Last week I wrote a blog post about people incorrectly defending games and I lightly touched on gaming apologists, a group/practice I can’t stand. Now in that post I stated that we were almost assuredly going to see apologists defending Sea of Thieves. To hopefully no one’s surprise, considering both my track record with gaming predictions and the beta reviews, this is of course what is now happening. Sea of Thieves was released last week for the XBOX ONE and Windows PC. I was very interested in it, but reluctant based on what I saw and read of the betas. Now that the game and initial reviews are out, I can say with certainty that I will not be purchasing this game. If I’m honest, I knew this was going to be the case. When I first heard about it and watched the alpha footage I could quickly see that this was going to be another pointless, endless shared world experience devoid of any actual substance. Sadly, it’s not even as fulfilling as Destiny as far as content is concerned and that’s saying a lot, or more to the point, a little.
I haven’t personally played the game, but I have read and watched quite a bit about it. From my understanding it’s a fairly decent sized world of sand and water with little actual content. There are only three types of let’s call them tasks because the word quest seems a bit too charitable for what they really are. These tasks, which can be done countless times, net you loot. You can also get loot by stealing it from other players while they try to complete these same three tasks. Basically this game is a glorified chat room where you can sail ships around some water, occasionally team up with other groups to fight a giant squid, and fight other people for pretty much useless treasure. All that is to say, this is a pointless game that charges you $60 to make a pirate themed avatar and joke around with your friends. A Reddit user by the name of calibrono summarized it best. His entire post is a bit long and I do encourage you to take the time to read it, but allow me to quote a passage from it.
“Sea of Thieves is an experiment. “How little content can we stuff in a $60 title and hey away with it” kind of experiment. The same kind of experiment EA did try with SWBF2, except not with microtransactions, but with content.”
This is very sad. Once again a developer/publisher has decided that instead of making a proper game they can take advantage of the bored masses and offer them nothing in exchange for a AAA price tag. I’ve actually seen a number of people compare Sea of Thieves to No Man’s Sky, which seems very appropriate. One Twitter account I follow referred to it as “No Man’s Sea”, which is just brilliant.
Microsoft trying to take money out of our pockets for little actual work is nothing new. They’ve been nickel and diming us for Windows, an OS they didn’t originally create to begin with, for more than 30 years. But gamers falling for it, yet again, is the much bigger issue. This game has literally no content. It doesn’t even have a giant map to explore with endless islands of differing environments to discover and explore. There’s literally only one type of land based enemy, skeletons, and they can’t even hurt you if you’re standing on a rock. Yet people happily paid $60 for it and are defending it like it’s a legitimate game. I even read an article today, which you shouldn’t take the time to read, where someone tried to compare it to The Last of Us, which just sounds ridiculous and it is. If anything, this is worse than Star Wars Battlefront II because at least that was/is a playable game with a single player campaign and match based PVP with clear objectives. This is little more than a glorified server test for the pre-alpha stage of an actual pirate game. Why are people putting up with it and even going out of their way to argue it’s a good game? This is exactly why things only seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry. People need to stop actively helping publishers take advantage of them.
I’m angry because I actually really like the pirate theme. One of my favorite PS2 games was Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002), which Ubisoft clearly was inspired by in the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I loved. Nothing would make me happier than to see another great pirate game with solid gameplay and a well written plot. And RARE is/was a studio that I would have trusted to do that. They could have done that. They should have done that. But of course they didn’t do that. So here we are with yet another shitty cash grab game that will make a butt load of money in initial sales compared to what it cost to make, then they’ll add paid DLC and make more money, telling publishers that this is a viable model for game development, ultimately leading to the further detriment of the industry and lowering the general quality of future games. What do we learn? Apparently not a damn thing.
Now I’m sure more content will eventually be added to this game. I hope it’s added for free from an ethical standpoint, but at the same time I’m always in support of people learning their lesson the hard way. But adding content after the fact because people are unhappy doesn’t excuse the fact that in their ideal scenario Microsoft wanted people to happily pay them for nothing and get away with it. So in my book new content as a reaction to user complaints is a step in the right direction but too little too late.
As is tradition, I would like to do a post about gaming in 2017. I know 2017 was a rough year in reality. I would argue worse than 2016 in many ways. But we’re only gonna talk about gaming here and in that realm I would say though there were some definite low points, overall it wasn’t a horrible year. As I always say, I’m gonna do my best to sum up gaming this year but I’m only one man not being paid to do this so realistically I’m probably gonna miss a number of events and I’m only writing from one perspective. Also as we should be aware, I focus primarily, but not exclusively, on console gaming.
First, let me talk about how gaming was for me personally in 2017. It was a solid year. It wasn’t like 2016 where I was able to get through 52 games. But I was able to tackle an acceptable 22 titles. Of those 22, only two game were actually released in 2017. Those would be Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I will of course discuss later in this post, and StarFox 2 on the SNES Classic. In my opinion, the best game I completed in the last year was unquestionably Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Not only was it the best Uncharted game, but it was just genuinely one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. Naughty Dog just doesn’t disappoint.
As far as completing my gaming goals for 2017, I did ok. If you look at my list of 2017 gaming goals from the beginning of the year, I had 12 main goals and six bonus goals. Of those 12 main goals I managed to complete nine of them which is pretty good. But I will say that I did not complete, or even start, two of the most important ones. That is play The Witcher 2 (yes that is a 2) and play Final Fantasy VII. I am making these two games a priority in 2018, starting with FFVII. I’ve even set my desktop and mobile wallpapers to FFVII images in order to motivate myself to play the game. Of the six bonus goals, I completed four of them, which is also pretty good. That’s an overall completion rate of 72%. Not an amazing grade, but definitely passable. Now let’s talk about the highlights of 2017 for the rest of the gaming community. Events are in no particular order.
