Complexity and difficulty do not deter sales

Continuing from last week’s ex tempore Guilty Gear post, the concept of making something more accessible in video games should be looked at a bit closer. The myth is very clear cut; make a game’s play less demanding in order to attract consumers. For long running franchises, there already exists an installed consumer base, changing a series’ latest entry to be less whole than its predecessor usually isn’t met with the most positive reception. Fighting games are interesting in this regard, because they exhibit series-within-series mentality. All five mainline Street Fighter games series have their own unique approach to the core mechanics introduced in Street Fighter. Street Fighter II expanded on the cast and introduced combos by accident. Later Street Fighter II games would introduce speed modification, new input methods and the industry standard Super moves. Street Fighter III revamped the whole pace of the game and made Parrying an essential part of the game. Third Strike landed Ex Moves into the series, which have become more or less franchise standard. Street Fighter IV modified Super concept a bit more with Revenge Gauge as well as introducing Focus Attacks and Red Focus Attack would be introduced later. Street Fighter V is a platform for each and every update for the game. This sort of tweaking applies to Guilty Gear as well, where most of the sub-titled game outside the first game have iterative versions. X has X+, XX has its fair share of update to the point of some arguing Accent Core should be considered a sub-series on its own rights. Xrd of course had Sign first before Revelator, and then Rev.2 came around. With New Guilty Gear, we should expect them to take a step back toward the original game, as that’s the standard procedure with both Capcom and ArcSys, and build up from there. However, every time a developer announced they want their game to attract new customers, or that they want certain customer crowd, red flags are raised. However, not for the reason you’d think.

Games have always been complex and stupidly hard. Dark Souls is not any exception to the rule, but it the series is perhaps the best example of a game that mainstream has taken under its wing despite it being brutally difficult, requiring relatively high execution due to its relatively complex mechanics. Dark Souls is just modern equivalent of the NES era Castlevania anyhow. Both are based on Western horror and both are deemed brutally hard games. Both are very successful franchises. The NES era is very good example of games becoming more complex and the same time gaining more popularity and seeing increase sales. Castlevania is of course example of this, but so would Super Mario Bros. By modern standards the first game is archaic, extremely basic. When it first rolled out, it was one of the most technologically advanced game on consoles, the game to define cartridge games before Nintendo rolled out Disk System. We know how that went down. Super Mario Bros. 2 made more characters available with different properties, much longer stages with numerous tricks to them, and more demanding game overall. It may not be Lost Levels, but Lost Levels is just an update for the first game with new enemies and no mechanical changes. Super Mario Bros. 3 on the other hand wiped the slate clean with more demanding stages, more complexity with flying, more mechanics to play with new suits and options, stage gimmicks and so on. If complexity and difficulty would deter the customer, none of these aforementioned series would’ve been successful.

Modern video and computer game developers should look at the arcades’ success to learn a thing or two. Arcade games were often butt puckeringly difficult in order to make their earnings, but with that they also were required to deliver excellent burst of gameplay. Cabinets that didn’t were quickly empty, with customers slotting their quarters into something more worthwhile. The games needed to attract the customers first, and that’s why the cabinet design had to be excellent, eye-catching and sometimes extremely wild. The attract mode was integral to this, which either was pretty damn good or rather terrible. There was no real in-between. The standard was to start with some sort of video sequence that sets up the setting for the game, showcasing some of the characters before the title screen hits, often with a bang. After that it would move to gameplay, which would be either AI playing the game either via game’s own instructions or prerecorded inputs, or just have the player character being dumb and taking hits before dying. Show some scores from other players, maybe splash the title screen once more than then loop the whole thing, until a player throws a coin in. Later in the 1990’s, these attract modes would find themselves very sophisticated, like how Choukou Senki Kikaioh presented itself as an opening animation for a Saturday morning cartoon.

I’d also recommend checking out Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade gamesattract modes.

Presentation is all-important with games still. That is the first thing the consumer will see, from advertisement to in-game graphics. Graphical fidelity in itself is not as important as how those graphics are represented. ArcSys has always been able to pull this off, devising visual flavour that pulls in the audience. The main reason original Guilty Gear is a footnote in the series, and in fighting game history overall, is that it was just another game among others in a time when 2D fighting games were pushed away in favour of 3D. It didn’t make its mark because of being difficult or too complex, Tekken had more on it than Guilty Gear. Third Strike: Street Fighter III hit the scene years later, and you can guess which one of the two are is more complex and more played nowadays. Of course, SFIII wasn’t exactly a mass hit during that time either, but that was the era when arcades were dying. That, and SFIII a totally new cast that rubbed SFII fans the wrong way. Very few companies would be willing to completely replace their game’s cast nowadays, though SFIII‘s unique cast has been accepted retroactively as worthy successors and the initial reaction is seen rather overly drastic. Visuals is what the player will be looking at all the time, and if they’re up to par in terms of design and sheer quality of ’em, the game has to pull double duty on making the entry worthwhile.

That is only the start though, an ever-important one. Once you’ve gotten the customer’s attention, the best way is to engage the him to full possible extent with well designed and coded play. The answer to rope in new players is not in making game easier to play, that is the wrong way to make a game more accessible. Easy to learn, hard to master is the mantra of every great game out there, not just electronic. The best card games are easy to understand and learn, but stupidly hard to master due to other elements. Poker, for example, is simple enough to teach to a three-years old, but everything else calculating odds to reading other players takes time and effort. This isn’t an argument for people to get good at a game, but rather that by allowing the player to naturally learn what does what should be the priority rather than automate things. Automation and cutscenes take away control from the player, and though it helps early on and may give a cinematic effect, it should always be an option to remove automation once the player has learned enough. Autocombos as an element try to alleviate the execution barrier in fighting games, and while they do work as a first step helper, it should always be optional and the game should make an effort to encourage the player to abandon it rather than give them a safe tool they can roll with all the time. Its not a rare mindset to use the tool that’s the easiest and safest because it just works. Repeat it again and again until desired result is gained. The incentive of more damage with better combos doesn’t really sound appealing to general player if such tool exists.

Give a controller to a complete newcomer to fighting games and tell them what the buttons do, and then do things. They’ll be in complete awe what’s going on. There has been much discussion on mechanic complexity, but less so about inputs. Sure, methods of inputs is a big topic, pad vs stick and so on, but less so if there are too many single inputs. What I mean by this that, for example, Street Fighter has six buttons. Three for punches, three for kicks. King of Fighters has four, two punches and two kicks. Tekken has four, one for each limb. Melty Blood runs four as well, but with three attacks and a special. Virtua Fighter has three; punch, kick, guard. Which one of these would you say would make a newcomer most confident? Then consider which of these franchises has seen most revenue. Number of inputs is related to complex execution. More ways to input stuff, the more motor skills are required. Add the mechanics to this, and it becomes easy to see why some would argue lessening complexity is the way to go. Nothing keeps you from using all the buttons on the controller, but at the same time nothing says you should. All that said, the core fighting game design with the system starts with how many buttons there are. It might look intimidating to a complete novice who has never played a game, but this is something no game can really deal with. A player must start somewhere to work over the complex controllers, but a well designed game wins the player over with good design.

Not even kidding. Back when I was studying psychology and used games to run experiments, few of them were so completely bewildered by a SNES controller they might as well have used this

However, this design is hard to implement into a fighting game. The reason for this is that fighting games are pure one-screen games. There are no stages that the developer could design around for the player to intuitively learn controls and mechanics, like they can with Super Mario Bros. There are no attract modes anymore to show how the game flows. All you really can do is hit the Training mode and hope for the best. With the Internet, this shouldn’t be the case anymore. People learned how to play Street Fighter II by being there in the arcades, playing games with others and tradings tips and tricks. That wholesome interaction may be gone now, but online play could help. Have people play few matches against the CPU to measure how good they are and then throw them into online matches with equally ranked opponents. This doesn’t seem to be happening though. Often what seems to happen is that you just keep losing to people online and have to learn about things before you can match others.

