Monster Hunter’s streamlining

Quality of Life changes is pretty much just the latest buzzword that replaced streamlining when it comes to video games. Sometimes there are needs for it, as some games tend to have excess that that should be cut out to make the playing more enjoyable. Other times, streamlining or quality of life changes to a game series means cutting certain elements down that seemed too complex, or dumbing down, despite this not being the case. This has to be approached case by case, and with the latest entry in Monster Hunter series being released, looking at the changes to streamline the game might be in place.

I’m basing this post mostly to my own experiences with the series, and thus it is largely anecdotal. Starting with Monster Hunter Freedom, I’ve seen this series tweaking itself with each entry in some way, with Tri, 4 and Generations seeing the biggest changes to the overall systems. These included Tri’s swimming and underwater hunting, something that never made a return; 4’s emphasize on maps being more vertical, making ledge jumping, jump attacking and monster’s vertical movement an integral part; and with Generation introducing Hunter Arts, something that probably won’t be returning until another Best of All type of title comes out.

World is a large departure from previous entries with its single map approach rather than segmented areas per map, and almost a total overhaul to the pacing of the hunts. I’m using the term pacing here, as all the streamlining done seems to aim to make the hunts move all the time.

For example, when the player began gathering usable items from a plant previously, he had to pick up each individual item separately that could be obtained from said plant. If you got three items, you’d need to press a button three times. This was streamlined earlier already in the manner that you’d only need to keep pressing the button to complete said three item gathering. This would be a dedicated motion, which stops the flow of the hunt, as it the player stops. This seems completely natural thing to do, however, and was essential part of the game’s play overall. However, in World the player can now pass the same plant and gather those three items from it while running, without stopping.

The question I had with this, whether or not this sort of simple change impacts the game much. On one hand, it was more “real” in the sense that one had to stop to execute an action that in real life would cause you to stop for a moment. World‘s approach is very much what a video game would do, with gathering becoming very much similar to picking up a health item in Doom or the like; just walk over it.

This seems to be the approach in most places for the game, in that the sort of semi-realistic approach has been now replaced with seemingly more game-like approaches. The Scout flies are probably the best example of this, with them being completely bonkers when you think for it for a moment. They should’ve given the player a hunting hound or some other more natural option rather than blinking lights.

The game is about hunting, after all, and despite the Scout flies being partially optional in their use, their inclusion does tell that the developers want the player to “get to the good stuff” faster. Having a literal lighted up trail that shows the way after few foot prints and scratches on the walls have been identified doesn’t example mesh well, but it’s all easy to use. You can run by these tracks and pick their info up, making the tracking element very uninteresting. If there was a game element to them, something that would be tied to Skills for example, and asking the player to take an active role to do majority of the tracking themselves would not have introduced fat to the game, but meat to play.

On the other hand, in a lot of things World still sticks with the old mould all the while introducing some new problems. The item, armour and weapons management is about as tedious as always, the center hub area has been expanded to be a multi-level town, where you either need to traverse to your destination or use quick-travel via map, which necessitates a separate area load screen. With the game being in online all the time, the game treats single-player experience no different, with you “Posting” new quests online despite you going for the hunt alone. As a side note, single-player hunts seem to be balanced towards the easy side.

However, some of the changes are sensible, at least. For example, certain item that used to be consumables now exist in your inventory from the get-go and don’t vanish. A whetstone just doesn’t vanish when its being used. Pickaxes follow this same pattern, and don’t exist in your inventory anymore as a separate item entity. Despite this may look like some of the preparedness has been removed from the game, the rest of the item management is more or less the same. Then again, it does cut out some of collecting and gathering elements that existed in previous games, but perhaps this is to cut out some of the elements that did not surround the hunts directly. I would like to see a Gathering area like in Monster Hunter Freedom return at some point in the future, rather than just paying someone to increase your items.