Indies Take the Reigns
This was an amazing year for indie games. We saw some phenomenal releases of games that were not only critically acclaimed, but financially successful in record time.
I haven’t personally played this game, but one cannot deny the success or importance of it. Not only has it broken records for Steam concurrent users but it’s also sold at record numbers and rushed out an XBOX ONE release last minute. I actually take a lot of issue with this game. The fact that people are so misguided in their judgement that a movement actually formed calling for an early access game with no single player campaign to be considered for game of the year is insane. It’s one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard. But it only shows just how successful the game is. It will be interesting to see what this means for AAA FPS games. If an indie studio can make a single mode FPS game with no campaign or serious production value and only charge $30 for it then how will companies like Activision continue their current COD business model?
I knew this game would be a success when it was first announced at E3 back in like 2013. I was actually the person who created the Cuphead wiki page on IGN when I worked for their E3 wiki team that year. It’s beautiful, different, retro, and has a very Disney style story based campaign. It’s already gone double platinum and has spawned various articles and fan creations.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
This game had basically no publisher and kind of came out of nowhere but they’ve already sold enough copies to be profitable. There was a lot of controversy at the beginning about saves possibly getting erased and really I think that ultimately helped the game. This is just another example of how large publishers like EA are blatantly lying to the public when they say single player campaigns are no longer viable and/or profitable because this game is objective proof against that statement. Hellblade also addresses mental illness as part of the gameplay and adds both an interesting perspective to gameplay and brings the conversation about mental illness to the forefront of the gaming community, both of which are good things.
A Hat in Time
This game hasn’t been out too long but it’s doing very well both critically and financially. People really seem to like it, which is great because we need more traditional single player platformers other than just Nintendo first party games and Ratchet & Clank. Hopefully the success of this game will inspire other larger studios to revisit the genre with more than just HD remakes of older games.
EA Screws Everything Up
I’m not going to say it hasn’t happened before, but I can’t recall any other year where EA screwed the pooch so big, so many times, so quickly. Like if you took away EA Sports from the equation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they folded next year after all the bullshit they tried to pull in 2017.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Now personally I didn’t hate this game, but it was no Mass Effect 3. There was a ton of negative press and public opinion because of graphical issues. The story was kind of flat in the end. No DLC was released even though some was promised originally. The game was clearly rushed out; which is sad because it had so much potential. And this really hurt BioWare, which sucks because they used to be one of my favorite studios. But it’s clear that most of these problems are the fault of EA management rather than bad work on the developer side. EA keeps shoehorning in multiplayer, loot boxes, and open world into games, forcing developers to work on too much too quickly and ultimately put out lackluster games, all while being forced to use an engine that’s really only good for one genre. But the worst part is that EA refuses to acknowledge this. They just keep blaming the studios for the failures. They even shuttered BioWare Montreal.
EA shutdown Visceral Games, the studio that brought you Dead Space. But what was really bad about this was when, why, and how they did it. The studio was in the midst of creating a single player, linear, story focused Star Wars game. Also known as exactly the type of game real Star Wars fans have been waiting for since like The Force Unleashed II. Then when asked about it, EA made a statement that sounded like they were declaring an end to single player, linear campaigns. They then came back and said that’s not what they meant, but it just goes to show you that EA can’t be trusted because they refuse to just give a straight answer about any topic. And that policy of using marketing speak instead of concrete words is finally coming back to bite them in the ass. And it absolutely did not help them that they were releasing a Star Wars themed multiplayer shooter with a joke of a campaign just a few months after closing down Visceral Games and stating that they were not killing but were changing the scope of their project considerably. Read my full thoughts on the closing of Visceral Gameshere.
Star Wars Battlefront II and the Loot Boxes
Star Wars Battlefront II is the sequel no one really asked for. It was a cash grab game made to symbiotically increase sales and popularity of the Star Wars IP with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The true irony being that both works garnered a ton of controversy and negativity among the populous. The film did at least make money though.
Because of a combination of predatory business practices, bad blood over the Visceral GamesStar Wars game, and an unacceptably long series of social faux pas, Battlefront II has done terribly. Its sales were considerably lower than its predecessor out of the gate. Disney forced them to completely remove microtransactions from the game until further notice, but they are supposed to be returning at some point. It was reported that EA’s stock value dropped by about $3 Billion because of this whole travesty of a game release. And the company is now responsible for the most downvoted comment in Reddit history.
The most important thing about this entire series of events is that it showed that we as a group actually do have real power over the gaming industry. Our comments, tweets, Reddit posts, and angry YouTube videos do make a difference when we work as a single unit with a common goal. This whole ordeal proved that if we would just get organized we could truly change things. And things are changing. Apple now requires all mobile apps with loot boxes to display the possible win percentages. And politicians in the United States and other countries are starting to discuss legislation about stopping predatory monetization practices in games. You can read my full account of the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy and timeline here.
Nintendo Owns It Hard
Nintendo has the odd habit of doing everything the public says they shouldn’t and then making a killing in sales and approval, both critical and public, and no one can ever seem to understand why or how they make this work. They’re just a magical company that shits gold time and time again. Here are some of their highlights for 2017.
