Leave to mature for 18 months…
There’s a trend picking up some pace.
This trend is noticeable in the PC release of Resident Evil 6 – to say there are control and graphical improvements would be a dramatic understatement. I liked Resident Evil 6, with some caveats. I haven’t quite wrung out the entirety of the game either on PC, but so far it’s a vast improvement and it feels very much correctly set up for the PC. Smooth framerates and better loading times alongside some pleasant extra content in the shape of a Left4Dead 2 crossover, it’s a much nicer and more tolerable experience.
Of course, this isn’t going to undo the console release pains that we experienced. In much the same way as the upcoming Wii-U version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is unlikely to undo any of the criticisms of a flawed game, even though the team working on it have expressed every intention of fixing them. The Wii-U version is cited as being the definitive, perfect version. It might well be, but we already did Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It was nice, but we moved on. And similarly, we have the likes of Diablo 3 coming to the PS3 and PS4, sans Battle.net – effectively frustrating thousands of people who spent the better part of last year raging at the Error 37 fiasco and complaining bitterly about the hacking, the cheating, the constant rebalancing and item droprates. There is no doubt these were hugely expensive games in popular series – and they didn’t quite cut the mustard, so to speak.
However, shouldn’t we expect them to get it right first-time?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for patching and communication, but what we are seeing more of is that later down the road some games which faltered have been getting “remastered”, often at vast expense and appealing to the sort of customer who, first time around, was disappointed by their purchase. However, isn’t it really cheeky and rude to expect a customer you already disappointed once before to want to spend out another $50 – or more, if you need to buy a new console because the better version is “Exclusive” – on a title they should arguably have gotten in the first place? I know games are difficult to make – I’m knee deep in my own little project and believe me, I have the utmost sympathies for the developers who work really hard, often with long hours and overtime as standard, for relatively little thanks or credit for their role in the project. They deserve to be celebrated, and no-one sets out to make a bad game. Sometimes, things just turn out wrong. That’s the sort of thing you pin on a director or executive producer, after all. But I think there is certainly a rising resentment to the industry these days, a swell of anger that is slowly building. Considering that we’re entering the transitional phase for a new generation, this is absolutely the worst possible timing for this sentiment to be building up – but the industry is doing it’s damnedest to make sure that it continues to grow.
Consumers don’t like being taken for mugs – one glance at the recent SimCity debacle will tell you that when prompted, the customer is a terrifying enemy capable of destroying a CEO that was clearly quite eager to cling on (Two years wages to get rid of Riccitiello? That tells me he really didn’t want to go…). Last year, BioWare responded when customers were frustrated at the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, by creating new ending sequences. Now, you can argue their quality all you want and we have and probably will continue to argue their quality long into the next generation of consoles. But the customer backlash prompted it, and they had little choice but to respond. Customers have consistently proven they do have power over these companies, not least because they hold the one thing the companies crave more than our love and respect… our money! If people are actively telling others NOT to buy a game, then you’re losing sales. For all the complaints over piracy figures (been there, done that), the one thing that companies do and if they don’t then they should fear is the customer speaking ill of their product. A causal glance at Blizzard, Sega, BioWare and Gearbox Software will tell you the terrible damage that customers can do to you. Blizzard are watching as their subscribers for World of Warcraft drain away, and the derision they are getting for porting Diablo 3 is almost entertaining to me. BioWare… well, The Old Republic did the majority of the damage. I can’t see it surviving in the EA stables, especially with a new CEO being needed and having to cut off studios not paying their way in order to stop the financial hemorrhaging they seem to be having. Sega, for all the goodwill in recent years taking risks with some stellar games, banked the farm on Aliens: Colonial Marines and the PR fallout is dragging them into a fight with Fox. Gearbox didn’t get away cleanly either, seeing as it is their second and highest-profile failing; and unlike Duke Nukem Forever, there was no-one else to blame this one on…
Customers are getting tired with the industry. I must admit, I find it perplexing as well. This isn’t about “Game of the Year” editions, which I loathe as well, it’s about the whole concept of a remastered game that didn’t fare brilliantly a year or two down the line on arguably similar or the same technology as it was originally based on. Yes, I’m eager for new Wii-U games but Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate proves that games tailored and respecting the hardware and the consumer will always be more welcomed. A title that adds masses of new content, as well as technical and visual upgrades amongst whole new weapons and grouping options will come off as respecting. Also, it’s been several years since Monster Hunter Tri. This doesn’t seem like a cop-out; on the contrary, it’s an upgraded and overhauled version of a game that deserves success in all markets. In contrast, the Deus Ex: Human Revolution overhaul has a main selling point; it’s fixed the boss battles. Remade them, in fact. This is the sort of thing that I agree with others, should be available to everybody.
More and more I’m sitting back and watching often shoddy games get overhauled or remade down the bumpy road. Or games getting ported for strange reasons; it’s no surprise that the Wii-U port of Resident Evil: Revelations is so far deemed to be the best. The natural step from the 3DS and its dual-screen arrangement was the Wii-U and it’s dual-screen arrangement. But this hasn’t stopped Capcom trying to squeeze it onto the PS3 and X-Box 360; from what I hear, these versions are being derided. And that’s a real problem, because two bad versions might cancel out the one decent version. The hope is obviously to keep the Resident Evil series making money after the poor reception Resident Evil 6 got last year, but is this the way to do it? Versions on consoles ill-suited to it? How is this considered “beneficial” to the series as a whole?
