The biggest problem facing the games industry

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We have met the enemy, and he is an angry game nerd. So says NBA Jam developer Trey Smith on the MTV Multiplayer blog:

MTV: What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

Smith: I think there are a number of problems we have with the way games are being developed today, but honestly, I think one of the biggest problems right now is the actions and attitude of some of the gamers out there. You know who they are. If they spent less time spewing ignorant hate on the boards and in online games, and more time rallying behind the great games they love and helping to build a thriving community that welcomes everyone that shows up to play with them – everybody wins.

There is truth in this. I doubt anyone who has visited a videogames forum – any videogames forum – would disagree. And the comments threads on even the most genteel game websites are rarely free of venom. But is it really fair to call it “one of the biggest problems right now” with games?

Steve Smoothy at GameTaco makes the counterpoint that this is not a problem unique to games culture (obviously he has visited YouTube at least once). No, Smoothy has his daggers out for:

Corporate suits. Worn by people whose first thought is to their shareholders above anything else.

Having worked in a corporate environment for well over ten years now I can comfortably state that corporate management is not the sort of thing that a game development company should be ruled by. A regime based on big business corporate governance revolves around predictability and employees operating like a mechanised assembly line, churning out work at a set rate, in a specified manner, without deviation from business processes.

That’s true, too. Like internet rage, it still comes down to human nature, but there’s a specific problem there for the videogame industry: bureaucracies are shit at making art.

But the suits, and their culture of corporate management, are a symptom, not a cause.

Bureaucracies, deadlines, share prices, budgets and mechanisation of human work are all necessary tools to get a $20 million dollar game made. AAA games require an enormous amount of content, and it’s all difficult to make. Someone has to coordinate the horde of specialist crafters who are each capable of making one or two elements of a game well, and that’s a difficult enough job; making sure they all get paid in the end is even harder.

That can mean making decisions that are unpopular with the game designers and the audience. Sometimes the marketing department is right when it tells the game designers they need to add more stupid guns and stupid “badass” characters if they want to be able to keep paying off their mortgages. That’s why big game development studios have suits: someone has to manage everything to make sure the game gets made and sells enough that the next game will get made. The people who are good at this job, not by coincidence, tend to be more concerned with the size of their bonus than the artistic value of the work they oversee.

What happens when a AAA game development studio with significant resources isn’t run by corporate suits who don’t really care about the quality of the game? If you’re very lucky, Half-Life. Otherwise, Duke Nukem Forever.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The tools for making games have got better every year, so it’s now trivial to make something that was awe-inspiring 20 years ago, and not difficult for four people to make something that would have taken forty people 10 years ago. Game makers could sidestep the need for huge departments, money-obsessed bureaucracts and people like Mark Rein by simply using the existing tools more efficiently – but that means being behind the state of the art.

That’s essentially all the indie sector is: people who don’t need an enormous support structure because they don’t mind that their games aren’t competing with James Cameron on spectacle. And that’s a very powerful position to be in. It gives them all the leverage of modern game-making technology with none of the weight of a large management superstructure. It also allows individuals to express themselves directly through their games, in a way that nobody at a AAA studio really can anymore.

In theory, that’s game over for the big companies (no pun intended). Good old games can be just as enjoyable as big modern ones, and the internet has made distribution a non-issue, so the developers who are making games with modest production values using modern tools should stomp all over the companies who go for the biggest budget, flashiest graphics and most workmanlike design possible.

But that isn’t how it plays out.

For every Minecraft success story, there are scores of worthy indie developers struggling to get by because everyone is buying yet another mediocre but spectacular blastathon even though – and this is key – they would enjoy the indie games just as much. How can I know that? Because there are a million different indie games out there right now, and they cater to all of the brain’s various pleasure centres (yes, even those ones). Paying full price for the kind of game that has a huge marketing budget is rampant stupidity.

