How much value you give it

While looking up some footage of paste Aleste games on Youtube and NicoNico fora possible future post, I happened to see a video asking if the upcoming Aleste Collection was worth buying. I don’t go for these kinds of videos, because the answer is personal for everyone. If you find value, joy or usefulness in something, that the purchasing a product is probably your best bet. Price is determined just how much you value these elements in that given product. While we can discuss and argue the objective and subjective values of buying anything and if they’re worth the purchase, but ultimately our purchasing habits are based on the whole idea of personal value. We don’t buy what we don’t value personally. Sometimes it’s not the item itself that we value, but the prestige and the status it brings. A classical example would be brand clothing, shoes and bags that cost more than most people make in a year’s salary as they’re status symbols first and foremost. The materials and work put into these pieces in no way would match up with the price they’re going for.

Buying games, or entertainment media in general, shows how much we value it. Especially if it’s something we don’t have to do or make ourselves because making good entertainment is stupidly hard. Let me rephrase that: Good entertainment is stupidly hard to make. It’s rather easy to make lousy entertainment with all your energy and effort you can muster. Even then the most incompetent works can be found entertaining for all the wrong reasons, which has allowed ‘tube channels like Red Letter Media to build their career on. That’s a whole another subject though. If you read the guest posts that are coming up in few more parts in the upcoming months about Star Trek Enterprise, you’ll probably get an idea how much it irks the consumer when something that’s been done well, masterfully even, subsequently turns into slog and quality goes to the trash. While it has always been a contest between consumers on what’s their favourite series is and what’s the worst one out there. You’ll find people arguing over what they value in a show over another. For some, the fact that Voyager has Janeway as the captain is enough to consider it as the best entry while others will say that about Deep Space Nine with Sisko. While we are taught in school the value of objective assessment (or at least the media education we got did, your mileage may vary depending on your education system) and how to assess material purely on its true merits rather than subjective points, we will more or less always default to liking something and simply say something is good. While we can use our noggin’ to think on merits and describe them in a proper fashion, the default in discussions on the Internet seems to be subjectivity being the king. While I could chide about this, there’d be no real reason. That subjectivity is the winning march of marketing and emotional contact we make brands and products.

It could be argued that we don’t need much in our lives and that our houses would be rather empty if we didn’t value non-essential. You can argue what is and what isn’t non-essential, but let’s put the line between what allows you to live and what’s extra. Some people need computers on their line of work, others don’t. Nobody really needs television, as news unrelated to our daily survival is mostly an extra (is my house going to burn down thanks to that forest fire?). Books, movies, other forms of entertainment we have either on our shelves or are paying to access via a subscription are, in the end, just extra as well. We could put the time and effort to produce whatever things to entertain ourselves just fine. That is a rather harsh line and view to make, but it all ends up that it’s not the most effective way of living or making a living. Life might become rather dull and not everyone learns the expertise to make the best of things. More often than not, what you are able to create is not at the level of delivering the expected quality for others, no matter how much time you put into it. You can also argue that entertainment, or play, is essential to human nature as all higher or more advanced forms of life play. It seems to be an essential part of life and being able to continue to live on. What the stimulation entertainment gives us is in many ways essential as it’s a form of play that’s transformed and mutated into further forms. Some people are able to play with things to the point of no one else being able to match them. If you’re reading that as art being rather non-essential thing, something that’s taken to an extreme extent and at its core may not be necessary to society, that’s what it is. Playing itself seems to be an essential thing to life, and art overall is taking forms of play further and further, giving it new meaning. We’re not satisfyed “just” to play around at some point, we have to take things to a point where there’s “meaning” to it. However, that’s just another argument attempting to raise your eyebrows, as the whole point is the other side of the coin; what could be non-essential is necessary nevertheless due to its nature of stimulating us and willingness to give up resources for it.

Take this blog as an example. The main point isn’t to entertain anyone. If I were, this blog would be nothing but Muv-Luv and Guilty Gear posts. I’m entertaining myself with these posts. There’s no value for me to trying to cater or sell it as a service, as that would lessen my own entertainment value. While the emotional connection to this thing is close to nil, it does offer me other benefits like forcing myself to consider more than one side of things. While in the persona, being in the middle of the road and consider things from outside my own angle of view has benefitted me, but that’s a past thing now. If you find a value of some kind in these typings, that’s just a big bonus from my end. I hope you value whatever entertainment you happen to find. The blog’s not a necessary thing for either of us, but it has some value, seeing it’s worth for me to exchange the time I have to write this trite and you to read it.

However, there is a downside to all this. We tend to value what we can’t have or what we can’t afford. You might want that Gucci bag, but your monetary situation doesn’t really allow you to. We end up taking loans to pay what we can’t afford. Often this value comes from outside, like a car that has high prestige to it, but has no real use or is cumbersome. Cars like the classic Countach or DeLorean from Back to the Future are hailed as exemplary cars in design or due to their pop-culture status, but as real cars, they were rather shit and not suitable for any proper driving. Both had deep flaws you wouldn’t find in cheaper cars, yet they were valued higher and in few ways still are. We are willing to overlook significant flaws either in our own situations or in the products themselves, if they meet our wants. What we want may not be what we need, and marketing has made it a finely tuned craftsmanship how to tell and influence us in order to tell us what we need. What we feel we need is rarely in connection what we truly need, yet that want for something is often too much to handle.

Pizza Pizza

As long as I can remember, Domino’s Pizza has been the butt of jokes to the point even my Vietnamese associates know a few. They had a massive problem with PR and their pizza for numerous years and found themselves in a downward spiral in the mid-2000s, striking the all-time low in 2008 when their stock price was just three dollars. Nowadays they go for around 380 bucks. It wasn’t the easiest route.

Despite Domino’s hitting their lowest point, they experienced a massive PR crisis following Michael Setzer’s and Kristy Hammond’s Youtube video showcasing how much they loved to ruin the food they were preparing. They pleaded guilty a year later. This video effectively confirmed how Domino’s food was prepared in the minds of the consumers, further enforcing the jokes that were made and pushed customers away. It didn’t help that the video ended up being one of the top search results if you searched for Domino’s at the time. Even disregarding this incident, Domino’s was seen as some sort of crime against food and ingredients, or as Adweek’s short story put it on their focus testing, it’s startling to hear the degree to which consumers regard Domino’s as the embodiment of culinary evil. During this and numerous other focus tests Domino’s pizzas were called all sorts of names and claims of them using fake cheese and the like in their products were common, hence the jokes of the time. Some of them have survived long enough to be part of pizza-eating culture.

Domino’s decided that they need to turn their ship around and hard. Ever since their record-low stock price and the whole PR disaster with Setzer and Hammond, Domino’s began to comb through their complaints and reviews for the most common negative mentions and comparisons, as mentioned in their four and a half minute documentary what they were doing. This video, while being a corporate produced piece, is one of the things Domino’s did to have that boat turned. They went back to the recipes and worked on them and revised what they were doing wrong. Supposedly more training was given to the workers to prevent the mishaps the aforementioned video caused. Domino’s, in all effect, owned that they were rather shit company with workers who didn’t care if your pizza was terrible or not. The linked video shows how proud Domino’s was after they went and created new pizzas, which were more or less made from scrap. Everything from the dough to toppings was tested multiple times over and changed wherever needed. Whether or not this is all true will probably be always an open question, yet even from this video it is evident how much money Domino’s spent to revise their image by revising their image through their product. They even went as far as providing their focus group members with these new pizzas to test and get their opinions. They made these into ads, no less.