The thing is that this happens with everything. You don’t get good at reading before you learn the alphabets and how language works. You don’t learn to drive right away. You don’t learn to draw a straight line until you’ve done it thousands of times. Playing soccer takes ages to get good. Building and painting model kits takes years to learn. Even something like Pokémon Go demands you to drag your ass out there to spin those stops and join the raids for the best Legendaries out there. This is not an issue of getting good at a game, though it does bloody sound like it. The issue is of genre. Fighting games, despite being one of the most readily accessible genre out there, is all about having that crazy shit happen on screen, but as always it should be the crazy shit the player is doing, not the game. Games are about user action, and the less user action there is, the less play a game has. While this post largely equates play with mechanics, the two are inseparable aspects. Fighting games are interesting in that everything is laid out right away in terms of mechanics and they’re easy to do. Making use of them, that’s something that can only come from repeated play. Call it a detriment of the genre or whatever else, but you can only really prepare for a match in a fighting game is to play the game. With RPGs you can get your noggin jogging and consider things in terms of elemental weaknesses and the like. While you can use this in fighting games with rock-paper-scissors elements, timing them right still takes some experience. With a game like Final Fantasy, the issue of getting good at the game is in understanding the mechanics, not really being able to execute them with some motor skill fidelity. Lowering the mechanics skill ceiling might sound attractive, yet it will lead with into more experienced players dominating over newcomers that much more. While Darkstalkers 3 is technically and mechanically very demanding game, it is an example of a game where you medium skill players are very rare. You’ll either be in less skilled floor, or someone who has spend years with the game and have broken through the ceiling. There really is no middle ground, and that probably will be the end result if a fighting game series decides to downgrade its play mechanics.

Holding on to your current consumer base is easier than making a new one. While as a creator it may seem dreadful to tweak an existing formula again and again, that is partially expected from a sequel. Street Fighter does break this mentality, but only if you go by number-by-number rather than iteration-by-iteration. Consumers expect a new numbered Street Fighter to mix things to some extend outside its core basics, but this is not the case with Guilty Gear. XX and Xrd set the expectation that while system tweaks and additions are to be expected, no major or drastic approach would be done in of themselves. The brand expectation for Guilty Gear is what it is, a high-speed fighting game with expansive and complex mechanics that support offensive play the most. Things like Burst, Instant Kills, Gatling Combos, Dust Attacks and the sheer way the games have played have become more or less as part of the core expectations because ArcSys has never given the series a significant system change after GGX. New Guilty Gear will most likely aim to cater with these ideas, but it as a game will have brand confusion. There have been different Guilty Gear experiences before, as Ishiwatari put it, with all the spin-off titles. It would serve the franchise better if the core fighting game line would continue as per standard, catering to both Red Ocean and shallow Blue Ocean customers, all the while the franchise would see a new spin-off that would give it a completely new spin. There is more room for Guilty Gear titles that do something different with the same core basics. From business perspective, you’d keep the interest of your current consumers with a new sub-title to the series all the while still catering to them with the core series, but also attracting newcomers with something they could get into.

Guilty Gear 2 is still a thing, and it changed the genre. ArcSys could do more things like this

It still bogs down to the content, not mechanics’ complexity. You have to have something to nab to consumer in with presentation, you have to have good play to keep the player interested and entertained so he is willing to spend more time, and what he spends his time on is content. When the player consumes a game’s content, he naturally learns the ropes. However, if the content is lacking doesn’t keep interest high. This is why Street Fighter V is a weird case study, as it discarded the idea of iteration in favour of constant content updates. Content for a fighting game would be characters and the various modes, though the main mean would always be the fighting itself. Xrd‘s movie story mode is an excellent example of utterly trash content for a game, whereas previous entries’ multiple paths storymode based on matches and player decisions in those matches is a great example. It keeps the player more engaged, and it gives him motivation to keep playing in order to see all the characters’ story paths. For 25 characters that would mean 50 different endings to unlock. Good online keeps all players along the ride too for some time, but there needs to be content. Marvel VS Capcom: Infinite failed at presentation the very moment trailers hit the scene. The mechanics were great and gameplay had autocombos too, but there was no content people were looking for. On the opposite, Marvel VS Capcom 3 had more complex controls than its predecessor, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, but obviously had more content that interested general audiences more outside Japan. It should not surprise that it saw more play by all and higher sales.

Video games are stupidly large entertainment industry now, but the true and tested way to expand to the Blue Ocean market still applies; disrupt the market with a new quality product that hits the current paradigm. A revamped Guilty Gear might be this product for sure, but only if it truly is able to pull off everything right. In other words, it would need to be the same kind of title as Street Fighter II was to previous fighting games. Its branding alone drags it down. It would serve ArcSys better if they’d launch a new, high-caliber series with the same energy, with the same effort and the same enthusiasm. They are playing with a marketing grenade in their hands at the moment. ArcSys could pull it off, but chances are consumer expectations are against them harder than Ishiwatari thinks.

Possessive fans

I’m sure everyone of you have had this experience yourself, or act it out yourself sometimes; someone really likes a something, be it a comic, movie, a restaurant or even just a candy bar, and this person really doesn’t want others to get into it. He wants to keep to himself and keep the masses or normies, whatever the buzzword is today, out. This is petty at best and does not serve whatever it is being liked. The creator sees less success and has to consider whether or not it is worth to continue on this lane of production/existence, if it would be more worth to take things to a different direction that might change things around enough to turn the thing into something completely different. Every fan knows that to ensure their loved thing will see further success means money and exposure. That means each fan has to become a sort of piggybank, a paywhale for this little thing in order to keep it afloat and make sure the provider knows this, that he will continue to cater to him and his closest circle. The other option is to allow everyone else to throw money at this thing and have it exposed to the wider world world.

There are arguments made every which way regarding this sort of thing. Some argue that the fandom changes for the worse when more people get into this thing, that there’s a cycle that not only degrades the fandom, but also the product itself when it has to cater to more people. Warhammer 40 000 is probably a decent example of this. The perception in the mid-1990’s was that only fat, smelly nerds who have an awkward social life at best who never left their parent’s basement painted these itty bitty figures and then went to dedicated store basements that smelled like rotten cheese and boiling sweat for hours long sessions to play with their toys. Nowadays WH40k has become entertainment for the masses via Black Library books that tell the canonical story set in the game’s universe with the tabletop game itself enjoying more newcomers as well.

Comics of course are another example, which some would argue showcases how a great product can change and turn to absolute mess. While I would fully agree that both Marvel and Dc have gotten rotten at their core, I don’t agree that it is because of expanded audience. Just the opposite; Marvel and DC comics used to be mass entertainment in the US when they were sold in your normal groceries stores alongside Archie and such. The quality downfall of the Big Two was effectively when they begun to cater to a smaller audience that kept getting smaller with time. The sales the Big Two make now would get their books axed and the modern sales can only envy the numbers of past. It is not an exaggeration to say that when comics where entertainment for everyone, they were at their best. When they begun to cater to a smaller audience, and now even to smaller audience that doesn’t even really buy the books. Just look at the female Thor storyline Marvel put out in 2016. Its sales dropped more than 50 percent after the first issue. Even the long-time core customers didn’t want to buy that trash, and the people it catered to don’t buy comics. It is a common secret that comic book movies were the best thing currently since the first Iron Man movie. Were is the keyword, as it would seem that Disney is taking the same direction as with the comics.

