I Think You’re Mistaken, Sony was at E3 2019

What is the purpose of E3? I’m not asking that in a philosophical sort of way. I’m asking that question in the most literal terms possible. Why do companies spend exorbitant amount of money to give presentations to a room full of “press” and influencers to talk about upcoming games and gaming related products and services? Because they believe it’s profitable is the answer I’ve concluded upon. But I’m certainly willing to consider other points of view. I don’t believe it’s for love of the fans. I don’t believe it’s to do actual business like at basically every other trade show. I believe companies show up to E3 as a means to market products based on the belief that doing so increases sales which, in most cases, increases profits. That also means that if companies believed they would take a net loss by showing up to E3 then they wouldn’t show up. Or at least that’s my opinion on this question based on the information I’ve seen and my own understanding of the gaming/tech industry based on my involvement through my job, which is related to gaming on the PC hardware side.

PlayStation didn’t have an official press conference at E3 2019. This was the first time they didn’t show up since the company first started attending in the mid-90’s. This was not a surprise since they made this announcement back in 2018, but it was still a much different E3 experience without PlayStation being there. Arguably, the lack of PlayStation, and to a much lesser extent Activision, not being there considerably lowered the value of even attending the show. That’s not to say that it wasn’t still worth going. I certainly would have gone if I had been able to. It’s just to give a realistic accounting of the cost benefit analysis of attending E3 in 2019 vs that of previous years. Remember that even though Nintendo doesn’t give a live presentation at E3 anymore that they still have a booth on the show floor, which in my opinion might even be more valuable than the presentations when it comes to attending these types of events. For example, I never attend the presentations at Taipei Game Show, but I go every year to see the booths and try out demos. It’s well worth the effort just for that.

E3 Schedule

Many people have argued that E3 suffered with PlayStation not being there. Even XBOX boss, Phil Spencer, voiced this opinion in an interview. The whole industry cares about E3 and the whole industry suffers when the caliber of E3 is lowered, even if it gives a company a leg up on the competition . . . at the show. Also let us remember that every company that doesn’t show up to E3 burdens other companies with having to show cross platform titles. Cyberpunk 2077, as an example, had to be shown at this year’s E3. It did not have to be presented by Microsoft though. But with CDPR not doing their own presentation and PlayStation not attending, that meant Microsoft had to take responsibility for showing that game, whether it was good for them or not. In this case it probably was good for them, but that won’t always be the case. If I’m honest though, I don’t actually agree with the opinion that PlayStation wasn’t at E3. In fact, I’d say that PlayStation was very much at E3 but decided not to present their in house exclusive titles. Allow me to explain.

As I said, showing up to E3 is about increasing sales, in my opinion. This means that anything presented that will potentially increase a company’s sales can and should be considered beneficial to that company regardless of when and where it was shown during E3. So for example, Ubisoft always does their own presentation, but any games shown by Ubisoft are usually cross platform. Meaning all platforms that will have Ubisoft games presented distributed on them benefit from Ubisoft’s presentation and thus can be considered to have a presence at the Ubisoft presentation. So in the case of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, which was presented by John Bernthal (The Punisher), PlayStation, Microsoft (XB1 & PC), and Google (Stadia) were all present at/during this presentation. Nintendo, since Ghost Recon: Breakpoint will not be available on Switch, was not.

Just Dance 2020 e3
Everyone was at E3. Even the Wii!

The real reason PlayStation doesn’t have to show up to E3 is because they’re now there by default. Outside of Nintendo, PlayStation runs the exclusive market. Meaning the only AAA titles you saw at E3, that weren’t presented by Nintendo, except for Gear of War 5 and Halo Infinite will be available on PlayStation hardware. Unless I’m missing another title. Furthermore, there were a few announcements made that were exclusive to PlayStation such as undisclosed content for the Marvel’s Avengers game. Sure there’s a few things XBOX showed that won’t be available on PS4 but pretty much all of them will all be available on PC and none of it was top shelf games. All other games showed from all other conferences, again other than Nintendo, that people will actually whine about not being able to play will be available on PS4. Watch Dogs Legions? PS4 title. Cyberpunk 2077? PS4 title. Marvel’s Avengers? PS4 title. Final Fantasy VII HD Remake? PS4 title. Anything actually worth talking about at E3 this year that isn’t a Nintendo exclusive will be playable on PS4.

PlayStation got free announcement after free announcement during most of E3. Because the fact is that even though you saw Cyberpunk 2077 presented by Microsoft, you are not going to buy it on XB1 if you own a PS4 (or PC). Until the exclusive market reorganizes itself, which it won’t anytime soon since Microsoft seems committed to the play on any device thing, PlayStation simply doesn’t have to attend E3. Every company is presenting for them free of charge. Imagine if E3 2019 had shown no games that will be available on PS4. Like every company just made it a point not to give any sort of free marketing to SONY. What would the show have looked like? These are all the games presented during press conferences at E3 this year that are not currently announced to be coming to PS4.

