What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

Last week it was announced that CD Projekt RED’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, was doing away with gender options in its character creator. To no one’s surprise, the gaming community spent a preposterous amount of time arguing about it. Half the internet was happy about it and the other half was angry. The same tired, usually illogical, and almost always irrelevant and nonsensical arguments were made by both sides. You already know what they are so I don’t need to take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that many people still seem to care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes when playing single player games.

Now I actually don’t like character creators in story driven games. Not because I have any issue with people designing their own characters in games. And not because I particularly care what types of characters people design. My issue with character creators is that they almost always lead to hollow, sub-par writing devoid of real impact and personality for the character being created. It’s very hard to write a story that carries the same amount of context, realism, believability, and personality for an ambiguous character as that of a narrowly defined one. For instance, Lara Croft is a young, British, heterosexual female that comes from a wealthy Caucasian family. Her experiences are specific and meaningful in her development as a character. The way she would realistically respond to things would be completely different from the way an older, American, homosexual male that comes from a poor African-American family would. And this is true for many if not most situations. There would for sure be some overlap in their responses to things, depending on the situation and setting. But when it came to character building and interactions with other characters they would have completely different responses in most cases.

tomb raider 2013 victimLet’s take a scene from Tomb Raider (2013) as a specific example. There’s a moment in the game where it’s implied that Lara may be sexually assaulted by one of her much older male captors. Now for starters, that wouldn’t even happen to the other character I described in most cases. Not all, but most. And if it did happen, the character wouldn’t even necessarily have the same reaction, or even possibly aversion, to the situation as Lara Croft does in the game. And that is not to imply that older gay men are OK with being raped by other older gay men. It’s just to state the very true point that a young inexperienced rich girl and an older, presumably much more experienced man simply wouldn’t respond to the situation the same way. That’s exactly why specified characters and the context of those characters matter. But when you can create your own character in a game, many of the scenarios that specified characters can experience simply don’t happen and shouldn’t happen because they just wouldn’t make sense in many if not most cases.

Say I created a character in a game that was intentionally unattractive, horrifyingly strong, and gigantic in stature. That character simply isn’t going to be sexually assaulted. It’s not going to happen in any realistic scenario. And if it did happen in a game, any person would rightfully think “that doesn’t make any sense”. So game writers, knowing that, wouldn’t include a scene in the game that includes a possible sexual assault because there’s no way to guarantee that it would make sense to all player created characters at all times.

fallout 4 ugly characterThe closest way to making a character creator make sense without watering down the content is to write multiple story lines that mostly overlap but have some key differing plot points based on certain parameters entered into the character creator, such as gender. You might force the player to choose male or female and then depending on the gender they chose the game would decide whether or not the assault scene would be included. You could take this a step further by adding sexuality to the character creator. This wouldn’t address the intentionally ugly problem, but you’d get closer to the plot making sense for all players regardless of the character they built. At the same time though, this would require multiple story lines to be created which would mean more development time translating to higher development costs. So it makes more sense just to water down the story and not include anything specific to a certain type of character, which is my entire point about character creator games leading to watered down plots.

Some games over the years have managed to do a pretty decent job at storytelling even with the presence of a character creator. The Mass Effect trilogy comes to mind. Yet I played the games with the default male character and so did many other players. That’s why even though the game allowed for character creation, Commander Shepard’s face is so iconic. In your head right now you’re thinking of a white man in his 30’s with short hair, light stubble, and blue eyes. Even though the game had a default female version, and many people played the game as a female, most people don’t picture the female Commander Shepard when they think about Mass Effect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Mass Effect meme featuring the female version of Commander Shepard save for maybe a meme that showed both default gender options. So it’s very possible that while I think the game was written extremely well for a game with a character creator, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if I had played it as a character that was a homosexual female of Latino origin I wouldn’t have felt like the character driven aspects of the game were that well written. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that a lot of games, including those that are praised highly, actually aren’t that great as far as developing the player’s created character. Dark Souls is a great example of this.

commander_shepardYou can create anyone you want in the Dark Souls games. You can make a person with blue skin, orange hair, and enough wrinkles to make Emperor Palpatine look youthful. But the games won’t give two shits about the way your character looks. The NPC’s won’t comment on it. The enemies won’t react differently to it. Your appearance and identity mean absolutely nothing in those games. And that doesn’t make them bad games. But I wouldn’t call the Dark Souls franchise an example of good character driven writing. The difference is that Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be selling itself as a character driven game where you can create any character you want. That’s a tall order and we’ve not seen CD Projekt RED even deliver a character creator game before. We know they can write because The Witcher series is one of the most compelling, best written franchises ever made. But they’re all focused on one heterosexual white guy who’s a social outcast and the closest thing to a hermit you can be without actually living alone in a cave. Meaning the character and thus the character driven writing has a defined and consistent context. And that’s exactly why it’s good writing.