Are we better than others for recognising this? Hell no. Dan bought Halo: Reach new just the other day, and he doesn’t even particularly like the Halo series. And now I’m buying it from him, while still half-heartedly plodding through Halo 3: ODST. It’s downright immoral how often we give slabs of money to enormous corporation who will spend it on making soulless games, while hesitating to part with a few measly dollars for something everyone says is amazing and can’t survive without us. And yet as people who buy awesome worthwhile indie games with some kind of regularity, we’re already in a small minority of the game-playing population.

That’s what’s wrong with the games industry. Not the suits: they’d disappear in a month if we stopped supporting them. Not the angry ranty geeks: for all their lack of social graces, they often reserve their passion for the things that deserve to be supported. No, it’s the ordinary people who keep handing over their money for overproduced, soulless shit that doesn’t need to exist, either because they don’t know any better, or worse: even though they do.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.


Related posts:

  1. A grammar of games
  2. Streamed games – hype or hope?
  3. The future of digital distribution

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Fraser Allison

Fraser comes from a long line of tinkerers and troublemakers, and the apple didn't fall far from the tree. He's an internet addict and a friend to animals. In 2010, he completed an honours thesis entitled "The prosthetic imagination: immersion in Mirror's Edge", which you can view here. You can follow Fraser on Twitter, or hang out at his house and play Top Spin, whatever.

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25 comments

  1. I’d go even further and say it’s the gamer’s arrogant entitlement that is a serious problem. See no further than the recent Minecraft hack. Why did these players hack the game servers and and shut down the game? Because the game wasn’t recieving updates fast enough. A game programmed by one person and was still in Alpha.

    These people demand everything yesterday, for free and at the expense of the people who make it. If they don’t get paid, work 18 hour days and then get fired for having the gall to ask for their bonuses, screw them, I want my game.

    This problem is very similar to the whiny forum goers and those that buy derviative games at the same time they complain about dervitative games flooding the market. It’s the exact same mindset that leads to both issues. The thing is even among the derivative AA titles, some still deserve to be supported, because they are good.

    It comes down to information and the buying public being informed. Coming from that, it also means that the information being given is trustworthy. That the companies and creators get their due. Really the system breaks down at every single point. But yes, it is a system of our own making.

  2. I don’t know… I’ve been thinking about it this afternoon, and I think you’re possibly giving too little credit to the market and too much credit to game company management.

    Any form of publishing, be it books, movies, games, whatever, is fundamentally risky. Corporate management tends to be fundamentally, individually risk averse.

    While I haven’t heard specific anecdotes from game companies, it doesn’t seem too unlikely that it operates in a way similar to Hollywood, where most individual middle-to-upper managers are unwilling to greenlight risky publications, not because it’s bad business for the company but because it’s bad business for the individual concerned. They simply can’t have their own name associated with a failed project.

    This means that the large publishing corporations (Activision in particular, at least at the moment) will tend to sink their resources into proven franchises and formats, even though these are not necessarily the best way to generate sales.

    Producing risky titles creates a much higher chance for individual failure (Kane & Lynch) but it also gives you a much, much higher chance for outstanding success (Lego Star Wars). When you combine this with the diminishing returns you eventually get on any franchise, it seems probable to me that multiple distinct innovative products are the soundest way to proceed, especially when you’ve still got a backbone of sellable existing brands you can fall back on (be they game franchises, movie stars, authors, what-have-you).

    I mean, if you look at the runaway successes of the past decade or so, they mostly have one thing in common – innovation. Guitar Hero. Bioshock. GTAIV. Modern Warfare, which I believe Infinity Ward had to really fight Activision to be able to make. (I think people tend to forget how ground-breaking and genuinely interesting that game was. Partly because the follow-up was appalling, of course.)

    Heck, even Halo was ridiculously risky for Microsoft when it was first released. A shooter on a console? Cra-azy. (Okay, there had been Goldeneye before that. But not much else, and they really ran with that for their branding.)