That’s the crux of streamlining with Monster Hunter World. Lot of the changes has been made to make the hunting itself more about the forwards momentum, with everything around it being cut back. Except the plot. From the ten hours or so I managed to drop into the game, all the changes really are to make the huntings more about the scene rather than the game, perhaps hinting that the game indeed was streamlined and quality of life changes were made to make the game more accessible to the larger market. World has been the fastest selling title in the series thus far in the West, so maybe in the end they’re doing something right. We’ll have to see a year later or so to see how it has been doing and whether or not its userbase is still there.

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20 out of 40

Sometimes I just have to sit down and look at my game library and think how many of these games I can play as they are without bothering with online connectivity, updating or needing to consider whether or not I want a character to have a five dollar add-on to power up. Most of my games are complete packages, sold as they were finished. No product is ever truly finished, there are always things that should be tweaked, fixed, added or so on. Perhaps it betrays my stance on how games should be sold as (or rather, anything) where options can be bolted on, but are not necessary as such.

A discussion with a younger friend noted that this line of thought is exactly what I should consider DLC as. The core software is purchased, and it can be enjoyed as is. If I want to get the nice bells and whistles, then I can throw some money at it to add those optional components on. Otherwise, I can always just ignore the content and concentrate on enjoying what is on the table in front of me.

I had to argue against this, of course. While my comparison did turn against me, I had to note to him that modern DLC is not just about trinkets that would serve as optional, like costumes in Dead or Alive  games or Oblivion‘s horse armour. No, modern DLC has changed from being additional content to the game and have become more like expansion packs that exist from the get-go. Even that comparison is rather weak, as expansion packs were new content that added to the game rather than being designed to be part of the main package. It’s like if you would need to buy Red Alert: Aftermath to gain access to the units and maps in the game proper. Or as it was in case of Mass Effect 3, the game’s real ending was part of DLC.

While it is true that the production costs have risen in the game industry, they have not risen the way the big names overall want to paint it as. It has been largely chosen by these developers to push technological and graphical elements to the limits while employing celebrities and writers to work on their games. This is weird, considering games with less emphasize on these things tend to succeed just as well, if not better in some cases. Look at the latest Super Mario game and consider its resource expends compared to whatever was EA’s latest big Tripple A title. While graphics do make an impact on the sales, the industry forgets that this is an element of computer game culture, much less part of console gaming, where visual design over graphical fidelity matters more.

Perhaps thanks to Capcom, fighting  games and their DLC are not in favourable light, overall. With Street Fighter X Tekken, all the DLC characters were found on-disc, and the purchase was just to unlock them from disc. Calling this DLC was a stretch at best. Similarly, Marvel VS Capcom Infinity had all of its most interesting cast members in the DLC section as well most work put into them. It didn’t help that these characters were present in the game otherwise, telling that pretty much the same deal had happened. Street Fighter V was made to be a platform that Capcom tweaked and expanded upon with Seasons, and they dropped new characters unto it as time went by. Maybe this was a way to keep the players interested on the long term without releasing a completely new title, but it hurt the sales quite a lot. It didn’t help that SFV wasn’t received all that well on the game play department either, which really just made people to wait Capcom to release further versions of the game, like they all always do. Well, Arcade Edition is coming out, but still has the seasonal bullshit welded to it,

Arc Systems Works have been more transparent with their practices to a point, where they’ve recently announced intentions to make additional characters for Dragon Ball Fighters Z DLC, as well as adding DLC characters into BlazBlue‘s and Guilty Gear Xrd‘s later iterations, making it largely unnecessary to purchase them, if you’re willing to wait.

However, ArcSys has dropped the ball with BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, as they announced that half of the cast will be DLC. 20 characters out of 40 will be treated as additional content for you to download. Sure, buy the collector’s box the get download code for All-in-One pack, but if you’re a lowly peasant, be prepared to dish out the dough for twenty characters if you want a complete package. I am using the term “complete” here as it is clear that everything’s planned beforehand and intended as the core package. Certainly it is cheaper and easier to develop DLC as the game’s proper development goes toward the end, which betrays the mentality in which game development nowadays aims to maximise profits at the expense of the consumer. It’s like buying a chicken sandwich, and then hearing that the second half of the chicken needs to be purchased separately, though it is cut from the same piece of meat.