All this is not to say that I have any problem with the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 has a character creator, or that gender options have been pulled from the character creator. All this is to say that I don’t believe that Cyberpunk 2077 will be even close to as well written from a character development standpoint as The Witcher 3. But let’s actually talk about the character creator nontroversy in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

dragon's dogma-creationIf you’re not writing a character driven plot focused game, your character doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re not applying conventional human norms to your character(s) to begin with, which would be the case in a Cyberpunk themed game most of the time. To be honest there’s almost no reason a character creator even needs gender in it unless, like in my previous examples, the story is actually affected by the gender of the character. Dragon’s Dogma is a perfect example of this. It’s a game with a story, but calling it a character driven story game is wildly inaccurate. You can create anyone in that game and it will change nothing about the gameplay experience. The only reason the character creator even has gender options in it is simply to speed up the character creation process. And that’s the case for most games with character creators if we’re honest.

It’s just much faster to ask people if their character is male or female so the limited number of default character models can be separated between having pronounced breasts and not having pronounced breasts. That’s pretty much the only thing of value the character creator in Dragon’s Dogma, among many other games, does. It just limits certain physical options based on a set of conventional appearance standards without having any actual effect on the gameplay. Body types, hairstyles, face renders, and voices are separated into two groups in order to speed up the character creation process. But really there’s no actual reason why a player shouldn’t be able to create a character that looks like Dwayne Johnson with pigtails and the voice of a Japanese schoolgirl while wearing a metal bikini. It would be uncomfortable to see for some spectators, but there’s no actual reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to create that character in a game where your appearance doesn’t actually matter. And thus removing gender limitations from a game with a story neutral character creator is and should be considered absolutely fine. Especially when you get into some of the more nuanced ways that people can actually look, act, and sound.

Saints_Row_the_Third_character creatorI once had a friend who was a five foot tall white female with long brown hair, a perfectly tight gym body, and the voice of a 30 year male smoker. That’s how she looked and that’s how she sounded, even though she was only 18 when I met her. Presumably, up until Cyberpunk 2077 it would have been extremely difficult for her to find a game where she could actually create herself in the game. She would have had little problem creating herself physically. And as she was a heterosexual, it would have been very easy to mirror her interactions with NPCs, where possible, fairly accurately. But getting her voice right would have been pretty much impossible. Now that’s not really fair. She wasn’t trans. She wasn’t homosexual. She wasn’t a smoker. She just had that preposterously deep and scratchy voice. In no way was that her fault, her choice, or a repercussion of any of her past decisions. Yet she was arguably a victim of game creator discrimination for all these years. Whereas I as a tall, heterosexual, African-American male with a stereotypically deep voice have pretty much never had a problem creating a character that looks and sounds close enough to myself, if that’s what I wanted to do, in a Western game.

Destiny-2-Character-Customization-1024x582I will admit that a lot of Asian produced games haven’t given me the ability to create myself, but I’m not their target audience to begin with so I don’t blame them for not taking the time to design assets for the handful of players that look like me that both will play their games and actually care about the fact that they can’t place themselves into the game. But for a Western developer that would be a huge problem if African-American men couldn’t create characters that resembled themselves in character creator games. And the truth is that many homosexual African-American male gamers can’t create themselves as far as voice and clothing options are concerned in Western developed games, and obviously Asian developed games but for an entirely different reason I’ve already gone over. So removing the gender limitations in a game’s character creator options isn’t a bad thing at all. And honestly, other than possibly making the process of creating your character take longer due to a lack of easily defined sorting practices, it doesn’t affect anyone’s gameplay experience in a negative way. It simply makes the experience for some players more positive by giving them the option to make characters they identify with on a more personal level. Again, if we’re not talking about a game where the context of the character’s experiences is driven by their gender, sexuality, or appearance, then it doesn’t really matter what limitations are or are not placed on the character creation tools from a gameplay standpoint. And for the bulk of games with character creators, it won’t. So I find it extremely ridiculous and illogical to be against this decision by CD Projekt RED. What I am against is the fact that they announced this development decision in the way they did.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpI have no issue with games being more inclusive. I have no problem with the gaming industry both on the screen and in the studios being more diverse. I still want character driven stories that are specific while making sense and having a clearly defined context, but in general diversity in games isn’t a bad thing to me. What is a bad thing, and I have written about this may times before, is using diversity as a selling point in order to pander to a specific audience. Especially when we consider the size of that audience within the gaming market. The way the removal of gender options from Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator was announced was via an interview. You can read an excerpt from the interview on this specific topic here. It’s very clear that this decision was made in response to the backlash of that supposed trans ad debacle. This character creation option is being used as an olive branch to the trans/entire LGBQT+ community so that people will stop calling CD Projekt RED transphobic and a “problematic developer”. That’s not diversity in game design. That’s not authentically trying to make things more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s pandering for profits.