    So, yeah. I think the market rewards risk-taking overall, not out of any strong principles but because something which is good and new is worth owning. I think it likely that the big business structure doesn’t.

    A counter-example to this is Valve. Now, anyone who’s heard me talk about them knows I’ve got a slightly creepy stalker thing going on with them, and I think it’s mainly because of this. Valve are dedicated to sensible risk-taking, to constant iterative innovation. Result? They make a fortune. And a large amount of it is through the indie space, through recognising the money-making potential of that market as a whole and figuring out how to publish it properly, in a way that makes all the stakeholders ecstatically happy.

    As for why the market doesn’t (arguably) always give indie developers their due? I think I’ll save that for another time. (i.e. I don’t know.)

    PS.
    I’m not Steve. Same site, different guy. In case anyone wondered.

  3. Very intriguing indeed, both from you Fraser and Mr Ak.

    I’m interested to see if Paul writes up his response to our discussions on various sites & Twitter.

    On the whole I believe it may be a complex issue to nail down to one prime factor that is the ‘biggest problem in the games industry’, I think we’re all well aware that nominating a singular reason is a little reductionist. In spite of that, every time someone *does* nominate a single reason and puts forward a good case for it, I believe those those cultures and behaviours are in dire need of addressing.

    Management is definitely an issue. Consumer behaviour is also an issue, as are some of the terrible behaviours in gaming sub-cultures – this one is possibly the most transparent to non-gamers and may be the most easily misconstrued and misrepresented in broad media-casts. We can sit around and say that broadcasting is a dated format but regardless of our little culture’s ultramodern approach to information, most of the voting public still rely on it which puts us all in a rather fragile socio-political position to be honest.

    But in any case, all of these things fuel each-other and tackling it all at the same time seems impossible, yet I’m beginning to think we have to try. If we slowly established management/artistic utopia within every major publishing developer, I don’t think it would be enough to facilitate a cultural shift within the gaming population. If the gaming population grew up (la la la fantasy land) I’m not too sure that would effect management behaviours and broader consumer buying habits. There needs to be an overall shift in all aspects of game funding, creation, marketing, retail and sub-cultural behaviour to move from where we are.

    I’m not here to suggest solutions either; when I look at the scope of our problems, it can be discouraging to even begin to formulate a solution. Nevertheless we do have the odd AAA game that is inspired and worthy of attention (ignoring the high price for the minute), we have the odd indie title that is both superbly designed and also commercially successful, and once in a while we also have the odd gaming community that works hard with developers to improve the game rather than behave like spoilt juveniles.

    Trying hard to inject some optimism in here.

  4. Eric:
    For my sanity, I want to believe that the badly behaved whiners who are epitomised by these Minecraft attackers are a tiny minority. Even the ones who aren’t as extreme, like the Left 4 Dead 2 boycotters, I have to hope are just a very noisy fraction of the playing population. The alternative is too depressing.

    But you make a good point that a lot of the time people just don’t know any better, especially in regards to sales of indie games. They just don’t have the marketing muscle that comes with a large publisher, which is a shame when their games are better than the EA / Activision / Ubisoft hits.

    Mr Ak:
    That is a pretty convincing argument. I’m wavering somewhere in the middle. There’s a lot there that I agree with, so let me make the counterpoint.

    Good games do often sell well. But that trend is most pronounced when comparing games from the same tier of the industry. A mid-tier game like Sins of a Solar Empire can be considered a smashing success with half or a third of the sales of a “disappointing” top-tier game like Mirror’s Edge. Obviously, sales success is measured in relation to budget, but my main point is that the top-tier games aren’t significantly better to play than the mid-tier or low-tier games, so this sliding scale of success doesn’t make sense from a player’s perspective.