Cyberpunk 2077 CE PS4

  1. Halo Infinite
  2. Gears of War 5
  3. Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Originally announced before E3 2019)
  4. Blair Witch
  5. Bleeding Edge
  6. CrossfireX
  7. Microsoft Flight Simulator
  8. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
  9. Battletoads Remake
  10. Phantasy Star Online 2 Remake
  11. RPG Time: The Legend of Wright
  12. Spiritfarer
  13. Twelve Minutes
  14. Way to the Woods
  15. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  16. Luigi’s Mansion 3
  17. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  18. Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
  20. Super Mario Maker 2
  21. Astral Chain
  22. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
  23. Cadence of Hyrule ~ Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
  24. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  25. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
  26. Dragon Quest Builders 2
  27. No More Heroes 3
  28. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  29. Panzer Dragoon: Remake
  30. Carrion
  31. Devolver Bootleg
ff7-collectors-edition
XB1 and Switch weren’t even in this presentation.

That’s 31 games. Of those 31, 15 are Nintendo exclusives, all of which were presented via Nintendo Direct rather than live presentation, as Nintendo has done for the last few years. There were also some small indie projects that were mentioned offhandedly and not given any real stage time during presentations. Of those 16 remaining games, only two are AAA titles and neither of those are new IPs. That means without giving free marketing to SONY, we would have exactly two games worth really talking about from E3 2019 that were presented live on stage. And yes some of these games are timed exclusives for XB1, in the same way that Final Fantasy VII Remake is a most likely a timed exclusive for PS4. But do those actually affect sales by platform that much? Remember how badly Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) did at release because of the timed exclusivity? No one is going to go buy an XB1 to play Cyberpunk 2077 a little earlier. If anything they’ll just buy it for PC. Which most people who have PC’s, myself included, were probably going to do anyway because that game is just asking to be modded and ran in glorious PC MasterRace settings.

For reference, here’s all the games I’m probably buying on PS4 after seeing them at E3.

  1. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  2. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  3. Doom Eternal
  4. Watch Dogs Legions
  5. Marvel’s Avengers
  6. Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout
Fallguys
Another PS4 console exclusive shown at E3.

That’s compared to just one game on PC (Cyberpunk 2077) and nine games on Nintendo Switch. PlayStation sold me 38% of the games I’m planning on buying after E3 2019 and they weren’t even officially there. Microsoft sold me only 6% of the games I’m planning on buying and it’s for PC via GOG so they won’t even really get any revenue from it. And honestly the only reason I plan on going the PC root for this game is for mods. And if the game does ultimately get a third person mode, I’ll probably just get it on PS4 because that’s the only mod I really care about.

The fact is that PlayStation has solidified itself so much into the gaming industry as a whole this gen, mostly by controlling the exclusive market and dominating the console player base, that they are automatically present at E3. It’s almost how Steam is synonymous with PC gaming . . . well at least for right now (Lol Epic Games Store). If you play newly released console games on anything other than Switch, it’s more than likely that you’re playing them on PS4. That’s not an opinion. It’s a numerical fact. And because of that, every game you purchase that isn’t an XB1 exclusive, so pretty much none of them, will most likely be purchased for PS4. PlayStation was absolutely at E3. And between the lacking exclusives on XB1, the continued Epic Games Store controversy for PC games, and the lack of blockbuster cross platform titles like Cyberpunk 2077 going to Switch, it’s almost fair to say that SONY won E3 . . . except for Switch owners like me. I have a PS4 and I will be buying a number of games shown this year on PS4, but Nintendo absolutely won E3 for me based on the sheer number of games I’ll actually buy on Switch after watching the Direct. If things continue the way they are now and Microsoft can’t seriously turn things around with Project Scarlett, I wouldn’t expect to see SONY show up at E3 again for a very, very long time. Maybe they’ll show up to present new consoles in release years but other than that they simply have no reason to. Because why spend the money when you don’t have to?

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E3 2019, A Post

Usually I make a post about E3 where I take some time to talk about the games shown and spend the rest of the post ranting about how the entire concept is outdated, biased towards undeserving members of the gaming community, and how it needs to be more accessible to the public or just die already. This year I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to just write my thoughts on a number of moments/topics addressed at E3 as completely disconnected mini-blog posts. There are some larger topics that I want to discuss in more detail and will in later blog posts, but this year for my E3 post I wanted to change it up ever so slightly. There will still be a fair amount of ranting though.