There is also an argument for intrinsic value. The less people know and consume a product, the more intrinsic value it is perceived to have. The value is high when the audience is niche. The product’s perceived value drops the more people get into it and the more exposure there is. You’d think this some sort of stupid illogical reason, and you’d be partially right. It is an emotional reaction of course. Some people hoard stuff to keep it to themselves as that supposedly increases the value. To some degree this does apply to single items, but this feeling of value is very easily extended to emotional connections and how exposed something is. This is somewhat a basis for the stereotypical hipster culture culture, where you have people acting strange for the sake of being different, getting into obscure stuff that nobody else knows for the sake of standing out and at least claiming to value the piece.. The don’t really want their strange and unique things go mainstream, because then they’d be mainstream and not strange and unique. Funnily enough, while yours truly has been claimed to act like a hipster, I do pretty much the exact opposite; here’s this strange and obscure shit, like it so it might get more exposure and maybe more fans. I just don’t like being in a community of something myself.

What is interesting about this whole thing is that this ties to the argument Popularity is not the measure of quality. I bet most of you have been a fan of something small that blew up, with the object of fandom staying the same, but the old fans nevertheless left. This ties to the above, but also to the perception that anything that is largely popular could never be of high quality. Of course this can, and often should, be turned around that success is a measure of quality. Ultimately, it is rather absurd to argue that the masses know nothing of high quality or that only a smaller group would know about a greater value something holds. Entertainment has skewed itself to cater in certain way, always has really, and people often forget that even original ideas, small providers and something that are made with a passion, in the end aim to make some money. Nobody makes a production in hopes of losing money for the sake of making the product, unless they already have shitloads of money in the bank to burn. That’s why most trophy projects end up in the trashbin of quality, because they’re made only to attract the preferences of one.

Of course, some people just want to enjoy their preferred thing alone without much others getting in. The question really ends up being with this; why concern yourself with others? Do we really as a species need to dick measure everything and call out others on stuff they find value in? It would seem so, as opinions are really the only things we can argue over, and people will always argue, bitch and moan what people do or what they like, even when there’s zero impact on themselves. Alternatively, we could try see all sides and consider why the things we like are absolute garbage, while the things we dislike and others prefer are worth the time and effort.

Quality and Value

Whenever I hear discussion, or discuss about games, the generic term of good game comes out very, very often. It is as if there is some sort of silently agreed myriad qualification that a game has to achieve in order to be considered a good game. Of course, this is rather absurd and ultimately rarely serves its purpose outside circles that have a similar taste in titles. A shut group of RPG fans, especially the Japanese console variant ones, would have a common basis for a similar taste and values in titles they’d label as good games. The opposite would be true with equally shut group of European retro-action enthusiasts, who might consider the aforementioned RPGs as waste of time, money and effort. Yes both sides have good games, in which we can always argue that they’re good for different reasons.

Using the word good to describe something is rather lacklustre, unimaginative and at best, juvenile. In many ways, its the most common denominator in discussion to set any barriers, but even then its obtuse. As a descriptor, its terrible. Yet, because of standards we share across different cultures and are able to understand how some thing’s value is determined, we can attach good as a usual, generic throwaway term as an attachment. When we call a burger good, what we really are saying is something like This hamburger fulfills the minimum requirements of what makes a burger, with the expected greens at certain size and taste with proper meat patty that is not too dry or juicy to complement the overall flavour in minimally expected manner. The term is also the best way to avoid answering any direct questions about quality of any given product, like your wife’s terrible cooking. Better just say its good and eat it.

We have rather clear outlines how to determine whether or not, for example, a film is a good one by standards laid down by academics, popularity, post-perception and such. We can determine whether or not the film’s script is well written depending how well structured it is, how clear it is and how much new content it has compared to past stories. How well the film is filmed, in what lighting, how the angles have been used, are the actors convincing in their roles, are they able to convey the characters’ feelings and presence on the silver screen. How well the music has been composed, how fitting is the music for each scene, has the recording been done properly, have any of the player screwed up during the session. These are matters that are self-evident, something we all can see and hear, assess ourselves. Hell, schools even teach us to be critical readers and consider multiple points of views and approaches when consuming media, be it entertainment or not. If your reaction to that was School never taught me that, I wish you had gone to a better school.

We can apply most of these how to determine what makes a good games. Nice music and pretty pictures only take us so far however, as the whole aspect of game and play is something that is more or less completely ignored in standard education. Sure you have some, but how many of us are taught to consider rules of a game or allowed to change them to fit a better purpose? For example, did your gym teacher ever simply change the rules of the game to make it more interesting, or ask you if you’d like to build a new kind of game to play during gym hours based on existing models? Did you make your own board games and such during native language or arts classes? Surely you made up your own play rules during recess or when you became nerd enough to play Dungeons and Dragons to live through your geek fantasies, but all that’s is worked through yourself. Nothing wrong in that, but it shows that there is very small, if any, academical approach in early teaching regarding play.

In university or college you probably have played enough games to know what makes a good one. After all, you’ve spend more than few nights playing Halo and Minecraft to know how a good game is structured. Maybe even try to make a revolutionary RPG with RPG maker. We can apply some of rules from other fields to determine what makes a game a quality product, yet there are numerous things that are mostly for games only. Some reviewers, especially on the PC game side, put rather large emphasise on things like resolution of textures, fidelity of things and other more graphics heavy aspects of the game. However, all this is mostly appearance. In films and such we do see under the visible layer most of the time as it has to be present at all times on the screen. With games, we can’t really tell if the coding of the game has been competent, or if its completely bonkers. We only get to see and feel the end result, and often here the play design often steps in as well. For example, in some games moving your character is immediate, while in others there is a small pause as the character gets his legs in moving. Other might be more realistic for sure, all the while the other can be more usable and suit play better.

This is of course something I’ve discussed previously in some post from some five years ago. We can and should have academics determinants what makes a game a well made product, and coding is the backbone of it all. Nowadays with almost everyone using ready made engines this might be a bit moot, but even then we can discuss how those have been adapted for a given title. We should discuss not just how well graphics have been realised and what their fidelity is, but also the designs themselves and the well these designs have been realised. That is, after all, the core of the graphics first and foremost. The visual style, if you will, will always trump over how the graphics are. You can have a game with low graphics with great style, and it will always beat a game with great graphics but utterly boring and dull visual style. Brown and Bloom comes to mind from this very easily, doesn’t it?

Controls are another thing that probably will always raise issues. For some, A jumps and B shoots. To some, its the other way around. To some, there are no A or B, just geometrical shapes. The logic of well made controls is one third of button layout and two thirds of coding. A well placed control layout is key for intuitive and direct controls that should not take long time to learn, but long time to master. Coding requires how well the game recognises button presses and delays, and how that is translated as action on the screen. While this seems like dead simple procedure, and often is, I am completely sure you can name multiple games where the design of the game fights the controls. Be it through physics, overt animation or just broken controls themselves, we can determine the quality of controls in an objective manner with relative ease.

All that is of course academical. You know what you like and if someone with a similar taste says a game is good, you can more or less just jump in and be done with it.

However, this is just looking at the game in a sort of vacuum. While we can do this, and dare I say should, we should also consider games in their proper environmental context. For example, is something like Mega Man 11 a good value game? Perhaps not on the HD Twins and PC. The market for similar titles is rather full. However, on the Switch its always with you, portable, and easily started and stopped. The portable nature of the console, and the game itself, adds value. Of course you get value from game being perceived as of high quality production overall, that its a wanted game and so on. The value of the game is not the same as its determinant quality, but in terms of reviews, should that not be a significant part of whether or not the title is good? Not if the port has been well made, not if there are any additional content from platform to another or anything like that. Many mobile games are not seen as good games and berated for their nature. They may not meet unspoken goals of a good game, but very many of them meet the requirements of a game of value. They are, after all, always portable, always available, surprisingly often free or cheap (Muse Dash is like 4€ on the Android app store and contains 40 songs from the get go) with some DLC or in-game purchases or gacha.

