Mad Mack: 2012 Is The Year Gaming Changed Forever – Here’s 7 Reasons Why
The Mayans may have predicted the end of the world in 2012 – yet the sum total impact of that prediction might well be a terrible movie starring John Cusack. However, 2012 is certainly going to be remembered for at least one thing: it is the year that gaming changed. Forever.
This year has seen some real high water marks in terms of gaming. Mass Effect 3 was (by and large) a seminal achievement in storytelling within games; say what you want about multiplayer games, but Battlefield 3 is continuing to set the bar in terms of online entertainment (setting the bar being the vessel EA uses to dry-fuck the wallets of the gaming public), and Nintendo are doing…things with the Wii U.
But in years to come, 2012 will be seen as the year that gaming was fundamentally and irrevocably changed, not just in terms of how we play, but also how we pay. Some (a small amount) will be considered changes for the better, but the majority will be seen as changes for the worse.
First, the good…
Gamers get pissed. Manufacturers Listen.
Video game companies can often seem like huge faceless conglomerates putting out a product for the fans to consume without much regard to its quality, viewing gamers as fattened cows to be milked for all they are worth. This is compounded by the intimate nature of video game story telling: we actually invest a huge amount of time and emotional energy into the characters we control or interact with. You had to be made of stone not to be saddened when Fenix was killed by Kerrigan in Starcraft, or outraged when Lance Vance betrayed poor Tommy Vercetti in GTA Vice City. It is a level of intimacy with the characters that you only otherwise find in well-written novels and, as a result, when you are made to feel like games producers are just doing it for money, rather than the love of the characters, it is a deeper betrayal than if they had just made a terrible sequel to your favourite movie.
So when Bioware made the best video game trilogy in the history of trilogies, and then fucked it up right at the last gasp, we were all justifiably upset. Where was our ‘every decision matters’, Bioware? Where was the final, climactic fight with the Reapers? How could Mass Effect 2 end so brilliantly and innovatively, only for Mass Effect 3 to end through what was essentially a barely interactive cut scene? And who the fuck is the Star Child (or whatever they are calling him) anyway?
Well, Bioware listened to fan complaints and released an extended cut of the endings. While they were still not amazing, they are certainly better than what was previously offered, and signify the first time that the collective voices of the gaming public, united against a common enemy, were listened to by the faceless corporations who were forced to act.
Of course, a cynic in the audience could point out that this was probably all part of the plan to keep gamers talking about Mass Effect in the months between DLC. They could also point out that being pleased about someone taking a shit sandwich off your dinner plate is utterly meaningless when the main problem is that there was a shit sandwich there in the first place.
They may even point out that the decision to change the endings was not made out of altruism or a desire to be the good guys – but because the execs at EA and Bioware sat down and did a cost/benefit analysis assessing the likely impact on future revenues from DLC and new Mass Effect (or other new Bioware) games, if they did or did not remake the ending. The only reason the ending was remade? Because their calculations showed that the uplift in DLC sales it will generate will more than exceed the cost of producing it.
If you wanted to be a cynic that is.
Next Generation Consoles on the Horizon (and a current gen console gets paraded 7 years late)
So, the next generation consoles have been spotted on the horizon. Tentative release dates put launch around about late 2013, just in time for Christmas. Obviously the next console generation will come with a whole host of graphical and gameplay improvements. Of course, the increased processing power will in no way drive up production costs, reducing the number of game developers even further and concentrating even more money into the hands of the innovation-stunted big companies. Like EA. Shitcunts.
The other news is that Nintendo are finally going to release a console for this generation to go toe-to-toe with the Xbox360 and PS3 in arenas other than ‘cute’, ‘for old people’ and ‘boring’. I congratulate Nintendo for taking the time to really make sure the technology was mature enough to consider investing in. Sure, the Wii U might be 7 years late, but I think we can all agree that it will be worth the wait. After all, look what early adopters get in the console market – red rings of death and sex-toy shaped movement peripherals. No, Nintendo has the right idea: wait for the tech to mature, then launch.