1. Who Won E3?

Usually you end with this but I wanted to start with it because it’s not actually the most important topic of E3 I want to discuss. So to cut right to the point, Nintendo won E3 this year. For me, winning E3 means garnering the most future sales . . . of games, not hardware. Now since I’m only speaking for myself, that means the winner of E3 is always the company that shows the most games that I leave the presentation at least 70% sure that I’m going to end up buying, preferably before the next E3. This was without a doubt Nintendo.

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

Now chances are I won’t buy all these games in the long run. But if I had an unlimited amount of time and money, these are all the games shown at E3 this year that I am not on the fence about wanting to buy. Meaning if they went on sale tomorrow and money was no issue, I would absolutely buy these games with no additional information. Note that I’m also not counting any games that I was already sold on before E3 because of previous announcements/presentations.

Microsoft

  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Bethesda

  • Doom Eternal

Ubisoft

  • Watch Dogs Legions
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Roller Champions (Technically free to play but I’m counting it here anyway)

Square Enix

  • Marvel’s Avengers

Devolver Digital

  • Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout

Nintendo

  • Contra Collection
  • Luigi’s mansion 3
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Cadence of Hyrule
  • Collection of Mana
  • Panzer Dragoon Remake
  • Ni No Kuni Remake
  • Astral Chain

New Ganon

The number of games I’m fairly likely to buy shown by Nintendo, again that I wasn’t already planning on buying going into E3, is more games than I’ll buy from all the other companies combined. Even if you remove the Breath of the Wild sequel because that was just a tease, it’s still overwhelmingly Nintendo with the victory. Nintendo won E3.

2. Screw Leaks & the People Who Leak Them

Every E3, as with every big gaming/tech event, there are usually some leaks. This was of course true for E3 this year as well. What I noticed this year, which may have happened in past years as well but went unnoticed by me, is that leakers were getting caught by developers/publishers and then people were coming to their defense. For instance, there’s this leaker on Twitter that was apparently contacted by Nintendo with a cease and desist order before the Nintendo Direct was shown. Because of this, they didn’t leak information about Nintendo’s presentation but did about basically all the other presentations. After they tweeted about Nintendo’s threats people came out of the woodwork to defend the leaker and get angry at Nintendo. This was of course not the only leaker but just one example. Even Jason Schreier tweeted in defense of leakers, which was shocking to me considering how much work he’s put into defending and supporting better treatment for developers.

 

Personally I hate leaks. When I was young and uniformed, I used to think leaks were so cool. Now that I have a job in the tech industry, I think they’re the worst thing ever. And I get really angry when people defend leakers with arguments like “the billion dollar corporation won’t be affected that much” because it shows a complete disregard for people like me, the marketers. It is true that in the grand scheme of corporate profits, leaks have very little effect. But profits have nothing to do with why leaks are bad. Corporations, of all sizes, have employees, sometimes full teams of them, that are responsible for creating and executing marketing plans for new products. It doesn’t matter what kind of product it is. It can be hardware, which is what I do marketing for, or it can be software, such as new games. All companies, especially the ones that show up at events like E3, have marketing employees. These marketing plans take a lot of work. They’re planned sometimes months in advance. They take a lot of time and effort and often cost a lot of money. What most people don’t realize is that when leaks happen, those plans often have to change on the fly or get cancelled altogether. Imagine if months of your work was instantly destroyed because some asshat found out some privileged information by taking advantage and betraying the trust of a friend or business acquaintance and posted it to the internet for some clout. That’s what leaks are. And it doesn’t just end there. Companies have to adjust marketing plans based on the fallout from leaks. This is essentially emergency crunch time but for marketers. And it doesn’t matter when and what the situation is. You can be at home about to eat dinner with your family and suddenly get a call that a leak happened and an entire marketing plan has to be changed in the next day in time for an event. Then you also have to deal with the fallout of the leak internally. Some companies take this very seriously and will do an internal investigation to find the source. People can get fired. Entire teams can get fired if the damage is large enough and they can’t discover the culprit.

 

No I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I’m speaking from personal experience. Last month was Computex. My company had a booth there. I was part of the team responsible for the show’s online and offline marketing plan. I personally wrote more than one of the press releases for the show. I also had to help setup the booth for the show the day before it started. Somehow we had a leak happen for one of our products the day before the show started. I was literally on site setting up the booth when a coworker rushed over to me with the news and handed me a laptop saying a press release had to be rewritten to adjust based on internet response to the leaked information. Now this was a low level leak. It wasn’t a flagship product, there wasn’t a huge marketing plan created for it at that point, and rewriting a press release in the middle of a soft construction site, though rushed and inconvenient, was not the end of the world. But that’s when a leak scenario is not that bad. Imagine if it was the night before E3 and you’re in a bar drinking celebrating the fact that your multi-million dollar marketing plan that took a team of more than 50 people months to plan and put into motion was finally finshed when suddenly you get a call from your boss saying the game has been leaked and the entire plan has to be shifted or even scrapped. That’s the reality of leaks for marketers. As much as people seem to care about developers, they never seem to care about all the other people involved in launching a game or product. Leaks have little effect on developers, especially in the short run. But they play havoc on the lives of marketers and marketers are not rich douchebags in suits drinking scotch laughing at the underlings. Marketers are the underlings. We’re struggling laborers just like any other employee at any other company. We’re not famous. People don’t praise and buy products because we’re creating the marketing assets for them. It’s thankless work that no one thinks about and it’s usually underpaid work, especially for the writers. So I hope the next time you hear about a leak you ignore it and remember that someone’s day is probably gonna be ruined because of it and that someone works hard for less than they deserve, just like you probably do.