It would seem that games that have better value seem to do better than good games themselves. The two are not exclusive, of course, but very rarely you you see any source discussing this topic. Everything is minimising loss and maximising gain after all, so you can trust the game industry knows how to deal with their consumers regarding perceived value of a game over how good it actually is. Otherwise certain big names would’ve already fell out of favour long time ago.

 

Sony, are you shitting me?

I don’t mind Sony. I don’t have a beef with them or particularly feel anything for them. I admit that whenever I look for stuff like a television set or something related to music and sound, I default checking Sony’s products first due to my old paradigm on how Sony used to be at the forefront of this technology before PlayStation. However, I do feel that I keep writing about them almost every week and I’ve consciously skipped an easy topic or two just because this isn’t Sony news The Blog. However, when Sony comes out with a QA saying consoles are a niche business, there’s some bullshitting around.

According to Sony’s CEO, Jim Ryan, video game consoles are a niche business.

One has to wonder first compared to what. Considering Sony has some 25% of the market share on their back, the PlayStation 4 has sold some 96 million units and that gaming is currently their life-saving section of products. I guess it’s good to throw this sort of PR out there after the Switch passed PS4 and Xbox One in terms of sales in Japan despite being a newer device, and now that Sony partnered up with Microsoft to push for cloud gaming. We really have to question if consoles are a niche, and the answer is no a loud No. 

When talking to investors like this, comparisons have to be kept in mind. Console gaming is a niche compared to the number seen in mobile games, much like how browser games eclipsed pretty much every other section of the overall electronic gaming market. The numbers are stupidly different, but if we simply stare at the numbers in a vacuum, we can say that consoles have become a niche. Cloud gaming, like it or not, is making its major steps into the mainstream. Sony’s Playstation Now service has made some good bucks already, but it isn’t exactly mainstream at this point. A normal family probably buys a PlayStation console to play some of the sports games and few of the hits along the way, and then use it to stream Netflix or some other service, never even realising PlayStation Now is a thing unto itself. Assuring the investors that Sony is moving towards the future of gaming by setting the stage in sheer numbers is a good move, but then we remember most investors often do not have any touch to the ground level consumer. None of PlayStation’s games will ever be Fate/GrandOrder in terms of revenue. Then again, the model of getting constant revenues instead of one-time purchase from the consumers is enticing. On the other hand, Adobe shit their bed with a product half the quality and twice the price (ever continuing one too) compared Clip Paint Studio, but I’m here to shit on Adobe now.

Let’s take that for face value for a moment; consoles are a niche market. Then why, if they’re a niche market, would Sony put censorship policies into effect that further would push the niche market down? You would think that when you’re competing in a Red Ocean market, you’d like to spread your net well enough to net in more consumers. However, what Sony’s doing is pretty much the exact opposite for brownie points. I know, I keep shitting on them about this and there are other topics to write about.

It’s not uncommon for businessmen and politicians to say one thing towards different groups, and Sony’s no different. Perhaps this is Sony also laying some groundwork to explain the possible low sales of the PlayStation 5, seeing the Switch has been passing the PlayStation 4. It makes investors a bit jumpy, when your competitor is making more sales. The prestige and powerhouse nature of Sony’s hardware line against a dingy toy-looking like device should be overpowering, but reality isn’t that nice. Though Nintendo hasn’t exactly been keeping up with games to play on the system themselves. Appeasing the current and future worries your investors have is paramount. You’ve seen this whenever I’ve discussed Nintendo’s, or more importantly, Capcom’s investor relations.

As a side note, I have to wonder what sort of drive Sony will put behind PlayStation 5. Original PS had 3D graphics, and the original model is still one of the best CD players that were. PS2 broke through the DVD market and effectively made it in Japan. PS3 boosted through with Blu-Ray, but PS4 had effectively nothing to drive it like this. It was the first time Sony effectively put out a standard device fitting to their image. PlayStation 5 supposedly will have full backwards compatibility with everything, and pushing PlayStation Now further up the wazoo will become a key element.

It does look like Sony’s just covering their ass over Switch selling more and wanting to promote the best and healthy direction of cloud gaming. That is, without a doubt, part of it. The word niche carries some heavy connotations to it, and as consumers tend to wonder what the hell they really mean with millions selling product. Is Sony shitting me when they say video game consoles are a niche product? No, but they are bullshitting their investors by claiming this. Then again, consoles are a niche in the electronic gaming environment, but I doubt they use the term in this sense. That’d be too smart of them.

Then again, Vita was an absolute shitshow. Sure it has its absolutely hardcore fans, yet outside of that it had low sales, low success rate in software and absolutely horseshit support from Sony. It wouldn’t be a stretch they’d include this failure into their argument why consoles are a niche, when they just fucked up royally and don’t admit to it. And no, Vita doesn’t magically become a super fine handheld after you mod it for piracy and emulators. I have a goddamn laptop that can do that geometric amounts better and I can do errything else on it to boot. Such a waste of good hardware too.

The paradigm of electronic gaming is ever-shifting. The original PC-Arcade-Paradigm that I so much talk and love died in the mid-90’s. We’ve been talking about video games since as an umbrella term for all electronic gaming, despite that being vehemently incorrect term. Platform cross-pollination effectively killed PC-Console division, with the current paradigm being One Game, Many Ports sort of deal. Whatever you choose, you get 90% same library. It’s that remaining 10% that matters for consoles. With the current paradigm and the decentralisation away from the traditional living room model that’s been going on for some time now, being able to stream whatever shit you want whenever you want to any device you can probably is a strong contender, but it’s not like there’s room for Switch’s model of dedicated device and physical games to exist next to digital-only Google and Sony intend to move toward. It’d be insanity to think that only one form of entertainment consumption is viable, or that filling a niche wouldn’t yield profits.

Heads in the clouds

Cloud gaming making some waves again, with Sony and Microsoft announcing collaboration with each other to explore solutions with their own streaming solutions. At least according to official statement from Microsoft. Despite being rivals within gaming market. We should always remind ourselves that out of the Big Three, only Nintendo deals exclusively with games. Both Microsoft and Sony have their fingers spread elsewhere, with Sony having movie and music studios, Microsoft with Windows and whatnot and so on. While Sony does rely heavily on the profits their gaming department is making (to the point of relying most of their profits coming from there seeing everything else has been going downhill for them), Microsoft doesn’t as much. I’m not even sure if Microsoft is still making any profit on their Xbox brand and products, considering neither the original box or the 360 saw any real profit throughout their lifespans. It’s like a prestige project for them, they gotta have their fingers in the biggest industry out there. The more competition, the better though. This does mean that neither Amazon or Google can partner with Sony for similar venture, but perhaps this was more or less a calculated move on both of their parts.

It does make sense that the two would collaborate to support each other in cloud and streaming venture though. Sony already has an infrastructure for streaming gaming content with their PlayStation Now while Microsoft has the whole Azure cloud centre set up. The MS Azure contains lots of features, from computing  virtual machines and high density hosting of websites, to general and scalable data management all the way to media streaming and global content delivery. Safest bet would be that both MS and Sony are intending to share their know-how of content streaming, but it is doubtful if the two will actually share any content. Perhaps Sony’s music and films will be seen on Microsoft’s services, but don’t count on the games. However, I can’t help but guess if multiplatform games between the two could be specifically designed and developed for their combined streaming efforts. That’s a bit out there, as the collaboration is to find new solutions rather than build a common service the two would use. This is, like Satya Nadella said, about bringing MS Azure to further power Sony’s streaming services, and that’s completely different part of market from games at its core.