They released a new console that people weren’t sure about and that many said would cannibalize their own handheld market. The console is doing very well and has already outsold the Wii U by leaps and bounds. Not to mention, the top two contested games of the year were both first party Switch games (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild / Super Mario Odyssey). I wasn’t even planning on buying a Switch this year, but they finally got me with Odyssey.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Everyone said it was impossible to make Rabbids not the most annoying thing ever. I too was one of those people. The idea of a turn based RPG starring Mario and Rabbids sounded ridiculous. In fact it still does. But ultimately it won best strategy game at The Game Awards 2017.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Objectively speaking this was the best game of 2017. It won the Golden Joystick Awards. It won The Game Awards. It made the Switch a financial success much sooner than expected. It’s being called by many the greatest Zelda game ever made, which is a bold statement to even consider making. This is like the new Final Fantasy VII. I haven’t personally played it yet, but from what I understand your children’s children will still be talking about this game.
The best way to make money is to do so without doing anything you haven’t already done before. Nintendo exercises this statement boldly with the SNES Classic and the NES Classic before it. It’s another amazing trip down memory lane, they’re sold out everywhere, and scalpers are making a killing reselling them. Because Nintendo refuses to manufacture enough of them in order to artificially keep demand high. I actually was able to get one and I have to say that it’s an amazing console.
The idea of Nintendo getting into mobile games was offensive and worrisome. They already control the handheld market. How would they possibly participate in both markets without quality lacking somewhere? I still don’t really know how to answer that question. But I do know that Super Mario Run was the most downloaded app at one point in 2017. And people seem to love Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
The business of trailers seemed to stand out a lot in 2017. Three games stand out the most. By newsworthy I don’t mean the best looking or even most anticipated trailers. I mean trailers that garnered actual news stories other than just “check out this trailer”.
Death Stranding is the latest example of everything that’s wrong with celebrity game development. Just because a specific name, studio, or actor is tied to a game does not mean it will be good. We have seen no gameplay footage and gotten no concrete details but everyone is creaming their jeans over Death Stranding simply because it’s being made by Kojima. The latest trailer makes no sense, tells you nothing, and gives no sort of clues about the gameplay but everyone was losing their minds over it.
I actually really liked this trailer. It doesn’t show us any gameplay footage, but we can assume that because it’s a sequel the gameplay will at least be similar to the first game. What this trailer does show us is that in a Walking Dead style of narrative, zombies are not the biggest problem in the post apocalypse. It’s actually other people. We are shown that we can expect powerful, violent, uncomfortable scenes from the next installment of The Last of Us and that’s a good thing. But many people were angry about the fact that the trailer shows women being tortured. Personally I thought this entire debate was hypocritical bullshit because the women were being tortured by a woman so this can’t be misconstrued as some form of sexism or even objectification for the male gaze. But internet gonna internet so whatever.
Similar to the way people reacted to The Last of Us 2 trailer, a lot of people were really unhappy with the child abuse shown in the latest trailer for Detroit: Become Human. There was a lot of debate about whether or not this kind of thing was ok to show in the marketing of video games or be shown in video games at all. I think this is hypocritical because we wouldn’t be having that conversation when talking about film. Gaming is an entertainment medium with the largest population of users being legal adults. It is perfectly acceptable to address serious themes in such a medium in the same way that it’s socially acceptable to have such things depicted in movies.
To nobody intelligent’s surprise, Bungie and Activision did exactly what I expected of them. Destiny 2 used the same bullshit scheme of overpromising, under delivering, hiding all the content behind additional paywalls, and delivering no end game; and that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. But this time they screwed up and put a vanilla game trophy behind a DLC paywall when they released an expansion and that really hurt their reputation and supposedly their stock price, for at least a time.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Probably the best example of why EA is bullshit from 2017. Guerilla Games created a beautiful, big budget, story based single player game. And it sold like hot cakes. People loved it. Critics loved it. Sony loved it. They even released a large expansion and priced the whole game fairly with it. Many non-Nintendo gamers believed it should have been game of the year. I definitely think we’ll see a sequel to this game and I hope other studios/publishers take Horizon Zero Dawn as an example for future projects.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Most Socially Aware Marketing Campaign of all Time)
Bethesda makes good games. I don’t love all or even most of their stuff, but I have always respected them as a company. But this year what they showed more than anything else is that they do not function in a vacuum. The company makes marketing campaigns and quite possibly games based on current events and popular opinion. I’ve never played any of the Wolfenstein games, old or new. I’ve always known about the franchise but I’ve never been that interested. I took an interest in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus strictly because of the ad campaign. Trailers and banners with calls to action saying “Make America Nazi Free Again” hit so close to home in 2017. And this campaign wasn’t lost on anyone. Trump supporters were pissed about being called Nazis. Liberals thought it was hilarious and pre-ordered the game just to support the message. It was amazing marketing and ultimately I do think I’ll end up not only buying this game but also the previous titles to get the full story.
Bethesda didn’t stop with Wolfenstein. They also went after EA and launched a campaign to save single player games. Also a super relevant and socially aware ad campaign that absolutely increased sales.
XBOX ONE X Released
Microsoft released “the most powerful console on the market” and people still don’t know what the point of that is if you don’t have a healthy lineup of exclusive titles that you can’t play on a much better PC, which the console doesn’t. They claim this console is for the fans who want the best of the best but even those people are smart enough to build a PC when you look at the games available. And to top it all off, Microsoft keeps focusing on bringing back old titles which often don’t even look good in 4k. It’s like they’re trying to compete with Sony and Nintendo at the same time and failing on both fronts.