Domino’s Pizza owning up and takings steps to deliver to the customer the kind of pizza they wanted while making a public, transparent stunt out of it all has made them the most valued pizza restaurant chain. While some still retain the image of Domino’s being the worst kind of pizza you can have, that’s rather outdated view by about a decade. That, and they probably never had Greek pizza. Domino’s stocks have been in constant rise, and they’ve been trying to renew customer interest in various manners after their renewal, like collaborating with Hatsune Miku in Japan. part of their whole shtick of being transparent to at least some extent, they’ve allowed Food Insider to make a short video how their pizza is made and delivered, though personally, I have to say I’m not exactly excited by the idea of the dough being made elsewhere from the spot. Delivery food is making some nice bucks at the moment, so Domino’s made some nice bucks earlier this year as people didn’t want to leave their homes.

What’s your point? I hear Wes asking me there. My point is that Domino’s pizza listened to their customers, changed their product and working methods to better fit the demand. Not only they were willing to take in feedback and were honest about it to themselves, but were willing to make rather transparent transition from what they were to what they wanted to be. Customers love that, and that made them a billion-dollar company.

This same set of ideas can be applied to any industry on their basis. While the creative industries want to sell the image of one creator or a team of creative individuals delivering an earth-shattering piece that can only be experienced in so many fashions, the reality is that any product needs to be carefully planned out and balanced between the original intent and the customers’ wants. That is far harder than you would expect, as some corporate cultures do everything by data alone, which can lead to discarding feedback in total and the only thing that says anything is sales data. This can be combined with long-term career businessmen, who are hard stuck on their own methods of working, as it has produced large revenues up to that point already, making the total renewal of their productions hard if not impossible. In the foodstuff world, this is easier to do than e.g. in automobile production or the like, where you can only begin to start this process with the next series of cars rather what you already have in production. With games, music and film this could be implemented in an easier manner, but it requires humility among these egos, and that’s something the self-clashing creative industries do not see too often. Imagine if, for example, EA would make a public announcement that they’ve listened to all the feedback they’ve gotten through the years and have begun to consider how they produce, develop and publish games, as well as how they tackle advertising in their games or in which manners lootbox mechanics function. It’d take years for them to root out these methods and manners they’ve cultivated throughout the years and end up putting efforts into making games that wouldn’t nearly kill their workforce or would contain whatever is currently the most underhanded way of making that extra money. Something like this happening in the creative industries is as likely to happen as a pig flying through your window. It happens on occasions, but extremely rarely.

Few posts ago I wrote how I’m tired of the PR game. Domino’s Pizza turned their PR disaster into a chance of renewing their image through transparency. Because transparency to that effect would necessitate losing face first in order to gain higher PR wins in the long run, you won’t see this happening with franchises like Star Wars or any of the botched film franchises. You will never see one of the head honchos stepping up, admitting the money they spent on a movie bombing like no other was a mistake and that they will look into renewing and satisfying the customer. That would go against how things are presented to the audience, the whole Hollywood/ creative myth, how glamorous it is to be a successful creator. Yet even sure-shot franchises like Star Wars, Alien and The Terminator have slumped, the latter two effectively becoming more or less dead thanks to the latest movies. Hell, even the Predator franchise is back in the casket after The Predator managed to fuck up the series. As much as it often goes against the corporate grain, transparency and honesty are two things the customer values. If a corporation manages to be open about their faults and missteps about themselves and is visibly improving themselves, that creates almost natural emotional connections to both your current customers and your possible customers.

The one place where transparency should be the most important bit is in crowdfunding like Kickstarter. If you’ve run a Kickstarter and have managed to each your funding goal, every single thing you do with the money or with the project should be logged in without censorship shared with the backers. All the good you do is doubly more worthwhile when you admit fucking something up and explaining the methods of either supplementing or fixing what’s gone wrong. With crowdfunded products you have to remember that these aren’t your customers; these are the people who funded your project. Being transparent with them is the least you can do. The PR game wants to mangle and twist every screw-up into something positive in false manners, and more often than not the customer can see through that. It’s up to each individual customer how much leeway they might allow the PR game, and most often you can see it in the form of taking their business elsewhere. Of course, if you proceed to attack the customer when you want them to buy something from you, well, not everyone is masochistic.

Perhaps Marvel and DC should take after Domino’s Pizza. Japanese comics have been outselling American Superhero comics for some time now. In the face of this fiercer competition from beyond the ocean, it would be a good moment for American comic companies and creators to stop for a moment if they’re doing something wrong.

Yet another post about the old argument about something making money and its relation of being good

The few main things this blog has covered multiple times is how good is a terrible determinant in any comparisons or discussions and that financial success is a form of determining whether or not something is the aforementioned good. You know the argument, just because something sells doesn’t mean it’s good. Mark Hamill continued this with something along the lines of It only matters if it makes money. The two, of course, don’t exclude each other, as often products that are well-made sell just as terrible products bomb like no other. Cue for references to the latest Terminator and Charlie’s Angels movies, because a well-made product doesn’t equate to something the customers want or need. Those two movies are competently made, have high production values and realise what the staff wanted those movies to be. It wasn’t something the audience wanted or fit the franchises per se, so what does it matter if they were well-made movies? The customer is the ultimate reviewer who decides whether or not your effort and time were worth it. Nobody is required to purchase or consume products you make, just as you don’t need to appease them (if you don’t look for financial success.) Often you can veto some objective point of review, like how arts used to have. There films that are seen as cornerstones of overall motion picture history, as perfect examples of how to structure and build a movie. The same can be applied to music as well, I’d have to guess, though I have no Citizen Kane of music to reference. Whether or not it is because of technology changing and evolving too rapidly to have a proper point of reference, or people thinking video games are completely separate examples from other forms of play, electronic gaming doesn’t really have that objective point that majority of the gaming industry could look at and consider as an exemplary pinnacle.

We do have those games though and they’re all watershed moments. Pong, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros., Ultima, Wizardry, The Legend of Zelda and a whole slew of other 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s titles should be considered as points of comparisons, but of course, things get muddled down when you consider how modern gaming has changed the way video and computer games are pushed, even if that’s not exactly working all that well. The gaming industry would like you to believe that electronic gaming is a method of storytelling over a method of playing. To repeat this point to ad nauseam, the story of a game is the story made through play. The “story” bits in FMV sequences and all those are just framing devices to justify the action of playing.

Some shirk at this notion, saying the story is the thing that keeps them playing games. That only would be natural, as each and every game has to have a core reason why it is being played. At the core level, winning against the opposing player or team is the most basic reason to play something. However, the act of playing is what makes it enjoyable. The player himself feels that it is his own actions that are carrying things forward. This is the player’s agency, which is lessened with each moment the play, the control of the game, is taken away from the player. This is why, especially in the Deep Red Ocean market, not having a Skip Movie option is considered almost a criminal offence. As a side note, you can skip PlayStation’s Final Fantasy games FMVs by opening the console’s lid and closing it again, as that forces the console to seek the next bit right after the FMV sequence. This is pretty much the only way European FF9 players can get Excalibur II due to terrible PAL port screwing with the game’s timing.