    Your point about coporate aversion to risk is well taken, but that’s the kind of thing I think is at least partly symptom of the continual push towards bigger budgets and more advanced technology. If you’re an executive on a project that’s costing up to fifty million dollars, it’s not just your own reputation you have to be worried about; a lot of people are depending on you for their livelihood. How much do you trust your own judgement? Tales abound of people who were sure their game was amazing releasing it to overwhelming scorn – Elemental is a recent example. In that kind of situation, choosing the safe options is entirely rational. Otherwise you’re gambling your employees’ mortgages to try to make a better game, which might not even be appreciated by consumers once it’s released. If game development wasn’t such a high-risk, moderate-return business, there might be more room for art.

    On top of that, large development teams give each individual on the team less authority over the work. Even when someone is the creative boss – Ken Levine at Irrational, for example – the game isn’t really theirs. As committee sizes increase, spontaneous creativity naturally loses out to methodical planning and project management.

    Valve is a special case. It’s a remarkable company. The original Half-Life is one of those games that literally could not have been made by almost anyone else; the ex-Microsoft folk sunk a lot of time, money and ingenuity into drafting, testing, rejecting and rebuilding that game to make it what it was. It’s interesting to note that Valve seems to have consciously avoided becoming a typical large game developer: instead of putting huge teams to work on one or two games at a time, they consistently release smaller games and support them well past their release date. The last Valve game that had the scale of a typical AAA title was Half-Life 2 in 2004. I think that’s a brilliant approach, especially when so few people typically finish the big, sprawling $100 games made by most big companies.

    Looking at the list of runaway successes you mentioned, I’d say Bioshock kind of proves my point: it’s arguably the most well-respected of the four in artistic terms, but sold by far the least, presumably because it had the smallest marketing budget. The other three are series that have built up popularity over time, which is one way to reward quality. It does have the unfortunate effect of occasionally supporting a mediocre sequel. For example, Guitar Hero 3 was hugely successful of the back of all the good work Harmonix did on GH and GH2. Rock Band has done quite well, but still doesn’t have the same recognition.

    I was curious to test this, in case I had the wrong idea, so I googled something about games sales and grabbed the first article that caught my eye. It turned out to be a list of the top 100 selling games of late 2007 – early 2008 according to Edge mag. Okay, it’s a bit old, but that gives us perspective on how good the games really were. The top of the list is a mix of whatever had billboards that year, many of which are decidedly average: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Assassin’s Creed, The Simpsons Game, Transformers: The Game, Spider-Man 3, Mario Party 8, Pirates of the Caribbean, several yearly sports license games… etc. Bioshock comes in at number 29, behind, say, Ratatouille and MySims. Everything was published by the usual handful of companies.

    Wall:
    Yeah, you got me. I’m riffing off the “biggest problem” meme, but it’s a big and complicated space. Despite the focus on the negatives in this article, I’m actually confident things are already improving, for a few reasons.

    Digital distribution is still a smaller space than retail, but it’s catching up fast. That removes many of the institutional advantages big publishers have in distributing their games. It’s increasingly possible to make a living off the long tale, as a game that sells 1000 copies has equal shelf space as a game that sells 10 million. It also increases the power of word of mouth, both by bringing the sales channels closer to the discussion channels and by allowing games to sell in small numbers for years without going “out of print”. Good Old Games is ironically one of the brightest signs for the industry’s future, despite their boneheaded attempts at marketing.

    On top of that, the quality of games criticism is improving. At least, I think it is. It may be that the quantity of games criticism is increasing, which amounts to the same thing if the best stuff floats to the top. And I think we can see that happening, with sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun becoming hugely popular without really ever running stories designed to pull in cheap hits. In fact, although I can’t find the link now, I remember Kieron Gillen saying that some of the most popular articles on RPS by all measurements – page views, google hits, comments, links from other sites – are the ones about obscure independent games that nobody else had written about.

    It does seem like the number of indie success stories is trending up each year. Not everything gets the recognition it deserves, and plenty of games sell more than they should, but we’ve already come a long way from the imagination-less pit that was videogames in the early 2000s, when everything was set in World War 2 and even Nintendo couldn’t seem to make a fun game.