This does seem like Enemy-of-enemy like situation. Google’s Stadia is touted to be the next big hitter on the game market. It’s not unexpected for the two giants pull something that would weaken Stadia’s standing. This, despite Stadia already having boatloads of obstacles already, ranging from control latency to the quality of the streaming itself (end-user Internet connection still matters, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by dense forests) to the very content itself probably being less than unique. Let’s not kid ourselves, cloud gaming is not for everyone despite what Google’s PR department wants you to think. Not everyone has the money or infrastructure to have a proper connection for cloud gaming. Anecdotes be damned, but there are lots of people living around here who have to rely on wireless Internet for everything, especially up North, because the population is so spread apart that putting data cables into the ground would not be worth it. Early 2000’s modem speeds are not unexpected, they’re a standard. If early reports on Stadia are to be believed, there’s some serious lag and latency on standard Internet connections. It’s not going to play well with someone who doesn’t put a whole lot money into their Internet connection, or just can’t. If we’re going to be completely open about this, only a fraction of the world can handle cloud gaming. 10.7 teraflop computing power and 4K resolutions for Stadia? A pipe dream at best.

Steaming interactive content like video and computer games is not easy. Music and video, that’s comparatively easy, just send that data to the consumer and you’re pretty much done. Gaming requires two-way communication at all times, and on top of that the service has to keep tabs on what’s going on at both ends within the game. No matter how robust the data centres are, no matter what sort of AI solutions are implemented, it all comes down to the whole thing about latency between the data centre and the end-user. Perhaps the best solution would be split the difference in a similar manner how mobile games have partial data on the phone whole syncing with the server side all the time. That, of course, would be pretty much against the whole core idea of cloud gaming, where the end-user would just hold an input device and a screen.

Cloud gaming has been tried for about a decade now. It’s still ways off, but it’s very understandable from the corporations’ perspective why they’d like it to become mainstream and successful. For one, it would remove one of the biggest hurdles from the consumer side; getting the hardware. You could just use your existing computer or smartypants phone to run things and you’re set. Maybe have a controller, but you can get those for twenty bucks. No need to pay several hundreds for a separate device just to run separate media software. Cloud gaming would be the next step in digital-only distribution, which would also offer better protection from piracy. Control is the major aspect of cloud gaming, where the end-user would have effectively none. You would have no saying in what games you have access to. One of the well marketed modern myths about streaming services is that everything is available 24/7, when in reality everything is determined by licenses. Star Trek vanished from Netflix for a time being, because the license ended, for example. This happens all the time. I’m sure there’s some list of lost media listing somewhere about digital-only films and shows that were lost due to publishing rights and licenses expiring. Lots of games having vanished from both Steam and GOG because of this, and if there are no physical copies floating around, pirating is your only option. For something like the Deadpool game, you can only get second-hand or newold stock, as the developer’s and publisher’s license expired few years back.

Will cloud gaming be the future? Probably at some point, but the infrastructure is way off still for it to become any sort of standard. It is, in the end, another take on the decentralised gaming Nintendo has going on with the Switch, moving away from the home media centre that the smartphones brought to us. Cloud gaming will take take firmer hold once they beat systems with local storage in value and performance. For now, enjoy the screen in your pocket.

Consumer agency W

I’ve talked about this topic to death on the blog, so this entry will be short. Omega Labyrinth got blocked by Sony in the Western market, and probably was one of the last Japanese games that didn’t have to go through the censorship police. Marvelous has been getting the shaft thanks to Senran Kagura to the point the series creator left them, and now they’re rather stuck with Rune Factory 5 and are telling to the public that they shouldn’t expect the game until April 2020. At this point, the Switch or Xbox One should be considered the best possible option for freedom of work, and leave hyper violence for Sony. I assume Sony would like keep things in check in a way that doesn’t pop like a sore thumb and slap you in the face.

Ah, I see Sony has fucked even the game’s logo

Omega Labyrinth Life just got announced, and ‘lo and behold what in the fuck. There’s no reason for the game to have two different logos across platforms, that’s never been a thing in of itself outside versions. There is no other reason for this than Sony practicing their now overt becoming censorship. Omega Labyrinth‘s logo has been pretty great in that it has always played with the whole playish aspect with the sexuality, having a comedic and cute approach to the whole thing and not taking it too seriously. Here, have some bouncy boobs and enjoy it the show. Nothing harmful, nobody has gotten PTSD from seeing joyful tits. Unlike certain 3D modeller at Netherrealms, who can’t sleep due to the horrifying shit he had to watch and use as a reference when making latest Mortal Kombat 11’s visceral violence. Without the whole Omega bit, the PS4 version is just Labyrinth Life. Not even kidding, the PS4 version was cut short.

Best thing of all, the Switch version is basically advertised as This is the real version while the PS4 versions is hit with a slogan You can play this in front of your family! You thought I was kidding when I titled my last post about Sony’s censorship about them being family friendly, but this is really the way things are going with them. I’d laugh at the whole damn ordeal if it was just some bad parody, but it’s almost like some one at Sony took a joke seriously and ran with it. Gematsu has tl’d section what the further differences are between PS4 and Switch versions.

With two versions of the same game on two different platforms, the consumer has some freedom to choose, some agency has been given to them. While politic no little place in video games (one of the missteps Sony’s doing with their whole shtick here) deciding where to buy, what to buy and even how to buy a game can be used as a leverage to make a statement. While the money will ultimately end up with the developer and whoever’s in the middle, the choice given here can also be stated as follows; do you support a company for practicing censorship, or do you support the company that support creative freedom?

Aalt, you’re being facetious here. Of course I am, this is a hyperbolic statement, but no less valid when you consider how hard companies, especially Japanese companies, value raw data. This is probably D3 Publisher testing waters which direction to go in the future to some extent, but also probably just serving both sides of the console chasm all the while leaving something core goodness for the series’s fans. You’ve got some agency in your hands, if you’re interested in making a statement with your wallet here. I doubt many people reading this post has any interest in buying the game proper, but consider the following; would this have happened if the economy would be different, if there wasn’t room to pick and choose what’s on your platform for the sake of maximising profits?

Funny that, this is more solid stuff for Sony using almost racist depiction of American censorship standards; it’s A-OK to show someone, especially a man, being gutted, shot in the head, ripped apart, face smashed in and spine being ripped. R-18, s’all good, maybe even good for teen. A pair of boobs? X-rated and ban it.

Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

If you’re familiar with some of Sega’s (and Red Entertainment’s) prestige IPs, Sakura Taisen, or as known under its official English moniker, Sakura Wars, is a franchise that people sometimes bring up when discussing game IPs that never got a real chance in the West. When it did however, it bombed for whatever reasons. Only the fifth installment was released in the West, and you can imagine how well that went. To make matters worse, if reports are to be believed, even Japan gave a colder shoulder to that entry than the rest of the series. So not the greatest start for this series outside of Japan.

First game hit the shelves in 1996 and was touted as Sega’s most ambitious title for the Sega Saturn. Since then, this particular title saw ports to Dreamcast, PSP and Windows. The game got an expanded remake for the PS2 with the subtitle In Hot Blood. Original release was also a massive success, selling out from stores and selling over half of stock available in a week. It was the fastest selling Sega at the time

Something like Yakuza had to build its fanbase for a decade before it broke through its barriers toward the larger markets. Initially, it was marketed and touted as the spiritual sequel to Shuenmue but since then it has been allowed to flourish on its own. As a concept, it is more approachable game than Sakura Wars. After all, realistic modern day Japan is more approachable as a concept than fantasy version of Taishō period Japan. While it would be easy to simply Sakura Wars as a strategic RPG with classical oriental motif, the fact that it heavily marries its gameplay to visual novel styled story telling and certain level of emphasize on dating simulation, it is extremely clear why Sega would have worries whether or not any of the series’ games would a success enough in the West.

