1. Microtransactions and The Exponential Growth of Unfettered Greed
Let’s begin with the most obvious of the bunch – microtransactions. The natural and sinister progression from the emergent days of DLC. In fact, the idea of implementing microtransactions into a game has become a fine art. Something seriously considered per game in order to squeeze as much juice from the money lemon as possible. Algorithms are set to make free options particularly stingy as publishers are counting on your lack of patience. They sit and wait for your payday, so you can spend a couple of dollars because “oh sod it, I’ll just do it this once”.
That said, this “fine art” has been clung onto tightly by those most desperate to please investors. So many things have been flushed down the drain in pursuit of profits. Things like creative originality, actual complete games and basic human morality be damned. This infinitely insatiable greed is what is making the games industry the only one of its kind right now. There is no other industry that charges full price for a product, only to later ask for more in return for… cosmetics or pay to win (cheating)?! Not just ask for more, but psychologically manipulate to ensure there is more. Jim Sterling recently made a hard-hitting video about ex-gambling addicts on the road to recovery, expecting to find solace in videogames. Instead, their sincere attempts at recovery were not on a good track once games like Call of Duty and Fortnite got involved.
Particularly insidious is the fact that the likes of EA’s Andrew Wilson and his ilk are perfectly aware of these people. They’re aware of children unwittingly bankrupting their parents so as not to get bullied by fellow Fortnite fans, calling them “default”. There are people in the industry counting on these people to continue making them money, their psychological integrity or wellbeing be damned. A damning admission of this fact can be found in spades with Let’s Go Whaling. A lecture from Torulf Jernstrom, CEO of PocketGamerbiz about how to get “whales” to spend. Looking at mobile gaming, he refers to “super whales, who perhaps have no life” and implores his viewers to “not make their games too skill based”. All in the name of – you guessed it – money. Worryingly, the latest evolution of the microtransaction beast comes in the form of GTA V’s Diamond Casino. Every bit a casino, except for the fact that it’s virtual and open to kids (let’s face it, we all found ways to play GTA when we were underage).
This is damaging to people.
2. Extreme SJW Culture
Now is the age of offense and victimhood. Everyone, everywhere it seems, has to be on a crusade of some kind. You may have thought it crazy to suggest SJW culture would find a source of outrage fuel in videogames of all things but here we are. We have Overwatch fans complaining that the newest addition to the hero roster wasn’t a black female. Tweets like “another white male, c’mon” are becoming par for the course as virtual bricks ungraciously thrown in Blizzard’s direction. A small example of developer reaction to this kind of behaviour would be Tracer’s banned ass-centric victory pose. For those on the other side of the virtue signalling typhoon, it eventually gets tiring screaming “it’s just a videogame, it’s not harming anyone”. Those who get tired eventually play another game, where the echo chamber community within is a little less uppity.
Tracer’s butt being a fine example – SJW demands can eventually lead to pandering in game design. The ironic thing is that, when developer pandering informs game design, a larger and more loyal fanbase gets mad. Those are the guys you want to keep on your team. Not the complainers looking for desperate blog fuel. In the end, a portion of your customer base and revenue continues to shrink. Heck, let’s just explain “get woke, go broke” in a single paragraph… A recent example of dev pandering was seen in Mortal Kombat 11 (a franchise so massive that it thankfully did not go broke).
NetherRealm Studio came out and discussed publicly that it was time to stop sexualising the women of their games. They stated a “more mature” approach was needed. Clearly this was a change made after 25 years of Mortal Kombat, in anticipation of the hot headed complainants of today. The contradiction here is that the men of MK11 remain scantily clad, while every one of the female characters is covered from head to toe. The contrast is almost laughable. On top of this, all female characters were made to be “more realistic”, when the manifestation of that was to design them to be, well, not feminine. Androgyny became the design choice for the women of MK11, flushing two and half decades of beloved character design down the toilet to appease potential complainants and disappoint loyal fans.
Finally – a point to make in light of all this. If you’ve been playing games long enough, cast your mind back to the first ever trailer for Bioshock. It featured a first-person view of a man wielding a wrench. He aggressively pursues a little girl, wrench in hand, violence being the clear goal. Further, the trailer made it fairly clear this would be the player character. Not a shred of controversy emerged as a result of that video. Only gossip and hype for an incredibly original looking game that nobody knew anything about.
Am I to believe there was no outrage then as we were living in atrociously uncivilised times and today’s angst ridden world is… progression? Try releasing a trailer like that nowadays and see how it goes down. The water in your glass will ripple under the distant enraged SJW hoards, furiously battering their keyboards. The thing is, that trailer came out just thirteen years ago. In that small amount of time, the SJW movement has reached fever pitch and surely, is not sustainable.
This is damaging to artistic expression and creative freedom.
3. A Growing Void Between Developer and Community
Sadly, a symptom of the first point of today’s list, is a growing divide between developer and gamer. As the industry grows ever more distant from the artistic space, it prefers to cling onto greed. Profitability in familiarity – dare not to sell something new.
The pursuit of exponential profit, year on year, has diverted attentions away from their customers and towards… statistics. Homemade algorithms that create a profitable in-game economy. At the risk of repeating previous points, I’ll cut to the chase. This has created a PR mess, especially so for triple A, as big-time devs have forgotten how to speak to concerned consumers like actual human beings.