3. Subscriptions, Subscriptions, & More Subscriptions

UPLAY + Stadia

It seems my fears are coming to fruition. The age of subscription services will be in full force within the next year. So many companies announced new subscription services. XBOX updated the Games Pass to a premium version, of course for a higher price. But they also announced a PC only version which I do think is a nice surprise. But they also announced a new cloud service. Ubisoft will have a subscription service. Square Enix implied they plan on launching a subscription service. And then there’s Stadia, which I already hate the sound of. The worst part is that Ubisoft’s subscription service will connect to Stadia. Meaning you have to buy a subscription service to play games inside a subscription service you’re also buying. It’s a recursive cost that will probably multiply exponentially overtime.   I fear a future where companies do away with buying single games altogether and they force you to do annual subscriptions that require subscription based platforms subletting on other subscription based platforms. Imagine if one day to play a PC game you need to use Microsoft Windows as a subscription service because you can’t purchase one off licenses anymore. But then you also need to subscribe to Stadia to run games on your lower range hardware. But of course you’re also paying an internet service fee to stream Stadia which will charge you a premium for bandwidth. Then you have to pay for the PlayStation cloud service subscription because you want to use your PSN account for your friend’s list and trophies. But you’re trying to play a Ubisoft game like Ghost Recon: Breakpoint so you have to subscribe to Ubisoft’s subscription service. Suddenly what used to cost $60 plus your extant hardware now costs like $19.99 to the power of 5 monthly. It’s a depressing dystopia for the gamers of tomorrow. I fear the day that GOG and Steam jump onto the subscription bandwagon.

4. Devolver Digital Made Light of My Fears

Devolver-Digital-E3-2019

I’ve actually never watched the Devolver Digital E3 presentation before. To me they’ve always been kind of an odd duck. They make/publish indie class games that I rarely ever play. I’m not saying they make bad games by any means. I actually own nine of their titles and I’ll almost certainly buy Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout. I also really liked Luftrausers and The Talos Principle, which I never actually finished sadly. But to me they’re also kind of an enigma. I almost never realize a game is published by Devolver Digital even if I’m very aware of the game. So I wasn’t even planning on watching their presentation this year. The only reason I did was because a friend told me I’d really enjoy it and that they made fun of a lot of things I talk about often. So I watched it and it was excellent, but it was also scary. They ironically discussed a number of issues and trends in the gaming industry that I’ve been talking about for years. It reminded me of when Ajit Pai did that skit about being a paid shill for ISPs. In the age of games as service models, loot boxes, unfinished games supplemented with paid DLC, and other such bullshit, I found it equally refreshing and horrifying to see a publisher talk honestly about these issues while simultaneously making fun of them in the pursuit of profit. It’s a weird time to be alive.