I am also glad that my strategy of not buying top games on the Xbox so that they will get released 8 or 9 months later on a new Nintendo console, is starting to pay off.
Indie Devs Kicking Up a Storm
Indie developers have been producing even more magnificently impressive fare this year, exhibiting levels of innovation that would put the most crass and black-hearted EA exec to shame. I’m not sure that this entirely belongs here, but I thought I needed another positive before I launch into a tirade about how we are living in the End Times.
Oh fuck it – I am not in this business (business? Don’t you get paid in a ‘business’?) to talk about things I like. Now for the bad. When reading the next few points, try to imagine a slightly camp-sounding Belfast resident speaking in a voice that is utterly dripping in sarcasm and pathos, and it will be like I am narrating this to you in person.
Producers Move From Platform to Service-Based Payment Models
What the fuck does that mean?
As succinctly as possible, it means that rather than making a one-off payment for a game, producers are moving to a model where you pay forever. It is basically a subscription service for the games you play. Now you don’t just have to buy the disc, but you also have to pay an annual fee (or at least a one-off upfront fee) in order to access all of the content. How lucky for you.
Oh, bear in mind that I am not talking about your standard subscription games – such as MMOs and the like – but am rather referring to games or game formats that did not traditionally use that business model. Games like Modern Warfare and their Elite Subscription, Battlefield with its Premium Membership, Darksiders 2 with its subscription and most likely Halo 4 when it comes out. These are games where you used to just pay for them once and you were good (unless you wanted some DLC). The problem isn’t even content. It’s the service that is offered. Battlefield 3 is a great example: they didn’t make the Premium Service better than the standard non-Premium service, they made the standard service worse. Essentially they went from ‘standard service that works and is free/included in the price of the game since this is a fucking multiplayer only game regardless of that shitty short single player campaign’, to ‘here is your multiplayer game but if you want to enjoy it you need to pay us more money because the formerly-free service has been made so bad as to be almost not worth the effort. Oh and while you are at it, my dick isn’t going to suck itself’.
I wish it had been EA that ‘pioneered’ this approach to gaming, because it would just be too good, but alas the world is not that perfect. No, this new payment model was created by Activision for Modern Warfare 3. The industry was taken completely by surprise – not surprise that they would so brazenly try to rip off customers, but surprise that it worked! They have made millions off the back of their Elite Subscription, and the rest is history. Thanks Activision. You have ruined everything.
Social Media Comes to a Console Near You
Jesus Christ Nintendo. Are you high? Apparently the Wii U, aside from being nearly a decade too late to the party, is also going to have a sort of social media component where lots of strangers and their ‘Miis’ hang out and can chat, and send each other drawings they made using the touchpad. Apparently the functionality is always on – you can’t turn that shit off – and will involve pop-ups that appear while you are in-game. Isn’t that what we have always wanted? To have random people bothering us while we are trying to play video games? It sounds fucking terrible. Do you know what I would be doing if I wasn’t playing games?
I shit you not. The only human contact I want when I am playing computer games is when I am in an Xbox party with one or two CAREFULLY chosen friends of mine (who are also friends IRL), and only because I might need one of them to drop me a med-kit or pick me up when I am killed.
So perhaps Nintendo developers actually do suffer from brain damage and are doing this for their new console regardless of how terrible an idea it is. Will Microsoft or Sony sink so low? Let me ask you another question – is the Pope a Catholic (who has been complicit in shattering the lives of hundreds of people all over the world, who have been the victims of sexual abuse)?
Now, when you sign up for Netflix the default registration page asks you to use your Facebook log-in to set up the account. You have to click on a small link at the bottom that states ‘I don’t have a Facebook account’ if you want to de-couple the two accounts. They want to link the accounts because they are after that oh-so-precious user meta data. They want to link your movie preferences to your social media setting so they can more accurately target you with advertising for things you are more likely to want. It is only a matter of time before Microsoft and Sony get on board with it – they must realise by now that their whole ‘Avatar social environment’ is utter bullshit and no one wants to use it. So instead of just dropping it, they will be sure to try to use some of the larger social networks to get you.