I get that game development is a business. I get that every decision, big and small, is profit driven. And most of the time I’m fine with all that. But I hate hypocrisy. I’m not one of those “keep politics out of games” people. I’m a writer. I play story driven games almost exclusively. I know games, and really all story driven entertainment, is political by nature. And anyone who thinks it isn’t is an idiot. Metal Gear Solid is political. Final Fantasy is political. Bayonetta is political. It’s all political. But I take issue with companies pretending their politics come from a place of support, love, and authentic concern. Because if it was authentic they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. They would have just released the game with no gender options in the character creator and then people would have either noticed it and talked about it on their own or not talked about it at all. And LGBTQ+ players would have just played the game, thought it was cool that they could make the characters they wanted, and moved on with their lives. That would be authentic, non-pandering diversity in game design. If a company is doing something for recognition, it’s not authentic. And if they’re not being authentic then I don’t want them to pretend to be authentic.

mgs 3 patriotIf they had to say anything, I would rather have had a representative from CD Projekt RED just come out and say “Hey LGBTQ+ people, here’s a bone. We only did this to make you stop complaining about us. You never buy our games anyway, but hopefully now you’ll consider it.” That would be some real shit. I would respect them more for just coming out and saying it. Because right now they look like the good guys to one team and like they folded to the SJWs to the other team. But they know they can get away with it because all those people saying “I’m now not going to buy this game over this gender character creator thing” are clearly lying. There’s not a single actual gamer out there who was planning on buying Cyberpunk 2077 and now isn’t going to because the game won’t outright let them enter into the character creator that they’re a male. Not a single one. And CD Projekt RED knows that. So they can play both sides with impunity. And that is dishonest. Not to mention it strong arms LGBTQ+ gamers into buying the game. Because now that they’ve done this and got it reported all over the place, the only way to get other game studios to do it is to support the game and show that it has an actual effect on sales and popularity. It’s the female protagonist conundrum all over again.

remember meFemale gamers say “we want more female protagonists in games”, a company makes a game with a female protagonist, and it doesn’t sell. Then all the other companies get to say “well female protagonists don’t sell and we’re in the business of making money not political movements”. So every time a shitty game with a female protagonist gets released, women have to buy it or risk losing any chance of another AAA game with a female protagonist being made for a long time. The LGBTQ+ community is in the same boat. If they don’t support every game that offers LGBTQ+ options in it, they risk destroying any chance of another game with such options being made for literally years in the current market. I am 100% in support of CD Projekt RED’s decision to remove gender from their character creator, but I’m also 100% disgusted with the fact that they announced it this way. Don’t keep politics out of my games. Keep political posturing out of my games marketing.

I will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 and I will almost certainly be playing as a conventional looking, heterosexual, African-American male. I am 100% unaffected by the studio’s choice to remove gender from the character creator, but so many people aren’t. And instead of just letting them choose whether or not they want to buy the game based on the actual merits of the game, they’ve forced an entire group of people to give into their bullshit pandering tactics for the good of their group’s future representation in the video games industry by making a big thing out a fairly easily development change. It’s selfish, disgusting, and wrong. And the worst part is that because of how things work, people are and will continue to champion the studio for this PR move because it’s more than most studios deliver most of the time.

