Digital death can be saved with piracy

As much as Sony, and the other video game corporations, have their right when it comes to their games and consoles, the incoming death of PlayStation 3’s, PSP’s and PS Vita’s digital store paints a very dark visage of digital death; all those games that are about will vanish and be rendered unobtainable as the servers are shut down. Each and every game that is exclusive to a digital platform and is dependent on servers’ being online to any capacity will be lost. Piracy is there to catalog them and save them when you can not obtain them anymore in any legitimate fashion. Companies will complain and file lawsuits, like how Nintendo keeps harping on ROM sites, but if these companies want to curb piracy of their older systems’ titles there is very little they can do. In fact, that very little is very influential; offer all the library on your modern systems as well. 

That is easier said than done, as multiple games are very much tied to a system and licensing, meaning that publishers would have to re-submit their titles to console companies for them to be admitted again. Of course, with the hardware being different, it’s no easy task as they’d need to port the games. The question of whether or not that’s worth it for them becomes a pressing matter. Common sense would argue that if a company isn’t selling a game and there are no legitimate ways to obtain it, you might as well get it via piracy. We are not in any grey zone when it comes to digital games as you can’t claim that it is legitimate as long as you own the actual game as there is no physical equivalent in this case.

Yet these games are not abandonware either, as some of these titles have been ported to other systems in the same digital form, or are part of a long-running franchise. You can find loads of old games that have no owner on abandonware sites, even numerous game series and IPs that have owners, yet don’t act on them. It’s part ignorance of how widely their titles are shared and partly that they’re willingly allowing them to be shared. After all, you’re hardly going to make much money on obscure PC88 and DOS titles. You could make some bucks if these companies would repackage the titles for GOG or the like, but that’d take time and money. Would that be worth the effort? To some, yes. To most, no.

Whatever the thinking is within the companies, it won’t change the fact that with this digital destruction we’re losing the original source for these titles permanently. Once the servers go down, that’s it. There’s no crying over games you didn’t buy, there’s no wallowing over missed DLC. All the patches you missed are forever lost to the ether. Publishers and developers won’t offer them via their own services, even if that would be possible. What is the consumer to do if he wants to get a game but can’t, quite literally, buy it anywhere? Companies can’t argue for a loss of sale, as there are no methods a sale could be done in the first place. If they have an alternative venue to offer that title, then great! Problem solved. If not, well, the is always behind the IP owner. For a good reason too, but we should investigate whether or not an unexploited title, whatever it might be from music to film to book, should stay in the hands of the IP owner rather than be opened for common usage. It’d promote exploiting these unused titles, and in gaming would further promote the availability of otherwise unobtainable games. 

That’s never going to happen and we all know it. Sony could do everyone a massive deed and request each and every publisher with any content on their servers to be donated for archival at a museum or something for future research and patrons to play on-site. It would, at least, save these titles for historical purposes, but that is the last thing game companies have in mind. The first month is where the majority of the sales are done with games, and whatever comes after is extra. Once it’s a done deal, they can remove that title from competing with their future titles. Torta på torta repeat; I shudder to have a game on the same platform Super Mario Bros. 3 is. 

I don’t find any joy in Sony closing their old servers. It’s a tragedy that will become more common as time passes and content becomes more digital-only. With this closedown, we’re not only losing all those PS3, PSP, and Vita digital-only exclusives, but also all the PlayStation classic titles that were made to work on these systems. Sony’s going to make a bank when people will rush to buy the games they haven’t picked up yet. I recommend getting the Mega Man Legends titles, including The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, the Sega  Ages Virtual-On , and pretty much every PC Engine title you can get your hands on. If you’re a mecha fan and/or into Super Robot Wars series, there’s also SRW OGs; Dark Prison, a side game with no physical version out there. 