    What I want to see next is for game developers to put less of their focus on technical innovation and more on creation of worthwhile art that expresses something. That’s why I’m glad that there’s no sign of a new console generation in the near future; the most interesting games always seem to come out a few years into a console cycle.

  5. Fraser: spot on, great response.

    I’ve had two main thoughts mulling about in my brain-box over the last few months culminating in some interesting discussions with my GameTaco co-conspirators, people like you, the Level3 community and others. The first one is the usual dissatisfaction with games on several philosophical levels which I won’t bore you with. The second is this growing optimism that there’s a roots-level movement towards non-traditional or perhaps non-established games criticism and commentary. That’s not just the number of us there are now filling the internet with all kinds of opinions and analysis to varying degrees, but also that with each site comes a micro-community.

    I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm because it may be totally inflated, I might be totally caught up in our site, yours and the myriad of communities we keep in touch with through sites and social-media tools like Twitter, but then I don’t really know to what degree social-media is having an effect on the gaming populace at large so who knows. I’d like to believe that while yes, all the sites listed on Metacritic will always be around, in particular the usual suspects who are generally owned by larger publishing/media parent companies, in-spite of that the micro-communities that are growing around the place are beginning to coalesce into a ground-movement of older, more intelligent readers, gamers and consumers.

    That might actually be more hair-brained than the pop-centric community growing up, but I can’t help but want to believe in it. Afterall, now that I’m getting into all these sites (albeit probably very late!), the research that indicates that the average gamer age is now around 30 seems more believable. We’re people who’ve endured our adolescence, are now working, establishing deeper intimate relationships with those around us and who have different priorities in life.

    What I don’t know anything about is how powerful the 13-24 year old male demographic is. For all I know, our tidy little movement may be drowned beneath the sheer weight of pop consumers because to be honest, that demographic *is* able to be addressed purely by management with little input or involvement by creative teams at all.

    I guess we aren’t accountable for it though, and if we can financially support indie and mid-level games developers enough then it shouldn’t matter. I hope.

  6. Just on the money point (and really, a lot of the debate going on here):

    The top 10 selling books of 2008 (http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2009-01-14-top-100-titles_N.htm)

    1. Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
    2. New Moon – Stephenie Meyer
    3. Breaking Dawn – Stephenie Meyer
    4. Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer
    5. A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle
    6. The Shack – William P. Young
    7. The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
    8. The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K. Rowling
    9. Brisingr – Christopher Paolini
    10. The Appeal – John Grisham

    The top 10 grossing films of 2008
    (http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2008)

    1. The Dark Knight – WB
    2. Iron Man – Paramount
    3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Paramount
    4. Hancock – Sony
    5. WALL-E – Buena Vista
    6. Kung Fu Panda – P/DW
    7. Twilight – Summit
    8. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – P/DW
    9. Quantum of Solace – Sony
    10. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! – Fox

  7. @Fraser

    Yeah, fair counterpoint. And that was a pretty depressing list.

    It gets a lot less depressing, though, if you ignore the licensed titles (both sport and film). And if you change the economic unit from “game” to “franchise”

    There may not be a lot of new IP there, but there is a lot of IP which comes from franchises which were originally quite innovative. There are games there from Brain Training, the Sims, Guitar Hero, Pokemon, DDR, even Tomb Raider and Halo. Not all of those franchises interest me, and certainly some of the iterations in the list horrified me, but you can point to each one and show some way in which the original was new and unique.

    For game publishers, for the most part, the brand you’re selling is the franchise. If you build up enough cultural capital early, you can milk it for a long time, trading on your earlier good name to profit from progressively shoddier work. I think even there, though, it’s the same economic framework. Radically iterating is riskier, but the rewards are also commensurately greater. Especially if you’ve a directly competing product. I guess we’ll see when Rock Band 3 goes up against Legends of Rock.

