A Stadiaster

That title isn’t even punny. Yeah I know I’m bad at making jokes and people tend to take me all seriously whenever I make one on the blog, which is why I stopped doing them long time ago (or did I?) I didn’t follow Stadia’s launch per se, but news and people going on about the whole shebang just crept through the grapevines. I couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for people who got Stadia, but this should also teach people that corporate speech is never to be trusted. While Stadia hasn’t been a complete disaster, it’s damn close to it.

From what I’ve been told, the lag is present in almost every game to a stupidly extreme degree. Button presses are recognised whole seconds after the fact, and some games simply stutter and play slow like you’re in Nino Island Ruins in Mega Man Legends 2, just without the watery ripple effect. The instructions for Stadia recommends cutting everything off in your Internet usage while playing Stadia, including streaming music. It’s also recommended to connect it directly to the router rather than through computer or any other device’s WiFi. There are some additional helps people have found out, but it’s all really to make sure the Stadia has all the bandwidth. Not just some, but all it can have. When I called out Google’s bullshit that it’d do 60FPS 4K in a perfect manner and said nobody really has the speeds or connections to get games running in that quality, I knew people would be bewildered when their games would run terribly. Never trust corporate word, it’s meant to promote and sell, not to be truthful.

That should be few nails in the coffin for Stadia, but that’s just the game side of things. People haven’t got their codes, some have been missing their devices and Google’s own support isn’t even in the know about Stadia. Sure, Google’s a big million dollar company and not everything part of it can be made aware what sort of things the other is doing, but support should really be informed that this kind of product is coming and these are your instructions. This should show that Stadia’s launch very much a rushed thing, that Google barely had any time to put together proper documentations internally and did not prepare what was to come. I bet your ass they know well enough how badly everything would go, but hype will carry anything through. Now that they’re getting real-world test data from existing users, they can start tweaking stuff properly. While not standard, it isn’t unusual for a company to use early adopters as testbeds and beta testers. The “real” launch of Stadia will probably be sometime next year after they’ve further tweaked and fixed stuff, and when that supposed Freemium model of some sort gets launched.

Of course, when you fail at what you intended to do, you can always throw in identity politics and claim some brownie points through that. In an interview with CNN Business, Google VP and head of Stadia Phil Harrison claimed that Stadia is targeting women with Stadia controller. Here’s the archive link for it. If I’m being honest, this is load of bullshit. Stadia controller looks like a generic Chinese knock-off controller you can sometimes see being sold on eBay or other places, it looks like a blander version of the Xbox 360 controller. Controllers in multiple colours has been a thing since at least Commode 64 days, where you could find joysticks and other devices in different colours. Most often something neutral or targeting the pre-existing user group was offered, because those sell. The design director Isabelle Olsson claims that the wasabi colour they went with has universal appeal. There are vast amounts of colours that have universal appeal. Anything pale that’s close to white of course would have universal appeal, as it doesn’t make a strong statement for a direction or another. It’s like vanilla; it goes well with everything and nobody really fights against the taste. CNN Business claiming that it’s slightly easier for small hands to grip than similar products put out by rivals is nothing short of bullshit. All modern controllers that use the handle-grip design have to be designed to fit standard hand dimensions. The overall shape has to be different due to the patents and copyrights, but in recent memory there is only one controller that was intentionally designed to fit larger dimensions than the global standard, Xbox’s The Duke. Claiming that they’re targeting women with these design choices is laughable. It’s nice to say this, when in reality your product is aiming to become a success with general audiences and not just part of it.