You did get a download code with that Super Robot Wars action game, that turned out to be really, really lousy, but not a game-on-disc in any fashion

Any arguments that follow the lines of You had all the time to get the games or It’s time to move forwards can and should be dismissed. For the sake of the consumers, if we’re going to go digital, the customer should have the right of access to these titles for purchase as there can be no second-hand market. Screw licensing issues or companies maintaining these servers at a loss. As far as the customers’ rights are concerned, the moment there is no viable route for legitimate purchase, the titles are free game. Pun not intended. At this point, I’m beyond arguing legal or moral points. I know and understand all the sides of the coin in the matter, but that matters jack shit when we are losing a generation’s worth of digital titles. That should not be acceptable in any fashion.

Thus, piracy becomes a justifiable action when there is no other recourse. Piracy will archive, it will keep records. It’ll become the way how to access all these titles on their original platform, if not form. The Internet will keep an archive of what Sony and publishers will not. Nevertheless, before we hit that deadline, the best thing we can do, and should do, is to burn that credit card to obtain all the titles we wish to play on our systems. After that… it’s your machine. Why not to mod it to take more out of it?

The “true fan” is a blind customer

With Monster Hunter Rise getting a demo on the Switch recently, I decided to visit their recent stream about the game. ‘lo and behold, I saw the usual people throwing stuff like As a community we… and Only true fans… among other stuff to counter criticism or whatnot. This kind of fan behaviour has been as old as I can recall. It is effectively a way to push down someone who might voice an opposing opinion that might devalue a product in some manner or raise issues that might impact negatively. For example, people noting that the somewhat recent Capcom leaks showcased how Monster Hunter Rise has already been slated for Steam release a year after the initial Switch version got told down that only true fans would buy it on the release and then purchase the Steam version later to support the game. There are quite many people who purchase games twice just to show their support, which largely screws up the actual user numbers and twists the true popularity of a product.

It’s not a toxic behaviour as much as it is pathetic. This sort of blind consumer behaviour can be seen everywhere, especially on forums and closed circles where new ideas or opposing ideas are actively purged. If there’s a live-action adaptation of a book series or something like that coming up, e.g. The Wheel of Time, I’d almost recommend checking some forums just to see large the difference between proper criticism and fellation. Corporations of course love people who feel deeply connected to their brands and go out to defend whatever decision is made and whatever product is put out. There’s a whole industry behind creating a positive image as forums and other platforms like Youtube are filled with people getting paid to give a positive view. It’s a livelihood for sure, and a way to market directly to the customers without directly associating with the corporation and the brand itself. With electronic gaming, it is very common for streamers to make contracts with companies to play their games for a certain time while giving only borderline criticism as dictated by the company. Once the contract expires, the game changes. NDA, of course, keeps these streamers quiet of their real thoughts and what they think of the games they play. Nothing wrong in this as long as the whole thing is being disclosed, but stealth marketers don’t come at you telling they’re marketing something to you.

A blind consumer doesn’t think about the product’s value or anything else related to it really that doesn’t directly concern his own emotional attachment. There’s a large amount of justifying your own purchases and decisions that comes with the saying A true fan… as they have to make sure their decision to invest into something fully is met not only on a personal level but also on a peer level. Perhaps there is some feeling of superiority in there to boot. Hence, when they’re met with no real peer rewards for them being a fan, their world gets shaken a bit. It’s not too rare to find someone who has invested most of their time and resources on something they think will be met with high praise only to find out that they’re more ridiculed than anything else. Perhaps criticising their loved brand itself is enough to shake their views and make them feel threatened.

Customer blindness is often a composite of choosing to be blind and unable to see through emotional attachment. Because how people think isn’t binary and we can accept contradictory statements as true and valid, we can often find ourselves rallying for the brand we love while ignoring its faults, yet do the exact opposite for another brand that shares the same faults. A true fan disregards all the bad things a product and a brand has. Even the positives sometimes seem to be lacking in a discussion, as everything stems from the emotional attachment. While it’s nice that people have something they truly love and are enthusiastic about, corporations are entities that mostly use this exact thing to make more sales and squeeze out that little bit more money out.