Despite the transparency, this sort of approach really drains the juices. There are consumers who have already stated that they will skip the Dragon Ball Fighters Z just to wait its second version, which will fix bugs, make balance better, add new characters and moves, because that’s how things seem to work. I am glad to see that no other fighting game has gone Street Fighter V‘s platform approach, where you purchase a very weak base, unto which everything else needs to buy bought for. Though free versions of full price games with limited characters and content have been a thing with DoA and Tekken.

The big question is, especially with fighting games, at which point we will cease from seeing complete, fully realised releases in favour of each element being sold as a separate, “optional” addition. At that point, we’re probably pretty screwed, and so would be the industry.

Simulated Gambling?

EA and loot boxes sure opened a whole Pandora’s Box. The video and computer game industry has been dabbling on the edge with parental and gamble-help groups, but it was more or less time for the whole thing  to blow up at someone. While all this has become more or less mainstream in the current market, and people putting most blame to smart phone games’ microtransactions, the whole thing does lead back to EA in the first place.

To make long story short, EA implemented a virtual collectible card system in UEFA Championship League 2007, which replicated a real life CCG. The system was essential, as you got your characters via this system. It was all virtual at this point, as there was no need to exchange real money for these cards. This system was then later implemented into FIFA, when their UEFA license was up. Andrew Wilson implemented the same system into FIFA 2009: Ultimate Team, with the player now able to pay for these cards with real money. This is where it turned into gambling, as now it was necessary for the player to pay money for further progression, but that progression was up to chance. Chance that EA completely controlled in their closed system, where they could rig the game however way they saw fit. Of course, none of these cards had any value outside the game itself. Skill Up has a more complete history on this model he called Wilson lootbox, and it’s a highly recommended watch. Pay-2-Win model is more or less here to stay.

The game industry listens to what sells, just like any other. Numbers and data is what brings in the hard earned cash. On the occasion, a publisher puts outs a prestige game, a trophy piece, something they can call art. The rest, on the other hand, are all about the hard cash. Just like Hollywood in many ways, with the Marvel movies being Call of Duty of cinema. Sure, it’s fun to a lot of people and makes a lot of money, but is creatively bankrupt and doesn’t stand much closer inspection. It’s not hard to see the game industry wanting to grab whatever further profit they could, just like any other entertainment industry.

Hence, the expansion of Pay-2-Win model spreading far and wide. Sure, it’s easier to pay some buck or two for an in-game item, when the game is free. However, predatory tactics and abusing consumer weaknesses is part of the industry here, as these games more or less stifle your progression without additional purchases, sometimes to a point that you simply can’t proceed further due to in-game stats being against you. Few bucks here and there does stack up quickly, and a buck a day is already thirty bucks a month. With the occasional sales, you suddenly find yourself having paid more than fifty, or if you’re one of those whales these systems abuse, hundreds if not thousands.

The industry regulated itself according to the profits gained, and the statistics gained from various games have allowed the companies to find a sweet spot with the freemium, Pay-2-Win model.

This sort of regulation is lacking, as it completely ignores the consumer. Chris Lee, a Hawaii rep. has proposed a legislation to curb down predatory gaming practices. US is not the only one to take notice of the landslide Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)  has caused, as French senator Jérôme Durain has also issued a letter to the French online gambling regulator ARJEL, which addresses some key-note, like the lack of transparency in drop-rates. PEGI itself has already taken stance on virtual gambling, where a game with such elements automatically getting 12 as age rating, and can go easily up two 18. Pokémon games dropped their Game Corner due to change in this stance around 2006, as that would’ve meant the age rating would’ve shot upwards, limiting their main consumer base.

However, PEGI doesn’t regard loot boxes themselves as form of gambling as such, neither does ESBR. This may change in the future, as Belgium has taken a stance already on loot boxes being gambling due to mix of money  and addiction. Geens notes that the change he drives will take some time, as he needs to go through the rest of Europe in order to achieve his goal. If the issue is taken to larger European Union, and is being backed by a number of countries, things may get hot for game developers and publisher who rely on microtransactions and loot boxes.