That’s a question that we can broaden. How can the industry expect us to not be cynical right now? For a video game, like a movie, the first few weeks – the “Box Office”, as it were – are often critical to its success. They are new, and shiny, and desirable. This is where they get an idea of whether they can hit their sales targets. However, customers are wising up. And it’s not a slow, creeping realisation either. For many, it’s been a sudden, short and sharp slap across the face. They are seeing Game of the Year editions, remastered versions and better ports further down the road where more care and precision is being taken. They are in a lot of cases holding onto their money for these other versions – or just not buying at all. This should concern the industry, and concern it deeply. It has been exposed; it’s methods are being called into question, and they are unable to provide answers. Caught in the act, they have no real choice but to continue on, hoping that we’ll just shrug and turn the other cheek as it sticks its grubby paw into our back pocket.
Of course it is unacceptable. But fighting something this complicated is going to be a headache for consumers, who are being bamboozled and blindsided by the temptations often of, “the game you know, but better!” If you buy the better version, are they learning anything? If you don’t buy at all, are you dooming the series you love to death? How do you get to grips with a practice this dirty? How do we, as consumers, fight an industry that thinks it’s better to put out the best version often months if not years after the initial release, on the grounds of, “Better late than never, right?”
There are more examples coming in the next year or two; there is talk of an overhauled Wii-U version of Aliens: Colonial Marines, more in keeping with the mythical demo. As much as I want what was shown in that demo, how do they think it will go any way to rectifying what can only be described as one of the worst licensed video games in a decade? It’s almost a waste of time. The wounds are fresh, and even when they mend they may still be too sore for many to accept that they took their sweet time on a Wii-U version for them. You hurt them once, damned if they’ll let you hurt them again. Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut; I loved Deadly Premonition, I really did Zack, but a PS3 exclusive? Many X-Box fans are hurt, my friend. You gave them a taste and now you’re telling them it didn’t matter to you? Be ashamed. Be very ashamed of yourself.
The industry doesn’t do itself any favours sometimes when it comes to criticisms of how it polices itself, and this is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. The market does indeed stand on the brink, teetering on the edge. Recent figures suggest the games market has recently seen its first fall in revenue in years (I think the mid to late 90’s). That an especially long period of growth when you consider that we’ve been through a worldwide recession. Indeed, the games industry appeared recession-proof. So if it isn’t the recession, what is it? Could it be that the games industry and its business practices are finally beginning to put people off buying products? Could it be that alienating fans and pushing them away, delivering sub-standard content with promises to improve it down the road are no longer cutting the mustard? Could it be that for all the money being pumped into these projects, that it cannot buy the one thing that they desperately crave: our love. Or perhaps our money. It’s sometimes hard to tell.
There will be success stories in the market and we see them all the time – original content done right, or new IPs vying for our attention. But we should be careful, and the industry should be concerned. It’s all well and good to release a remastered and improved version of a game. But you run many risks in the process – not least, those who bought it in the first place, often on a completely different platform. The people whose love and trust which have been violated in order to pillage them of the funds needed to make this “improved version”. That love and trust can never be regained. They will always feel ashamed for trusting the market, their franchise. An improved version isn’t going to rekindle that romance – like changing a games genre, it’s a sale that, in the future, is lost forever. Firmly in the negative sales category. As time goes on, and more games are remastered this way, more people will find themselves turned off the games they used to love. More people will find themselves unable to trust again. Unable to justify blowing more money on another risky venture that may not end up being able to remove the bitter taste of betrayal and laziness that they got first time around.
And for an industry judging success of a franchise by its sales figures, it needs to be concerned not about piracy, but about “Negative Sales”, sales you know cannot and never will happen. Players so turned off that they cannot in good conscience buy another game in the series. When you are turning off the fans on which you project future sales figures, you are basing facts and figures on a foundation of lies and deceit, and that can never work in the industries favour. You cannot continue to expect put-upon fans to endlessly forgive and forget; some of what they go through is, frankly, amazing in that anyone tolerates it at all. Day one DLC, season passes, online passes and twink items for money; an initial release isn’t £40 anymore. It’s often £60 – if not in some cases closer to £80 when you factor in later additions and content. These are the fans who give their money, and they get no thanks for it. No respect. No love. That is reserved for expanding the market down the road, using and abusing the goodwill of its initial userbase in order to flirt and woo complete strangers in order to prove its popularity. Is it any surprise more and more people are becoming jaded and judgemental?
The industry has got it backwards, and it is slowly reaping the rewards for sowing such an ill-harvest. Consumers are more wary and more cautious. Their boldness, their appetite for new instalments and new IP’s have been crushed by the very industry that is trying to convince them to buy more of it. Sales figures are down, the market overall is down and there are serious concerns over the long-term future. The industry can, of course, fix this. Most of these problems are superficial and rather easily rectified; indeed, there are bold suggestions on the table, one of which is the novel concept of a “Buy One, Buy All” approach. That is, if you buy a game on the PC, and it ends up better on the Wii-U, you can use or get a code provided by the game/company in order to digitally download it on the Wii-U. Many argue this would cripple the market financially, but a financial expansion based on crushing expectation and pillaging the still-warm bodies of fans you have piledrived into the ground isn’t a sustainable model either. We’re seeing now it isn’t sustainable. Third parties have been aware for years that their sales are outnumbered by exclusives and first-party faire; a radical approach is necessary in order for them to continue to grow. One that they know in future will have to put the customer first, or risk losing their business the next time around.
However the market fixes the mess it has gotten itself into, it has only itself to blame. We have been watching as it constantly and repeatedly fires a gun into its foot. There’s barely a foot left now, and there’s not much fun in watching it empty into the bare ground where the foot used to be. We’re bored now. The shock value is over. The interesting bit is over, and we’ve lost interest. Now the industry is going to have to find a new way to get our attention, a new way to shock us or attract us.
But first it’s going to have to get that “foot” seen to, because it would be a shame if gangrene set in and permanently ruined everything forever…