5. Star Power, Star Pricing?

kingdom-hearts-3When I was a kid, Hailey Joel Osment was a famous child actor because of his ability to see dead people (that’s a The Sixth Sense (1999) reference). When it was announced that he would be voicing the main character for the English version of Kingdom Hearts, it was a special moment. While I don’t assume he was the first legitimate movie actor to voice a video game character, he was the first that I could remember being fairly famous for acting in movies at the time of doing the game. It was common with TV actors, such as TC Carson as Kratos, but they never had as much value demand as movie actors and still don’t in most cases. The fact that Hailey Joel Osment stayed with the Kingdom Hearts franchise all these years and returned to voice Sora in Kingdom Hearts III is actually really cool. But what’s important here is that Hailey Joel Osment was never really an A-list star and more importantly he got into video game voice acting in a time where even A-list stars weren’t as meaningful to the public or as expensive as they are now. The other really important detail is that Hailey Joel Osment’s likeness wasn’t actually featured in the games he was voice acting in. The first truly epic actor I recall playing a character in a AAA video game and showing their full likeness was Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014). I’m not saying that this was the first instance of this happening. I’m just saying it’s the first one that I can remember. Also note I’m not counting movie tie in games because that’s a different animal. Now we’re starting to see the use of top tier actors in games as actual characters in the games become more commonplace.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesAt E3 this year both Keanu Reeves and John Bernthal presented games because they are featured characters in those games. This is cool. It’s also expensive. My fear here is that publishers will try to leverage this practice to ultimately raise the price of games. They’ve been trying to increase that $60 MSRP for like two generations of consoles. Every time a new gen is announced, a company, usually EA, mentions the prospect of game prices increasing, the internet goes into an uproar, and then it doesn’t happen. But what if instead of tying the price increase to hardware or development costs, like they usually do, they tie it to star power? Who could actually dispute the argument that John Wick costs more to include than normal video game actors? Does it not make perfect sense that having the Punisher play the villain in a game would cost considerably more for development than say Troy Baker? Not that I’m knocking Troy Baker’s talent by any means. But it’s ridiculous to think that he costs as much to put in a game as Keanu Reeves. Suddenly we’re seeing fairly successful and notable stars pop up in games way more often.  Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and Guillermo Del Toro will all be in Death Stranding. And people are eating the star power up. Keanu Reeves’ presenting Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 is being called the best moment at E3 by a wide margin. Do you think all these actors are working because of their love of video games? Not likely. Now hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully prices won’t increase and rightfully they shouldn’t with loots boxes, paid DLC, season passes, microtransactions, and so on. But if you start hearing companies say things like “games have moved past AAA” then those should be warning signs that price hikes are on the way.

ghost recon breakpoint6. CDPR Reinforces Bad Behavior

It seems every year there’s some diehard fan and/or paid shill that just yells too loudly and too often during these E3 presentations. I work in the tech hardware industry so presentations like this are usually attended by introvert tech nerds, some highly analytical, usually older media, and other industry members who can no longer be asked to get too excited about an increase in processor speed or the inclusion of additional RAM slots on a motherboard. So yelling during a press conference basically doesn’t happen in my neck of the woods. But gaming events are attended by gamers. Not only that, but they’re “press” events which in 2019 means streamers, YouTubers, and other people who make a living by being obnoxious, self-absorbed, and lacking in basic human behavioral standards. Not to mention a lot of them are too young and inexperienced to actually understand the concept of professionalism. So I get why yelling occurs. But as we saw at the Bethesda conference this year, yelling during the presentations other than at specific scripted/expected times can be burdensome to both presenters and the audience. It’s a problem that can’t really be solved in any intentional way, other than not letting those damn internet personalities in of course. What can be done though is that companies shouldn’t encourage it. Sadly CDPR did the opposite this year.

In a rather sincere moment during the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation, Keanu Reeves was sort of struggling to talk to the crowd because honestly talking to a live audience of gamers isn’t in his normal wheelhouse as an actor who says little in most of his parts to begin with. But he was genuine and sincere and people appreciated that, rightly so. A YouTuber screamed out “you’re breathtaking” to Keanu Reeves and he shouted it back. It was a nice moment. It was a cute moment. It was a moment where members of the audience once again showed their lack of professionalism. I think it’s funny that no one is talking about the fact that literally right after this exchange Keanu Reeves flat out says “I gotta finish this” because so many people were yelling and interrupting and not just letting him talk. Now that’s fine. It’s fine for people to get excited. It’s fine for people to yell during the presentations. Like I said, it’s unprofessional but it can’t really be helped. But it shouldn’t be encouraged. CDPR encouraged this behavior this year by promising the “you’re breathtaking” guy a free collector’s edition of Cyberpunk 2077. Sorry but I don’t agree with that decision. A person is privileged enough to attend E3. They’re lucky enough to have a direct exchange with Keanu Reeves. They’re essentially handed an infinite amount of internet clout and articles written about them that will surely increase their YouTube presence, among other things. As I write this, he seems to have gained at least 1000 new subscribers since the event happened. They get all this for acting unprofessionally and then they’re rewarded with a $250 collector’s edition of possibly the most highly anticipated game of 2020. This is just setting up E3 2020 to be an absolute shit show. Every YouTuber, streamer, and other internet personality will be actively trying to have their moment during the press conferences next year. If anything, CDPR should have rewarded someone who wasn’t at E3 but was streaming or live tweeting about the presentation as a show of solidarity for those not fortunate enough to make it to the event. This was a great PR move but it sets a terrible precedent.

7. Roller Champions Alpha Demo

Out of nowhere, Ubisoft released an alpha demo for an upcoming free to play game called Roller Champions. It’s like Rocket League mixed with Jet Set Radio minus the graffiti. It’s surprisingly fun and I’ve already played it enough to win consistently. The demo will not be available by the time this post is published but you can check out the gameplay from when I streamed it here. If you like quick round PVP sports games then you’ll definitely want to check this game out when it drops. I just hope it’s rewarding enough because free to play PVP games tend to get stale rather quickly.