There has already been some rippling effects. EA’s stock took a dive after the Battlefront II (2017) managed to garner all this negative attention, with the snowballing effect. While this probably won’t effect much, it is still a notable change. PUBG developers also have stated that they would not add anything that would affect the gameplay in terms of microtransactions or loot boxes. Bungie’s Destiny 2  and numerous other games have been under more specific scrutiny about their systems of progression, with Bungie even cancelling a stream to discuss their experience scaling fiasco.

The direction we’re going with video games regarding gambling is a two-bladed sword at best. One one hand, the industry has taken advantage of the weaker section of the their consumer base. Those who can’t handle themselves yet or understand the monetary values they’re putting into microtransactions and loo boxes have had it easy. Perhaps making payments has been streamlined a bit too much, with reports of kids spending thousands of dollars of their parents money being less than uncommon. While it is up to the parents to oversee their children, we should also look into the design of things.

On the flip side, more governmental control over any industry does lead to over-control easier. Furthermore, actual virtual gambling games may suffer from this for being put into a same slot, if legislation is not accurate enough in its description, or includes simulated gambling that does not include real life money. While mahjong simulations have rarely, if ever, managed to reach Western shores, games may seem these simulated gambling elements removed in favour of lower age ratings, or in worst cases, of they somehow become completely unacceptable. It also makes it so much more easier to put further restrictions on other aspects of games even further regarding whatever, be it violence or depictions of humans. German rules are already harsh, and it would be discouraging to see any similar legislation spreading about.

It’s a thin line the game industry is threading on, but as they say, The greedy has a shitty end.

 

Industrial bloat

EA is the thing everybody likes to kick whenever its relevant. EA deserves it too, as the company has a long history of taking franchises and developer studios and running them to the ground. Very few have any love toward them, except sports gamers who buy the latest NHL and FIFA release each year. We can understand the mindset. They’re a corporation just like any other, and aim to do everything for profit. The methods just don’t seem to sit with some consumers, while others just don’t care.

That said, microtransactions and loot boxes have been talked to death a lot as of late, thanks to them taking more presence in the mainline games. The model can be said to come from mobile games, where it has essentially become the lifeline of many games, where games are offered free, but their larger content has to be paid for, or at least to succeed further requires putting some money in.

From psychological point, microtransaction is a well selling term. It give an idea of a transaction of miniscule size, almost something that doesn’t matter. The effect on the consumer is interesting, and these small transactions often can pile up when you can’t keep track on physical money. It is far easier to spend what you don’t see, and then suffer the consequences later on.

Loot boxes are another can-o-worms, especially when they’re the kind that are tied to promotional events or otherwise to something that forces the consumer to consume their time with the game’s event or related. Considering many games offer loot boxes to be bought with real money, or in-game money you can buy with real money, it is gambling. It is very much comparable to a lottery ticket where each ticket has some sort of win. While some make an arbitrary difference between loot boxes and gachas, the concept is largely the same. Here we could argue that loot boxes are similar to vending machine toys, and these are not counted as a form of gambling. However, the difference is of course that a vending machine does not insist you on a purchase, unlike the constant reinforcement video and mobile games tend to do with seasons, events and the like. The concept of gambling and video games is something I’ve touched before, with the argument that video and computer games themselves are not gambling, but can contain simulation of gambling, but loot boxes and gachas touch upon real world and games are designed to work with them as a core element, then we’re talking about a form of digital gambling.

However, the whole debacle of Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) is a whole another thing. While it has seemed to be a PR nightmare to EA due to all the negativity its microtransactions and  how long it’ll take to open up new characters within the game, EA has managed to make use all of this and seem like a company that listens to their consumers. Buying whatever in-game money it is they use to unlock characters will be enabled at a later date.