A few smaller things happened in 2017 that are not worth going over in detail but should be mentioned when grading the year in gaming as a whole.
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back
This actually happened and that’s worth talking about in and of itself.
Nioh (PC Version)
This was entirely unexpected and while it’s pretty shitty for early adopters I think it ultimately was a good thing because it lowered the price on both platforms and made all the content easier to access for all late adopters.
This happened. Amazing concept to allow people to create their own Sonic characters, but the game itself is about what we’ve come to expect from modern Sonic the Hedgehog. I still bought it predicting that would be the case for some reason.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
Even on their worst day Naughty Dog only ever creates gold and this was far from their worst day.
Overall I’d say 2017 was a solid year for gaming. There were definitely some serious low points, most of which the fault of EA. But the high points outnumber them tenfold. I look forward to 2018 hoping for another year of excellent gaming but I’m curious to see what we get from Nintendo because they came out of the gate with some heavy hitters. I don’t want to see the Switch peter out after only a year.
Since I reviewed the Star Wars Battlefront II beta, much shit has gone down with that game. So I wrote an extensive piece on the events and causes leading up to the troubled release which has supposedly led to EA’s stock value plummeting 3 billion dollars. It’s a long, but quite interesting read, if I do say so myself. Here’s the introduction:
I have been tasked with trying to summarize and discuss the controversy surrounding EA DICE’s most recent game, Star Wars Battlefront II. This is no small feat considering the layers upon layers of incidents that have taken place surrounding this game and EA in general around the same time. I enter this endeavor knowing full well that it is impossible to accurately summarize and address the many parts of the shit sandwich that this game has become. But I will do my best. I think the best way to go about this is to try to piece together some semblance of a timeline and discuss specific points of that timeline and why they were/are significant. Then to conclude with some general thoughts and possible predictions as a result of this mess. Here goes nothing.
You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.
I didn’t want to write this post. Honestly I was just going to let this event pass by without mentioning it on my blog. But as I’ve read more articles, talked to more people on Reddit, Twitter, and other forums, and thought about it more I decided I couldn’t just let this go without saying something.
I’m sure most of you are already aware, but in case you didn’t know Visceral Games was closed down by Electronic Arts last week. Visceral Games was the development studio responsible for a very eclectic collection of games including Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000, Dante’s Inferno, Battlefield Hardline, and the Dead Space franchise. By no means was Visceral Games my favorite developer. I was not interested in most of their games. I did however love Dante’s Inferno and wish they had made a sequel. Even though I wasn’t a fan, they were a studio that I really respected. They were committed to making plot based liner storylines with a focus on interesting core gameplay that ties directly to the game’s narrative. This is the approach that I would like to see all developers take. Obviously not the ones who don’t make real games. I don’t expect EA Sports to deliver the next GOTY experience or anything. But for studios that are making games with plots and campaigns, whether single player, co-op, or shared world, I want to see narrative be the focus of development. I still remember reading an article discussing Visceral Games’ design principles for the first Dead Space. I was so impressed by their mission statement in approaching that game. I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to play it before seeing a single trailer, because it’s not my genre, but I absolutely respected and applauded the studio for the way they viewed and handled that project. EA disagrees with my sentiments about game development.
Visceral Games was in the midst of making a plot focused, linear Star Wars action, adventure game. In other words, they were making exactly the type of game that true Star Wars game fans want to see made. Not some shitty never ending MMO. Not a time sink, loot box, pew pew extravaganza. They were making a proper narrative based Star Wars game tied directly to the lore of the current Star Wars film universe. EA decided that such a game was no longer worth making. In fact they basically implied that single player, plot based games in general are no longer worth making.
“Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe,” EA’s Patrick Söderlund said in a blog post. “In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.”
So in honest terms what Patrick Söderlund is saying is basically Visceral Games was making a video game that people wanted to play and then EA decided that because it wasn’t a Games as Service model that they could lace with loot boxes, open world multiplayer, and additional DLC with no real bearing on the plot, they decided to cancel it. This is a big problem. This is basically a declaration that from now on any game that doesn’t play like Star Wars Battlefront II, with its egregious loot box system and paltry 5 – 7 hour campaign, will no longer be made/published by EA. Furthermore, any studios that are trying to make standalone linear plot based games under EA will be shut down.
I don’t need to go into the ethics of this issue. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before about how single player campaigns literally built EA and the rest of the industry and that publishers choosing to blatantly discount the opinions of the consumers that funded the industry in order to trick kids into spending thousands of dollars on loot boxes is wrong. I don’t need to tell you not everyone wants to play crappy console MMOs with no real end game. Or that not everyone in the United States, much less the world, has a good enough internet connection to enjoy shared world games. You’ve heard all that before. I don’t even want to take the time to give one of my grandiose speeches about voting with your wallet and all that because clearly, just like with the United States Presidential Election, your vote doesn’t matter. If one person is going to spend $15,000 on Mass Effect 3 cards, why would EA ever consider the opinions of anyone other than MP addicted whales? $15,000 is 250 $60 vanilla game sales, not including tax. That $15,000 in loot boxes is tax free from the consumer side, meaning EA swallowed the whole amount. If any publisher only has to market to one 250th of the gaming population to turn a higher profit then of course they are not going to make the games the masses want to play anymore. Your lousy $60 and angry tweet is worth shit compared to that one guy who keeps shoveling in money like a gambling addict. I won’t be surprised if one day in the near future we see someone like Steve Wynn enter the gaming industry. It’s gotta be easier and more profitable than running a casino at this point. So there’s just no reason for me to give a rally cry for boycotting.