Well that’s my round up for E3 this year. Not a terrible showing, but there’s certainly been better years. I do think it will be a good year of gaming, at least on Nintendo with a few heavy hitters set to release on other platforms before the next E3. As I said at the beginning, there are a couple specific topics from this year’s E3, not included in this post, that I want to talk about in more detail. Those will be published as individual blog posts over the next few weeks. What did you think of E3 this year?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

John Wick the Game?

Last week, I finally saw John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The movie was excellent, as are all the films in the franchise, but this is not a review. Honestly there’s no sensible reason for me to review John Wick 3 because if you haven’t seen the first two, then you absolutely shouldn’t watch the third one. And if you have seen the first two then you’re absolutely going to watch the third one if you haven’t already regardless of any review written by anyone, good or bad. So writing a review for this movie would be an exercise in futility. What I want to talk about is the concept of a John Wick game.

I have been thinking a lot about what a John Wick game could/should be like. As with all movie games, the experience should emulate that of the movie. Specifically it should try to simulate the feelings the player got while watching the movie. In the case of John Wick that means adrenaline, rage, exhaustion, and a tinge of paranoia induced fear. Those are the feelings I get when watching John Wick movies. Those are the feelings I imagine the character gets over the course of the movies. So in my opinion, a proper John Wick game should induce these same feelings in the player.

john wick 3If I had to narrow down the John Wick experience to a single core idea, it would be extremely visceral, perfectly executed, fast paced violence. Three concepts fused into one. The violence isn’t just acts of killing. It’s brutal acts of killing to a point that I couldn’t even imagine on my own. In the first 15 minutes of John Wick 3, he kills a man with a book. And it’s so brutal that I considered giving up literacy for an extended period of time. The violence is not just brutal but perfectly executed. My friend described John Wick 3 as like “watching someone complete a perfect run of a video game.” This is a fairly accurate description that can be seen in all three of the films. John Wick isn’t just good at killing. He’s consistently good at killing enemy after enemy with very few breaks in between foes. He kills with a rhythm that’s almost poetic in how flawless it is. It’s like watching Bobby Fisher play a game of chess. Finally, the action is fast paced. The movie isn’t built on monotonous build ups and slow paced duels between two knights on opposite sides of a war as they talk things out between clashes. It’s nothing so ceremonious. It’s just kill after kill after kill in rapid succession. Those three ideas together make up the John Wick experience for me.

John Wick at gunpoint.jpgA John Wick game has to have all three of these concepts blended together. Any singular one on its own doesn’t equate to the John Wick experience. Even delivering two of them perfectly would still be an ultimately hollow attempt. A game could be extremely violent and fast paced, but if it’s too forgiving and doesn’t require the player to perform at near perfect levels then it’s not really a John Wick game. If a game made the player have to execute every move flawlessly and delivered Mortal Kombat 11 levels of violence but had no component of time tied to the gameplay then it still wouldn’t be an authentic John Wick gameplay experience. The game would have to deliver all three concepts well to be deemed a proper John Wick game.

John Wick Hex, the soon to be released John Wick game by Bithell Games, may take on the name of John Wick, but it really doesn’t look like it will deliver the full John Wick experience. The violence may be there, but due to the graphics, it doesn’t seem like it will be all that impressive visually. The perfect execution looks like it will definitely be there. In fact, that seems to be the core concept of the gameplay. But the pacing doesn’t look to be there at all, based on what little of the game I’ve seen so far. John Wick Hex looks like they took the concept of chess, not speed chess, and applied it to a game about killing waves of people. While this can and hopefully will be an entertaining gameplay experience, I don’t believe it will be a true John Wick game.

John Wick Hex 1I’m left with two questions. Are there any games that already exist that deliver a full-fledged John Wick style gameplay experience? Would such a game actually appeal to players? Especially in 2019. I’ve been trying to think of games that might be worthy of being called John Wick-esque. One example I keep coming back to is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It’s violent, fast-paced, and requires nearly perfect execution. Obviously it’s not a gun game, as one might expect a John Wick game to be, but it does, for all intents and purposes, meet the three criteria of visceral, fast-paced, and requiring pretty much perfect execution. Based on those core concepts, Sekiro is just Samurai John Wick. But do people like it?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game muddied by controversy. Most people agree that it’s really hard. Like even harder than Dark Souls. But people don’t agree on whether or not the game should be made easier. Arguably, a true John Wick game would need to be at least as hard as Sekiro. But would people like such a game? They’d probably like watching it be played by someone really good. Yet when it came to playing it, many people would probably just complain that it was too hard. But to make it easy just wouldn’t be the John Wick experience. It would at best be the illusion of the John Wick experience, which admittedly many people would like.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxA proper John Wick game would probably be really annoying. I imagine it would play similarly to Superhot but the levels/engagements would be quite a bit longer. You’d also be able to take at least some hits, as the character gets quite roughed up in the movies at various points. One way to do it might be a constant stream of timed QTEs in the style of TellTale Games titles like The Wolf Among Us. It might play like a very polished version of the Dragon’s Lair games but obviously more violent and realistic. But a lot of people don’t like QTEs. So even if that method did get closer to the movie experience, that doesn’t mean gamers would like it.