Despite what the sub-culture would like you to tell, Japanese media cartoons and comics are still a relatively small niche in the West, especially in the US. Sure, they’re probably the most stable mainstream than what it has ever been. Everything from dubbing to free streaming has been made to open the access points for people with interest, but even in Europe certain other forms of media are consumed more despite the how much e.g. France and Italy experienced Japanese classics in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. That was the time when the origin of these shows wasn’t made a huge deal, that their source wasn’t something that used to market. The best example of this is still with the US marketing of the NES and its games, where some have come to argue that Nintendo of America intentionally made people think the NES and its games were American products. Perhaps it was because how well Japan’s aggressive business practices did against US businesses, or maybe just to keep things as a cohesive whole. The source didn’t really matter, only that Nintendo’s branding was there and visible.

Kousuke Fujishima was instrumental in realising the characters and designs, balancing the era’s mix of Japanese and Western flavours with the magical steampunk world. Fujishima is know for such works as Oh My Goddess!, You’re Under Arrest and working on characters in the Tales of series. At the time, he was a household name and further drove the franchise’s initial success

Sakura Wars is inherently Japanese to the point of its detriment in the Western market.

My point of Yakuza taking a decade to make a solid fanbase comes is important, as it initially had, and still has, the same kind of wall on its way. However, the constant positive word of mouth and Sega sticking to their guns and releasing all the mainline games, and that one zombie sidegame, and ultimately growing positive press gave the series a pretty good reputation. It also helped that it was called Japanese Grand Theft Auto at some point during the two latest GTA games, which made more people curious about it. more than few fans were made through that.

Sakura Wars has none of this backing it up. While it has a small and dedicated cult following in the West, that’s all it has. Japan on the other hand treats the IP with silk gloves, though later games in the series simply didn’t have the selling power the earlier titles had. Sakura Wars is an expensive franchise to make with all the animated cutscenes, all the voices that need to be paid, the illustrated works and whole multimedia thing it has going on with cartoons, comics, figures and whatnot. It was designed from grounds up for Japanese markets only. It’s cultural ties are its most prominent element after all, specifically designed to invoke certain emotional response from the Japanese consumers. This is similar how Ciel Nosurge uses Shōwa era to directly invoke nostalgia from its older players. The Western audience has no links to this age in any form outside historical oddities. It becomes a double-edged sword in the Western markets.

Imagine if some US developer would make a fantasy RPG set in a romanticised version of the American Civil War with romance partner elements akin to Dragon Age. Whatever its success would be in the US, both European and Asian markets would not have any connections to the era and treat it as some kind of self-centered, bolstering product. Similarly, a British developer could make a similar product of their great colonial days, and it would have the same reception. This would be similar how Sakura Wars presents its idealised fantasy version of the Imperial Japan that no longer exists.

This carries even to the music of the series, with its main theme is a mix of Super Sentai opening song and 1949’s Aoi Sanmyaku‘s theme. Most of the character songs later in the franchise has been intentionally designed and composed to be nostalgic period pieces with characteristic twists. However, the main, ‘Geki! Teitoku Kagekidan’, or ‘Attack! Imperial Floral Assault Troop,’ has been the most repeated song in the franchise and is the most iconic representation whenever the series represents itself. Project Sakura Wars, the upcoming game, even uses a new variation on the song, further emphasising the fact that this is a new game.

Compare the two song here;

The main difference is in the lyrics while keeping the base composition the same. Perhaps I should also emphasise that the Japanese title of Project Sakura Wars is translated as New Sakura Wars. Again, culturally the song hits the times, as it was used to introduce melodic composition back to Japanese mainstream, and was Kohei Tanaka’s first major video game work, and helped him to further his career. I must admit I have an enormous soft spot for Kohei Tanaka’s works, and probably should count as one of his fans. I even have GaoGaiGar DVD box with his signature on it. (He was surprised and asked if I had seen the whole series, and was rather touched to hear that it made me a fan of his other works as well.) Sakura Wars music is one of the more important works for him, and has been used to describe his body of works in Western conventions. But I digress.

Of course, one thing this series is known for in certain circles the most are its steampunk mechas, the Koubu, which the fair maidens use to war against demons

With only one low-selling game in the West, Sega’s best bet to market this game in the West is to tie itself to Sakura Wars’ popularity and status as a prestige franchise within their home market.  The series has always shown strong national and historical pride despite its fantastic nature, which probably will rub some small groups the wrong way. Unless this time the rule is that North Americans and Europeans can’t show national pride, but others can. The gameplay elements, with its strong emphasize what Sega has coined as ‘dramatic adventure,’ naturally will get the dating sim label, which still carries the whole ‘dating sim=porn game’ stigma that’s been around since the early 1990’s. To the same extent, no matter what the hardcore VN fans tells you, the general perception is still ‘VN=porn game’.

Still, as a certain Youtuber told me in a chat why he didn’t get into the series was because, and I quote; “Does that actually have gameplay? I sat down once for an hour and they just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.” Oh gee, another PS2 RPG!” This isn’t all too rare a reaction to the series from the two decades I’ve followed the series from the sidelines. Sony made a similar notion, as an yet unnamed company tried to localise the ports of the two first Sakura Wars, but were rejected by Sony when they categorised the series as text novels due to sheer amount of text compared to the game play.

Yakuza is the game franchise that showed Sega that inherently Japanese products can succeed in the West. With their newfound courage and willingness to serve a niche audience is always welcome, and perhaps there’s some hopes that they’ll keep expanding if the series becomes a cult hit. Then again, Yakuza visually doesn’t look cartoony and sticks its legs into more realistic graphics and setting over girls with magical powers controlling robots to defeat demons. One more thing that makes it easier to sell. Nevertheless, there is a niche for the series. If Fire Emblem can find its niche despite its low acceptance first, all Sakura Wars needs to do is to be present and have a new entry available.

While Sakura Wars had massive initial success, the fourth game was a rushed job and gained rather negative reception, while the fifth pretty much ended the series with completely new set of characters and new setting. In few ways, Sakura Wars is like Virtual-On in that you can follow the last truly glorious days of Sega end in misery

This isn’t enough as is though, it also has to stay true to its nature to keep that niche. Capitulating to trends, removing game play elements, censoring anything either during development or in overseas version or removing any cultural motifs among numerous others will impact how that niche will view the game, thus affecting how the word of mouth will treat the title. They also need to do translation and localisation in-house and follow Yakuza‘s later steps, as Sakura Wars; So Long My Love has the usual NISA quality of translation and buggy coding. The PS2 version came with two discs in the West, one with faithful translation with Japanese voices, and one that had NISA’s less-than-accurate translations with extremely subpar English voice acting. The Wii version is based on the second NISA-fied disc, so you might burn it. Sadly, the Wii version was the only version released in Europe, making Sakura Wars initial entry in the PAL region doubly worse. Then again, starting with fifth game in the franchise might not be a good idea. A soft reboot on the franchise probably was the best move outside complete modern remake of the first game.

There is hope for Project Sakura Wars to be best it can, seeing the development team is using lessons learned from Yakuza how to present the game, but it was also mentioned that battles would be easier to go through in order for new players to have a better time. This interview with Famitsu is rather good representation how carefully the new entry is approached, but perhaps it also the text between the lines is telling how they’re putting more effort on story segments over gameplay, which will only raise the wall for the mass audiences. People who play games for stories, games like Persona 5, probably would like their direction.