This whole post really came together because Fall Guys became the most downloaded title on PlayStation Plus. Fall Guys is nothing short of entertaining, made in a relatively short time compared to its top competition, meaning its financial results will be that much greater than Triple-A games that spend the better part of the decade on the development table. Most often you can see people citing how it beat The Last of Us 2, which is rather apt. TLoU2 was intentionally made a narrative-driven game and mentioned that it wouldn’t be fun. It would end up as gritty and gruesome, wallowing in dredges and trying to be bold as a video game. Despite the game making some kind of bank, we can’t really call it good just because it made money, right? For all intents and purposes, the play of TLoU2 is very generic and overall uninteresting. Its film-like qualities have been at the forefront and whatever agenda it’s supposed to have is a few years too late, if not whole decades. Whatever debacles it had around itself is no real interest, but Fall Guys becoming the most successful PlayStation 4 game of 2020 really says it all; the customers prefer games as games. You could say there is one core, ideological difference between Fall Guys and The Last of Us 2 and that’s in the attitude of the creators.

Fall Guys was created for profit, thus it had the need to satisfy customer wants and needs in some manner other titles on the market really didn’t. Its play is entertaining and makes for a good competition. The developers had the craftsman’s mindset and it allowed them to make a game that was good. Or as this blog often puts it; the game good enough in every aspect to satisfy the customer. The Last of Us 2 development cycle didn’t clearly consider the profit part being a question, but a rather a thing that would happen anyway, as long as they stuck to the mould. After all, the series had its fans and that already would bring in the dough. Thus, it followed the artist’s mindset, which is antithetical to craftsman’s mindset. It’s against the customer, expecting the product to sell despite it ignoring the customer altogether. TLoU2 outright hates the player at times, something that has occurred more often nowadays than it did in the past, which fights its own nature as a game. You can easily make something like this with a product that’s supposedly a guaranteed success, especially during times when macro-economics are in fine shape. If the game had still been in development and would’ve published next year, its success would’ve been smaller. The entertainment industries are feeling the effects of plummeting economics. It’s become more expensive to produce anything and customers don’t have the same amount of money to throw around willy nilly. Games like Fall Guys will become a necessity for the next few years, where the customer and their play will matter more than the creators’. The trophy project mindset hasn’t been beneficial to the game industry or to the customers overall, so perhaps forcing all the developers to re-examine their methods and games on the publishing list. There won’t be nearly as many sure-shot games in the near future.

To roll it back around, sure. Being financially successful doesn’t necessarily mean something is great by some standards, but it does mean it does scratch the itch people have had and find a superior product over its competition.

Sick and tired of the PR game

I deeply dislike the PR game any and all companies play. I hate to bring Star Wars up so often, but it’s a solid example of it, and one of the most recent. When Kathleen Kennedy said that Star Wars didn’t have books and comics to adapt from, that was a PR statement in itself to confirm and instil the notion of abandoning what Star Wars had been up to that point and everything from that point onwards would be completely new and proper. Everyone knows this is horse shit, as the 1990s was a golden age of Star Wars media with the explosion of Expanded Universe books and games hitting the shelf one after another, and George Lucas wanting to test the waters with the movie event without the movie, Shadows of the Empire. Kennedy’s statement was first and foremost for PR for people who didn’t want to read these old stories or didn’t like them. All these moves were, after all, to alienate the audience of the classic Star Wars stories in order to replace them with a newer, more hip audience. As it has been often stated, gaining a new audience from scratch is much harder and time-consuming than keeping your old one. Building those emotional connections and brand associations take time and money, which all this PR was aiming for. Star Wars was to be easily accessible again, despite it never needed more than a cursory knowledge of the setting. At most, to get any Star Wars media, the only movie fully necessary to watch is the first one. Star Wars is not a hard franchise to understand and give a crack at, but it is an extremely hard franchise to write for and build from consistently, as Disney and new Lucasfilm staff would find out.

Disney’s new continuity with Star Wars wouldn’t last too long. Reintroducing characters from the abandoned Expanded Universe like Admiral Thrawn as fan service were first cracks on the armour, as that was against the previous public statements. Rather than foraging towards something new and creating their new Star Wars Kathleen Kennedy was applauding early on and driving towards to, Disney Lucasfilm had begun to dig up characters and concepts from the abandoned Expanded Universe, which was turned into a Legacy canon that existed alongside the current continuity rather than being unceremoniously dumped as initially announced. Little bits of backpedalling here and there showcase that despite the cut-and-dry statements and intentions, Disney really wanted to keep the old fans in as well with these small chips of bacon thrown in. I’d argue the moment we first saw Disney acknowledging something was up with Star Wars success was when Thrawn was re-introduced, as that meant the new ideas that were being realised didn’t work, which would turn out to be a hard reality with each new movie seeing fewer revenues at the box office. I would be amiss of course if I didn’t mention that the PR game Lucasfilm was playing, with their whole The Force is Female shirt stunt and loudly driving political views and agendas alongside attacking consumers and customers all the while capitulating to the Chinese demands, as exemplified by the whole poster scandal off Finn’s size being shrunk. Chinese markets were supposed to make money, but seeing the Chinese don’t have a history with Star Wars unlike the Japanese and prefer wholly different kind of aesthetics, the success was less than desired. With the SARS-COV-19 making rounds, Disney is in need to look back into the US and European markets and cut their losses as much as possible, including their PR failures with Star Wars.

No media company can afford to make PR statements just for the sake of politics at the moment. People are losing their jobs, money is tight and people are not willing to join crowds in fear of infection (at least in most cases.) Kennedy has to play the PR game, despite her role having been constantly shrinking with Star Wars and other people taking her role in other productions, as it was with The Mandalorian. Kennedy had to backpedal her earlier statement about Star Wars’ media about a week back, making the very opposite statement she originally made, speaking about 40-years of Star Wars media and playing into the long-time fans’ corner, but also trying to play to the new audience’s corner by trying to introduce them as something new, as something “unheard of.” With Star Wars still in the red after Lucasfilm acquisition, acquiring that new audience failed rather damn hard all the whole alienating the old fans was a successful move, and Disney hurting for money, the PR game had to change. Making profit has become the priority again after a decade long growth curve in macro-economics, the sudden change has shown that these short-term plans have backfired massively. Disney nor any other company can afford to do whatever they want at whatever price. The money was never there for them to do whatever they wanted in whatever manner, but people had the extra money to throw at them. Now they don’t and they’re hurting. Kennedy, Lucasfilm and Disney can’t turn their coats in an instant, it has to be eased in and slowly, but surely, turn Star Wars back to something that would make money despite the personal feelings and stances of the creators themselves. A massive company has to consider their actions and the results in a far more careful manner, while individuals can throw their shit in whichever direction in a moment’s notice. For example, recently Jon St. John, best known as the voice actor of Duke Nukem, made a statement that was fast deleted. Naturally, an apology referring to the tweet was made without giving proper context what was said in what manner, but the PR game demanded it, with reinforcement of his account is going to be all about fun stuff. Statements made in anger are no less a PR disaster than statements made by Kenndy regarding Star Wars media. Pro-rape position and media giant fucking up are not exactly on the same level, but they’re both examples of the PR game on different levels. High-level PR game takes time and works slowly, it works on the consumer perception with each statement and tries to slowly turn the head of the consumer toward its own benefit. Low-level PR game is all about the moment’s heat, and often ends careers.