    As for art? To me, art’s just another traditional genre, like crime or romance. There appears to be unfilled space in the market for that kind of product, so you’d be foolish not to take some risks in that direction. Hire William Gibson to write Mirror’s Edge 2, maybe

  8. Erm. I may have improperly closed an HTML tag in there somewhere. I like it. Makes it seem like I’m suddenly having a flashback.

  9. [...] BindNick Monfort wrote a book for you to play! Available on Hallowe’e’e’n day.RedKingsDream – The biggest problem facing the games industry"Bureaucracies are shit at making art."The Brainy Gamer – Riffing on the flagpoleIn [...]

  10. I agree with a lot of your points. The game industry is something I have been very disillusioned by for the last few years. I don’t have the income to warrant picking up the latest and “greatest” game that gets released every couple of weeks, so I tend to do a lot of research, wait a few weeks after release to see some actual player reviews (and wait for the inevitable patches), and just generally vet my purchase. If I still think a game is worth picking up I’ll do it then.

    Dead Space is a prime example of this. I played the original demo on the PS3 and hated it. It did fulfill the cliche horror spooks and whatnot, but the movement system just annoyed me. I didn’t end up picking it up until many months later, and on the PC through Steam (another great Valve product). Playing through it I did enjoy the game, but was happy I didn’t buy it on a console, and didn’t pay the full launch pricing.

    There have been many articles around describing the debate around a game’s “value” which I think is an important debate in this age. We do have a ton of AA and AAA titles coming out almost monthly by big named companies with huge budgets. At the same time we have even more indie games coming out almost weekly that have little to no budget and sell for a few bucks, if anything. In many cases, like you point out, the “value” of these indie games ends up being a lot more than that of a AA or AAA title. Recently I bought Death Spank and Costume Quest, which were amazingly fun games that I felt insanely happy with the money I’d spent on them. I’ve bought games at full retail price in the past and have been completely disappointed, and felt ripped off before.

    But this doesn’t exactly make a rule to go by. I’ve played a ton of indie games that were not worth the money I spent on them, even if it was free, and been extremely happy with games I’ve spent $60 on. The whole game buying experience truly is a mine field that is hard to navigate. This is one of the reasons I think game demos have really taken off and can cause a game to either take off or fail. Its like wide spread play testing for the developer, and a more accurate preview of the game versus an overly polished video trailer.

    Dead Rising 2 is a great example. The release of Case Zero as a DLC for roughly $5 enabled players to get a feel for the upcoming game, a little backstory, and even allow for some of the play through’s content to be transferred over to the final game. Brilliant. Whatever might be said about the end product, this was a great marketing gimmick that made the final game a bit more pleasant to play and pleased me as a buyer of the game.

    To move onto the “suits” aspect of the discussion, they have their place, like you said. Managing a small team of developers is a hard task to accomplish for any one person. Indie developers and small teams can handle this fairly well, though it gets tedious. Handling upwards of 100 of these very creative and often stubborn people is hard if the one managing them is one of those creative and often stubborn people. At this point it really is necessary to bring someone in who might have more experience managing people and isn’t concerned with the artistic approach of the game. Companies like Valve are the exception to the rule though, as pointed out.

    What the biggest problem is in the game industry now is indeed us. We as consumers will go and pick up the next installment of Halo because it is a Halo title, no matter how horrid it might be. We know previous installments had “value” so the next one will too, right? With the cost of the average video game now it gets a little harder to experiment with lesser known titles. I waited almost a year and a half before picking up BioShock, and wish I hadn’t waited so long. This is why I think downloadable games will, and are, become the real next frontier in gaming. If a game only costs a few bucks I have no problem playing something I haven’t heard of before, but if its 60 bucks I will think long and hard about it.

