A Big Whiny Bitchfest

This was a week where I wasted countless (or, more accurately, around a dozen) hours reading a lot of gaming-related forums – some oriented around the fans, some targeted to the industry, and some complete road-crash material.

It all started with a desire to clear up some old items in my RSS reader, some stale links. One pointed me in the direction of a forum meltdown triggered by (what the forum dwellers thought was) the “lack of research” (they thought was) evident in Retro Gamer‘s Metal Slug entry in their “Definitive” series. Now, I’ve encountered – or observed – author “Reverend” Stu Campbell’s work on other forums, and read some of his earlier work (all the way from his ST-era stuff to his superlative – though petulantly antagonistic – Space Giraffe review), so I’d know pretty much what to expect… he’s strongly opinionated, with the conviction to stand by his beliefs. I also used to read Retro Gamer pretty regularly, and found that its English roots were very evident, being constantly reminded of the glory days of Zzap!64 in tone and style.

However, there’s a bunch of people out there who aren’t familiar with the style of Retro Gamer… or Stu. And one of them created a monstrous list of why his article was lacking. Stu responded in his inimitable, aggressively uppity manner… and the following forty pages were, at times, really painful, combining the worst of fanboyisms and internet arguments. And yet I could not look away; it was true car-crash reading, branching into other forums and accompanied by utterly inane “expert” stupidity, supplemented by dubious “facts” being interpreted by those lacking the context and understanding to do so with any integrity. A real downer for the human race, there.

So I went looking for something a little more considered, a little more understanding. A little more highbrow. I thought I’d found it with a story quoting Dave Jones at Gamasutra, where he revealed that Crackdown only just broke even – and lamented the fact that, despite 1.5 million sales, there were about another 1 million secondhand sales. Now, Gamasutra is usually pretty solid in terms of the quality of user comments, but a brief perusal of IndustryGamers and Kotaku didn’t really lift my flagging spirits much.

Now, I don’t really expect anything different; most of these commenters are going to be in their late teens or early twenties, and experience has told me that their judgement is likely to be a little… ummm… ill considered. One-sided, if you will. And that’s OK: that’s usually just a lack of world experience. But I find it pretty ironic that a group of people who clearly don’t give a shit about the integrity of the written word are so eager to take everything so literally; puzzling logic leaps and assumptions abound. And the saddest thing is that the broad opinion seems to be that clearly RealTime Worlds were charging too much for Crackdown, or that their management and spending is clearly reckless. After all, 1.5 million sales should be plenty to keep the company rolling in coin, shouldn’t it?

Ummm… do the math. With current-gen games costing in the region of ten million dollars (Ghostbusters cost $12-15 million), and the expectation of sixty million dollar budgets for AAA titles in the next generation, isn’t it about time we started paying something a little more realistic for games? Complaining that Xbox Live’s Games On Demand service is pricing titles above what you can pay at retail isn’t really the point (though I find the murmurs of per-region pricing to be totally reprehensible), especially when – at almost the same time – Microsoft’s Indie Games initiative is actually making it harder for indies to make any money off the service (by reducing the maximum amount that can be charged for titles). The pressures of selling games at retail have generated a completely unrealistic expectation of cost in the gaming community, and no-one seems to be bothering to consider whether their actions are actually contributing towards a sustainable economy. After all, retail prices are driven by shelf-space and launch windows, with no opportunity for long-tail payoffs, and platforms like the iPhone are also creating downward pressure. After all, if the casual player gets the same game-time out of a $2 iPhone game as a $100 console title, where do you reckon their money is going to start going?

And that leaves us in a position where the only people left to buy The Big Games will be the hardcore, the same people who have been gaming all along. But costs are going up, and they want to pay less for more. So the pressure will be on to make every console title a guaranteed hit.

Do you see where this is going?

Ugh – I’m going to get depressed again.

As for gaming this week: T2K. The location of the final Item in Katamari Damacy (thanks to the fabulous Katamari on the Web forum). And a dozy drizzly hungover session with the original Halo, which – despite the obvious aging of its chunky models – still manages to feels absolutely delightful and perfectly weighted. And more Space Invaders Infinity Gene, accompanied by PomPom‘s Poppi on the iPhone… perfect ad-break-sized portable gaming.

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