They’re both bullshit no matter how you turn it around though. The PR game’s intentions and attempts at changing the perception of the customer work wonders when you have the emotional connection, allowing people to justify almost anything as long as the provider has made some kind of argument, or have appealed to the emotion, in a manner that makes sense to the individual. Sometimes you can afford to make hard statements, something that most of your customers and the larger market might agree on, but not all the time. Even then, it’s probably best to simply not get involved in certain matters at all, as explicit sentiments can backfire in a very hard manner, pushing customers away towards competition. When you’re playing the PR game, you shouldn’t assume that all the customers will agree or want you to join the mob or make certain kind of statements, especially with entertainment media. Disney and numerous other companies have been hurt by their mismanaged PR as they’ve entered their brands into politics and agendas, and now that nobody’s spending money, all this is biting their asses. Yet the game has to be played and course directions have to be taken. The world shouldn’t be grabbed by superpowered flu in order for corporations to begin to serve their customers and aim for the long term, stable profits instead of short term gains that always leave something to be desired for.

Fans do it the best

Retroblasting has been saying this for a while now, and it’s largely true. While that’s all about the toys, the same applies to everything across industries, from music to electronic games to translation and so on. It’s either how fans archive and release printed material in a higher resolution in a more accurate form, or recreate toys that toy manufacturers simply miss or won’t make. Fantranslations are a good example of  this whole shebang, with some comics and books getting translations that would never get otherwise. Sometimes with better translation than the official translation. Even in music you have tons and tons of music creators, separate from the industry’s mass releasing their own tapes. When the mainstream industries fail to deliver, it’s the fans who take up the mantle to develop and produce goods that all the other people want, but for whatever reason none of the industry providers are willing. Sometimes small miracles happen, like the Snyder Cut getting a release. For better or worse, the customer is being served based on their want.

Even with games you have the whole indie scene, which is less indie nowadays with all the storefronts’ corporations effectively working as the de-facto publishers. The concept of independent releases has become, effectively speaking, not part of any big-name corporation. Nevertheless, there are niches left and right that are open and people are stepping in an attempt to fill them. The video and computer game market has never been as saturated with games as it is now. The quantity is absolutely insane with quality being worse than E.T. to sometimes striking home runs like no other. Though as it often turns out, even when these original IPs get around may become successes, filling niches left open by the big boys in the industry, often you see and hear fans wanting something from the real IP.

Pokémon might be a good example of fans not exactly taking up the challenge to make a completely new IP that would realise their wants (there has been multiple titles that have attempted this, none have succeeded) but rather heavily modifying the existing games to the extents of making the games almost unrecognisable from their original versions. While Moemon is a representative of just general sprite switching, something like Crystal Clear represents how there’s a want and a niche for fully open, independent adventuring in Pokémon. The game changes Pokémon Crystal in a way that it opens the map as a whole, allows the player to choose his starting position, 24 Starters instead of being limited to the base three, significant character customisation alongside numerous improvements. The way the open world is handled is by scaling the Gym and Trainer battles according to the player’s own stats, e.g. by beating Gym A you increase opponent stats across the game. There are numerous other improvements as well, like each Pokémon having their own unique field sprite.

Of course, when discussing mods, we can’t really forget Bethesda and how fans are actually making their games functional. Bethesda’s games are known to be riddled with bugs. There are people who have never played a vanilla Bethesda game, as the bug fixes the fans make correct and fix sometimes game breaking errors that, for whatever reason, Bethesda has never bothered correcting themselves. A rather famous bug in Skyrim happens to be that the animals are able to make criminal reports of the player, but this has never been officially fixed, despite the bug mentioned in an interview prior to the game’s release. You also have fans increasing Bethesda’s games resolutions and improving models and so on. At some point you can say fans are recreating Bethesda’s games through mods and fixes better than what they originally were.

With scans and translations there are issues with the legality of the thing. Sometimes a fantranslation can impact whether or not something gets an official English release, sometimes scanlation projects get shot down due to releasing scanned materials being spread around. Sidestepping the issue of making money on fan made translations via donations, these fans are effectively hitting the market with products that aren’t otherwise available. That’s the crux of the whole thing, in the end. There is a demand for something, yet they’re not being fulfilled to any extent.

Perhaps the last example of fans making the best returns to Retroblast’s corner with model kits. Fans making recasts of old model kits has been a thing as long as model kits have been around, with various results. Funnily enough, nowadays fans are making recasts of other fans products, as there have been numerous examples of someone making a desirable resin cast kit, but for whatever reason does not want to ship to other regions. Thus, sometimes another fan takes their work, makes recasts of it elsewhere and begins sales in other regions. Recasting has become extremely effective with time, as modern silicone moulds are able to capture every single detail on the original model, even the shape of dust particles. Fans are also making accessories and conversion kits, allowing the customers to have niche or rare kind of piece that isn’t being produced. Easy example for this would be some of the Gundam conversion kits, which allow the builder to buy a modern style model, but change parts to represent an older design of the same robot. Of course, some times these conversion kits cost an arm and a leg due to extremely limited production numbers and high material costs.

The fans aren’t limited by the same end intention of profits, not to the same degree. They should be compensated for the time and work they’ve put into products they’re delivering, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of the property holders. Considering the advancements we’ve made in engineering code and moulds, there should be no real reason why the stores could have high quality products. However, the drive to maximise profits while minimising cost is one of the many reasons why, for example, modern toy aisles are full mediocre products and low-tier retro replicas. Then again, maybe it’s for the best for the fans to keep things going when the big corporations aren’t. It promotes new talent and creates new venues for people to make business and connections. In its own way, it also promotes slight competition and showing that things could be done better; this is what your fans are wanting and expecting.

Amazon’s digital book burning

So while I would like to rant about Star Trek Lower Decks, the last post was ranty enough. So why not, let’s talk how Amazon has been doing some digital book burning. That’s a hyperbole if I ever heard one, I hear Liam saying there in the background. While it certainly sounds like one at first, consider the end-goal of book burnings throughout the history, like the one the Chinese cultural revolution. The sad thin is that book burnings happen all the time, like how Zhenyuan in China saw a book burning of party banned books being thrown into the flames. Who knows what were in there. Sure, we know a Catholic priest was burning Harry Potter and Twilight novels alongside Hello Kitty stuff in Gdańsk, Poland, and some might even applaud to that, but the end goal was the same as with when burning New Testaments in Yehuda, Israel; make a statement about the books and limit their availability to the public. Don’t listen to the people who might want to read this garbage, listen to the people who are telling they’re bad for you and for everyone else.

What Amazon is doing is the exact same thing as the end goal. As reported by J-Novel club, Amazon has begin to limit the sales of some of their titles by cancelling customer orders and outright refusing products on their front. Products that already had been there, with both sales and pre-sales already been conducted. Even books that had been on sale of Amazon for three and a half years, namely Grimgar of Fantasy, has been refused. Considering Amazon sales apparently covered almost fifty percent of J-Novel Club’s sales at some point, limiting their product sales leaves rather significant impact, but also shows how dangerously close Amazon is to a certain kind of one-store-to-rule-them-all status. Almost everyone uses an Amazon storefront for something.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has done this to products originating from Japan, however. Recently they silently removed numerous statues and figures from their listings. It’s the sellers that had to step forwards and make statements you wouldn’t hear Amazon themselves making, because PR is precious. Certainly large numbers of these products are in sale at different sellers, which mostly means Amazon has either been bombed by some groups to get a specific item or seller off the site, or that they simply don’t have the time to apply the same decision power over the new listings. Not all goods under the same brand have been hit with the bans either when it comes to the figures, but the case with J-Novel Club is all about singular titles in English. The most probable reason for the blocking of sales of these goods is, as Amazon sees it, child exploitation.