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“We” Keep Biting the Hand

It seems more and more I’ve been forced to write posts defending corporations against “consumers” in recent months. This is really distressing for me. My mantra has always been “I fight for the user.” But I’ve never been one to blindly support gamers when they say/do/ask/demand stupid things. And I will absolutely never defend people trying to affect gaming, as either an industry or community, who aren’t actually gamers but want to change them for some sort of political agenda. In light of this, I find myself faced with not one, not two, but three glaring nontroversies that the gaming community, and so called “gaming journalists” have turned into the focal point of gaming discussion right now, while simultaneously ignoring much bigger issues. So today I write a post that I’m sad I even had to take the time to write.

I’ve long been a champion of transparency in the gaming industry. I hate when companies like EA feed us crap like “based on our research” and then proceed to make a statement that goes completely against consumer demand/desire without actually showing any documentation to confirm the results of this supposed research. It’s this continued lack of transparency that I think has caused many of the issues EA faces today. I’m not saying the research is false. I’m just saying that because they’ve never actually made any of it public that it’s hard to take their decisions seriously. Of course the counter argument to this transparency is that other companies will steal that research data. To me that’s a cop out answer. Because other companies having the data wouldn’t magically make EA unable to create competitive games in the market. They own multiple studios that people continue to buy from simply because of the names of those studios/franchises. But if they showed that research data, they could then justify things like paid DLC, loot boxes, and so on. Assuming of course that the data they have actually shows that these are things people legitimately want (Spoiler: It won’t.).

Honesty

I truly believe that if all companies were more honest and transparent about their decisions, costs, and research that many people would accept their decisions peacefully even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them. Like I was really angry with the announcement that Final Fantasy VII Remake will be in multiple parts for most likely a premium price. But if Square Enix followed that announcement with pages of data and analysis showing that the company would literally lose money based on projected sales figures for doing the game as a singular $60 release then I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy about having to buy multiple parts for a single story, but I would understand why it was happening and I’d have no justification for being angry about it. It’s because of this that I have more than once written about the need for companies to be more honest and transparent about games, their development process, and the costs of bringing them to market.

While I still think more transparency from the industry could be a good thing, recently I’ve been led to believe that maybe we, as in the gaming community as a whole, don’t deserve such honesty. Maybe we don’t deserve early announcements, developer interviews, and pre-release footage. Because it seems that all we ever do with that information is bite the hands that feed us at all the wrong moments, for all the wrong reasons. There are legitimate reasons for consumers to be angry with developers and publishers. Star Wars: Battlefront II’s ridiculous loot box system at release/right before release was unacceptable. It was not only good that we organized, protested, and made our demands met. It was just. It was the right thing to do as a collective of consumers. And I can name several other similarly righteous examples. But I can think of many more bad examples of the public attacking developers for showing us things in advance of release that people had no business getting angry about. At least not to the point of creating viral controversies. I just want to discuss three of the most recent ones I’ve seen, but there are countless more I could bring up as well.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpThat Cyberpunk 2077 In-Game Ad

Cyberpunk 2077 is arguably the most anticipated game set for a 2020 release. I’m still not personally sold on it, but CD Projekt RED (CDPR) has never failed me before and it has Keanu Reeves in it. Chances are this game will be amazing in every sense of the word. I won’t say that it will be better than The Witcher 3, but it will almost certainly live up to that standard. And CDPR, as well as Cyberpunk The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future creator Mike Pondsmith, have been very open and seemingly honest about the game. They’ve showed more than an hour of gameplay, done several interviews, and have already given quite a few plot details. They’ve even announced that, like with The Witcher 3, there will be a lot of content in expansions. They’ve done more than most companies do to try to explain their game to the public almost a year in advance of its release. How did the public respond to this openness? By accusing Cyberpunk 2077 of being transphobic, willfully ignorant of the cyberpunk genre, and not meeting the original creative expectations set out by the original creator, Mike Pondsmith.

Cyberpunk 2077 is set in a dystopian future called Night City where technology, immoral behavior, and capitalism have all run amok. People no longer have value. In fact, it’s arguable that many aren’t even people anymore. In some of the released footage there’s a poster advertising some fictional canned beverage. The poster has a woman on it. The woman’s clothing and stature, to some, look like that of a trans woman. That is to say, some people think the woman in the ad has a penis. I can’t confirm if that’s true or not, but what I can confirm is that people apparently thought that this was grounds for boycotting the game almost a year before it even released. This is ridiculous. No context given. No confirmation from the company about whether or not the woman in the ad was trans. No interview with Mike Pondsmith to confirm if the game was truly meeting his vision. Just up in arms assault on the game and the company’s image based on a background decorative in-game poster. The worst part of all is that when Mike Pondsmith finally did speak about it and stated that he not only didn’t feel the poster was transphobic, but that he was very happy with the overall game and how CDPR really had captured his vision, people called him an Uncle Tom and a sellout rather than accept that his vision had actually been met.

