Wave Foam – “Questioning the Present, Shaping the Future… Again”

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Executives will be executives, right? They’re in it for the money, I get that. But what does Gamespot’s editorial staff think about the way the industry has been handling itself? I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised… er… for the most part.

Now, before analyzing the common denominators that this eclectic group of journalists addressed, let me start by casting away the black sheep of the pack. Andrew Park says that “I know it’s very fashionable and cool to complain about the lack of originality in the games business and how there are all these sequels [hey, that’s me he’s talking about!], but in several cases, sticking with a certain series has let development teams build a better mousetrap with technology and engines (and game designs) […] He goes on to say that “The Sims 3”, “Gears of War 2“, “Resident Evil 5“, “Grand Theft Auto IV” and “Call of Duty: World at War” are all great examples on how sequels can be awesome. I won’t mention “Sims 3,” which I haven’t played yet, but as for the rest, we’re talking about derivative games, that add little to nothing to their predecessors apart from better graphic engines and cooler weapons. Is this what we want for games? Year after year of sequels with flashier graphics, and the same, tiresome game-play? What’s wrong with this guy? As a critic, he should be rewarding artistry, creativity and innovation, not the opposite!

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Amongst the “what’s wrong” answers, two major ideas stick out. “Corporate consolidation is a bit of a worry for me” -, states Shaun McInnis, and the “soaring development budgets for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games is disconcerting”, says Giancarlo Varanini. It’s true: the market is too crowded and claustrophobic, when it comes to the big budget productions’ arena. And with the rising costs of game production, less companies are capable of backing these projects, and the ones that do, risk bankruptcy or a merger whenever a game fails to break even (which usually requires, at least, a million copies sold).  What this all translates to for us gamers, is a lesser degree of creativity and variety in top tier games, something we’ve been paying the price for in the last couple of years or so. Because let me assure you that, especially in this climate of economic uncertainty, no big company will be willing to risk their five year long projects, which involve hundreds of people and millions of dollars, on some innovative concept that hasn’t been commercially tested before.

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On the sunny side up, there’s a clear reference to downloadable games and how they help counter-balance the stagnation of the upper echelons of the industry. It is only thanks to these micro-cosmos of independence, that we still have access to creative experimentation in the video-game medium. In the words of Giancarlo Varanini, “the fact that we get to play and enjoy games like Flower […] is possible only because of the relative low-risk investment of digital distribution […]”. But that’s not the only beacon of hope. “The industry’s rapid growth and expansion have an upside: There are a ton of great games to play”, Chris Watters. Thanks to the increase of gaming audiences, especially in the often despised casual market, we’ve had an astounding increase of game releases. Personally, I find that quality is sparse right now, but one can easily predict that, sooner or later, quantity will surely be followed by specialization and a dramatic increase in range and quality of these games.

As to the future, it looks journalists maintain a certain optimism towards new technologies that, for the most part, I cannot agree with. Downloadable services are the future, that I can concur with them. As to virtual reality-like controllers (Wiimote, Project Natal, Sony’s Wand) and cloud computing, I’m afraid I’m a bit more skeptic. You can read about why in previous editorials, which you can access here and here, respectively. Technology offers potential, but ultimately, it is the potential that actually gets fulfilled that counts in the long run, and in terms of these two examples, there is little to account for in terms of the way they have been changing (or can change) the gaming landscape.

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Amidst all these opinions, I got the sense that more or less, these guys are on the right bandwagon. But there’s some form of weird discrepancy at work here. If on one hand, they seem to applaud creativity and (well, except for that one guy) fear the overwhelming weight of big companies and their uncreative blockbusters, I must say that I never got that message from Gamespot in their non-editorial articles. They say they want creativity and originality, and that they support downloadable games, but I don’t see that in their reviews and respective scores. Is something amiss here? Because, as far as I perceive, Gamespot still rewards big blockbuster titles more consistently then they do small, indie and innovative games. Is it because there’s too much PR pressure to give “Killzone 2” a 9? How about giving a 9 to “flower” instead? Is it, that just like the Microsoft executive, and the schmuck that thought “Resident 5” was creative, they have their minds on the right note, but they just don’t know what originality really stands for? Perhaps they don’t have the taste levels or the artistic, cultural background that allows them to distinguish the qualities that make “flower” great and “Killzone 2” not so great? Do they lack a culture of hard criticism? Do they see games only as shallow entertainment vehicles, and thus reward them on the “fun” metric alone? Mayhap these are all true, mayhap not. Whichever the case, I think journalists need to start taking pride in their own opinions, cultivating their tastes and those of their readers, and start challenging the status quo. If they like downloadable games, then great, time for them to prove it by giving them better scores than they give to the generic, sequelized big AAA games.

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  • Comments (6)
    • Goro Ono
    • July 15th, 2009

    I don’t think it’s right to pick on major gaming website reporters regarding this matter. Not only do they have limited freedom due to what the corporate management must pressure them to do (they are a business after all, they review games to make money and profit), but, especially due to being a large all purpose website, they have to cater to what their visitors expect. I believe most GS readers will agree with their scores and are happy to play Killzone over Flower, because that’s what they’re looking for in a game. “Bang for buck” as they say is also important, as the “common” gamer will want to get the most out of his game in terms of big flashy graphics and explosions, decent sized singplayer and the recent gaming infliction, competitive online gaming.
    Independent games can only expect to get decent appraisals with independent media outlets, or at the very most, specialized media, for obvious reasons.
    As long as it’s a business it’s hard to make it work as an art appraisal.