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  12. Sebo (bouncyninja)

    Game Reviewers – I have learnt the hard and expensive way, some times the reviews idea for 90/100 score for game isn’t even close to what I would give it – so personal preference you might say… sometimes i think it’s kick backs from the marketing and publishers – there are now a few pc game magazines i don’t trust at all – sometimes you hear about reviewers getting fired for giving a bad rating for a game because the Publisher bought adverts in the magazine
    - can’t believe i got BF:BC2

    Valve are good example, maybe the best example, but there not the ideal – the main company objectives are to find a good mod and then buy them out and have it made on there engine – CS, TF, Portal and the up and coming Dota. I like Valve but i have quite a few issues with them the current one is CS:S was updated to the OB engine and well it now plays very poorly with lots of bugs, main problems: bullet registration and low FPS – makes it almost unplayable and not fun away more. It’s been 3 months since that update – it was rushed and shouldn’t have been releasted and it didn’t add much of interest expect for lots of bugs. So i guess even the best are still not quite as good as they should be

    Half-Life was turely great game, Half-Life 2 was good-great-ish game – it was more errr… dulled down and seams like it was made to appeal to large verity of players and with that it lost some of the cult ‘magic’ much like the Matrix movies.

    “Suits” – they do silly things – best example i can think of was when 20th Century Fox mid-way throw the making Of Aliens Vs. Predator movies and asked for it to be PG-13 rated – wha? PG-13 horror movie? still grossing over $172 million against its $60 million production budget. I think i would have been better and grossed more it was not “medaled” with – which i think might have been the case with Predators – i felt a lot of scenes where missing and it’s pacing was poor.

    Valve did that with their games – “we want the Orange Box’s games to be playable on a Mac, we want to update all source games to OB”.
    They rushed it out the door just like EA would have done not thinking of what would happen – like increased system requirements – now people can’t play there 2004 game on 2007 PC – it’s insane – so people play what they can like COD4 etc.
    I hope Valve wake up soon and go back to there roots – err not as far back as Microsoft hehe

  13. James:
    You’re right, in the indie scene truly outstanding games are a small minority amidst the flotsam and jetsam of half-hearted mods and abandoned Unity level designs. Luckily the sheer volume of indie games keeps the absolute number of quality indie titles reasonably high, if only through random chance! (Note: I don’t really think the successes of games like Braid and World of Goo are random.)

    It becomes a filtering problem: how do you sift through the muck to determine what’s good and, more difficult still, how do you figure out what’s likely to appeal to you specifically? I think this is driving a resurgence in the importance of the trusted game critic who casts a wide net for games, like the Rock Paper Shotgun guys.

    Over time my main source of resistance to buying a new game has shifted from the cost of the purchase to the time it takes to play. I increasingly think of the cost as a positive act, of giving money to the right people, rather than a simple loss of money. Hence this article, I suppose. Anyway, it really tips the “value” assessment on its side.

    Sebo:
    Interesting points about the cost of porting games to Mac. I hadn’t heard about that. I’m in favour of it generally, but not at the cost of ruining all the existing PC gamers’ fun.

    That said, I don’t think Valve rushes anything.They seem quite relaxed about their notorious lateness in releasing products. Have you seen the Valve Time page on the company wiki? It’s entertaining. The more likely story is that they just overlooked the problems until they were out “in the wild”.

    I tend to assume the best about people when it comes to accusations of kickbacks and so on. I really don’t know, but from second hand knowledge I doubt overt bribery for positive scores is at all common. However, the general pressure to give high scores to some games is very real; some of the writers on this site have written reviews elsewhere in the past that drew angry phone calls to their boss from PR people. I’m sure game marketers regularly pull advertising (and therefore money) from sites that give them bad reviews, too.

  14. I’m finally getting off my proverbial lazy arse and writing a response. Since Paul Callaghan wrote a piece that essentially put us both in our place, the argument seems a little redundant but still worth talking about.