No child was exploited in making these products, of course. Nor children have roles in the making, unless they’re being slaved in the Chinese factories there figures were assemble and painted, or in the presses where the books were printed. That’s a whole another thing altogether. No, it’s the perception of these characters, and the images found in these novels, being too young and in too risky for… whom? The question is not invalid in itself. I’ve discussed this when the topic has been about Sony’s censorship. We are able to recognise certain elements that repeat here; goods that had no true infringement are being actively purged based on perception. Something inside Amazon, or influencing them, has deemed these products as offensive either to morals and sensibilities to the extent of demanding removal, which has only lead to competition move in to fill in the niche even at Amazon Marketplace, or in worst case scenario Amazon has decided to follow some stricter lines found in some laws that determine these kind of figures and drawings as child porn and child exploitation. Overcareful laws that equate drawn characters and real photos do only harm on the long run, but considering how little sense there has been regarding who is considered an adult is mucky at best, because people mature differently. Perhaps being overtly careful with children is a net positive in the end, yet we’re talking as if teenagers were the same thing as six years olds. Applied to fictional characters no less.

This is the problem with yours truly. In the context of the writer’s persona I can admit to Amazon being its individual corporation and they have the freedom to choose what’s on their stores as long as they apply the reasoning and methods across the board without picking and choosing. That may impact their sales or fame, but that’s their choice. In the same breath, I can also admit that Amazon shouldn’t care what people are selling on their stores within the limits of law in an aim to maximise sales. They’re not doing either in this case, however. Their design here is whack and malformed. In person proper, I have to question the sanity of whoever considers these products infringing reality. You hear different groups with similar agendas tooting their horns about understanding other cultures and valuing them, yet here we are, having a digital bonfire of books and goods because they infringe another culture’s sensibility. The Japanese culture of cute does not carry the same meaning for cute as American. Be sure of it, Amazon’s bannings are based on certain Americans’ values and virtues. There are plenty of those who would rather see all these efforts put into ending slavery in Africa or shutting all those factories employing child labourers down. Major tech companies like Apple and Tesla are using cobalt mined from Congo, which relies heavily on child labour, and are being sued over knowingly enforcing child labour. Of course, what Amazon does is to ban books and lumps of plastic instead. It’s easy and relatively safe. You may claim that the two have nothing to do with each other and equating them with each other is false. Perhaps to some extent, but if the reasoning from Amazon is anywhere close to child exploitation, Amazon should take a damn good look how much of its products (and the products these major companies) employ said child exploitation. It’s easy to get brownie points from banning cartoon characters; it’s hard to make movements towards ending actual child exploitation.

You can say that, but a child in racy situations or positions is different than exploiting their livelihood. Which leads us back to one of the cruxes; these aren’t children, these are fiction. There is no true end benefit here, there is no actual exploitation done. Exploitation of material at best, but that applies to any product out there. Only true infringing someone’s standards and taste. Of course, these people who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality have inserted their views in some of the laws around the globe under moral panic. Changing or challenging these laws would be scrutinised to an unmoral extent and would lead into unfavourable questioning, making it a nightmare to even consider taking actions to correct them to be more sensible.

What does Amazon’s bans hope to accomplish? As there is no exploitation of any kind, nothing will happen on that front. Maybe some people will find less offensive stuff on Amazon, but even that is negated when other sellers put similar items on. Hell, nothing prevents another seller listing their own copies of the banned books there and Amazon just so happens to miss said listing. It’ll impact some of the sales from these products even when they’re moved to other venues. You can still pick up J-Novel Club’s books from any other physical books store, for example. All this reeks of useless pandering with false morals to placate some group of people. As much as I hate personally hate it, at least the digital revolution has given providers like J-Novel Club a method to sell their products on their own digital stores without relying on Amazon, even if it would mean losing sales from Kindle. Nothing much a customer can do about Amazon’s practices, outside voicing their displeasure and voting with their wallet.

10 is the same as 0

Reviewers have always been influenced by the producers of goods and have been enticed with gifts to influence their reviews. Bribed, in other words. It’s an open secret how this happens all the time, though social media and how current reviews, especially with movies and games, are being influenced is laughably transparently covered. For example, back in 2014 when Watchdogs was about to come out, Steve Hogarty admitted how Ubisoft had put up an exclusive preview event for the game in Paris, where they gifted reviewers with Nexus 7 tablets. While this one event got some coverage, it’s far from being a rarity, though a normal consumer who doesn’t have any access or ties to any media houses wouldn’t know. Press kits for game journalists in events like this, and outside, tended to be rather expensive. Kotaku may be one of the worst sites around when it comes to objective news and articles, but a post from twelve years ago about Capcom sending them a three hundred dollar chess kit, while mentioning off-hand how EA offered to give them Porsche driving lessons so they’d get to play more of then upcoming new Need for Speed, shows how much the publishers and developers want to influence the media. It isn’t surprising that for each one who declines, there are at least two who say yes. This is an old topic in itself, and this sort of lack of independency between media and providers is always an issue. Sometimes kicking off consumer revolts. If you look up video game press kits on eBay, you can find journalists selling their gifts away. It should make you question why these kits include statues, backpacks and other goodies. If these bribes didn’t work, they wouldn’t be made.

Social media has changed the game quite a bit, especially with Youtubers. The providers don’t work with just media houses any more, but have tied single content creators around their pinky fingers as well. With Star Wars we saw large amount of media applauding the new movies, but after few years these reviews look suspect when the same writers repeat criticism consumers had with the movies in the first place. You can always argue that the reviewers bought the hype and had more objective lens after some time had passed, though that just means these people are terrible reviewers who let their own feelings and views influence their work. Youtubers often are fans making content. Fans’ love towards something is traditionally strong and can be easily exploited. They feel like they’re doing something right for the community and the brand by promoting it, and more often than not the big hits are hanging off from the companies’ strings. If you’re connected to the provider and manage to get exclusive behind the scene views or clips, the more views you manage to rack up. If you get on their bad side, this lifeline will be cut. These are fans hyping up other fans. That’s their job, in effect, and it’s not even a real one. They’re doing these companies’ PR and advertising, hyping titles up to high heavens, and they don’t even get properly paid for it. There is no self-respect at play here. Let’s not get into how Youtubers, influencers and press often get pre-release review copies, sometimes to own, sometimes with a bunch of the merch. You scratch their back, they scratch yours.

We of course come back to The Last of Us 2 and it being review bombed all the while the gaming media is praising it. Oh there are proper review scores all around for sure. It’s just telling how screwed up the system is when customer reviews are being bombed to the ground with zeroes while similarly the official side is hitting it with perfect tens. An old joke in video game reviews is that it’s really just a three-star system, or the range of score goes from 70 to 100, but that’s sort of the reality of it. The more you find popular Youtubers and press media repeating the same points in almost the same wordings and ways, the more reasons we have to ignore them. The modern review system is bust and completely tied to the providers. Social media might be completely screwed with this, outside the ones that are truly independent, but the Internet also allows us to completely ignore content creators who are just marketing, shilling, products to your face. Give all channels and sources you use a hard look. If they’re championing something that’s transparently false or hyping something overtly, they don’t have your best interests in mind. They might be fanboys hyping, they might’ve lost their independence as content creators, the end result is the same nonetheless.