    Now, it’s not like they don’t have a certain responsibility to have broader views, but if they didn’t identify with the common gamer, they probably wouldn’t even have their jobs.
    So, to sum it up, I think it’s quite unsurprising really. What can one expect?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 15th, 2009

    I love how cynical your comment is.

    What you say is true, gamers in general don’t really want to know what journalists think about games, they just want to know if they would like a game when they go out to buy it. They are not looking for criticism as much as they are looking for a glorified shopping list with which they can relate with.

    But that doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There will always be media outlets that cater to the common gamer with the lowest denominator in mind, sure, but there are other ways of making money in terms of game journalism. Ways that target different audiences, like there are in film or music. But either I’m mistaken, or there aren’t any major media outlets that analyze games as art appraisal. And I doubt there isn’t an audience for that, as I’m sure there are a lot more people like me who have a higher taste for games, that goes beyond the coolest new FPS. Make money with me and the ones who share my views, it might not be as financially attractive as making money with the masses, but I doubt it to be unfeasible.

    And you’re right, Gamespot will be Gamespot, they’re in it for the money. But despite all that, Gamespot still has an obligation, not only to their readers, but also to their writers – an obligation to be independent and voice its own opinion. Because if they want to be a pseudo legitimate shopping catalog for companies to lure gamers into buying games, they are not only being dishonest as they are doing a disservice to their readers, by fooling them into buying things they do not believe to be the ones that should be bought.

    Is there pressure to give certain games, certain grades? I’m sure there is. But that is wrong, and I’m troubled that someone that seems to be intelligent like you, would say “I’m fine with it”. Where do we draw the line? When is it not ok to manipulate readers opinions and tastes for commercial gains? Last time I heard gamers, despite their tastes or lack thereof, aren’t OK with that dishonest form of manipulation (think Hertzman and “Kane and Lynch”). Then perhaps a good way to start changing game journalism is to give full independence to journalists, be they from websites or magazines.

    Utopia? Maybe.

    Cheers!

  1. I believe it is pressure on the reviewers that made professional sites, in general, and Gamespot, in particular, so “soft” when it comes to rewarding originality.

    That pressure, sad as it sounds, its not only coming from PR, but from the public in general. You menction Gerstmann and how he was (presumably) fired because he claimed “Kane & Lynch” wasn’t that great, but Gerstmann is no strange to controversy, because he was hated by everyone when he gave the new Zelda a 8.9, because “it’s good, but nothing new”. Eurogamer is a site that lost some credibility after they have the “heresy” of rating MGS4 with 8/10… I found that kind of pressure to be almost exclusive to videogames among other mediums (except when compared with particular series), people who listen to music are confortable with the idea that Hanna Montana songs are rather shallow, and few people will argue with Ebert when he trashes the new Transformers… yet, many people will go to great lengths to complain to people that don’t think MGS 4 is the greatest experience in their adult life, even when the game wasn’t even released yet.

    After that kind of pressure, it is not hard to imagine a site that reviews games out of hype, that give louds to every game with a critical mass of fans waiting for it, or consider 8.5 out of 10 as the minimum for AAA titles. At the same time, they try to keep credibility with the same fans, that expect an unbias, yet great review.

    The hypocresy of that practice is beyond me, and the fact that it is mantained by most of the main sites paints a rather discouraging picture. Lets just say that the Flower review was far more honest and fair than the Resistance 2 review, that AAA profile games always had to be taken with a grain (or a mountain) of salt on those sites, and that (as horrible and complacent as I found the following sentence) is just the way it is…

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 15th, 2009

    You’re totally right Coyote. The video-game audience sucks. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t niche audiences out there that want more than just a “Gamespot-like” site. People like you and me, and many others, would surely like to have a journalist site or magazine with which they could identify. That market exists, it’s just a question of tapping it, I believe.

  2. Ohh, but they do exist… The problem is that most people that go to Gamespot will talk to us great lenghts about journalism integrity, profesionalism and unbias work; while at the same time demanding the head on a plate of the person that dare to say that God of War 2 “only” got a 9.2 out of 10.

    In the end, it all goes to finding a gaming/site community that matches your taste. Most of them offer some sort of reviews/opinions service, and they all feel different. Gamasutra is different than Giant Bomb, Gamespot is different than Kotaku, etc…

    Maybe its me being more cynic that usual, but I had grown pretty dissapointed of most of the gaming audience and gaming journalism in general. Specially after the gamespot-gerstmann issue.

  3. Let me see if I get this straight. We who visit this website share the ideia that videogames are a medium in decline – or at least a medium not in creative ascension in general. We oppose to the great majority who says “videogames are better than ever”, “funnier”, “now online” and much more “entertaining”, as recent polls indicate. Industry people are certainly richer; videogames generate increasing revenues with each passing year. And yet we give credence to the words of these industry and mainstream journalism representatives to the very point of debating their narrow and predictable viewpoints?

    I know you’re having a laugh here but give us the goods Craveirinha. The good stuff, I know you got it there…

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