Sega will have to deal with Sakura Wars being inherently anime and Japanese, which are probably its biggest obstacles in the larger markets while being one of major selling points to sub-culture niches. The best way to build toward an expanding market is up start with a  cult-hit. I wish this series would see some decent success in order to ensure further longevity of the franchise and more localised entries, despite its niche status in the West. It’s an expensive endeavour for Sega, but perhaps the market niche is large enough now for this new Sakura Wars to bloom in spring 2020.

In the meanwhile, you can visit Japan and play that Pachislot machine.

The price of production

End users very rarely think about the production of consumable and usable goods. Why should they, it doesn’t exactly touch their daily lives to any meaningful extent outside the price of the product and the environmental impact it causes, but outside that nobody really thinks things like how their forks have been produced. Even before you get to smelting and consuming the raw materials, whatever company procured the materials had to have their own equipment to obtain the metal, most likely via some sort of mining operation, which leads to the whole cycle of obtaining the materials, all the plastics and metals, to produce the necessary equipment. It is practically impossible for a general consume to ever know where and how their products have been sourced and from where. Many companies make big promises for ethical treatments of workers or environment, often both. Fairtrade is one of the prominent examples of this, with issues ranging from low pay for coffee to less money ending up to the growers themselves. The growers outside Fairtrade make three to four times more money by selling outside Fairtrade, whereas less than 12% of any of the money made from Fairtrade products ends up going back to the source despite the significantly more expensive price tag products under this brand are sold in. Fairtrade themselves claims the price is justified due to the high quality of their products, though that seems to be less the case the more you look into habits of hardcore foodies. Things like premium coffee markets were expanding in the 2010’s, and Fairtrade’s didn’t seem to meet with the quality. Olivier Riellinger of Les Maisons de Bricourt said it best, when he described the whole Fairtrade scheme neo-imperialistic that is being imposed on growers. However, Fairtrade continues to succeed to an extent with their branding of ethics and practices.

Let’s use another example, where production of something is completely ignored due to the perceived and argued value of the usable good; electric cars in Germany. The Brussels Times recently wrote that a German scientist had found out that electric vehicles in Germany cause more CO2 emissions than diesel cars. You might be wondering how this would be possible, as electric cars don’t really have CO2 emission. This study found that electric cars, despite their perceived position as an environmental saviour, ultimately cause further emissions due to the source of that power. The power needed to charge these cars comes from power plants, and in Germany they are phasing out the greenest and cleanest form of energy production; nuclear power. Each nation that is phasing out nuclear power in favour of alternative methods means either coal or far weaker form of energy production, and ultimately releases less radiation to the environment than the alternatives. Richard Rhodes has an excellent opinion piece on the subject that I would recommend reading.

While the history of nuclear power has its spots, so does every other form of energy. However, in most of these cases human neglect and lacking procedures have caused the most damage. In Chernobyl, the combination of old, inefficient Soviet nuclear tech and carelessness caused the meltdown. Fukushima Daiichi too was to be refurbished and upgraded many times before that fatal earthquake, but lobbyists and anti-nuclear power movements prevented this, ultimately leading Fukushima’s reactors and facilities to be out-of-date. If they had been upgraded when they were needed and indeed were supposed to originally years prior, Fukushima’s incident would have been avoided. The fact that it is cheapest, cleanest and most efficient power source we have makes every charge we do outside nuclear power damage the environment.

What do we charge? Mobile phones, portable torches, mp3 players, other mobile devices, e-readers, electric cars and so on. Everything runs on batteries, and mining that those metals and minerals; lithium, cobalt, manganese, iron, copper and hematite just to name few, takes energy in itself, often oil and coal powered. These materials are mined in massive amounts, and the insanely large amounts that are produced makes their end price as low as five buck a pack of ten AAA batteries. Then take the amount of chemicals these products require, from surface paintings to the adhesives and plastics parts used inside, and you have more materials required to be produced and assembled through hundreds of different hands.

To use another example, solar panels themselves are considered very environmentally friendly source of energy. Yet this discussion almost always omits the copious amounts of quarts that is required to be mined in order to turn that into silicon in furnaces that emit sulfur and carbon dioxides in large amounts as well as have large amounts of wasted heat. Let’s not forget all the particle pollution this causes. Then you have all the chemicals that are required and produced during the production of the both prepare and wafer the silicon for the panels themselves. Second issue of course is the panels themselves, or rather, the shadows they cast. If a solar panel is placed anywhere else that isn’t a building roof or a wall, like a large field or on a lake, it will cast shadow on the ground. When you have large areas cast in shadows, this impacts the growth on the plants and can screw up small animals in that region. Of course, when the panels are finally up and running, they do produce clean energy, even if it gets quarter cut in production due to all the coal that’s being burned to charge those solar cars.

To reiterate, production of any good takes resources, even especially invisible goods like electricity in your home. It comes from somewhere, and its making requires materials of its own and someone to make, even if it just one guy in a control room making sure shit doesn’t just explode. Whatever product you have in your hands now, be it a cup of coffee or a mouse, consider for a moment how many different individual elements of production it has gone through, and how many hands have been making it, before it ended up in your care. The number is, most likely, more than we can guess.

Games as products

With Google coming out with their version of cloud gaming with Stadia, they really went all-out with selling multiple concepts as something completely new despite in reality most of them being already existing. For example, they were selling a Share button as something new, despite the PS4 controller already having it. The function and connection might be unique to Google and how it’s tied to Youtube and such, yet at the core it is all about the whole sharing pictures or video with whatever social media or video site you use. Another example of course is the whole concept of gaming on demand itself. Vortex has offered this sort of service for some time now without any separate consoles or devices needed. OnLive officially launched with a tiny receiver console back  in 2010, and closed its doors when Sony acquired its patents in 2015. Sony did the same thing for Gaikai 2014, and PlayStation Now is supposedly a thing. NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW and NVIDIA GRID are both offering cloud gaming to users. Microsoft already told us last year about Project xCloud that it’d be some sort of cloud gaming service. Even EA has its fingers in the model as well with upcoming Project Atlas. France has Shadow by Blade SAS Group, which spread into 19 US states and at least intended to spread further. LOUDPLAY is another gaming on demand model that was showcasing 5G in partnership with Rostelecom and Huawei, and mostly seemed to stay in Eastern Europe.

The only true difference with Stadia and all previous models is that Google has more money to throw at it, probably a better infrastructure to make streaming games a better experience. However, what Google and all these other companies want to sell you is the idea of games as a model of service rather than product. They’re of course mixing the language a bit here, as a product is whatever you sell to the consumer. A product can be goods or a service. Nevertheless, all that money thrown at the infrastructure will probably mean it’ll be the best kind of gaming on demand to date, that’s their ticket to make themselves stand out. Even with this they still need games for people to play, games that they can’t play anywhere else. Well good thing Google announced their own game studio, as it seems to struggle to get other companies on-board. All we know that it’ll have an Assassin’s Creed game and the upcoming Doom Eternal, both of which you can play on other platforms as well. You don’t sell a service without content. What Google is doing is selling you a really nice looking string and nail for you painting, promising that there’s gonna be a really well made frame and picture later on.

As much as the recent debacle of Epic Game Store doing stuff to get exclusives to their platform, exclusives still are lifeline for different platforms. While many think that if you need PC to play a game, then it is a PC game. Of course this isn’t the case, Epic Games Store is as much a digital console as Steam is. Real PC gaming wouldn’t need to be tied to either one of them to any extent. Nevertheless, while there has been a kind of cold war between GOG and Steam, Epic has made it heat up. There are numerous people who don’t use Epic because their game library and friends are on Steam, and they don’t want to begin using a new service. This is brand loyalty at its core though, as if there was no limitations with PC gaming any and all services would already see people logging in. If PC Gamer is to be believed, about 40% of Epic Game Store’s users don’t have a Steam account.