There’s the rub though; Battlefront II (2017) and other games like it that offer purchased random goods already cost money. Essentially, the game companies have become bloated to each direction in how much higher ups get salary to production values and development time that they need to find new ways to make more revenues. In order to make the revenues go up, EA has opted to concentrate all their efforts on a whale of a game that should snag the most players. All this after you’ve payed the full price for the game, of course, and you can’t open things up through sheer effort and skill. The game has cool down periods, where you can’t acquire in-game money. Hell, you can expect only 1-3% of the game’s players to carry these microtransactions. These are the trouble consumers that may need serious help. Gamers, while saying one thing, often seem to do the exact opposite.

This isn’t exactly putting all your eggs into one basket. This is more like putting trying to sap out everything from the consumer through one product. What I mean by this is that EA has opted to get as much revenue out of the game as possible outside the sales of the game. There is no equivalent in other entertainment media due to the nature of games. This isn’t a subscription to digital service or the like.

All this is a symptom. The cause, if we’re to believe companies, is the rising development costs. Unlike what these corporations want to tell the consumer via their PR, consumers at large don’t expect cutting edge graphics or the like. The game design has always been the number one factor. The only game culture that has concerned themselves with highest possible graphical fidelity is the computer game culture. However, with the cross pollination and consoles becoming dumbed down PCs, with Steam serving as a digital game console platform, it’s no wonder this skewed sense has crept into game development. Much like how Hollywood execs are becoming further moved away from the common consumer, the same is happening in game industry. There are too many large houses doing far too large projects, there is only three consoles on the market, with Steam effectively being a fourth addition that play the bit part of everything. Uniqueness has been replaced with ports everywhere, and now that ports seemingly not making enough money, the consumer is expected to dosh out more for the product they purchased.

EA and other developers need to look inside of their own house and cut down on the overtly expensive development cycles.

The argument that games can’t cost over 60€ is also bullshit. Currently, the medium price for a game is lower than what it has been at their highest. Ultima games cost around 120 dollars, with some N64 games costing locally around 120€ when transferred to current currency. If there is a need to raise games’ prices to meet the production costs, so be it. The market will decide if that was the right call. That, or drop the development costs outside salaries. It’s not the consumer’s fault if the products are not meeting with expectations and incredibly over-estimated sales figures.

Tapping people who may have gambling tendencies though is not the way to go.

Updating the build-in obsolescence

Sometimes I come across news that just feel stupid. Logitech announced that they will shut down all services for their Harmony Link, essentially bricking the device with an update. Why? Well, they’re out of certificate on technology that’s inside the lil’ smart device remote. This of course caused rather serious backlash on the usual Internet forums, to which Logitech responded that they’ll replace the obsoleted devices to a new one.

This is, sadly, par for the course in modern era. Licenses and certificates from every which way is being implemented in devices that are not though to last. Devices are not thought to last at all, with some companies expecting you to replace your phone yearly. Apple, for example, optimises all their latest updates to their newest models, the old ones be damned, meaning the old hardware gets sub-optimal OS update, which will cause things to slow down and requires more numbers to be crunched. Apple pulled back one of their iOS updates after they released it, as it made older systems inoperable due to inability to make phone calls or unresponsive fingerprint sensors.

Back in the day, obsolescence was designed in the product from the get go. Some film companies even wanted VCRs to wipe tapes slightly each time they were played. This meant, that after certain number of watches, the tape would be blank and the consumer would be forced to buy a new copy of the movie. Imagine if a DVD or Blu-Ray discs and their players would’ve been built so that after certain amount of watches, the player’s laser would burn a mark that would prevent any further playbacks. Apple’s products are full of planned obsolescence from hardware to software, with the customer being completely dependent on the company’s services when it comes to maintenance and repair.