Of course, Harrison also mentioned how they don’t have the baggage of pre-existing gamer culture, a thing that’s absolutely false. Whatever they actually mean by gamer culture is well up to debate (long-time readers know that “gamer culture” and its history stems well back to 1800’s and back at least), but you can’t escape the market pressure and demands if you intend to enter a market and succeed there. Stadia may not have history attached to it, but that’s just normal. No new product has a history attached to it, but at the same time, all the pre-existing games that were attached to Stadia bring their history and culture to the platform. Of course, this means Stadia can be the best of the best for a time being, before its core consumer base sets in, but at right now Stadia has more infamy to it than any other platform. Harrison and the rest of the staff that decided on the whole women-centric and sex-neutral marketing have undermined their supposed attempt by bringing in old games that are very well marred in this culture they don’t want to carry. It is extremely haughty to claim you’re targeting an audience that isn’t being catered to, when the world is full of options and readily-catering products. That’s PR for you, throwing out ideas of what you’re doing for the sake of making that sliver more sales. I guess that’s the angle Google has to take with Stadia on the outside to make them stand out from the competition, when their model of service isn’t meeting up with the wants and demands of the audience, targeted or not.

A toad left in the sun dries and dies

You can bet your ass that Microsoft is not all that happy with the reception the upcoming reboot of Battletoads has gotten. Not only Microsoft’s official trailer on Youtube has gained 17 392 Dislikes against 7 888 likes, but also turns out people are actively avoiding the game whenever it is available for testing. From the word I’ve got, Microsoft did a special showcase in their new store in London for the game and about everyone who visited the store during that period actively avoided the game. That shouldn’t be surprising anyone who has looked how Battletoads has fared during developer and press events, where the game has been a flop, bombing in raising any notable interest.

This disinterest in Battletoads continued during the X02019 event in London earlier this week, where you could go and test the game itself. What better way to showcase how well the game plays and disinfect it from its visual disease by putting the best effort and light upon it. Well, history tends to rhyme, and the game ended up being the most avoided title on the show floor.

 

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Even Rare’s own Twitter feed regarding the game is rather sad.

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That is very, very disinterested ratio and amount of replies, likes and retweets. It should be very apparent to everyone that the consumers don’t want this game. The game has been delayed three times already and after the initial reveal, Rare’s name has been attached to it in a very visible way. Remember Rare, that one company you used to love because of Banjo Kazooie and Battletoads back in the day? Dlala Studios, the main developer of the game (Rare’s name is just tagged on because they originate the IP) is going to take a lot of heat when the game releases early 2020. The word on the street is that Microsoft wants to dump the game on Gamepass during some other larger release, which makes sense. A “small” digital release overshadowed by some major title often gets pity reviews. You can wholly expect the reviews of the game mention the backlash, call it unfair for the game to gain such negative reception just based on the visuals when it has (supposedly) pretty decent game play. Some will praise it to heavens high, some will push a political agenda, you know the drill how the game press already works. There are already slew of people saying that the game must have a fair shake and people must and should play it before judging the game.

Of course, that’s not how it works with consumers. The customer is your god.

Most of the backlash is very much based on failed consumer expectations. As I mentioned in my previous post about Battletoads, the franchise already had its visual tone established with Killer Instinct. Sure, different developers, different styles, different intentions. You could never expect this game to have 1:1 visual look with the KI iteration, but that was largely what people expected it to be. I don’t want to do a joke about the developers subverting expectations, because that’s not what they did. The design team simply misunderstood what was the core of Battletoad’s visual flavour, and rather than making it a mimicry of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with British flavour, they went with Ren & Stimpy instead. The consumers have made their voice already heard, this visual style is not wanted. You can argue about artistic integrity and intention as much as you want, but at the end of the day, making and selling games is a service job, and it their job to cater to wants of the customer. If you do something unwanted, you can expect diminished returns. It’s like a Pyrrhic victory; congratulations, you did what you wanted at the cost of everything else.

There could have been a chance for Battletoads to be Microsoft’s Devil May Cry, if they had wanted it to be. Three characters with three different kinds of approach to melee combat would’ve easily transitioned the gameplay into the third dimension, but relegating the game to be a 2D-beltscroller should give a hint what they wanted; a nostalgia cashgrab rather than a modern revival. The developer’s may have intended this game to be something special on its own rights, but at the end of the day, Battletoads could be a lot more than whatever we ended up with. Battletoads had a silver bullet how to make it a success among the consumers, but also how to take an oldy time classic and realise it in 3D.