I have to admit that I did go overboard with the Muv-Luv stuff when the Kickstarter was on, but none of that was from the company’s side. I’ve got only friends in the translation team, no connections to the company proper per se, and it’s highly probably nobody at âge is even aware of this blog.

Nevertheless, the Internet has given us the chance to review everything we want on multiple sites, aggregate or not, and voice our own experiences. The onus is put on the consumer in this, which is why aggregates exist to make going through reviews easier, but as you probably know, that’s not exactly a system without faults. Still, if you look at item reviews on e.g. Amazon and read through them, you notice a pattern of mid-range star reviews usually having the best pros and cons. Top and bottom reviews can often be just one word and be left that. That’s pretty much what all these 0 and full score reviews are, empty hate and hype with no value. Not many want to do the legwork themselves, going through review histories and search up opinions from people who haven’t written reviews, resorting to these Youtubers they like and find likeminded to deliver the condensed version. There’s also something about wanting to enforce your own believes and sticking with the group mentality. It’s either cool to like or hate something, join the mob, despite the mob being driven and created by providers for profits. Nothing is more profitable for providers than zealots and true believers, as dropping something that they agree with can get you nice profits. However, bet on the wrong horse, and you’ll alienate the rest of the consumers. If you bet worse and the horse gets injured behind a bush like Silence Suzuka in 1998 Tenno Sho, it’s not hard to find yourself with diminishing revenues on the long run despite all the influencing and hyping.

As stupid as it sounds, stealth marketing has crept into every area of media we consume. It’s tiresome to take everything as suspect and wage through dozens of options and reviews just to find if something like headphones work for you. The amount of reviews and opinions will ultimately always overwhelm you, and in the end, the only proper way is to educate yourself on the subject to some extent base your decisions on that. A bit hard for video games and movies, but just like with everything else, having experience and foreknowledge about the subject helps you a long way. In the end, intuition is learned through experience. The good ol’ argument of giving something a go before you make a decision or the like doesn’t really apply with games and movies, or any entertainment media, as the provider gets your money even if you didn’t end up liking the product. Movie trailers rarely do any justice to the movies, as they’re made to market it. Game demos on the other hand almost died out completely, because they ended up representing the games a bit too well and impacted sales negatively. Piracy of course is the great controversy, as it’s claimed to negatively impact sales even when in reality people tend to use it as a method to test drive movies and games before committing to a purchase.

Any time you see someone holding a torch to something, giving it higher quarter score, go through it with extreme criticism. Reviews on Disney Star Wars, Marvel movies, The Last of Us 2 or any other high-profile piece, including Star Trek Picard, are under suspect, and through them, every other reviews these content creators have. If their standards and level of criticism yields 10/10 with only minor issues here or there, there’s something amiss. Look for authenticity in the reviews you look for.

The Big N Creation Myth

One of the best marketing tactics a corporation in the creative industries can employ is to represent their product as something completely unique and new, or as something that has evolved the formula beyond the competition. The whole This game/genre has evolved! schtick is especially common with sequels, and was rather common in the Japanese ad media during the first decade of the 2000’s. You don’t see Japanese developers mentioning their sources of inspirations much outside few notable exceptions like Hideki Kamiya, who has been vocal about his love towards arcade games. Western developers often do the opposite, citing examples what their game is like. The difference between cultures here is rather contrasting to the point of American audiences preferring to refer their games ‘as like something’ even in genres, like Doomclone, Soulslike, Metroidvania and such.

Japanese like to invent new genres for specific games though, though this is in order to endorse the whole idea of these games being something completely unique. Shenmue‘s FREE, Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment and Mega Man Legends‘ Free-Running RPG are the ones I cite the most as examples, mostly because both of them are full of bullshit. Sometimes you can find these redefining genre names as a game’s subtitle as well, with Metal Gear Solid‘s Stealth Espionage Action being a prime example. By introducing something as new and wholly created by oneself or one’s own team, prestige, reputation and face can be gained. A culture most of the credit, if not even all of it, can be credited to one person alone while putting all the faults and mistakes unto lower staff members, it becomes understandable why Nintendo wants their customers to believe that they have created their games in a bubble of creativity, free of whatever is around them.

Staff at Nintendo have always been aware what’s around them. They have always been as much trendchasers as they have been trendsetters. With their pre-Famicom era Pong clones to the very early era of making Hanafuda cards, they’ve always taken something that exist and given it a whirl of their own. What I mean by this is that Nintendo, especially with their video games, have always taken a game and looked at it how it could be given a different spin. This sometimes improves the formula, sometimes it doesn’t. Devil World is a great example of a failed attempt at improving the Pac-Man formula.

The game is actually pretty bad. It has one nice tune, but overall you just wish you were playing real Pac-Man

The Legend of Zelda and the Action Role Playing Game myth is probably the biggest one out there. As touted by Nintendo Power during the game’s release, it was the first game of its kind. In reality, it of course wasn’t. Even Link’s Adventure, a game which is considered to be an outlier, adheres to pre-existing games to a large degree, trying to improve on mechanics and ideas that already established. However, it must be said that The Legend of Zelda was the first true mainstream success of its genre in the United States, as the closest relative the game had at the time was Ultima games. There are links missing between Ultima and The Legend of Zelda, though not many.

First of the links is Falcom’s 1984 Dragon Slayer, which more or less takes the Ultima formula and simplifies it down to one massive dungeon.

Zelda would adopt this same top view perspective. All the base building blocks are here that would be seen in The Legend of Zelda down the line, though battling is still done with statistics. You can expect a hard defeat if you don’t have proper stats or magic. Dragon Slayer wasn’t the only game in town to get inspired by Western RPG or use an early version of bump combat that year.

Hydlide has become a sort of punching bag on the Internet for being terrible, but in reality it’s no worse than other RPGs of the time. Visually there are similarities that we’d see in later games like Dragon Quest, which in itself is a combination of Ultima’s top-down view and Wizardry‘s in-window battles. The way both these games hit the scene in 1984 is telling how much impact early Ultima and Wizardry had on the Japanese PC gaming. Falcom’s influence on Nintendo wouldn’t stop with Dragon Slayer, as 1985’s Xanadu‘s battle mode very much like Zelda‘s overall play.

The difference of course being that all of the games still use statistics and experience as a play basis, not removing them from Ultima too much. The Legend of Zelda changes the formula by removing experience and the need to grind for experience points to item statistics. While Link doesn’t gain any visible statistics during the game, the player progression and curbing is done by gaining stat growth via weapons. This makes the game easier to approach and opens all of the game map to the player from the start, and encourages the player to wander around to adventure even more. Falcom’s influence on the series can also be seen in Link’s Adventure, which more or less uses Xanadu‘s changing battle-mode to shake things up, but keeps things viewed from the side. While not exactly new at the time. While Link’s Adventure is seen as a kind of black sheep of the series, despite historically it outselling its stock and being an excellent title on its own rights, Falcom released their own game using the same side-view concept Link’s Adventure had in Sorcerian.

The two games were developed about the same time, though Sorcerian sticks to the side-view throughout its whole game without changing perspectives. The play itself is dramatically different, structuring the game on particular quests and scenarios. Combat itself is surprisingly downplayed, though player has to directly attack enemies in similar fashion to Link’s Adventure. Having four party members means you can have mages shooting fireballs while melee characters hack with their swords. Sorcerian can be traced as one of the ancestors of Wanderers from Ys rather than be coined as a Link’s Adventure clone. Influenced without a doubt, just like Falcom’s and other companies games influenced Zelda overall.

