Monday, 22 August 2011

Arrogance and the Industry Part One - The Big Good-Bye that Almost Was

I’ve given it some thought, and although I’d say that overall the industry is in a fairly good shape, it could always stand to be better. Sometimes it’s really not the fault of any one person, company or entity; the markets can be fickle after all. However, there have been some dubious trends and decisions that I believe have earned some well placed ire.

Let me make two things absolutely clear: first of all is the fact that this series by its very nature as a bunch of opinion pieces is something that not everyone is going to agree with. Some of the people or events that I’m going to point out over the coming weeks might make some of you do a double-take and say “But X was a good thing, why hate on X?” Well, maybe the reasons I hate on X are the same ones you consider to be the good qualities about it. But to me, certain decisions have smacked of arrogance, and while some people are already facing what I would view as repercussions for these decisions, they still bare pointing out again.

Secondly, I want to make it clear that when I point out these beefs, I do so not out of the same arrogance I so detest. I am a lot of things, but I’d rather not be a hypocrite when I can avoid it. I believe that by talking about some of what’s been going and indeed has gone wrong that there’s less chance of any future disaster taking place. I’m not one of those people going around waving the signs saying the apocalypse is nigh, because it’s seriously not. But as the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And there was a point in time that the doomsayers were almost correct, and I’d give anything to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

The year was 1983, two years before I was even born. This means I can't remember the events of that year, which might be for the best. It is the year that video gaming nearly died a sad and ignominious death after all.

You can say what you want about shovelware shit and cheap attempts to cash in these days: hell, we all roll our eyes whenever the next shoddily made movie tie-in game hits the shelves, knowing that some poor sap is going to buy it because of their love for the base material, or perhaps just not knowing any better. But At the turn of the decade in the 80’s there were no less than 10 consoles, some put out by the same company and competing directly against each other like the Atari 2600 and 5200 and the ColecoVision Coleco Gemini. The market was also flooded with people that make those responsible for movie tie-in games look like Gunpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto. You had such instant classics as Chase the Chuck Wagon: a game that was designed by Purina (yes, the dog food company) and other games created by companies that have about as much business being in the game industry as Hugh Hefner has in a monogamous relationship.

Yet, unbelievably, these aren’t even the worst examples of games during the time. I mentioned shovelware earlier, and while those games clearly are shovelware, the crap that doomed the industry was actually supposed to be good. For example, Pac-Man was set to bring the addictive and hugely popular arcade game to home consoles. The appeal was monumental. But while people knew that a home system couldn’t really compete with the arcade graphics (stop laughing out there, it was a different age) they still probably weren’t expecting something like this.  And the truly sad thing is that even with the extremely limited hardware and software, that they could have done better. The game was rushed to in order to meet the unrealistic 81 Christmas deadline, and every aspect of it suffered for it. It wouldn’t be the last title that a rushed and botched dev cycle would make a laughing stock of, either…

In what would turn into an oddly prophetic call forward to how monumentally shitty these games have the potential to be, the game that a lot of people cite as nearly killing the industry was none other than a movie tie-in game. Specifically, the game for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. While many critics said that the game was piss poor in every aspect, what wasn’t public knowledge is that in an effort to make the 82 Christmas season (sensing a trend here…) the game was given a mere six week development cycle from the time that the rights were acquired. To put that into perspective some individual levels of games probably be more fraking dev time than this entire game, which was supposed to be a blockbuster title, did for it’s entire short and woe-begotten life.

The results were, in hindsight, utterly predictable. After being soured on Pac-Man the previous holiday season, people weren’t rushing to buy this new holiday hit, and the reception was stifled further by the negative reviews that the title garnered. Atari hemorrhaged money and lost a position of faith that it had once enjoyed. As the urban legend goes it had to bury the unsold copies of the game just to avoid further embarrassment. Whether they did or not remains to be seen, but they nearly ended up presiding  over the burial of an entire industry that that had a fair share in poisoning.

This was (and hopefully will remain) the lowest point in the history of games. People saying ‘me too’ when they saw something that they thought was an easy way to get money through exploiting the idea that “hey, if we make a game for it, people will buy it regardless of how crappy or botched it turns out!” The price that was paid for this arrogance was nearly the highest of all, the industry was nearly crippled, sales bottoming out in less than a year between the horrendous releases of Pac-Man and E.T.

None of the other examples I’m going to throw out this week are going to be this bad, but it’s important to remember that even without invoking the slippery slope that if bad decisions go unchecked - or even worse are actively rewarded - then it will only be a matter of time before we might face another crisis. That’s precisely why it’s up to everyone who can point out the mistakes to do so. I’d rather exercise tough love now than mourn the second great crash 10 or 15 years down the line.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.