Why 3D? Because there is s stigma of 2D games like this being something lesser than their big, full 3D environment games. Most 2D games are relegated as digital-only downloads. Maybe it’s because they tend to be shorter and smaller titles overall, or that the indie scene absolutely loves to do terrible pixel graphics games. It’s not just pixel graphics either, but also with titles like Mega Man 11, which was structured like a traditional Mega Man game. Completely perfect in every aspect, but somehow the overall feeling from the consumers, and even from some developers, was that this is archaic, somehow left behind and not up to date. Games overall sure have grown in size, but at the same time, most people don’t have the time to spend several tens or hundreds of hours playing one game that takes forever to get in and out. Games like Devil May Cry, however, have been a perfect blend of quick burst of action you can do per stage you can have and leave, then return to it a bit later for another burst session. Something like Yakuza or Red Dead Redemption are not like this, they require you sit on your ass properly and give them time.

Battletoads will see a bit more positive reception on its release. The press will see to it. The reviews will claim them to be more objective, which should be almost an antithesis for them. They will say the game doesn’t look all that bad, instead it looks pretty good, if not great, with terrific animation and solid game play. There will be amends to its faults, of course. However, considering game reviewers that live in the bogs of video and computer game media and press write for the developers and publishers rather than to their intended consumer audience, that’s just part of the game. You can’t get developers and publishers of this caliber mad at you, you’d lose all the perks.

Battletoads is the probably the most prominent of example of customers rejecting a title based on its visual style. This wouldn’t happen to a new IP. With Battletoads, consumers know what what it should look like, they feel its energy and enjoy the visual flavour the series and its appearances have offered to the audiences. It should’ve been easy to hit the sweet spot between a modern style and classical look. If nothing else comes from this game, at least there’s a lesson to be learned how not to ignore consumer expectations.

Xbox One is struggling in Japan

…and nobody is surprised. For what is often dubbed as one of the Big Three, Microsoft struggles in Japan. That is their lot in life as a company that doesn’t seem to be able to make any proper products for the market, and the developers don’t seem to be all that interested to develop for the platform. The occasional Xbox exclusive game Japanese have made often also stay in Japan or are so generic that nobody really even recognises them. The 360 may have been a shooting game heaven with all the Cave shooters, but do you really want to be recognised for the same thing that the PC-Engine is? Perhaps you do, but being one-trick pony only really works in arcades, and arcades are dead.

Much like how extremely anime games don’t sell in Japan, games with extremely Western aesthetics and mechanics don’t sell in Japan. The example of GTA being called Western kusoge always tickles my funnybone. Halo wasn’t exactly a killer title either. There are multiple reasons in play, and while the unappealing games are a major element, cultural differences are the second major factor. The two directly ties with each other. Just like the stereotype of Americans preferring the Xbox, so do the Japanese prefer their nation’s two machines.

While Microsoft will say they don’t really care about the loss of sales, that they are concentrating more on services than console products, the fact that Xbox One sold about 102 931 units by the end of 2018 has to sting. The same chart shows that 3DS had sold 24 304 964 units, PlayStation 4 hitting a healthy 7 552 090 units, followed by Switch at 6 889 546 units. Hell, the PS Vita sold 5 824 354 units, which really subs the salt in even further. If you calculate what percentage Microsoft has from the market using those figures, you’d end up with something around than 0.27%. Then consider that Japanese sales are 0.3% out of all global Xbox one sales from the second quarter of 2019, the picture painted is very, very grim.

Microsoft certainly is making a buck with its subscription models, but out of all major regions, Japan still eludes them. They can’t really make a buck on services that people don’t have a platform for. Perhaps Windows and app sales for it evens it out, but can’t really seem to find any proper data on that.