While bricking updates are exactly nothing new, they’ve become more and more common at a steady pace. It has not been profitable to design and manufacture products that would last anymore. We have the technology to make phones and whatnot last a solid decade, but this would mean the companies wouldn’t get that steady stream of high revenue yearly. This may sound overtly dramatic or even anti-corporate, but this is more or less personal experience with numerous companies. The discussions I’ve had with professional from the industry who have worked in different fields of productions, from the cases to the software, all have said the same thing; it’s cheap. The outer shells cost barely anything to tool, the electronics manufactured and fabricated at a very low price in countries that don’t care about certain legislation issues, assembly is done in an area where pay is extremely low and people are prevented from doing suicides via nets. Shipping per unit costs absolutely jack shit, coding is done to drive the latest things up and probably is the second most costly bit after advertisement. It is the name that drives the price up. Hell, the lack of earphone jack and other physical properties in more modern phones nowadays is to drive the production price down while the sales price is jacked up.

The only thing that ultimately costs is the brand. iPhone X costs a thousand bucks to buy, and it has nothing to justify its price outside the Apple logo and branding. The profit margin is extraordinarily high. I won’t even try to calculate the production price, but a good guess would be that the production costs are hundreds times less than the final sales price. But hey, if people will pay for it, then that’s the rule of the market.

That veered a bit off the topic, but it’s relevant. The core problem in updated obsolescence is that it will be everywhere. Smart homes are not all that common nowadays, but the more we will have such devices on our homes, from freezers and microwaves to simple light switches. If any of these devices use similarly certified technology that has been essentially licensed from outside, they will face a kill-update. All these smart devices will contain programs and services, which the companies see as the main sales. From a company’s point of view, they’re not really selling you an item, but the service the item will enable. In this sense, the consumer is purchasing a long lasting license to their service via this device. From the customer’s point of view, they’re paying for a device that enables a function, like the smart device control with Logitech’s Harmony Link.

This disparity is clear in gaming as well, where companies and some consumers argue that nobody is purchasing anything anymore. Rather, you are subscribing to a service with one-time payment. However, nobody can come to your home and tell disable your games. Unless you’re using Steam.

If we’re to believe this tight device cycle will stay for the foreseeable future, it will also cause another issue to build up. Apple alone is responsible for a huge pileup of e-waste, and if we count all other electronics companies with similar pace of new product introduction, we’re getting large quantities of products that will not last long. Africa probably feels the brute of the hit from this, with tons of e-waste being dumped in Ghana’s landfills.

The first step to fight this cycle would be sustainable development and design. However, the core principle of sustainable design is against most corporate interests, as it dictates that a product should be designed to last as long as possible. However, a phone that would last a decade would not be as profitable compared to a phone that gets the shaft after two years.

Logitech’s response to the outcry of their kill-update isn’t any solution. The Harmony Link will become obsoleted not because the devices have broken, but because the company chooses to terminate its function. The action is not a solution, but a pathetic way to weasel out of it. This is not sustainable design.

I’m not an Earth hugging hippie by any stretch of the imagination you may get from this post, but sustainable development and design are two key factors that need to become more relevant as the time goes by. We only got one Earth, and seeing we’re not getting off this world any time soon, we should take better care of it.

More first-party Microsoft titles in the horizon

Why do people buy game consoles? To play games that are on them, there is very little reason to buy a console in themselves. Each company who puts out a console needs to have a library of games to waver the customers’ decision towards their product. The only way is to offer a product that the competition does not. The very core reason why Nintendo’s consoles sell is that people wish to consume Nintendo’s games. If games are not up to the task, the consoles won’t sell well. The opposite also applies.

What first party titles can you name from either Microsoft or Sony for their consoles? To many, they can name titles either company has published, like Halo or Gears of War, with Sony having Ape Escape and Gravity Rush listed. However, Microsoft mainly utilises second or third-party studios to develop their titles they have either exclusive deals with or employ to develop a game for them. Rather than having their own in-house development, Microsoft has numerous studios under their belt; Turn 10, Rare, the closed Lionhead Studios and such. This isn’t anything out of the ordinary, as both Nintendo and Sony have similar ownerships as well, but one never really could say that Halo was a Microsoft game like we can say Super Mario is a Nintendo game.