Mike pondsmith

This should never have occurred. This is a non-issue. And no I’m not saying trans rights are a non-issue. I’m saying this poster, that again isn’t confirmed to be of a trans woman, set in a corporate dystopia in the future where a majority of people have robotic parts and little to no actual value is a non-issue. To have attacked CDPR in this way in response to them giving the public so much information and content so far in advance of the game’s release is unacceptable on our part. I’m not saying everyone was involved in this, because that’s not the case. But the fact that this became a viral controversy that several gaming journalism sites covered, not favorably for CDPR I might add, is egregious. If I was CDPR, I wouldn’t say one more damn thing about the game until it releases. It’s already guaranteed to make a killing and clearly the public isn’t grateful for the openness anyway.

Marvel’s Avengers isn’t the MCU  

A teaser was released for the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game from Square Enix like two years ago. We didn’t know anything else about it until this E3 where they announced a shit ton of information. Now please note that I’m not advocating for the game one way or another. There are still many questions I need answered and I’d like to see, or ideally try the gameplay. But out of the gate they showed/announced a single player offline campaign with five playable characters, four player online coop, and free DLC expansions including additional missions, additional maps, additional Avengers characters, and supposedly no microtransactions.

Marvel's Avengers

This announcement presentation should have been received with a ton of positivity from the community. Instead “we” responded by complaining that the characters don’t look like the actors from the Marvel movies. Again biting the hand that feeds us. Not only that, but I am shocked at the number of plebs that willingly outed themselves as faux Marvel fans. If you saw that trailer and thought to yourself that the characters were wrong because they didn’t look like Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth then you’re not a real Marvel fan. You’re an MCU fan. All of these characters have existed for decades. The movie versions are barely a blip on the collective canon of the characters. Look at the original appearance/debut dates for these characters.

Captain America (1941)

Iron Man (1963)

Hulk (1962)

Black Widow (1964)

Thor (1962)

Captain Suits

Every one of these characters is more than 50 years old. In that time all of them have had multiple costume and appearance changes. Even Black Widow, with one of the most straight forward looks in the entire Marvel universe, has had multiple costumes and physical appearances. And let us not forget that even in the movies the costumes change all the time. That is the entire nature of comic books. The game isn’t set in the MCU. It’s not the same timeline as the MCU. Like Marvel’s Spider-man from Insomniac Games, it has literally nothing to do with the MCU. So it’s absolutely preposterous to complain that the characters, whether their physical appearances or costumes, don’t match those of the MCU. They’re not supposed to. The community could have and should have focused more on discussing the actual game announcements but of course “we” didn’t. Instead the social medias were flooded with memes and comments about how people wanted the characters to look like a bunch of actors not at all related to the project. Which is also a big “screw you” to the talented cast of voice actors being used in the game. It’s ridiculous that such a large percentage of people got up in arms to complain about something they clearly weren’t familiar with to begin with. Now unlike with Cyberpunk 2077, we haven’t seen all that much of Marvel’s Avengers and we don’t have enough confidence in either Square Enix or Crystal Dynamics for them to be able to decide to go dark with this game and hope to make a profit. But really “we” don’t deserve any more information until the game is ready to release because clearly people can’t seem to act right.

Avengers-Characters

Tifa’s Boobs . . .

When I was in college, a professor assigned me (the whole class) to read an article from The Onion. Now at this point in my life I didn’t know what The Onion was. So I read it as a work of non-fiction reporting. When I voiced my opinions on the article in class, I was notified that it was satire. This article, which was very realistic because it was written back in the days when The Onion would do full on articles rather than just funny blurbs, reported that up until that point the reason female characters in games had such large boobs was because of limitations of graphics engines. The article went on to say that finally developers had pushed past this limitation and could now reduce the size of boobs in games to look more realistic. Oh how scary a world we live in where satire becomes reality and then gets blown out of proportion, pun not intended.