What I think is more important to talk about is what this means for us as single player campaign gamers. I don’t mean that in the philosophical sense about how we’re essentially being pushed out of the industry that we bought and paid for with our hard earned money and that of our parents. I mean in a more literal sense let’s talk about what it means that EA isn’t making single player campaigns anymore today. Electronic Arts is a huge empire of a publisher. They currently own 33 operating development studios around the world. They’ve shut down 28 studios. They’ve almost got a negative studio success rate and it hasn’t affected their bottom line at all. But that’s not even the important part of the discussion. The problem here is all the single player IPs that EA owns the rights to that are now either dead in the water or destined to be bastardized into some shitty multiplayer, microtransaction experience with at best a shitty campaign of no substance. Let’s look at the list of just single player, plot focused games/franchises that I believe are important. I’m sure I’ll leave things out that you think should be included.
Knight of the Old Republic and Star Wars in general
Medal of Honor
That’s 10 franchises known for single player, plot based experiences. It does not include the many other games/franchises that have a multiplayer component that many people still purchase for the single player experience such as Battlefield, Need for Speed, and I’m going to include Rock Band, but I’m happy to remove it if that offends people. This doesn’t even include the various games they publish for third party developers such as Titanfall, Alice, Bullet Storm, Brutal Legend, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and several others. Some of the greatest single player franchises ever made now belong to EA. That’s a sickening thought in the wake of this news. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and KOTOR are three of the best Western RPG franchises money has ever been able to buy. Those are gone now. At worst they don’t exist anymore. At best they’re no longer the great story driven gameplay experiences they once were. Either way it’s a terrible prospect for long standing gamers like me. Add that to the fact that me choosing not to buy their shitty future games in protest won’t do anything and that’s a terrible reality to have to look forward to. If anything the best thing we can do is actually buy their games and not purchase any of the microtransactions to make a statement about the way we want to play and pay for games. But that still means giving EA money they don’t deserve and it still doesn’t deal with the greedy whale problem. At this point it’s not just a losing battle, it’s a lost battle. The cause is already defeated. I for one am very depressed by that and don’t actually know what to do moving forward as a traditional gamer of more than 20 years. All we can really do is hope other developers/publishers keep some form of integrity. Japanese studios seem to be better about this overall but even Nintendo has started pulling some real bullshit.
I thought it was appropriate to end this post with a list of single player, plot based games I plan on buying in the next six months.
The Witcher 3
Horizon Zero Dawn
Assassin’s Creed Origins
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
God of War
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Shadow of War?
Are you as unhappy about this as I am? What single player games are you most worried about?
This is an awkward time in game development. It’s a moment where more people than ever before are playing video games. No longer is it realistic to claim that any one group, gender, race, religion, or country makes up the majority of gamers. The gaming community now contains people from all walks of life from just about every country in the world. There are arguments about which markets matter the most based on size, but as far as actual gaming audience is concerned, it’s pretty much everybody.
This diverse array of gamers is a good thing for many reasons. But because of the selfish narcissism of most people, especially gamers, we’re also seeing some terrible repercussions because of this diversity. Today, more than ever before, people (not just gamers) have gotten it into their head that they matter a majority of the time. Things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have given everyone a voice and for some reason that has led every asshole with a smartphone into believing that their opinions matter and that all works of entertainment should be tailor made for them specifically. And when it’s not made for them they whine, organize, riot, and literally destroy people’s careers and lives.
I’m not talking about any one particular group here. Because so many groups are guilty of this new brand of arrogance. White men, homosexuals, racial minorities, women, and so on. All these groups and many more have on numerous recent occasions complained about a specific game or the industry as a whole simply because it did something they didn’t like or didn’t focus on their identifying group. Even not including a particular group in a game can cause an uproar. The problem with all this is that it has led many developers to try to work around the problem in ways that are easy and shown to be effective for basically all types of gamers. For me one of the worst ways this is being done today is with character creators.
Character creators are an interesting problem because they come from the best intentions. In many ways they’re the perfect form of escapism. When a game has a good character creator, you can literally put yourself in the game or be whoever you want to be. The problem is that this is mostly superficial. Let me clarify that moving forward, all mention of games in this post will refer to plot based campaigns. Multiplayer PVP scenarios are pretty much irrelevant to this particular discussion other than in the fact that they only add to the problem I’ll be addressing in a roundabout way. Multiplayer plot based campaigns are completely relevant though and definitely should be considered when thinking about this topic.
Arguably the most important thing about a plot based campaign is the story. I said story there instead of plot because there is a difference. A game can have an amazing plot but if the story isn’t told right then the experience of the campaign will ultimately fail. The way a story is told, the way the characters interact, and the reasons behind why things happen in a story are all important parts of the experience. Think about any game with a good story and imagine if things where presented differently. Let’s use The Last of Us as an example. A game that’s often championed for having such an amazing story. Now imagine for a second if the game had done just a few things differently. All other things being equal, how would people have responded to the story if Joel had lost a son instead of a daughter, it’s revealed that Ellie will have to die to save the world at the beginning of the game, and/or Joel was Asian instead of Caucasian? I think most people would agree that while the gameplay would still be good and the plot would still be interesting, the overall experience of the story would be much less powerful if even just one of those three proposed changes had taken effect. The drama of the story comes from the fact that Joel and Ellie connect on a familial level because she reminds him of his deceased daughter. And the fact that he believes the world can be saved without her having to die from the beginning is what allows that connection to form by the end, literally sacrificing the rest of the world as a consequence of that connection. But in a scenario where you could create your own character, that story would be considerably less powerful.