Outside not being able to bring in domestic developers to cater to Japanese tastes, it has also been suggested that the sheer size of the machine and its visuals has been a factor. Japanese homes are smaller than either in the US or Europe, and seemingly prefer handheld gaming over bulky home consoles. The Family Computer AKA Famicom was designed to be a small device that wouldn’t take much room, something that most if not all Nintendo’s home consoles tried to go for. The original Xbox is about as big as two stacked N64’s. I should know, I have them next to my original Xbox due to lack of space. Nintendo making Switch a hybrid was probably designed around Japanese home culture rather than for the overseas audience, but that hasn’t really deterred its success. The constant ports and no original content is hurting it, it’s becoming more and more a Vita 2.0 in a bad way.

Anyway, Microsoft did try to alleviate the size problem with the original Xbox a bit by designing and releasing the S Controller, smaller version of the standard Duke controller, because not everyone has huge hands like most American seem to have. The difference in body structure and ergonomics is an important part when designing for a market, and while you can find a golden middle way when designing e.g. a controller for all ages, Microsoft largely ignored people with naturally smaller hands with the Duke. Too often designers try out things themselves or in a small group rather than seeking larger pool of people to test their designs with, often due to lack of time and resources. Nevertheless, Microsoft already had two decades worth of design info, and kinda ignored it. Good for the people with large hands, not so much for the rest. All the successive controller from Microsoft have been much better in this regard, if not more generic in design. That said, Microsoft’s design for Xbox brand is not the most attractive thing in Japanese eyes, and often comes out garish. It’s not just about the bulk, but something how the shapes aren’t all that attractive and seem… maybe even a bit amateurish? Xbox just don’t fit well into the design of Japanese homes and appliances. The same can’t be said of American and European homes in general.

Supposedly, Microsoft never released their consoles are the right time, especially missing their release window with the first one, but outside some claims I’ve never seen proper arguments for this, just claims. What I do know is that Microsoft tried to push the 360 at full force for the Japanese. They had Japanese section put up, organising all sorts of events with race queens showcasing the console and as Japanese games as they could muster at the time, having deals with local marketing firms to work their brand and games in the local culture and economy and of course none of this worked as intended. Microsoft always came at the third place in a three horse race.

Project Scarlet, whatever it will end up being, will not success in Japan. Not unless it is small, sleek and will have similar games to Sony’s and Nintendo’s machines. Even then, it has to offer something special, something specific and something unique for that particular market. Microsoft’s brand isn’t at a strong point in Japanese market, and probably will never be despite the good (marketing) intentions Phil Spencer has. At this point I shouldn’t call it a struggle, it’s more like Xbox is kept languishing, wasting away in the Japanese market, drooping as Microsoft tries to keep hanging on their small hold in the market. At these sales, most other companies would probably have already left.

Siding with all the sides of the market

Every international corporation has multiple ‘faces’ of promotion. Rare companies like Coca-Cola has relatively universal marketing across the globe, while entertainment companies like Nintendo and Sony have very much different approach depending on the market region they are in. In Japan, Kirby smiles and is happy-go-lucky, while in the US he wears a determined frown ready to cut shit down. This is extremely simple and straightforward example, yet it extents how corporations act in different markets. When a corporation tells you they act globally and think globally, it’s less about ‘Global’ thinking and more about being in as many probable markets around the globe they can. Why? Money, of course.

The whole deal with Blizzard nuking Hearthstone player blitzchung’s status and winning money has made some people realise this. For example, some of the characters in Overtwatch are gay outside China, while in China this statement has not been made, as Chinese standards on statistically deviating and abnormal sexuality in media is rather harsh. That is, it’s pretty much banned without any exception. Video and computer games themselves are considered to be detriment to the society, and having such examples that don’t align with Chinese standards of what is considered accepted. Then you had Blizzard making a statement that is very much different from their official Weibo account. One makes clear that Blizzard is not tied to Chinese in any way nor they can influence Blizzard’s decision, while the other rather clearly sides with the Chinese government and side with the current Hong Kong situation. Let’s put aside that Blizzard’s Western statement has been questioned anyway, as its language structure appears to be by someone Chinese who speaks English relatively fluently.

This is, of course, completely normal.