Of course, the whole stealth marketing wants you specifically to think in a certain manner that makes a purchase. Direct marketing does only so much. Corporations have embraced the idea of positive word-of-mouth being the best advertisement anyone could have, and they want to make sure your friend or a person you follow on the Internet gives a good word for them. There’s a kind of state of the cold war between customers and corporations, where the customer doesn’t have any other avenue of influence outside voting by their wallet, as corporations have everything in their hands, including your fellow customers that promote the corporate brand for free.

The idea of community giving voice behind one person is equally laughable. There is no one community for anything, there are multiple ones of different sizes and kinds, with some being as small as two. If someone claims that they are voicing the community, the best thing really is to disregard them and/or ask for reference where the community has voiced their opinion as a whole. Surely nobody would be bold enough to claim that they know what the community, or multiple communities, think without first taking proper steps to have everyone heard. However, if someone analyses a certain community, or follows their actions and thinking from an outside perspective and makes deductions based on collected data would be in a position to say what a community of people think. That’s what marketers do, and that’s why marketing has become rather effective on the Internet. Sneak in some people in these communities to slowly but surely change the opinions and views to cater certain point of view that benefits the corporations, and presto you have another set of people willing to market the brand for free.

The best thing to do would be not to be a true fan then. Each consumer is ultimately an individual despite whether or not they belong to a community. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own, whatever we base them on. Ignoring peer pressure or validation for our own opinions is not easy. In these matters, your own opinions trump all, as it only concerns you in the end. I doesn’t matter what a reviewer or a friend says or thinks, because ultimately you’re the one who has to evaluate the product for yourself. In other words, the best way to combat stealth marketing remove yourself from the negative influence that goats you to validate someone else is to take responsibility of your own decisions and actions they lead into.

Nintendo continues to fight piracy at the expense of the customer

Nintendo has been fighting piracy since they started the whole electronic gaming business. Donkey Kong the arcade game itself was a prime target of piracy, with copied arcade boards popping up frequently due to its popularity. The NES / Famicom piracy was massive despite the whole physical cartridge thing, with numerous Asian countries producing copies of the system and selling those systems and games across the globe. Hell, the Soviets / Russians enjoyed Dendy console as their mainline NES copy, with effectively all games being pirated copies of some kind. The SNES saw this practice much less, but few did fall between the cracks, with Super Noah’s Ark 3D being the most known in the West. Now, the N64 barely saw any piracy, as the concentrated efforts had moved to the PlayStation. In some ways, you can determine what system is the most popular in any given system generation by how much effort is there to put piracy into effect and how successful it has been. It’s no surprise then than the GameCube piracy was less enticing than PS2, mostly because a more popular system also has the most games for people to take a crack at. Then we come to the Wii, which wasn’t just a popular system, but a massive success and its piracy wasn’t just easily accessed; it was made into something everyone in the mainstream could do by themselves and take advantage of. Before this most systems required either external carts, an external device plugged in or physical modification to the PCB to make piracy easier. With PlayStation, you could just have your local electronics store install a BIOS chip that jumped over checking if the disc was legit or correct region. Then you could burn PlayStation games willy nilly. There was also an external box that allowed you to boot into a special menu and skip that checking routine. Wii U mostly had piracy because it was easy to implement after the Wii, but it never really had titles people were interested in. There’s a reason why Nintendo kicked it out rather fast and started the 9th console generation well before Microsoft and Sony were putting their systems out.

Seeing Nintendo considers themselves taking a hefty blow in their sales because of piracy with the Wii (in reality, it’s because Nintendo effectively abandoned the system mid-way through its lifecycle and gushed out garbage instead of putting further effort into high calibre titles) they have been taking rather heavy-handed actions against piracy with the Switch. Such things like the Switch having physical traces on the PCB that get burned out with certain updates to effectively suing everyone who might enable the system being cracked open for whatever reason. The latest hit was against Le Hoang Minh, who was selling RCM Loader, a dongle that would enable homebrew to run on the Switch. While Nintendo can’t attack Minh for piracy per se, their attacks as of late have been against groups selling dongles like this, or groups that are offering service that would modify the Switch to run homebrew software. In Nintendo’s eyes, these are all against the rule of law and End User Agreement as well as breaking copyright by circumventing the system’s protections. Nintendo DMCA’s these people often and drags them to court.