Joel and Ellie aren’t blood relatives. It would have been completely believable and possible for a Black, Asian, Latino or member of any other ethnic group, man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual to be put in the scenario of Joel. The story is that random survivor is tasked with escorting a random girl across the country. Either character could have been any mixture of identifiers and the story would still make perfect sense. But any significant change of profile could drastically reduce the impact of their relationship and by extension story. Therein lays the problem with character creators. They hurt the story in a game. Because no matter much effort a developer tries to make a character neutral story, it will never be as good as a targeted narrative. It’s literally impossible to do.
Modern Tomb Raider games are so powerful because of the vulnerability assumed by a young Lara Croft, a Caucasian female from a wealthy family whose biggest problem was losing her father at a young age. Imagine how much less impressive the character would be if she was a South American boy from Brazil who grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Now I’m not saying that a great story couldn’t be told starring a Brazilian male from humble beginnings. I’m just saying that the impact of the story in moments where men trapped on an island capture the character and threaten various physical abuses wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if he was the protagonist. That’s what storytelling is: Putting characters in situations that are impactful for them, not you. You as the audience are supposed to put yourself in the shoes of the character. Not the other way around.
The problem with plot based games using character creators is that either the game is written for a specific character/audience, usually a heterosexual Caucasian male, and then blanket applied to all created characters regardless of important details like race, gender, and sexuality, or the game is written in such a way that nothing personal ever happens. Take Far Cry 5, which I can’t wait to play. The story of a deputy going into rural Montana to stop a predominantly, if not exclusively, White cult that is literally kidnapping and sacrificing people to their image of God. The game will have a character creator that will allow for male and female characters of any race. Now I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume that if I, an African American male, walked into rural Montana today that I would probably be treated differently than either a Caucasian or Latino male and even more differently than a female of any race. And if that part of Montana was being run by a redneck cult, I believe that would be even more noticeable. Unless of course the cult genuinely has no preferences for their victims because their god told them that all people who aren’t in the cult need to be equally discriminated against and they were all pure and true believers/followers. But let’s be honest and admit that all people would not have the exact same experience walking into rural Montana. Having not yet played the game, I cannot say for sure if Ubisoft has done anything to differentiate the experiences of created avatars based on race and gender among other identifiers in this newest Far Cry. But I can say that in general most games don’t. Especially those from Ubisoft. I played The Division as a Black male. I didn’t experience anything that called attention to the race of my character. Sure the game is set in a post-apocalyptic virus state but it’s still New York City. Someone would say something about race at some point. They wrote the story as if all people are exactly the same. For the most part, that’s what happens in games with character creators. And it’s the least effective means of storytelling a majority of the time.
Some companies do put in the time to at least try to differentiate characters you create in their games. BioWare, specifically with Dragon Age, is a good example of this. The ability to choose things like origin, species (which is different from race in reality), and sexual preference all help to differentiate the gameplay experience of each player and try to tailor an experience relevant to their avatar. And they do a decent job. But part of the reason they get away with it is that they create games with scenarios where human differentiation doesn’t really make sense. In both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you have multiple species of people living among each other. There are prejudices. There are questions about species mixing and sexuality. There are ethical and moral issues that players are forced to make decisions about and then hear the opinions about these choices from various NPCs. But none of these moments take into account current real life human experiences, because they don’t really have to. People today may differentiate based on skin color, but I can guarantee you that if tomorrow five other sentient species of alien races started living on this planet basically all people would stop seeing human race as an issue. You’re not gonna think twice about the Black guy down the block endangering your neighborhood when your next door neighbor is a giant walking lizard that can lift you off the ground and rip you in half. Human racism makes no sense in these scenarios. Hell, it barely makes sense in current real life scenarios. The games still have racism, but it’s never between members of the same species.
That’s how BioWare chose to deal with the problem of balancing out character creators and narrative. It works, but not every game has aliens and sentient non-human races. That trick won’t work in Far Cry 5. That game will most likely just suffer from bland character experiences and rely heavily on the enemies being so interesting that you ignore the fact that your own character is having a pretty much vanilla experience. What’s sad though is that people are happily championing the spread of character creators in games. All these minority groups are happily accepting White male characters with coats of paint rather than demanding games with plots written for their group. For me that’s a problem, not only because I do want to see more actual games starring Black protagonists but also because I play games for the story. And I don’t like bland plots that aren’t personal. In a PVP scenario I love creating my own character. In a game that pretty much has no real story like Dark Souls, character creators are fine because that’s pretty much all gameplay anyway. But when a company is trying to sell me a plot as the main selling point of the game, I expect a well written, personal, and realistic story. That story doesn’t have to be about someone I personally identify with, but it needs to be good. But there’s the rub. Most people today don’t seem to have my open minded tolerance for games that aren’t made for them specifically. They would prefer superficial experiences where they can take screenshots of their avatar looking the way they want so they can post them on Twitter rather than experiencing an Oscar worthy narrative. For me that’s a problem.
The issue of diversity in video games is definitely an important one. But I would never agree that it’s so important that general quality of single player campaigns should go down as a result of trying to fix that issue. Instead I think this should be seen as an opportunity for developers of all sizes to make more games with more variation between them. Rather than try to make a game for everyone that no one will love. Make everyone their own game and everyone should be happy with their one game (a year). Not every game needs to be for everyone and not every group needs to be represented in every game. Instead when groups are represented in games it should be done to the highest possible quality and realism. That’s why for me the modern proliferation of character creators in games isn’t a good thing. I’ll take one well written game starring a Black guy over five empty games where I can pretend the character is a Black guy any day. Thoughts?