Whatever the relationship happens to be with the developer and with the people who pays them, be it an in-house team or an employed outside studio, the core intention in the end is to produce a game that you won’t have on another platform. The third-party houses can do whatever they want, to certain degrees, but the games the console manufacturer puts out have to be great. This is due to how much weight the first-party has, in the end. If they can’t build an initial user base well enough, third-party will join the platform much later, only with ports, or in some cases not at all. While it is the first-party’s job to deliver impacting titles to open the market, initial ports can be a third-party’s way to test the waters a bit before taking the full dive. It is, of course, cheap to take an existing product and shove it unto another platform nowadays, seeing you don’t have to build the port from scratch.

Microsoft’s Phil Spencer intends to move Microsoft’s Xbox plans towards games. Games have never been Microsoft’s main front, despite the what the article wants to imply, though their emphasize when it comes to gaming used to reside on the computer market. There is where Microsoft used to shine like no other, but with the advent of the original Xbox, it fell to the wayside. If Microsoft had emphasized their computer gaming divisions like they did in the 90’s, Steam probably would not have taken root in exactly the same way it did.

This is why it is proper for Microsoft to utilise outside studios they may or may not own for their library of games. Microsoft, as it stands as an individual company, should always give emphasize to the operating system market and whatever needs personal computers may have nowadays. Perhaps spinning Xbox to its own company with practical in-house ties to the parent company should be considered, but this won’t ever happen for practical and political reasons.

What is true, however, is that Sony outsells Microsoft on the console game market. The only things that have any proper saying on this are the games. Microsoft only demerits their console if they continue to port their games to Windows, though in the end Microsoft is the company that would get the money from both ends. However, this line of thought doesn’t help when it comes to Xbox. While both Microsoft and Sony enjoy a rather healthy amount of third-party titles on their systems to the point of those games being the main reason to purchase their consoles rather than the first party ones. Sony has, for example, the Ryu ga Gotoku/ Yakuza series going on for them, and while the series has always been a bit niche, it has found its audience and has managed to expand its fanbase with constant releases. However, much like other Sony-only titles, e.g. most of Senran Kagura, Yakuza is a very Japanese game series that certain fringe groups find distasteful.

Microsoft also is expanding on software and services, whatever that ultimately means for Xbox brand. If Spencer is right about Microsoft probably rolling out a streaming service that doesn’t require the console, then there might be something working against Xbox as a console in the background. Perhaps not directly or even intentionally, but common logic would state that bot putting all your eggs in one basked it the best way to go. This doesn’t apply if you want to have a product like a game console survive on the market. It requires putting effort into it with almost all-or-nothing attitude and making it as unique in software library as possible. Look at Nintendo for a good example; it may not be an electronics company that makes the most money, but it is also pretty much the top company when it comes to making money on games and consoles alone. The mindset is completely different, you can’t have a dry rut too often.

The sort of services and software outside gaming Microsoft develops in the near future will have some impact on Xbox as a brand. While emphasising games has been in need for a long time now, it’s better later than never. There would also be some need to rework Xbox’s image, if we’re completely frank, as outside the US its image is rather redneck-y at places. The best place to show the brand’s lower quality is in Japan, and how little success it has there. Perhaps what Microsoft should do with this would be to customise the brand to an extent. The NES and SNES would be a good example what I’m after with this. You can’t really help with the American kusoge image though, that can only be done with getting more Japanese developers getting on-board and making games for Japanese to consume on Xbox. Of course, other realities then come into play, like how Japanese don’t really play home consoles like they used to, with portable consoles taking the top spots most of the time.

Still, if Spencer’s plans to make Xbox more game emphasised that before, that’d be great.

Different take on Customer: few centimeters of millimeter thickness

Every hundred posts on this blog I turn things around and take a good look at the customers and take the providers’ point of view. Y’know, for a change. There 809 posts on this blog currently, including this one,  so I’m slightly over the mark point. Nothing unusual, I sort of stopped following how many posts I have after the second hundred was fulfilled. Kinda laughable.

In recent weeks I’ve been wondering how little people care about others’ work. Without a doubt we care about the work our friends and close ones do, and tend to go our way out to agree that certain jobs are just undervalued and these workers get criminally low wages. Nothing new under the sun, we’re a selfish lot.