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The more I think about it, the more difficult the question seems to answer. I think this might be one of the reasons John Wick Hex was made the way it seems to have been. They went for the perfect execution aspect and some of the violence but appear to have left out the speed aspect as a sacrifice to the modern audience of lazy noobs. Better to appease the majority than make the most authentic experience possible. Especially when you don’t have the reputation of From Software to fall back on for justification.

I think a proper John Wick game is possible, but it’s certainly no easy feat to pull off. Either as a developer or as a gamer. I’m glad John Wick Hex exists because it means at least someone made an attempt. But I want to see a proper AAA John Wick game produced, successful or not. In any case, definitely watch all the movies if you haven’t. You surely won’t regret it.

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Kingdom Hearts – Halfway There

I first became a fan of Kingdom Hearts in 2002 when the original game released on PS2. I still remember the commercial, back when commercials were the main way we learned about new video games. I was already a Disney fan and a Final Fantasy fan, having just played FFX for the first time less than a year before. The idea of playing a game that mixed the two things with real time combat blew my mind. I don’t think I ever could have even imagined such a game on my own. I preordered that game. Been in love with the franchise ever since. Two years later they released a spin off title, Chain of Memories, on the Game Boy Advance. I actually had a GBA at the time but I refused to buy the game. I refused to play into the predatory practice of releasing soft sequels and spinoffs on handheld platforms. So I skipped over Chain of Memories.

A year after Chain of Memories released, Kingdom Hearts II finally released. I of course preordered it even though I hadn’t played Chain of Memories. I assumed that, like most spin off titles of the time, it didn’t matter much. I was wrong. Two years after Kingdom Hearts II released, they ported Chain of Memories to the PS2. Because it was now available on home console and I could get it for $20, I bought, played, and hated Re: Chain of Memories. I should clarify that the gameplay is specifically what I hated about the game. Story wise, it’s really important to the franchise. The stuff that gets explained in that game ends up being key to Kingdom Hearts II.

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While I was angry about the fact that Square Enix had released a spinoff title with key plot information, I had hoped that like with Kingdom Hearts II, I could skip them and still kind of get the gist of what was going on by playing Kingdom Hearts III. In the time since I played Chain of Memories for the first time, it took Square Enix 12 years, four spinoffs, two plot relevant app games, and countless ports to finally release Kingdom Hearts III. And please note that Kingdom Hearts III was originally announced to be a PS3 title. In fact, it’s the main reason I ultimately wanted a PS3. I didn’t play a single Kingdom Hearts game after Re: Chain of Memories until I finally got a hard release date for Kingdom Hearts III.

As if by an act of divine intervention, Square Enix released the Kingdom Hearts All-In-One collection. Basically this is every Kingdom Hearts game ported to PS4 as a single purchase. That’s exactly what I had been asking for since they release 2.5 Remix. So I bought the collection and decided to start back at the beginning and play all the Kingdom Hearts games in order and finally get to play Kingdom Hearts III, and hopefully get a real conclusion to the story. I’m less than 20 hours into Birth by Sleep, meaning I’m about halfway through the series. Plus I’m caught up on Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, the app game which also affects the plot. It’s actually heavily tied to Birth by Sleep. So what I want to do today is not so much summarize the plot of Kingdom Hearts up to this point but rather the experience of playing them all back to back. I’m now somewhere between 130 and 150ish hours into the franchise and I still have a long ways to go. But for some reason I felt like I had kind of reached a milestone point because I’m now playing content that is completely new to me, so I wanted to write a post about it.

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I think it’s fair to say that of all the game franchises I’ve played, Kingdom Hearts is the most convoluted, confusing, and tied together. Many franchises spin far off from their previous games. Assassin’s Creed is one of the best examples of this. Many franchises assume you’ve played previous games. Metal Gear Solid does this in ways that I found excruciatingly annoying even though I played them all in order going back to the MSX titles. But really no other franchise I’ve played is as unplayable as Kingdom Hearts is when you haven’t played all the previous titles. There are so many important details scattered throughout these games that later matter a lot. Like if you play Kingdom Hearts II without having played both Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days, like I did the first time I played it, you go in missing extremely important plot details which make the first several hours of that game quite confusing. Mostly because the game starts you off by playing as a character that didn’t even exist during the events of the first game. You also spend more than three quarters of the game thinking the main villain from the first game has returned only to discover that not only has he not returned but that the person you thought was him was actually the main character’s best friend in disguise.