If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I am no fan of E3. But really that’s a half truth. I’m actually a huge fan of E3 as an idea. I just genuinely hate the modern E3 model. I grew up in the 90s. The first E3 was in 1995. America Online, which I would consider the start of the commonly used internet we have today, started in 1991. I remember a time before the internet. I remember a life before we had it and then after. I remember the shitty dial up connection and the scratchy noises. This is important to this discussion because there was a time when E3 existed, but it wasn’t the over hyped, social media/YouTube driven fanboy party it is today. For me E3 is outdated, but sadly it’s only outdated because of the way E3 is now handled. It’s much different from the way it was in what I consider the golden age of E3.
When I was a kid there were no gamers like me today who genuinely don’t care for E3. That was unheard of. The reason was because it truly was a necessary thing. It was a time when all gaming news was distributed to normal gamers who didn’t work in the industry, via either print media or word of mouth. There were no Reddit leaks. There were no YouTube trailers. Twitch streamers weren’t getting their asses kissed by publishers for a mention. There were no developers tweeting out tidbits about their games. IGN wasn’t a big thing yet that you just automatically went to. I don’t even know what actually happened at E3 back in those days. All I ever knew about E3 was what I read about in the magazines like Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I wasn’t a special case. That was everybody.
E3 was a moment during the year where you literally got gaming news for the year. And when I say news I mean “new”. You didn’t know about it before E3 unless you had some unheard of connections or worked in the industry. There was never a time where someone would say “I knew about that way before E3”. Because you couldn’t. It wasn’t really possible for normal people. Especially for minors. That’s the E3 I grew up with and that’s why I don’t like E3 today.
My three biggest issues with modern E3 are it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of money, and the bulk of the content shown is no longer news. If anything it should be called “olds”.
E3 is a waste of time in a world where the internet is as big, powerful, and widely used as it is today. In a time where people couldn’t quickly pull up live streams, videos, and articles on their phones while riding the bus to work/school, it made perfect sense to put on a huge event once a year to distribute a year’s worth of gaming news. That was the most affordable and efficient way to get the word out to the largest number of people. But today that’s not at all the case. EA can tweet out a video of a trailer with gameplay footage, a release date, and the name of the development studio and there’s a good chance more people will see it or a reference to it than actually watched the EA presentation live. That’s just the nature of social media. And if they had that tweet sent out by the right account the reach could be way more effective than any official E3 account.
The official E3 Twitter account has 1.87M followers. The official EA Twitter account has 4.91M followers. The official Justin Bieber Twitter account has 96.4M followers. He has publicly stated that he’s a Call of Duty: Black Ops fan among other games. If the name of the game is hype, reach, and ultimately sales, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense just to get someone like Justin Bieber to help promote or even just tweet about a game than take the time to set up a huge, inefficient press conference that most people won’t even get to see live because of time zone differences and region locked content? I’m not personally saying I’ll be following Justin Bieber anytime soon, but clearly E3 isn’t the sensible way to try to promote games in 2017. There’s just no need for it when you have the internets.
E3 is a huge waste of money. Most trade shows not open to the public are. I may not have been to E3 but I have been to and worked at a number of trade shows such as just recently Computex 2017 in Taipei. These events are sinks for companies. They waste time, money, labor, energy, and basically every other resource a company has for a very limited number of overall sales because of it. Really the same amount of attention for any company could be obtained by sending out some PR samples to the right members of the press and/or fake press like YouTubers for a fraction of the cost. These shows really only benefit the press because they get extra traffic and excuses to travel and party while other people are doing actual work hosting those tradeshows. The consumers and the companies get very little out of it in the grand scheme of things. They’re done more for tradition than anything else. They’re also admittedly fun at certain times. But that’s not enough of a reason to spend millions of dollars collectively to have them.
One of the biggest problems right now in game development is inflated budgets. The cost to actually make a game is often a drop in the bucket compared to what publishers are now spending to promote them. E3 is a part of that. Extravagant stage shows with paid influencers and preposterous props all cost lots of money. Don’t think for a second that those costs don’t ultimately come out of your wallet as a consumer. The increasing use of and increased pricing of paid DLC and season passes is all done as a way to pay for this useless marketing that isn’t even necessary most of the time. Especially when we’re talking about games that don’t even really need any serious marketing.
When it comes to marketing there are only four types of games: new IPs, long standing guaranteed successful IPs, indies, and bad games. New IPs require a lot of marketing because there are so many games coming out all the time now that the only way for a new IP to make a profit is to stand out from the rest of the crowd. In that situation, ballooned marketing budgets may ultimately suck for everyone but they’re necessary.