The PC gaming market is a market space of its own, separate from the console space. The differences are not only in methods and software, but in business models and devices as well. GOG, DLSite, Steam and Epic are all in this one space battling each other, with the likes of Vortex doing something different, but I doubt many have even heard of Vortex. Stadia’s entering this space with bold new steps and they’ve got nothing to show for. Technology will take you only so far. Even in console space the device with the least power of the major players has seen the most sales, and often the largest library. While some will argue against this with saying the Mega Drive was weaker than the SNES, they always forget the X32 and Sega CD exist. Then you get to a debate whether or not you only count base consoles only or if add-ons are applicable. For the sake of argument, and reality, all the updates and upgrades should be taken into account for the most whole picture possible.

Nevertheless, what will decide the success of any of the platforms, be it in console or computer space, is the games. Your service will be worth jackshit nothing if it doesn’t have anything to offer. Hyping Stadia because you could be playing games anywhere with Chrome and Google devices? At this point in time, you only have two options. Certainly there will be more in the future, but without a doubt most options will be the same as on other platforms. Stadia, in order to succeed over its competitors in computer space, requires to offer content you can’t find anywhere else.

That’s the rub though. Not the games or the like, but that it requires Chrome or a Google device. Google exclaimed to high how this product is for everyone, putting down all consoles and their games, but not all people use Chrome. Chrome may have the largest market share at 65%, but that’s excluding all the people who still use IE, people who mainly use FireFox or its forks like me, Edge, Safari or Opera. There’s also Brave Browser, which you really should check out if you’re into data safety. Their bold claim for this product to be for everyone rings hollow, as with cloud gaming all the cards and choices are in Google’s hands. I guess people are willing to give complete and total power over the goods and services they buy nowadays to the provider, and have effectively very little in return. You can expect for exclusive games to appear on Stadia in the future, and after their license has expired in a way or another, they’ll vanish altogether, never to be played any more. Digital-only will always meet that fate, and we’ve already lost more than enough games  to this.

2D Sells

Nintendo recently released their Nine months financial results briefing for fiscal year ending march 2019, and it is overall nothing surprising to read. However, in comparison to Wii’s four million unit sales in December 2009, Switch is still lagging despite its high spike of sales in December 2018. Why did the Wii see so many units sold? New Super Mario Bros. Wii. What gave Switch sales the dominance over Xbox One and PlayStation 4? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

People still snicker at the Wii, ignoring the amount of sales and install base it had. The economy ten years ago was in the trash and people didn’t exactly have the money to buy things as much as we do now. Effectively, currently anything sells due to the good overall health of the economy, even if there are some signs of its starting to go down a bit. Wii’s strategy to disrupt the market with a cheaper, less-powered device with software that would hit the consumer wants both in and out the consumer market was a massive success. The Switch being a hybrid console could have lead to a similar position, but the software’s not quite as much there as it could.

However, the spike the Switch saw last December was solely due to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Wii U, despite having the initial version of the game (and let’s be completely frank; Smash Bros. Ultimate is effectively just a souped up port) the hardware and the software library were abysmal. 3.32 million units within four weeks for one title is something other companies can barely dream of, often citing hundreds of thousands of sales made throughout a year or so. It should be noted that Smash Ultimate also sold more than any other entry in the series, with Melee and Smash Bros. for Wii U having the least sales. Nintendo 3DS, despite its lacklustre success (or maybe even slight failure compared to the DS’ userbase) sold about three times Smash Bros. units than the Wii U.

Ten years ago, both the industry and the press weren’t exactly friendly towards Nintendo or its software. Despite it being the era of Retrosploitation with titles like Mega Man 9 being a thing, the industry and media lambasted that there wasn’t any space for 2D games, people didn’t want that. The Wii wasn’t powerful enough console to run the latest games and that its games weren’t wanted. Even Nintendo themselves were wrong in this. The sales the Wii made with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. showcased that there was, and still is, a strong demand for 2D games, even when Nintendo trips with them to some degree. NSMB on the DS was the start of it all, and the stupidly large amount of sales Wii’s Virtual Console made were stupidly insane.

2D games sell. The tale from the late 90’s and 00’s that 2D is dead and have no place are time and time again shown wrong in sales numbers. Even titles like Octopath Traveler makes waves by being high-profile 2D game. Another title that kicked a franchise back into the general consumer’s awareness is Mega Man 11. Despite being a budget title all things considering, its sales have been impressive and have effectively given Capcom the boost to seriously consider reviving their old franchises, as I’ve discussed earlier.

There is a way for the Switch to effectively make Wii level sales. However, that would require using the same mindset and tactics the Wii utilised, which would mean using the same tactics and mindset the DS utilised, which would mean using same the tactics and mindset the NES utilises, but Nintendo’s more often than not unwilling to return to their Classic Era arcade roots in this manner. Look at the lack of success of the N64, the Game Cube and the Wii U how that often goes, or in case of an extreme, the Virtual Boy. Actually the Wii U is probably even worse failure than the VB. You don’t become the top selling console in the market by having the most powerful console on the market; you do it by having a library that the consumers are needing to consume. Want isn’t enough. 2D Mario is the perfect example for this, as Nintendo, Miyamoto himself and the whole of industry considered 2D Mario effectively dead after Super Mario 64. The few re-releases here and there did some good, and the DS hit around.

PlayStation 2 is the best-selling home console to date. How it managed that is a combination of effectively making the DVD market in Japan overnight (it was the cheapest DVD player despite being rather poor player in overall terms) and how both of its major competitors made mistakes with Dreamcast and GameCube. Granted, Sega pretty much fucked up everything after they started ignoring Western market during Mega Drive, but we’ve covered that few times already. Xbox didn’t enter the fray until later, and by that point the PS2 already had most of its success ensured thanks to how much games were rolling unto the platform, despite being a bitch to code for. Sony wanted to repeat some of this with the PS3 by using Blu-Ray discs, but that wasn’t cutting it. We won’t be seeing another success like the PS2 due to the massive changes in how consumers use and purchase media, and how Microsoft and Nintendo are playing completely different game than what they were almost twenty years ago.

However, the console generations have repeated the Atari and the NES model of sales more often than not. You could even say that his has become a sort of mantra for the blog throughout the years; The software matters, not the hardware. The Switch is able to make Wii like sales if it hits the same core the Wii and the DS did. Despite I see it becoming one of the best arcade ports platforms we have currently, these are still ports and that’s not enough. The industry and the red ocean market of video games have a certain view on what kind of games AAA titles are, and how they sell. It’s not exactly positive, all things considered. Now consider what would happen if even half of the budget of these titles would go into developing 2D games with the same mentality.

Sadly, that’s not going to happen, because it would appear the mentality for 2D games is still stuck in mud. If it’s not full-blown 3D, the price isn’t really worth it. Mega Man 11 didn’t get a physical release for the Switch in Europe because of this. More and more games of 2D nature are relegated for digital releases only, further downgrading their status. While digital distribution is becoming the standard, there is a view where stores are chock full of mediocre to terrible 2D games from various developers and publishers, and throwing one more amidst of this sea of dregs doesn’t serve them.

Will the Switch overcome Wii at some point in the future? It will, if the software is there. It’s not exactly an uphill battle at this point, but rather a battle against Nintendo’s own internal wants. After all, you can’t just do whatever you want when you’re providing entertainment like this.