This is all pure speculation, but money is king, and there is a lot of money in social media, especially given that the demographics of social media users and gamers are fairly similar.
The Last Flickers of Originality in Big Production Houses Are Dying
A few years ago, Dead Space was launched, and it was one of the few original IPs at the time. We also had Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed and a few others, while Halo was looking like it was being wound down with the release of Halo 3 where we got to ‘Finish the Fight’.
Now, all of these IPs are entering their third or fourth games, and are showing no sign of stopping, while Halo is moving onto its sixth title later this year (not including the Anniversary edition of Halo: CE). There is a new COD: Black Ops game coming out, only this one is set in the near future but is totally not Modern Warfare – probably because they couldn’t really stretch the Russians into invading another country having just fought a war in the entire North-Western hemisphere. In fact, they just straight up had no one left to invade. They could attack the Chinese I suppose, but unless there is an opportunity to get lots of Americans flying in on bald eagles and shouting ‘hoo-RAH’ there is not much point to a gun-wank fantasy game now is there? Also, I imagine that the Chinese tolerance for any of Russia’s bullshit would be considerably less than that of the US, and they would nuke the fuck out of the Russians if so much as a paper plane crossed the border. Either way, it does not make for a particularly engaging game for the core audience.
Anyway, my point is that with production costs already exceeding the GDP of several small countries, there is just no room for risk. Modern Warfare sells, but will a game about parkour played in the first person where you are a woman? Fuck no. Therefore, game companies will invest in the sure thing. Say goodbye to innovation; say hello to more of the same.
Just fucking look at Dead Space 3. Just look at it. Dead Space was shit-your-pants scary. The sequel was too, in parts. But someone in a focus group somewhere said ‘This shit is too scary, we can sell more units if we make it an action-shooter’, and boom. That was the end of Dead Space as a horror franchise. There is a lot more of that to come.
You know what I like about single player games? I get to play them on my own. If I am on a plane and have a few hours to kill, I can boot up a single-player game and just go nuts. Unless of course that game is Diablo III, and I have to be connected to the internet to play it. But why, Blizzard? Why? When your servers could not handle the volume of people trying to play on Day 1, or when they crashed again a few weeks later, deleting characters and valuable items, why did you do it?
There are two reasons. Anti-piracy and money (that is, money not to do with piracy-associated losses).
First, the piracy. I mentioned in my last article that Crysis 2 was the most pirated game of 2011, with some four million copies downloaded illegally. It was correctly pointed out that 4 million downloads does not mean a loss of 4 million sales, as some may be duplicates, and many will be done by people who would never have paid for it anyway. However, there is still a sizable percentage of those downloads that represents a lost sale. Well, do you know how many pirated copies of Diablo III have been downloaded and played? OK, so neither do I, but I would hazard that it is somewhere in the region between ‘fuck’ and ‘all’. Like it or not, that alone is enough for Blizzard to justify the Always-Online DRM. OK, they can’t justify it to the majority of the game-playing public, but they can justify it to their shareholders, and at the end of the day it’s the shareholders that are most important.
Second, it’s the money. Real money. In the auction house. You see, Diablo III has been so kind as to let players sell rare items they find for real money. Real money. Of the kind that you can use to pay for real things like noodles and sweet mother booze, and not imaginary swords that have higher numbers than the one you are using. So one of the reasons for the Always-On is so Blizzard can keep a much closer eye on every character and Battle.net account, which should (supposedly) protect players from fraud or theft. Now, given that there are reports already surfacing of players having their items or accounts stolen, which incidentally is exactly the same as physically stealing something in the real world due to the monetary value of the items, virtual or not, the Always-On is not really doing its job here. But hey, maybe it makes the jobs of the thieves that much harder and without it theft would be a lot more rampant. Yeah. Maybe.
Either way, it represents the future of single-player gaming. Get used to it, because it will not be going anywhere. Fucking cheers Blizzard.
So there it is. 2012. It’s all downhill from here thanks to Blizzard, Activision, Nintendo and EA (always EA). Nice one guys.
You can follow Dave on his new Twitter – @Mad_Mack_fmv