Wait Aalt, isn’t this Blizzard having two different opposite stands at the same time? Yes and no. Company can have completely different standards and practices in different market regions. For China, they have to conform to Chinese standards, and have majority of Chinese ownership somehow in order to operate there. This is why many companies would rather work together with a Chinese company, like what Nintendo used to do with the iQue Player. The company named iQue was fully owned by the Chinese while being Nintendo’s subsidiary. This has been the de-facto way of doing business in China, though within the last decade or so the Chinese have taken major parts of shares of some companies, while Chinese companies doing the heavy lifting, especially in the movie industry, All movies that Legendary Pictures have been part of somehow have had relatively heavy Chinese influence in them, and seeing China has become the single largest film market, it’s not unsurprising that studios are making Chinese-only edits of their movies. I recall Iron Man 3 having a China specific cut, where a Chinese doctor was cut in throughout the movie and is set to be person who ultimately removes all the metal shards from Tony Stark’s chest.

The question whether or not this is good or bad is really up to you, dear reader. This is largely just the reality of things. Don’t mistake one second that companies don’t have conflicting interests globally. While claiming to be progressive by being in favour of whatever class of minorities works as a decent way of making money in the West, this of course doesn’t apply everywhere and strategies need to be adjusted. Make no mistake, whatever the surface dwelling issue might be, companies will strike it to make money. Revealing characters to be homosexual seems to be very easy way to get in the good side of some of the customers seems to be a successful plan, at least in the US. Europe is not unified in this nearly to the same extent, and one way of advertising in London wouldn’t really work as well in Germany. Different cultures, different values.

That is the core here really. We expect companies to work under the regulations and values set in a country or region when they come from abroad. They might have damn good products, but they better hit the local consensus. Blizzard might be an American company, but that doesn’t negate that it is more sensible to try to cater the Chinese as well. Of course, most of the Western audience expects stances that cover the global market, but that is largely impossible. You can’t expect Americans to placate to Chinese values and vice versa. In the US, and probably in most regions outside China, banning blitzchung was extremely bad PR move. English speaking users have gone their way of closing their accounts, burning their games and overall voting with their wallets. Not all, some just don’t give a rat’s ass either way.

The question of course is if this is financially all that sensible. The Chinese market bubble isn’t looking too healthy in the future, despite being less than one third of the US economy. This is important, as US can be largely self-sufficient when it comes to international markets, while places like Japan have to import foodstuff and such. China could be too, but it doesn’t have the infrastructure or culture to be so. Chinese economical interests have been in building empty cities and expanding in Africa and Europe. China is dependent on exporting to the US though. According to George Friedman, China sends quarter of its exports to the US. If, perhaps when the US decides to pull off from the world stage, China’s economy is fucked. Around 2010, Friedman also estimated that China’s debt is around 40%, but still won’t enforce economic discipline. Japan had to do this in the 1990’s, which lead many unprofitable companies to be culled, something that continues to this day. Just look at how many Visual Novel companies have gone down in the recent years.

While catering to Chinese markets is completely standard procedure, something you don’t hear about because you’re not in the market, Chinese economy has higher chances imploding. Gaming is high-risk investment, and the Chinese are putting lots of money into gaming now to ride it. Electronic games market will feel when it hits. Companies with majority Chinese holders and money sources will dry up, projects will be cancelled and lots of people will lose their jobs. The Chinese government will put its citizens and companies before foreign ones. The Chinese market is not the same as Western markets, it is a twisted version of it at best. China is a communist nation after all, though their practices are more akin to fascism. Not Nazi fascism, but the kind that made The New Deal successful, the third road between capitalism and communism, putting the state at the handle of markets and companies. With Western companies, especially the US ones during when US seems to be retracting itself, are investing and putting their focus and effort like Blizzard has, the end result will be weak performance outside Chinese market, at worst straight out losing out if and when the Chinese economical implosion takes place.

