy!) good games. And we always will.
I respect Jim Sterling and his opinions, because he is more knowledgeable about certain things in the industry. It’s not often I disagree, except perhaps on his latest Escapist piece about how we as Gamers can take a stand against the industry. He reckons that boycotts send the wrong message to publishers, the very thing that keeps the wheels of the industry turning; that not buying something just tells them that their investment is somehow pointless and the studio unworthy of their time. He says that whinging, bitching and relentless complaints are what make change happen.
In some respects he is correct; in others not. For you see, a boycott in itself isn’t possible in this industry. I touched on this in my essay on the morality issue surrounding Splinter Cell: Blacklist – the more you press for a boycott, the more attention you actually draw to something, a case the Daily Mail in the UK has made very clear in the past; when it targets a new morality vacuum game, it tends to bring it to the attention of the sorts of people who like to send a big “F-You!” to the Daily Mail, and buy it knowing that it will piss off this morally righteous segment of the media. For you see, the majority of us as people hate being told what to do and when and how to do it. There’s a reason the sales of junk food are rising, why smoking is still a rising issue amongst the young. It’s that all the warnings turn into a sense of wanting to rebel against the very values the world holds dear, and rather than pay attention to the warnings and the risks we actively endeavour to partake in them. Gamers don’t like being told what they can and cannot buy; so games like Manhunt and Saw: The Game see huge sales whereas safer – and arguably better – games such as Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Okami and Beyond Good and Evil fail in dramatic style.
The thing is, games such as Splinter Cell: Blacklist will be forgotten in ten years time, or only remembered for the controversy that they caused. The reason for this is that controversy dates and it often dates really, really badly; playing Manhunt, or Clock Tower, or watching the intro to Parasite Eve is sometimes hilarious and humourous as to how we ever got offended by it in the first place. The Uncanny Valley, as well as the march of technology onwards to ever more realistic visuals, ensures that today’s controversies are tomorrows bad memories. Reading a list of games which stirred controversy on the likes of Wikipedia just demonstrates the core of the issue. After a while, we simply stop caring. The Mass Effect 3 bitching and moaning will be forgotten by the industry, the Diablo 3 DRM and tampering issues gone. Much like the PlayStation Network hacking scandal, again largely forgotten by the majority of us. Time softens the anger and the pain, and we stop dwelling on it. We move on. When and if we are reintroduced, we find the object of our affections or disgust haven’t aged well and more often than not, we feel really sorry for them.
Instead, we are starting to see something strangely miraculous; games which were quality and forgotten once upon a time are magically resurfacing again.
From the rather good HD update of Beyond Good and Evil to the revival (and poor HD update) of Silent Hill 3, and from the new content and press of the sublime Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game to the revival of Pikmin and Eternal Darkness, we are starting to watch as the gems of the past rise through an often murky sea and are being given a new wave of attention. That some games, which are aging gracefully, are being re-enjoyed not just by the older generation who remember them from their original release, but by a new audience willing to give quality titles from bygone eras a chance with their money when they are made available for their buying pleasure. The push to get Yoshi’s Island released fully on the 3DS e-Shop one notable example; it’s a game that simply hasn’t and doesn’t age. It’s as good today as it has always been, and on a handheld needs no real HD update. People WANT this game. They’ve heard so much about it, heard the likes of me frothing at the mouth at how much it changed our gaming lives and how big a slice of our hearts it has. And they want to buy it. They want to own it.
This has been proven by Square-Enix many times; the re-release of Final Fantasy 7 has prompted a surge of new sales by those who missed out first time, or by those who want a trip down memory lane. On the PSP, Vagrant Story was one of its digital success stories; a game from 2000 and has critics and fans still singing its praises, people wanted to see what the fuss was about and many even became fans as a result, pushing the games that are selling back into the public consciousness. Some of the games that only sell on controversy and gore – like Mortal Kombat – are just forgotten about, left to languish in the background as we discover and/or rediscover the joys of gaming, be they currently or retroactively.