    I take all your points about the consumers buying shit games, as I subscribe to the people are stupid theory, but I still think companies putting out the game are more responsible for causing harm to the games industry than the consumer. And I’m probably talking more about the large budget title here than the indie scene. Maybe I should have titled my post ‘Who’s harming the industry’ or something like that.

    I still think it is basically the people in charge of the big companies, and their marketing departments. The reason is believe this is because while consumers may purchase some of the crap that comes out, they do no dictate the direction the market is to take.

    That direction is pushed by the game companies, who do get feedback from consumers, but ultimately they decide what is to be sold. They also decide to spam the public with poor movie tie in games, or yearly franchise sequels that are just marginal improvements (or backward steps) over the previous years game. I’m rather confident that consumers were not crying out for this, but someone saw dollar signs and decided to try and take advantage of it.

    I’ll certainly agree with Paul that the industry does need these types of games, as some of them do generate revenue that is then pushed back into new IP’s, however I just wish there weren’t so many of them. Not every shitty movie game, or Wii mini game, is going to make a profit, and it would nice if someone said “Nope we don’t think that will do well so let’s put that investment into this game”. Since it’s hard to know what will do well, and what won’t, I think we’re going to continue to see shitty games continue to be made and bought to some degree, but again that will be dictated by the developers/publishers.

    Another point which comes to mind is the purchase of smaller game developers by large publishers, only for these developers to either be stripped of their IP’s, given inferior porting work to do, or closed down completely. There are plenty of examples of this in Australia with companies like Ratbag. And this is definitely a case of developers/publishers harming the market. On the flip side there are plenty of cases where smaller teams have received the backing of larger publishers and produced some brilliant work because of that backing (Limbo and Super Meat Boy are two good recent examples). As long as those larger publishers do not consume them and spit them out then they tend to continue making good games (Twisted Pixel being a good example).

    I think I did acknowledge in my article that making big games requires some degree of project management. This is needed in any large project, as someone has to co-ordinate all the people involved, I just don’t like that people who have no artistic interest in the game make decisions about the game content. Even if it is marketing saying it should have bigger guns and more explosions because of consumer feedback. The creators of the game need to determine whether it will fit, and if they include it because of marketing pressure when it doesn’t fit, then it just isn’t good design and will most likely be found out by reviewers and critics.

    I take your point that the suits would disappear if people stopped spending the money on shit games, but I don’t actually think that is true. Simply because someone will always step up to fulfil that role and think that the next cheap, crap, identical game they publish is going to be a success. And they’ll think that game is going to be even more of a success by throwing marketing dollars at it. Which tends to be true.

    Which is probably one of the reasons indie games suffer so much, because they just can not compete on getting their game in front of a large potential audience the way something developed/published by an Activision or a Microsoft would. We can call consumers the problem all we want, but if they are being bombarded with the next big blasty pow pow game, then the majority of them will go and buy said game because they don’t know any better. But again, they’re being dictated to about what they see and hear.

    It’s not really until those consumers wish to increase their knowledge of the games industry and the huge number of differing games out their that they’ll start paying attention to the smaller games that do deserve support above the cut and paste next FPS that comes out.

    But I ramble, and I’ve probably made no decent responses, but I could not be arsed reading back through this to check for coherency. Yes I am that lazy.

    So to summarise, I do agree that people are stupid and they have a large part to answer for the wrong in games land, but company’s dictate where games land goes and they have slightly more to be sorry for. Therefore I’m going to take that 51/49 majority in favour of ‘suits’ and form government. Free muffins for everyone. But only the muffins I say you can have and you’ll damn well like it and buy them by the bucket load (just look at this shiny advertisement as confirmation).

  15. Smoolander: Brain worn out from end-of-semester studying. Long-form reply impossible. Responses moved to Twitter.

    In sum: Agreed. People, on a large scale, are easily led, and folk in businesses are sometimes personally successful despite their poor decisions. It’s nice when it goes the other way, though.

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