I wouldn’t be worried about what happens to a games company in China. I’d be more worried about the incoming macro-economic shitstorm that is about to hit the world. The US can handle themselves just fine, the rest of the world really can’t. The Western world has fatal number of elderly people compared to the younger generation to replace them as workforce. When nations say they need immigrants to do work, they’re not lying. Global recession is imminent and countries have to look after their own asses. Common money like the Euro might end up fucking many nations over, thanks to already existing EMU partner nations who lied about their economical statuses and expected other member nations to bail them out whenever needed. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea for any EU nation to follow EU’s trading ban with Russia when Russia is one of the largest trading partners. In Finland, some of the industries like dairy products had to revamp their sales models and where they imported their products, as Russia was the most important trading partner. The dairy industry never got the same money off from European sales they managed to put up. If you’re not your own boss, you should be worried about your job.

It’s a small miracle that companies don’t practice different branding and advertising more in different regions. Of course, this is part of the whole globally recognised brand thing. I may not appreciate Blizzard having almost opposite stances in China compared to most of the rest of the world, but I can’t really boycott a company I was never a customer of. Game companies hope to hit gold with the Chinese bubble before it bursts, but after treating their PR this badly, they’ll have to work thrice as hard to win back the audience. All of it will be plastic surgery on the surface, while the core won’t change. Blizzard’s PR disaster probably will haunt them for a while among the fandom, but that will last only so long. They’ve lost a lot of good will from their customers, but their interest lies elsewhere. Vote with your wallet. People who say this doesn’t work clearly haven’t kept theirs closed enough. Make the company know your displeasure, hit where it hurts, and demand their focus to be on more solid market, market that houses the consumers who made their company.

Different take on customers; The Outrage must subdue

Every hundred posts we take a different stance on customers and industry. Except something different from the usual.

Call it Cancel Culture, Outrage crowd or whatever you want, what gives the everyday street walker, an anonymous in a crowd, any right to call someone’s work to be cut, his job to be terminated, his daily tasks ended, simply because you don’t like what he thinks? Actions to remove someone from a their work or aiming to cut their method livelihood shows that there is no more room for discussion from whomever wishes to ‘cancel’ a person, they’ve lost whatever debate or matter there might’ve been at hand. At what point do you as a consumer, a customer or as a random person consider for a moment that going after someone over words or whatever he thinks, realise that you’ve become a monster? Men call others monsters, but never realise they’ve become such instead. This isn’t the abyss looking back or the like. This is just people turning bad in zealous drives. Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I hated writing that, but the outrage isn’t just like this. It seems to seep into the layers of global culture and stain it. Even steel will soak oils and grease into its being, and when worked on, it will be porous. No weld will have proper penetration. Only thing you can really do is heat it up and burn all the staining oils for a purer metal. Culture  is like an ever-shaping metal with new bits and bops added in, tempered again and again, heated to remove unwanted elements only to be added in again as we find something lacking. The ones doing the tempering and smithing are the people. Just as people who don’t know how to mix the ingredients in proper ratios will ruin the metal, so are there people who don’t realise how much they’re degrading the works around them.

Imagine having a small, vocal minority bemoaning something because of their believes or find offensive to someone, it doesn’t need to be them, and manage to either censor someone or get items from the stores’ shelves. I’m rather certain most of you can pick up some event that fits the description, for better or worse. All I can say to this is Stop it. We have come to a point in societies that people have become blind to issues at hand, and some have become fanatical about them. Climate change, while an issue for certain, has become such a matter to some that it depresses them. While not exactly a laughing matter, it shows how every day life has become boring and without challenges. Then again, what do you expect when people want governments to ruin themselves and their economies with Basic income? That there are people who’d devalue money and work itself by getting free living in exchange by simply existing within a nation. What’s Basic income? In short, a mode where the government gives some sum of money for people to live on for nothing. Finland tested this, and it failed. It was supposed to promote the people to find work that’d pay better and make their lives better during that time, but turned out it didn’t. 600€ is not a lot of money. For basically nothing, it is. That’s about the same sum students get for studying. There are of course other issues. The 30% tax hike for everyone would be rather massive, and devaluing money and work on the side would be rather hard effect on economy as a whole.