There is nothing “clever” about controversy. It’s a short-term publicity stunt that rarely translates into a long-term sustained success story. Some games do tread that line and get away with it – MadWorld on the Wii deserved more success, but its hyper-violence was offset by its very comic-book stylings, artistically done in an aesthetically crude fashion, with the red of the gore offsetting the hand-drawn drive of the visuals. But it was partly the violence and gore that put people off it. These games don’t look mature or grown-up any longer; they look childish and silly. This turns people off – and arguably, it should not do so, but it does. It’s an example that hyper-violence and gore aren’t always the holy grail of controversy; if anything, they age a game years before its time. The likes of Prototype are already forgotten as well; games with lots of violence that were good games really, but nothing special, sold poorly. It destroyed its developer and has seen the series indefinitely locked away in Schrodinger’s Box, existing and yet no longer existing. We are told we should feel bad about studios who fold this way – but it’s a painful reality that if your game doesn’t succeed after two valid shots at the market, they won’t buy your next project. Second chances are just that, second chances. It’s rare to see many third chances being given.
The revival of some of these old games is not that they aren’t violent or gory – because some have their own sense of it – but because they were great games originally. That’s it. Some of them even did shockingly badly at release, such as Okami and Beyond Good and Evil. But they have returned, and found a new voice and a new audience who appreciate them more than they did in the past. Gaming is no longer a model of short-term success; games not only continue to exist but continue to grow, and having them available to people more of the time via digital purchases in X-Box Live, Steam or PSN continues to ensure that they drive sales. They sell because we talk about them with affection and love. We tell people how much fun these games are. We tell them how brilliant they are. Amidst that, people will always seek to buy the games to see what we’re talking about; in the past, this was only possible by hunting down second-hand copies of the games via eBay or Amazon Marketplace. But developers and publishers are wising up to the realities of the market and pushing their back catalogues into the digital space, where those wanting to partake of a bit of retro goodness can purchase them directly. This also makes the publishers money – which, shock horror, may even convince them there’s a market there for a sequel, or a remake, or a spin-off.
Average games won’t enjoy that. There isn’t a big market out there for older Call of Duty games. Complaining doesn’t always work – World of Warcraft will demonstrate that. And boycotts won’t work either, because we as a society are rebelling more and more against being told what we can and can’t legally enjoy in the comfort of our own homes. The negatives are just brushed aside, ignored and eventually buried. We wheel them out for a quick joke sometimes, or we refer to them, but ultimately they are the past resting in a Games Cemetery. We walk by, and we’re not interested in those who have passed on.
Instead we are more motivated by others who praise and adulate something. We want to see why so many people like something. We may not always agree with their opinions, and that is perfectly acceptable as long as you are polite (otherwise you are probably trolling), but the very real reality is that we, the gaming community, are acting in a media capacity. To quote the Amanda Palmer song “Map of Tasmania” (the song is not really safe for work so I won’t link directly. Sorry!) “They don’t know that we are the media, they don’t know that we start the mania!”. We are doing more to promote the really great moments of gaming, like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, from Dragon Crystal to Sonic 3 and Knuckles, from Streets of Rage to Tomba!, and the industry is starting to slowly come around to the idea that if the vocal fanbase is there, then there is still a market for it. And as a result, there is likely still money to be made.
We should celebrate this. Quality always wins. We will forgive and forget the turgid piles of excrement that the industry even today manages to poop out with alarming regularity because we ultimately know that the hobby we have chosen does see quality happen. And quality always survives, always continues on in some form. It may not be very instant and it may not always be what the shareholders want to see, but given the time and the availability, these games can thrive and flourish for years to come. The model of the gaming market is shifting, has shifted, and we are the ones riding the wave.
That’s a bloody brilliant, positive thing that we should all be proud of. So forget the controversies of gaming, and get stuck in the the real shining stars of the market. Everyone will be much, much happier as a result. We don’t need to be brought down and depressed. Have fun. Enjoy yourself.
That’s why you play games anyway, isn’t it?