I’ve come across this more than once, especially from people who consider their job to be of utmost importance. The people at high places, if you will. Some who consider their work to be culturally significant to the point that society could not function, or that their contribution to how healthcare should be run (rather than working in healthcare itself) makes them somehow above some rotting welder.

Welder, who in the end, is responsible for your every day safety in cars, elevators, staircases and even to you home piping and certain structures. Or the cleaner who has to go through every nook and cranny when you leave the office and cleans your desk and windows, the same cleaner who has to deal with your shit you leave in the hallway. Or any other people who build and design the stuff you use every day and never give a thought about. Why should you, in the end? You never see them, you rarely interact with any of them. Perhaps it is this lack of contact and having no real information how terribly awful conditions some work places have, comparatively speaking. You’ll curse whoever it is who is responsible of taking care of your water running and keeping it clean, yet do we ever give any appreciation.

That is not to say all invisible jobs are out of the way. Cleaners are an example of people who we do see, but do we even say hello to them or wish them a good day? Small gestures like this do matter and make people feel worthwhile.

As astonishing it may sound, but there are so many people who don’t know how to clean. While having a coffee break, I had a chance to listen an old veteran giving a lesson to few new aspiring professional members of the cleaning industry. An extensive knowledge on chemicals is required and how they react not only with each other, but with oh so many materials that’s it not even fun. Especially when the Western standards of cleanliness are at their historical high. That, and the fact everybody seems to wait the work be done in record time without cutting any corners, really should make anyone appreciate these poor bastards a bit more. A documentary film Bread and Roses gives some insight how little cleaners are valued, and while it does concentrate on the situation in change of the millennia Los Angeles, things aren’t much brighter elsewhere.

But the customer is always right and providers should fulfill the customer demands. Well, until the provider points out how stupid the customer is and how he is unwilling to pay enough for the work and materials required, or demands a work that could not be done with the equipment and facilities at hand. And of course, they just insist on at least trying, for them. Anecdote be damned, but again a good example would be a random customer who brought his supposedly aluminium built oil base from his Volvo. The very moment he produced it in front of our staff, we could say it could not be done. The shine and colour was not that of aluminium and we would only fuck it further, if we tried fixing it. I don’t know what the hell it was, but it was magnetised alloy for sure. Working on a material you have no idea what it is composed of most likely will ruin the piece, and naturally said he was well aware of this. Well, when he came back and we showed how his piece had gone to hell thanks to the metal structure collapsing under normal TIG welding, he went on the usual customer rant on ruining what was his.

Again, how could have he known? Nobody gives a damn about what their furniture or cars are made of, as long as they’re sturdy, safe and look good enough. Damned be any worthwhile values. That is a customer’s right of course, and providers can bamboozle customers as much as they want. An informed customer wouldn’t let that happen, but who gives a damn if we’re screwed over little if we seemingly get what we want.

I had a series of posts some time ago on how we really should start appreciating each other’s works a whole lot more. We could go in a circle how one field of profession requires another set of multiple fields to exist right beside it, but that’s rather useless. Anyone with some brain cells left should already know that one man can’t do everything. The simple fact that the screen you’re reading this from requires multiple production lines to produce the plastics, glass, electronics, metals, someone to make the moulds, producing the pieces, someone to design it, someone to test build it and so on and so on.

All this goes for all customers. We’re all woefully ignorant on other fields. Sometimes out of simply not knowing they exist, or just don’t give a damn about them. However, just remember this little bit next time you think you’re undervalued; your life hangs on few centimeters of welding of few millimeters thick each day in multiple occasions, and nobody around you who is dependent on those same small seams never even realise these welding exist in the first place. You’re blindly trusting that the man who never gets thanks from anyone else but his boss, if even then, to do a job enough to keep you safe.

And this guy was probably drunk or had a terrible headache from night long drinking. Makes you hope he didn’t fuck up. Better not look at the seams at all, on the second thought.