The high flying life of a millionaire has taken them away from the humble bedroom based team effort and into the mile high club. Their worldview has shifted dramatically, even if they don’t realise it themselves. It just so happens, if those people are in charge, policies and rulesets are passed down to their employees dealing with the angry masses. A perfect example of this breakdown in communication can be found in Battlefront II. It can also be found in one of the most downvoted comments in Reddit history in relation to the same. An EA exec tells us grinding an unreasonable amount for an unreasonable reward should give us a “sense of pride and accomplishment”.
Elsewhere, EA insults complainants of Battlefield V’s questionable design decisions by having a party with #Everyone’sBattlefield on the wall. A direct bounce-back at the viral #NotMyBattlefield of the time. Worse still – a flagrant unwillingness to accept criticism from those who pay you. Then there’s the unsolved case of Visceral’s cancelled Star Wars title. The only explanation we got there was the typical PR nonsense – “we decided to pivot the design”, whatever the hell that means. In the case of EA, the list goes on…
Another great example comes from gaming’s biggest man in hiding, Sean Murray. The over-excited Jesus of all things lying has offered “advice” to the likes of EA and Anthem. He of all people has suggested that when things go south post-release, to just stay quiet. To suggest this is an admission that, yes indeed – you are making unacceptable products (despite your mountains of gold) and selling them with a straight face. It also confirms the downward spiral of PR ability within the games industry. Many a triple A company quite literally has no clue how to speak to us about our concerns. Or perhaps they do but the blind pursuit of money is threatened by honest talk. Wouldn’t everything be easier if they just made a decent product in the first place? Instead of chasing the focus group stats that so clearly no longer work?
This causes almost irreparable damage to community respect.
4. Venomous Journalism For The Clicks
I understand the clear irony of this one, given who I am and where I am writing. I hope readers here at KeenGamer will agree with me when I say I am proud to write for an outlet that does not thrive on division. Unlike so many sites out there, KeenGamer never writes inflammatory headlines to get a couple of hundred enraged clicks from the Facebook feed.
We all know what I am talking about and it circles back a little to point two of today’s list. The problems we discussed there seems to have also found a home within gaming journalism. After all, combining the slightest platform from which to speak with someone who finds a problem in anything they want – it’s going to make for some fiery headlines. Whether the content of those articles contain any value is of course up to the reader. Where things gets dangerous is when writers have such a focus on their chosen crusade, that they begin to spread misinformation. Not only that, but they also smear the good names of myself and my colleagues here at KeenGamer.
A particular writer at Kotaku is very good at doing this (she will remain unnamed and unlinked). Over the years I have followed her work in an attempt to understand just how her brain works. Occasionally, she writes quality and engaging content. However, every – say – sixth article is an opinion piece containing her agenda. An agenda which is framed as “correct”, and nothing else. A great example was her outrage at Soul Calibur VI for still having scantily clad women with boob wobble physics. Two E3 events ago, she took it upon herself to accost Motohiro Okubo, the game’s Producer. She called it an interview. In it, she states:
“It’s interesting you say you don’t set out to be sexy because Soul Calibur has traditionally had really elaborate breast physics in the game. That doesn’t exist for gameplay of course”.
Poor Motohiro probably has to brace himself for these kinds of interviews every time he comes to the West. You see, third wave feminism, SJW culture – all of it – does not exist in the East. So these things our female journalist is complaining of simply aren’t a problem where that game was developed. She would have understood that if she took a little time to do her research, as any good journalist would. In this case, her chosen crusade came before her work. It is then forced upon Kotaku’s readership and presented as “professional” for the mere fact that it on a highly successful website. This is dangerously swaying the opinions of unwitting readers who perhaps, like her, don’t have all the facts.
This is similar to developer divide with gamers. Like the devs, certain websites have gotten bigger, their loyal writers bolder. The need for continually increasing traffic states combined with this, sadly, generates some truly vacuous fluff.
This is damaging to overall perception of the gaming community.
5. Success Leads to Complacency
There is no sadder ballad than the one of Bethesda. There was a time Bethesda was revered as a development studio that could do no wrong. This was around the arrival of the 7th generation of consoles. Oblivion had just released and pushed the envelope of what open world games could be. In the following years, we got Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim. Each enjoying varying levels of high flying success. Then, Bethesda got lazy. Instead of developing new games, they re-released Skyrim to the point of parody. Then along came Fallout 4. Still a great game, sure. But there is a lot to bear in mind with Fallout 4. It was a game that asked you to build half of it and complex dialogue options were gone. The effort from Bethesda was waning.
Since the release of Fallout 4, Bethesda’s in-house developed titles have been nothing but calamitous flops. You know the one I’m talking about. On top of this, Todd Howard has confirmed Starfield will be sticking with the same Creation Engine that has been used to develop their games since Oblivion. That means, by the time Starfield comes out, it could be running on a game engine as old as fifteen years! The point I’m getting at here is that massive gaming development studios are all too capable of eating themselves.
In the case of Bethesda, Skyrim was its well-timed golden egg. Or so it seemed. Instead of generating new IP, Skyrim’s infinite re-releases would be the harbinger of bad times for Bethesda. The implosion of developer passion and effort in game development can again be seen in EA. Another story of a once humble games studio that produced great games like Dungeon Keeper (a personal favourite) that got so big… Everyone ended up hating them. Because all they want to do is get even bigger. Even if it means dangling you upside down to scrape your spare change off the floor. A damning indictment of this situation is that companies like CD Projekt Red are so beloved because they are so fair. In so doing so in today’s climate, they are all the more loved. But there was a time where all game companies had CDPR’s dedication to quality. It was a time without the internet, where the quality of a game was what would sell it, not its controversy.