Long standing guaranteed successful IPs don’t need any serious marketing. There are very few new customers when it comes to old IPs. 10+ year old franchises do not rely on new markets to turn a profit. They rely on repeat business and everyone knows that. The people who bought Madden, COD, and FIFA last year will buy Madden, COD, and FIFA this year. The people who bought God of War I, II, III, Ascension, Ghost of Sparta, and Chains of Olympus will buy Dad of War IV. That’s just the way things work. I am not at all excited about this new GOW and I was genuinely unhappy about the announcement when they made it last year. But you can be damn sure that I’ll end up buying it because I’ve been playing them since 2005. No one just tosses away a plot they’ve been actively following for 12 years. People just aren’t like that. I’d be willing to bet a larger percentage of married couples will get divorced this year than people who bought COD last year won’t buy it this year. That may be dark, but tell me it’s not true. These sorts of franchises have guaranteed profits. That’s why Ubisoft keeps making Assassin’s Creed games. Because we’re stupid and keep buying them. Because we’ve been buying them since 2007. We can’t help ourselves. And we always say we’re gonna quit every year. Yet when the next title roles around we’ll ultimately end up buying it. Maybe not on release day, but come Black Friday we all end up running back to bad habits. Thus is the nature of gamers. So there’s no reason for Sony Santa Monica Studios to pay to put up a giant God of War IV sign in the middle of LA. That’s a waste of money.
Indies need marketing. I’ve reviewed tons of indie games and I’ve spoken to countless indie developers. The number one problem most of them face is attention. Getting people to learn about their game is the hardest part of the process for most of them. It’s the reason they’re much more willing to give out review copies. It’s the reason they sell their games for cents on the dollar compared to AAA titles. They would charge $60 if they could. Just look at No Man’s Sky. They had that Sony marketing so they charged full price. And people paid it. Marketing is everything when nobody’s heard of you. That’s why it makes perfect sense for XBOX to get behind titles like Cuphead and push them heavily. Otherwise even if people would probably want to try it, they most likely wouldn’t ever hear about to make the decision to try it. Indies and new IPs are the only games that genuinely should be shown at E3 for sensible business reasons.
Finally we have bad games. The funny thing about bad games is that they can still make tons of money. I won’t cite any specific ones so as not to offend, but I’m sure we can all think of at least one game in the last five years that we’ve purchased that was objectively bad and a complete waste of our hard earned money. Some of them have already been mentioned in this post. These are an example of why companies throw so much into marketing. With the right packaging and hype, even a pile of crap can look like gold. But that’s the worst way to make and sell games. Publishers and developers should just work on making high quality games with less releases than throwing away millions into selling turds. The reality is that if marketing was done more realistically, the cost of releasing games overall would shrink considerably without profits, of deserving games, dipping by a noticeable amount.
My biggest peeve about E3 is rightfully the lack of actual news. As I said before, when I was a kid everything shown at E3 was news to me. There were no moments where they were talking about stuff I’d already known about. There weren’t lists of remakes, DLC, and games that had already been shown multiple years past. Everything at E3 really was gaming news. Today many people joke about the fact that E3 is mostly not news. And that’s sad. Only further proving that E3 has become a redundant and obsolete tradition.
I did not watch the conferences this year, nor did I last year. But I always check the highlights later. Just looking at the Kotaku round-up is pretty depressing for me. Without taking the time to do any research about what has already been shown before this E3, let me just list off the games I didn’t already know about or absolutely expect that were shown during this year’s farce of an expo. I’ll only do home consoles and PC because I don’t really track handhelds so it’s mostly news to me at any time. I’ll only be considering titles shown during the presentations that actually got more than just sizzle reel time because there are lots of indies that most of us won’t remember or know about even after they finally get released that will be on the floor at E3. No, I won’t be including remasters or rereleases because why would I? I will not even dignify DLC announcements by as being a legitimate part of E3 reveals.
Another Pokemon Game but for Switch (You can’t truly be surprised when you’ve been demanding something for literally a decade)
Metroid Prime 4
Yoshi Switch (Yay!)
Sorry I didn’t include Devolver Digital’s list, but I can’t seem to find a single semi-reputable source that actually lists off what they showed this year. Instead every gaming journalism firm is just talking about how crazy their presentation was. The honest truth is that I’m still personally trying to find out exactly what they showed without having to actually sit through their presentation or read through a dramatic piece about the art of making E3 presentations. I just want to know about the games, because that’s what E3 is actually supposed to be about.
Of the about 60 notable titles that were shown at E3, give or take what does and doesn’t technically count (Didn’t count Horizon this year as an example), I was only unaware of or not fully expecting announcements for 28 of them. That’s less than 50% of the total games presented. Of those 28, only 15 are new IPs and could actually justify the marketing need for being presented during E3 stage shows. Of those 15 new IPs only 10 aren’t VR trash and should actually be taken seriously. That literally means that this entire farce of an event was done to show me, and I am not nearly as up on my gaming news as many other people, a measly 10 games. That’s not news and it’s certainly not worth throwing an entire trade show over. That could have easily been announced at many of the various other events throughout the year that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft already host on their own. This entire expo is laughable when you look at the numbers realistically. The gamers don’t win. This is all just a pointless hype train which isn’t even that effective by Twitter standards.
I commend Nintendo for doing Nintendo Directs for E3 now. It’s smart, more cost effective, and is another example of Nintendo actively choosing not to play by the status quo of the gaming industry. And I think it’s hilarious that E3 doesn’t even complain about it. They very well could have told Nintendo to screw off when they said they weren’t doing a real stage show the first time a few years back. They could have stood their ground and held another presentation during the same time frame. Instead they play the video on the big screen for Nintendo and probably don’t even charge them to do it.
I like the idea of E3. I believe that it’s important for there to be a special time of year where gamers can come together and celebrate gaming by looking forward to the next year of great adventures to be had. But modern E3 is not that. This tradeshow is a big waste of time and money. It gives very little actual news and has gotten bogged down with titles that were announced years prior, DLC announcements, and remakes. Or games that won’t even be out before the next E3. As long as this trend continues, I will continue to not waste my time watching E3.