Zelda just happens to be one of the better examples, where most of the influences never arrived to US. European micro-computers had their own games depending on the countries, with Sabrewulf being the most popular example. Another would be F-Zero, in which Nintendo can’t really deny influences of other racing games. The game was developed as a tech-demo for SNES’ Mode 7, which largely explains why the series has been left on the side. F-Zero X showed how fast and furious games can be on the N64 and improved the concept leaps and bounds, but Nintendo never really knew what to do after that. For them, the lower revenues and lack of ideas how to introduce a new kind of gimmick to the game has left the series dormant. AM2’s F-Zero GX is effectively just an improved version of F-Zero X, but the genre doesn’t exactly offer the best chances of installing new gimmicks without breaking the purity of play. Mario Kart on the other hand does, and gets all the attention instead.

In the absence of new futuristic racing games, Wipeout hit the scene of fill the empty niche. Games like Redshift have continued this sort of tradition, but more games in the genre are being inspired by Wipeout rather than F-Zero, similarly how Nintendo’s games inspire other titles rather the original sources

Not all influences are in the open or traceable. Argonaut Software’s Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was stated to be a primary inspiration for Super Mario 64 according to the studio’s founder Jez San. In an interview with Eurogamer, San goes over how they had a completed Star Fox 2 and had made a pitch for a 3D Yoshi game to Nintendo, but appropriated much of their Star Fox 2 code into Star Fox 64, and have people would never see royalties from Star Fox 2‘s release on the Super Nintendo Mini or through Switch’s online service. Super Mario 64 is very similar to what their pitched prototype was. Despite Croc released year later than Super Mario 64, these similarities they carried from their original pitch are evident, even having similar movesets. It’s easy to see Croc as an alternative skin to Yoshi, changed enough not to infringe copyrights. Shigeru Miyamoto has effectively admitted lifting the 3D game idea from Argonauts to San despite their close relationship.

“Miyamoto-san came up to me at a show afterwards and apologised for not doing the Yoshi game with us and thanked us for the idea to do a 3D platform game. He also said that we would make enough royalties from our existing deal to make up for it. That felt hollow to me, as I’m of the opinion that Nintendo ended our agreement without fully realising it. They canned Star Fox 2 even though it was finished and used much of our code in Star Fox 64 without paying us a penny.

Super Mario 64 would go cited as the first ‘true’ 3D game, which in itself is patently untrue. Despite the hype around Mario 64, 1980’s already saw games like Star Wars and Battlezone, which used wireframe models to create a 3D environment. We can cite Ultima Underworld as one of the earliest examples of 3D game that didn’t use wireframe models. Alone in the Dark can be cited as an example as well. The distinction of course becomes whether or not all the environment is modelled in polygonal 3D or not, in which case we need to give the first ‘true’ 3D distinction to Quake. We shouldn’t forget Sega’s Virtual-On series either, which offered full 360-degrees of free range of controls via its twin stick control scheme. Ultimately, the pretty much everything Super Mario 64 did, from its 3D nature to having game designed to be controlled via a stick, can be traced to numerous other titles and sources.

 I fully admit, I never liked Quake

However, cultivating the idea Nintendo, and every other company out there, is some kind of single creative force makes good money. It’s a PR dream to have a product that stands apart from the rest of the shelf, but is familiar enough for the consumer to understand at first sight. One you manage to gain a position as the one who defined a type of product, yours is the standard that is compared against. The Legend of Zelda doesn’t have much direct competition any more, though games like Nier: Automata are effectively in the same Action RPG genre, but a distinction is made between the two to make a separation for marketing reasons. It’s all about the money and position at the end of the day, and if you can claim to be at the top, you’ll get the most fame and money.

Rebooting the honeymoon period

Before a franchise becomes a running success, it goes through golden days of sheer creativity. This lasts until certain unwritten rules become commonplace, which are largely determined by both success of entries in the franchise itself. Take Mobile Suit Gundam for example, where this period of exploring what Gundam as a franchise could be and how it was to be depicted lasted about a decade and arguably ended with Gaia Gear, a series of novels and audiodramas set into the far future of the original’s timeline. While the story and setting is very much what we could expect from a Gundam entry, it separated itself from the series by not having the title Gundam anywhere and its titular mech Gaia Gear had only a passing resemblance to mainline designs in the series.

On the left you can visually identify the mech as a Gundam-type. It has the distinct white-blue-yellow colours, the right type of structure with the cockpit in the chest/stomach region, vents on either side of the chest, a pronounced cockpiece and now-iconic Gundam head. Gaia Gear breaks basically every rule outside the vents on the chest. It could be argued that because it’s not a Gundam in name it doesn’t need to follow the conventions. However, most Mobile Suits in Gundam follow similar structure in body designs with only special cases deviating heavily from them. That is not to say that Gaia Gear didn’t get a repaint later on that matches with Gundam colours, but that’s really neither here or there. As a whole Gaia Gear was one of the last entries that broke with decade long exploration what Gundam was and what it could be, until Mobile Fighter G Gundam would present with the first alternative timeline on television, but the designs would still stick to the already established mould.

Sometimes this period lasts only one entry. Take the Halloween film franchise as an example, where the third movie veered off from the first two movies’ setting and characters in attempt to make the series different with each entry. With the backlash the movie got, the period of experimentation ended and all future films would stick to the first movie’ shtick, exploring only its characters and set-ups while not entertaining the idea of an anthology series. It could be argued that the two first movies already set the what the franchise as a whole would be in stone, and isn’t exactly comparable to changing designs in Gundam, but the gist is the same; Something is made in multiple entries and tries to find its sweet spot, and once it does, it sticks to it like glue.

When the honeymoon period with the franchise’s golden days ends, it leads to formulaic entries one after another. This doesn’t mean the quality drops automatically. Rather it means the consumers have certain expectations of the brand and creators behind the brand are expected to deliver. They can improve the formula bit by bit and explore it to some extent without majorly changing elements. Usually turning things completely on their sides of changing the core concepts massively is reserved for spin-offs, and ultimately for reboots when a franchise is considered to be too heavy on history and pre-established lore.

The Gold Key comics followed, or perhaps enforced, the standard Trek formula that DC and Marvel would break a bit more later down the line in manners TV couldn’t

Star Trek is probably a common example here, where majorly affected spin-offs were relegated to comics and games, while small but major tweaks to the formula were represented in Voyager and Deep Space Nine. With the J.J. Abram’s rebooting the franchise, and requesting only his take on Trek to maintain any presence, we’ve gone through the whole period of exploring the franchise again in the comics, while the movies stuck to the formula right after. We can see the reaction the studio and creators had to the receptions of the Abram’s Trek take in Discovery and Picard, where this new take on the series followed the modern action line it was restructured to be in place of exploring the human condition though guise of science fiction. Sometimes reboots are used as a way to gain a recognizable property to make business with while ignoring the existing wants and needs.

A franchise that has established itself builds up expectations with each successive entry, especially if there’s a series of entries that improve the core concepts one after another. This is best seen in video games, where styles of play and elements that exist in a franchise often are built up, and about just as often began to fall apart at some point for multitude of reasons. Take the Splinter Cell franchise as an example.