Tifa comparison

Because every English language gaming journalist can’t seem to properly translate Japanese. And because Japanese developers don’t practice the restraint that American developers do when talking about their games, boobs tend to come up a lot. Again, pun not intended. During a recent interview about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake, one of the developers at Square Enix explained that Tifa, a well-liked female character from the game, would have a sports bra added to her costume to make her movements look more realistic. In laymen’s terms that means her still large breasts would now be restrained by a sports bra so that she could actually fulfill her role as a hand to hand brawler without her tits flopping around wildly. You know like real female athletes wear. But because Japanese developers don’t speak English as a first language and the translators that report this stuff almost always seem to suck, the story stated that Tifa’s breasts had been reduced in size. Once again, that’s not what the guy said. He said that their appearance would seem reduced because of the presence of a sports bra holding them in place and restraining them, as sports bras are made to do. But who cares about the actual facts?

Cloud ps1
This is a male character . . .

The internet was and still is livid by the idea of Tifa having smaller breasts. Genuine rage and anger happened. And gaming sites kept reporting the story incorrectly and then following that by reporting on the outrage. Because it’s all about the clicks. Now first of all, the original model of Tifa is from 1997 on the PS1. The character models look(ed) atrocious. I don’t care what anyone says. By today’s standards the original FFVII looks horrendous. There are much better looking Final Fantasy games even on the PS1. Final Fantasy VIII, which I’m not arguing is a better overall game, looks way better. Tifa had ridiculously large breasts in that game for the same reason Lara Croft did in those days. Limited polygon counts. The only way to make sure you knew she was a female was to give her large breasts because they were unable to define chest structure subtly. It was either flat, which was used for male characters, or bulging unrealistically, which was used for female characters. There are also multiple looks for her in the original game, destroying any hope of consistency between how people view the character. Is the map mode Tifa the real Tifa? Is the cutscene Tifa the real Tifa? Or is the battle mode Tifa the real Tifa? They all look different. Tifa most likely wasn’t meant to have large breasts at all. They just didn’t have a choice. And even so, this is a remake. Square Enix can do whatever the hell they want with their characters. But internet gonna internet.

Tifa Battle

People have been asking for a Final Fantasy VII remake for more than a decade. It’s been called the most requested remake of all time for years. Square Enix refused to do it for the longest time and then finally gave in, because money, and how does everyone react? They complain about the supposed breast reduction of a non-main character. Yes Tifa is in the party and she definitely matters. But she’s no Aeris. She’s no Cloud. She’s no Sephiroth. It shouldn’t even matter that much. And yet here I am writing this article. Now honestly Square Enix doesn’t have to and didn’t have to say shit about this game. They could have kept it completely secret until the day it released and it still would probably end up being the best-selling game of its release year (2020). But Square Enix did announce it and has shown more and more information about it because they want to make fans happy. Do the fans deserve that kind of treatment? Clearly not. Again gamers bite the hand that feeds them for completely ridiculous and immature reasons.

The thing that makes me most angry is that not only are people always complaining about pointless bullshit in games today, when they should be thankful for the transparency, but that they’re putting their attention and outrage on things that don’t matter while serious issues abound and are ignored. Just last week the UK Parliament conducted a panel with reps from EA and Epic Games to discuss loot boxes and other gambling type mechanics in games. If you aren’t well versed in the details of this interview, you should definitely take the time to read about it, because it’s important. Here’s a short summary from Eurogamer as a jumping off point. Basically EA and Epic Games showed that they don’t care about consumers at all and that they will say anything to try to continue robbing gamers blind for useless skins. This is what gamers should be talking about. This is what should be trending and memeing and being covered by all gaming sites and causing uproar. People should be burning their EA game cases in the streets. YouTube should be covered in videos of people calling out EA for saying bullshit like “we don’t call them loot boxes – we call them surprise mechanics.” But that is not happening.

uk loot box

Yes some people are certainly talking about the UK Parliament interview. And some sites have reported on it a little bit. But it hasn’t been the main focus of the gaming community. My Twitter timeline hasn’t been covered in #SurpriseMechanics memes. But I’m still hearing about Tifa’s “small” tits. At this point, I don’t know why developers tell us anything in advance. The community continues to act childish, focus on the wrong things, and attack companies and individuals for not doing anything wrong while simultaneously letting the real criminals slide. It’s a shit show and it’s unacceptable. There’s really no other way to say it.

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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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