More than ever I feel, as a lifelong gamer, that the industry doesn’t trust me as a customer.
It’s not the pre-order content, the DLC, the endless codes and the idea now they want us to be online so hey, they know we’re not hiding from them so all is good, if we can see you you’ve got nothing to hide and the endless comments on how second hand sales and piracy are killing the industry. It’s the little things now, in games they expect me to log on every single day in some cases, with mechanics that stack up bonuses endlessly and if you take one day off, then it’s all gone. Why? “You’re not loyal enough.” You can spend a fortune on the tech, a bigger fortune on the games, upgrade your PC year on year and offer to groom the developers pet hamster for the next two freaking years and they still wouldn’t trust us to play a game offline, or without DRM in a lot of cases. In an increasingly invasive era of the Internet, these developers want to be able to see us. To know we actually bought its game.
It’s almost as if we’ve become the enemy, and when you consider we’re customers, that’s quite sad. That the very people that they need to survive by buying and funding their projects are, somehow, no longer important enough. No longer understanding enough. No longer intelligent enough. We’re given excuses that Tomb Raider didn’t sell 6 million units not because it was a stupidly optimistic target, but because… well, because we obviously didn’t like it and it is somehow out fault that a game selling 3.4 million copies in a MONTH (That’s over 100,000 copies a day consistently for 31 days) is a failure. Or that we don’t understand how hard it is to make a game and our obvious anger and annoyance when a game that took six years to make and was fraudulently advertised is misguided, and any attempt to hold them to account is “frivolous”, and “meritless”.
The industry makes a big deal about making us feel bad about its failings but… their failings are often of their own accord. Aliens: Colonial Marines was lambasted because it was genuinely terrible, a game from a proven developer that looked like someone had dumped it out in six months from their arse. It’s not subjective; it’s universally hated. Even those defending it can’t call it a good game, because it just isn’t. There’s no two ways about this; the litigation that Gearbox is facing now? It put itself there by pushing a game that I suspect, had it been a movie in the 90’s, would have been labelled under “Alan Smithee”. Square-Enix alludes tha tit’s our fault that they didn’t sell six million copies of Tomb Raider in a month? Heck, 3.2 million is more than some games get in YEARS. And it got that in a month. Somehow I don’t feel bad about that, I think someone in the industry is being a twit and needs to go back to GCSE-level Mathematics. EA, Microsoft, Blizzard and more – always online. If you got nothing to hide… except, even if you don’t, you can still find yourself hit down the line when servers are shut off. Then… well. No game.
The industry looks upon us as a den of thieves and liars. But never in the industry has such an accusation been more truthful aimed right back at them. We’re being asked to fund a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness by Denis freaking Dyack. The man is… I wouldn’t trust him to carry an orange across a garden. And he’s asking for $1.2 million, for one episode of a maybe ten or twelve episode series of games, with terms and conditions that are so shady and malicious that I’m shocked it’s even legal to do so. He can argue that Kickstarter wouldn’t allow him because he’s not a US or UK resident, but… well, I don’t believe him. His crowdfunding takes the money right at the source and promises… not a lot, actually. For all the reasons I loathe Kickstarter, this does at least make Amazon’s baby look like a shining beacon of honesty and integrity.
We’re still not being told definitively if the new Durango/Fusion/Next-Box will have an always-online component. Adam Orthy defended it rigorously, which gave rise to the suspicion of it. Many will argue that it would be silly for Microsoft to do this, but then, Microsoft do silly things. They are not immune. And considering how they dragged their heels over the whole Red Ring of Death issue, could you honestly hand on heart say that Microsoft in the event of always-online would be honest with us if there were problems? I’m… I’m not sure I could.
We’re told by EA the Wii-U can’t do it’s new Frostbite 3 engine, in spite of a dozen other next-gen engines run on the platform. We’re expected to believe EA. EA want us to side with it, so it can continue its policy of online domination, but I don’t believe them. They’ve burned me so many times, they’ve done so much wrong, they’ve made so many mistakes that EA could tell me the sky was blue and water is wet and I wouldn’t believe them.
We as consumers have for a generation now been fed spin, lies and bullshit and been asked to take it from behind more times than I’d care to mention. And you know what? I’m tired of having to prove myself. I’m sick of having to constantly prove how much I like my video games. I’m angry that companies continually seek ways of extorting more and more money from us, because we’re also the reason it’s not making any money/ It’s lies. It’s a patent untruth. If you spend fifty million dollars on a video game and then half that again on advertising, then don’t make it back, that’s not OUR fault. Maybe the game isn’t good. Or maybe it’s the wrong time. Or the wrong concept, we all know now the likes of Beyond Good and Evil HD sold very well, more in fact than the original game ever sold in its entirety. But it’s not MY fault as a consumer that you’re not making money. Could it be – here’s the bell – that you are overspending on projects that simply don’t have a chance of making their budgets back?
