A note: I was in the middle of writing this before the Xbox One DRM reversals came down. That being said, I still feel that what's being talked about here is relevant.
Somehow the fact that I ended up talking about the AAA mentality yesterday kind of stuck with me. I'd been meaning to touch upon this for a while, since I first read these conversations last week, but between what happened at E3 and the reactions to it, I didn't really find the time. Well, now there's no time like the present, so let's get down to brass tacks.
This started with Cliffy B making some comments in support of Microsoft's decisions with DRM and anti-used games. Basically what he tweeted was: "You cannot have game and marketing budgets this high while also having
used and rental games existing. The numbers do NOT work people." Again, there's that implication that used gaming and rentals are some massively undermining force in the industry that is going to lead to the gaming apocalypse.
To that end, Jim Sterling couldn't help but respond. To make a long story short, this is the most succinct idea of what he's writing:
"It's not our [the gamers] fault games have gotten so expensive, and I resent the
implication that it is. The fact this industry seems utterly fucking
incapable of taking some damn responsibility for itself continues to
disgust me, and I refuse to shoulder the blame for companies that cannot
demonstrate one iota of self-reflection. If something you're doing is
not working, change what you're doing! Stop trying to bend and break the
world around you to try and manufacture an environment where your
failed tactics could achieve some perverse form of success."
Jim makes some very valid, if extremely vitriolic points. Blaming the gaming public for wanting to save money in the face of growing costs, while at the same time ignoring that the budgets for some games have gone completely out of control isn't doing anyone any favours. Indie games continue to prove the point that budget isn't everything, games like Dark Souls do the same. However, this isn't the end of the conversation either.
David Jaffe, of God of War fame (among other things) responded to Jim's response. He admits that Jim raises valid points, but also argues that in a lot of cases gaming journalists are just as bad as the industry itself in terms of hyping up nothing but the graphics and ignoring everything else. He writes,
"it's disingenuous for Jim to act as if the publishers are the only ones
pushing visuals over gameplay/interactivity. The press eats that shit up
with a spoon and then asks for more, each and every time. And at the
SAME time so many of the gaming press seems unable to write about and
talk about interactivity in any way more sophisticated than simply
listing out feature lists on the back of the box."
So, in this mess you have us, the developers, the industry, the journalists, and maybe even a few other parties. So who is right in this and who is wrong? Well, I'm not going to cop out and say that they're all right and all wrong, because that vague bullshit is something that anyone could say without having to weigh in themselves. What I will say is that this kind of situation may have, sadly, been inevitable just due to the unique medium that everyone is talking about here.
It comes down to a simple adage: first impressions are everything.
As sad as it is to say, when we first are exposed to games that are upcoming, it is often in the form of screenshots or video. Regardless of the way the plot may progress, or the innovations that might be brought to the table, there's really no arguments to be made against the thought that coming down the pipe with stunning visuals pretty much guarantees you're going to be talked about by both the gamers are the press.
I mean, like as Killzone 3. Sure, it was a fake, but when people thought it was real, they were flipping their lids over it. Why do people still cream their pants over the new Final Fantasy games? Because they look amazing, even if they rarely are amazing.
Part of the problem is that as the technology has advanced, it's become harder to impress with certain kinds of visuals. Namely, near photo-realistic stuff that costs a ton to produce, but just sort of gets a "meh" from audiences. I mean, I don't know about you, but I'm a lot more excited for a game like Transistor that has amazing, really eye-catching visual style, rather than "photo realistic brown brown gritty shooter number 4829".
Perhaps I'm off the mark with all of this, but there are still people out there that demand to be wowed with every new game they see, even if that means that hugely unnecessary amounts of money have to be spent for it to be so. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it's not too often worth a thousand dollars, if you get my drift.