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Now if you play those two spin off titles first, you know all of this stuff. It all comes together fairly consistently, even though it is still kind of confusing to understand exactly what’s going on. Then when you finish Kingdom Hearts II and log back into the game to do the extras a special boss is introduced. A similar thing was done with Kingdom Hearts I. This special boss leads into the next game. But what you don’t realize if you skip the spin off titles is that the special boss leads into the next spin off title, not core game. So this special boss shows up coupled with an epic ending movie, if you have Final Mix and did everything to unlock it, and shows you a bunch of crazy shit that you cannot begin to guess the meaning of, even if you have played Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, which is directly tied to the next game, Birth by Sleep. I sometimes see people online saying they skipped some of the game or just jumped directly into Kingdom Hearts III and I genuinely feel bad for them. Because I assume trying to piece together that story from a vague opening movie and a bunch of random characters from Final Fantasy, Disney, and original Kingdom Hearts characters is probably more difficult than trying to understand the Arrowverse by starting with Legends of Tomorrow season 3.

If you do somehow stick with it and make it to Birth by Sleep, you get thrown for a loop in ways that I can’t even think of another example to compare it to. Like imagine if you watched the first five seasons of Game of Thrones and then the first episode of the sixth season was the first episode of House of Cards. That is what it’s like to start Birth by Sleep as someone who actually played all the previous games in order.

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Birth by Sleep starts with an epic opening movie, as all the Kingdom Hearts games do, but the music is the song used in Kingdom Hearts I and Chain of Memories. This is odd because there’s a different theme song for Kingdom Hearts II. The opening movie features three characters, two male and one female, which is reminiscent of the three main non-Disney characters from the previous game and the first game. But none of these three characters look like those original three characters. But one of them does look like a character from the second spin off and main game that’s sort of a spirit doppelganger of the main character so you think it’s him and that the other two characters are spirit doppelgangers of the other two main characters, which would have kind of made sense at that point in the franchise. Ignoring the fact that the female character already had a spirit doppelganger introduced. But that was an artificial one so it doesn’t count . . .

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So you think you’re about to start a game about the three main characters’ spirit doppelgangers until they start dropping names and you realize you have no idea who any of these characters are. You’ve never heard their names before. You don’t know any of the characters they’re talking to. You’ve never seen the world they live in. The one reference you get early on to the past game(s) is a name drop tied to a character that looks nothing like anyone you’ve seen before. Which is fine because they’ve already introduced the idea of spirit doppelgangers except they also said spirit doppelgangers look similar to their original forms. This guy doesn’t look anything like the previous version(s) of the character with the same name. Then when they finally introduce the enemies, you’ve never heard of them previously. By this point in the franchise, they’ve already introduced two “races” of monsters. Now you’re introduced to a third one. The first four games you’ve played by this point have nothing to do with this game other than the presence of key shaped weapons. Once you get about six hours in you start to realize that this is actually a prequel to Kingdom Hearts I. The main clues to this are you meet the original form of a guy you previously met the spirit doppelganger of and you meet a young Hercules. In Kingdom Hearts I, Hercules is already a grown man. In Birth by Sleep, he’s still a teenager.

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Basically I don’t actually know what’s going on anymore. I have ideas because of the app game and few clues that have allowed me to form theories, but I genuinely can’t say why I’m playing this current game, which has three playable characters with their own storylines, as far as the plot is concerned. I do expect it to all connect by the end of Birth by Sleep, but this is a spin off title so there’s a good chance that won’t happen. And it’s not a fun experience playing Birth by Sleep after Kingdom Hearts II. The other games, including Chain of Memories, centered on the main characters traveling with friends and working together to fight enemies and save the worlds. Birth by Sleep has you play alone. You don’t have a squad. You don’t get healing support. You just fly solo. It’s not impossibly hard but it is a lonely gameplay experience after getting so used to traveling with Donald and Goofy.

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The totally unrelated story isn’t the only problem I have with Birth by Sleep. The gameplay is a noticeable step backwards from Kingdom Hearts II. Which isn’t a surprise considering it’s a spin off title originally released for the PSP. All the spin off titles have garbage gameplay compared to the core games. The leveling and technique development system is better though because it allows the player to develop faster and in ways that suit their own play style and interests.

I hope I haven’t turned off anyone considering playing the Kingdom Hearts franchise, because that honestly wasn’t my intention here. The core titles are great games that truly revolutionized action RPGs in their time. And they really have aged fairly well. But it is definitely a demanding collection of games that many will get bored with or utterly confused by without being diligent. I will continue my journey to Kingdom Hearts III. I have waited more than a decade to play this game and I’m finally getting towards the finish line.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.