Developers don’t mean to make bad games, I know that, but Gearbox in particular anger me so much. Not only was the bad reception our fault and that of sub-studios it brought in to finish the game (why that was even necessary is a more pertinent question…), but now we have heard the crap, exposed the lies and gotten advertising taken down and off our screens because it’s so outrageously misleading, the notion that there might have possibly in the process been a criminal act is somehow strange. They hide behind a right of “artistic integrity”, of being allowed to show “work in progress” when we know now that it clearly wasn’t. The industry likes to see us as crooks; god help those who want to level the same accusation back at them!
But we must. We’ve been submissive for so long and tolerated so much, and it has changed the gaming landscape forever. I have never seen so many games released with catastrophic bugs. You have examples in history of it happening – Overblood 2 for example, on the PSX, was so broken and buggy that you couldn’t finish the game without cheating and third-party tools. And even then as a grand adventure RPG variant, you miss out on half the story, which is… kind of sad, actually. Things like that happened, but not on a scale like we’ve seen lately. Games getting patches on the first day, and even after those, so many are rendered unplayable that you wonder why you even bothered buying it in the first place. If the industry wants us to buy their games in a launch window, more and more they will need to push them through a QA Department and filter out the bugs. The public are not a QA Department. We are your customers. We expect you to have done this step, thank you.
I see Day-One DLC, often superficial extras that once upon a time would have been hidden objects given for achieving completions in a certain time. You see always-online that can’t even keep itself online, let alone expect the customer to log into the server. We get propaganda spoon-fed to us daily, and the press has a lot to answer for this. The relationship is swinging after the whole EG thing last year, but in a lot of ways it is still a bit too sycophantic. You don’t call companies out on their bullshit for fear they will cut you off. That’s… not a healthy free press relationship. Not by a long shot.
For all the times we’re being asked to prove ourselves, very few companies are proving themselves reliable or trustworthy enough to earn our money. There are great examples out there of studios and developers who either are getting our money deservedly, or deserve our money and we’re not giving it to them. We’re railroaded into crowd funding titles by big industry names who in any other day would walk into a publisher and easily secure funding for something. We need to ask why this is, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the publishers…
We are the put-upon. We have to prove our credentials. And the industry has been taking advantage of that for far too long. More and more, the industry gets bad press by the general media because it is making itself look bad. We look stupid for submitting to often insane demands, crazy requirements and then are told, “A three hour game is totally worth $60!”. I don’t care how fancy your technology is, but three hours? $60? That’s a hard sell. No wonder the games industry sometimes looks from the outside to be so strange. It’s the only industry that could get away with such bollocks.
Piracy numbers are dropping. Second-hand sales are, at last count, dwindling. Still there, but not as excessively there as they once were in the PS2/Gamecube/X-Box/DC era. The things the industry is afraid of are falling away, becoming less of an issue, and it makes a louder noise to compensate. It’s making all the mistakes, and we’re punished and blamed for it. Online games crashing on the first day? “Unprecedented demand!”. Uhh, yeah, I don’t buy that excuse. Complex Online Passcodes? “Second hand sales and piracy are to blame!” Except the numbers are dwindling and have been for some time now.
The industry clearly doesn’t trust us. It says if we’ve got nothing to hide, then we’re okay. But turn the torch on them, and they scutter away into the shadows, behind lawyers and press releases and hiss like newly-sired vampires. It has far, far more to hide than we ever will. It’s been getting away with some truly shocking things for a long time now, and moving into a new generation, perhaps it is time we got on the marigolds, grabbed the hoovers and stakes and holy water and went in and cleaned the crypt out. More open, honest, sensible insights into the industry are essential, not carefully orchestrated events. Inpromptu questions and responses, a more relaxed and shared experience so we feel like we’re communicating, that we have the information to make a rational and sensible decision when it comes to a purchase at the end of it. Less Kickstarter Whores (Big names who probably don’t need it), and perhaps more pressing questions. It’s all fun to shoot at Nintendo but guess what? If it dies, then you got nothing to hate on. Where will it go then? Sony? Microsoft? Ouya? Holding them to account for dragging their heels is important, so let’s not coat it in too much mud. We might like the answer, after all.
But the industry won’t. Piracy and second-hand sales are problems that fix themselves. Comsumers cannot be blamed for the industries failings. The industry has more to hide than we ever will. And if they won’t trust us, then we, as consumers and gamers, shouldn’t trust it in the slightest bit either.
And hey, if the industry disagrees, let’s see some more openness.
After all, if you got nothing to hide…