You can’t be serious, with technological advancements old work will be replaced with automation. With those advancements there will be new venues of work. Journalists used to laugh at coal miners and told them to learn to code, mining was a thing of the past. Now these same journalists have been kicked out  either because the Internet has made their physical paper obsolete or because their news sites spouted one-sided opinion pieces with no basis. Their time to learn to code. With each machine that replaces a miner, there is a need for a worker to supervise the machine, someone to maintain the machine, someone to paint the machine, someone to build the machine, someone to design the machine, someone test that machine, someone to teach how to use the machine and so on. There will always be new venues of work, but respect for the old ones should not be lost. Instead they should be celebrated and held high, especially those that require lifelong dedication to properly learn. Sadly, not even craftsmen or painters get the respect for their work they deserve. We have to take responsibility on our actions, and in case of people who’d rather sit on their asses home doing jack shit nothing, inaction.

I’ve previously discussed how every field of work should be respected on their own rights, especially unseen work that most of our daily lives are build on. Almost literally when it concerns builders and people who create the materials we rely our daily lives on. Those windows that keep the elements out didn’t just come from nothing, someone had to make them. You don’t really think about it or ever crossed your mind. The latest thing someone said on the Internet made you mad.

All this are flakes throw into the metal of culture and it is making it weaker and brittle. Catering to small groups to score social points has run books, shows, movies and games down to the toilet. To use Star Wars as an example, the original movie was about Vietnam War, but most people never noticed it. It is because the movie was its own work first and foremost, and whatever its message was laid underneath the front layer. This is pretty much opposite to Disney Star Wars that put the message first and is very clear about it, especially when then staff when on and put shirt saying The Force is Female, which is just utter goddamn bullshit. Why this? Because their clique, because there are numerous people who put the messages and what they say over the product itself. The Good Word has to be preached, it must be made known, at the price of the products itself, in this case Star Wars as a franchise, and at the expense of the customers’ wallet.

Disney has no faith in their product at this point. Rumors are saying Disney and JJ have been leaking different drafts of the movie and its endings to estimate which cut and ending would be the best. We’ve come to a point where the movies just has to be successful enough no matter what. Isn’t this what you want though? Far from it. Disney Star Wars has no heart or soul. Its dead, Jim. Congratulation outrage crowd, your politics killed one of the major franchises out there. The Hollywood clique lives in a bubble, and that bubble only listens to small crowd. Disney and JJ are only now getting how badly they screwed Star Wars up, with each new movie making less and less money, with Solo movie faring the worst thus far. Star Wars movies used to be driven by Lucas, and all story ideas in the Expanded Universe more or less needed his approval. Not so with Disney, where nobody has any idea what’s happening and when. They have free range. While this might work with some franchises, Star Wars ultimately was the soul child of George Lucas, and really everything that has come after Disney’s purchase should be treated as bad fanfiction. Even if the rumours of Lucas being part of the newest movie’s production were true, it really is just a PR stunt. The franchise is dead in the water, kids aren’t interested in it when its direct competitor, the Marvel movies, has taken its place. For better or worse.

This isn’t just Star Wars though. It seems like we’ve abandoned creating anything new. All the old shit sells the most and no creator seems to be pushing for something new in of itself. Easy outrage, easy products, convenience over all. Nobody is wanting to push the envelope, but then again, why even try when Marvel movies get shit done by recycling decade old ideas? We could vote with our wallets and go our ways to encourage new things over everything old, but we are people of habit. Which is also why you see politics being pushed into these long-standing franchises. We’ve come to a point where political ideologies and approaches have to be installed into every franchise and media about to ensure correct way of thinking and censoring what is not appropriate. People can’t leave others to their own devices and enjoy their thing. No, they have to enjoy the right thing.

We all need to calm down and begin to behave ourselves. Doing things by the book, if nothing else. Civil discourse seems to have become a lost art, and the more we move away from harmless words to harmful actions, we’re going to make the steel of society brittler with each hammer blow. I dare say we were making nice headway to open society that could accept things not preferred, but instead we’ve taken U-turn to fucking it all up.

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.