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.
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.