Those three green dots became a well recognised during the golden days of Splinter Cell. Not so much now

The Splinter Cell franchise was Ubisoft’s golden cow at one point with receptions like no other. Sure it came in the wake of Thief and Metal Gear Solid, but the franchise is most well known for its three first games, nowadays titled as the Splinter Cell Trilogy, while the rets of the games are more or less pushed aside. This mostly is because the first three games emphasised stealth as a play mechanics, especially using the shadows as the main point of play much like Thief did before it. The first three games expanded on the whole (relatively) open stages and ways the player could tackle mission specific targets in a stealthy manner. The first three games in the series build up the mechanics and laid down the core structure what could be expected of the franchise, but after that the most common criticism has been the franchise moving away from stealth and becoming a more generic action play with less freedom players has per stage, relying on a linear design. With lacklustre entries that fall between the cracks and not meeting with the expectations the franchise had already built up, UIbisoft hasn’t put out a new entry in a while.

Not that many teams would like to tackle Splinter Cell all that eagerly, as each new title is expected to return to the glory days of the franchise that would stand to the original tagline of the Splinter Cell, Stealth Action Redefined. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ubisoft would simply reboot the whole franchise, effectively nullifying expectations the franchise has, cleaning the slate for developers and riding a recognisable name all the while.

Remakes appease the creators, not the audience

Discussing remakes, reboots and reimaginings seems to be relevant again with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Digimon Adventure (2020) hitting the streets. The two are splitting opinions, just like any other remake or reboot, soft or hard, that have been coming out way for the last decade and then some. In an old post that I can’t remember title of I questioned the value of these kind of works, if there was any real reason to push forwards of remaking a successful game or series over a title that could benefit from being remade into a superior form. Both the aforementioned titles didn’t need to be remade in the fashion that they were, the titles were still making money through nostalgia and new exposure

To generally cover what sort of remakes these are, FFVII Remake is effectively what the original game would be if Square Enix were making the game now. That includes changes in the battle system and story. The new Digimon Adventure has been called a reboot, but it might as well be a reimagining, using elements from original cartoon, like characters, settings and certain story elements, to make something new and original. Both of the titles are remakes in similar vain that they do not replace the original, but are a different, modern take on them. Whether or not that’s great thing will be left to each personal view, but how much money either one will make will give us indication how the audience have reacted. This being the seventh Final Fantasy game remade, I can assure that’s it is going to make bonkers amount of money despite whatever its weaknesses end up being. The fandom the game has garnered around itself will keep it profitable, though the later instalments might see a hit. In similar manner, the new Digimon Adventure cartoon tries to give new breath to the old Adventure moniker in an attempt to garner new fans for the franchise. Again, too early to say as the show’s only in its second episode and there isn’t much merch out there yet, but if end up being a successful show, they might start the Adventure cycle again like they did in the later part of the 90’s, before all the other sequels that weren’t sequels hit around. Seriously, Digimon Adventure 02 might be a bit hated, but that’s a show that should get be remade to be better.

All remakes and reboots inherit an audience, and they’re the ones that bring in the initial count of cash. Whatever there was first, a TV-series like Charlie’s Angels or a game like Final Fantasy VII, the fans of the original product already exist and they can be used like a safety net. If relaunching the IP fails, you can always turn right around and rely on the build-in audience. There’s of course an exception if the relaunch, reboot, remake etc. is opposing this audience from the beginning and violently opposes them. A relaunch can do this in multiple ways, from killing off previous cast of characters in favour of new ones for no real reason, changing the dynamics of the setting completely,  changing the setting and the story either enough to be it its original work or mangling up the perceived positives with further negatives or just making something that’s directly attacking the audience itself either in the work or around the work in the media. The latest Charlie’s Angels was an absolute box office bomb as it wasn’t made for the franchise’s fans, and media specifically stated that this movie was made specifically to certain kind of audience, men need not to apply. After the box office disaster was apparent, the same media outlets cried out loud asking why didn’t the audience members they shunned see the movie. The movie itself enforced this narrative as well, something that bit in their ass hard. Well, the same thing happened with Ghostbusters 2016 and now with Ghostbusters: Afterlife around the corner, the same voices who rebooted Ghostbusters in the first place were crying out and asking do they not matter? That’s the thing really. A build in audience can offer great long-term profit, but in terms of creativity it isn’t the most glamorous job if it’s not a high-profile IP. Star Wars was a high-profile IP, the most massive entertainment train on the planet, but under Disney it was ran to the ground with its soft reboot approach and lack of respect towards the franchise and fans themselves.

The audience and the creators have completely different view what a franchise is all about. Sometimes they coincide and a fan may get into position to create for a franchise they love, but this rarely results in something that’s well received by the rest of the audience out there. J.J. Abrams may have been a self-proclaimed fan of Star Wars, yet the results he put on film were less than stellar. It can also go the other way, with someone who doesn’t get a franchise gets into position to make a new entry to a long-loved franchise, like how J.J. Abrams with Star Trek 2009. It’s as if most of these modern incarnations of long-lasting IPs that turn terrible have something to do with Abrams’ Bad Robot and Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout. Enough with me being prickly about this, but that shouldn’t detract the point; creators perceive these franchises and IP in a different light from the consumers. This should be a given, otherwise there would be no reason for companies to make research into consumer behaviour, wants and needs. Creator working on an original product doesn’t necessary need to concern themselves with the heft of history. If they’re working with a franchise, especially with a reboot of any sort, they need to be aware of the audience expectations. While a work can’t be slaved to those expectations, walking the line between breaking them altogether and appeasing them is necessary. The lack of grass root level knowledge in entertainment industries makes this harder, especially in a time when media is writing for the industry rather than for the customers.

The perception of creators isn’t what we can deliver for the fans and general audience, that’s the PR talk they want you to believe in order to enforce the emotional attachment to the brand. Creators who work on reboots, especially if its someone who worked on the original piece, consider this as their material. Technically speaking, it is. Nobody can touch or decide what they do with it, except the person who pays their salary. In the real world, you have to appease the customer. Even if the customer is paying you to do whatever the fuck you want, you still have to keep in mind the customer’s wants and needs, because if you don’t, it’ll be shown down the line with less money flowing in. Money shouldn’t be the end-all objective, but as far as these are products created by corporations aiming to make profit with products you have to pay for with money you’ve made through your own means, money can’t be divorced from this. That’s the inherit value of kicking off something like a remake or reboot off the ground; the inherited audience should bring in money. Unless you manage to poison the relationship with that audience, after which it is extremely hard to win them back.

What’s the point of remakes, reboots etc? It’s not to make them better. At its core level, the business decision to remake something is to use that emotional attachment customers have made to rake in relatively easy money. If it’s done well, there’s lot more money to be made, while the opposite will damage the IP, but it’s easily fixed by abandoning the remake and returning to the old, if possible. Otherwise something has to be done to salvage the IP for the time being, or let it cool down and reset. FFVII Remake might see the usual cycle of somewhat split opinions, and only later we’ll see people objectively assessing pros and cons of the game. It’s an easy sell title for the generation that didn’t have prior experience with gaming and RPGs overall as their emotional attachment is through the roof. It’s easy to say that remakes etc exist to make the original work better with modern tools and that’s how they’re often sold as. Reality is, however, that they’re mostly creator vehicles to fulfil whatever goals the creator has in mind without any care for the IP or for the audience with intentions of raking in some money on the side. All that money that go into reboots and remakes could go into making new content.