I’m not going to dance around the subject and claim that people who are purchasing these items and services have the end intention of running homebrew on their system or other more legitimate methods. It’s rather clear that piracy is one of the many end-goals here and both consumers and corporations have to live with it. However, most actions these hardware companies take to prevent piracy end up damaging the legitimate customers. For example, Sony removed the ability to run Linux on PlayStation 3 because someone managed to find a way to run homebrew through it. Not only a complete element was removed from the system, but Sony ended up paying millions because of that as they had advertised the system with Other OS capability. Now that the Switch destroys physical traces on the system, it might cause troubles down the line. Of course, fighting piracy with online-only systems and digital-only sales is one method of battling piracy as well, both of which don’t do favours for the general customer. If anything, battling piracy has only caused customers to lose control over their games and system, which actually has turned a minor section of these customers looking into homebrew and piracy even more in order to take full control over the products they bought and own.

Is Nintendo in the right in their crusade against these homebrew enablers? They believe so, and they believe their DMCA’ing and taking legal actions to protect their intellectual property that they see is being infringement by circumventing protections. Team-Xecutor, one of the more prolific teams offering homebrew for the Switch, accused Nintendo of legal scare tactics and censorship. There’s little doubt Nintendo wouldn’t try to intimidate groups like Minh and Team-Xecutor first before taking full legal actions, although throwing censorship in there is a dubious claim. However, all these products that enable homebrew can be seen as part of the Right to Repair movement. Apple and Nintendo, and effectively everyone else who offers electronics, is in the same boat here, as third party products, be it goods or services, would take repair and service revenue out from their pocket. In some cases, like with Apple and third-party repair parts, they would lose control over the overall device and its parts. This is under the guise of offering better and more qualified service, which is straight-up bullshit. This total control over the systems has stemmed from customers trying to fix their own devices or had third party members trying to fix it for them and then claiming warranty from the corporation. It was more or less a 50/50 chance whether or not they would repair or replace the product, but more often than not they’d end up replacing it simply because that was the cheaper option. Nowadays large amounts of customers still play the system and claim warranty on functional items. Stores rarely check these products and simply send the supposedly faulty device back and the customer gets a new device for free, and another few years of warranty. Warranty which they’ll go claim back, effectively getting a replacement device every few years. This is just one common example of how the customer-provider relationship is being abused constantly by the consumer. It becomes rather understandable why companies would want to take total control over the devices and software the customer purchases simply to prevent unnecessary losses gathered from customers effectively screwing them. In the end, all the customers at large get screwed.

Whether or not these products that allow homebrew on the Switch actually infringe Nintendo’s rights in any way are less important than the results they cause, and that is piracy. While piracy is seen as a massive threat to any entertainment industry and portrayed as such, it is in actuality completely different beast.  There is no better form of advertising or showcasing the value of a product other than giving it in the hands of the customer himself and the giving freedom to go town with it. Many films and music albums have been sold when people have seen and listened to a pirated copy and the same applies to the game industry. Game demos was found to damage game sales because they showcased how terrible those games could be. All sales are final is the mantra certain companies want to repeat, as they know the product they’re selling is in many ways faulty. Both sides should find a way that wouldn’t infringe either side in good faith, but that’s something that won’t ever happen because that’d require consumers to change their habits and mindsets to a large degree and corporations to lose most of the control they have over products they’re now selling. Seeing as global corporations are moving towards abolishing the idea of owning anything you buy, replaced by a subscription model that would give them complete control over the product as well as make them more profit, that’s something we’re never going to reach. Ultimately, piracy, IP and trademark infringement are used as excuses to further destroy whatever control and ownership the consumer. You’re more or less expected to consume just the same but never see the end product truly in your hands. If and when things are digital, this applies doubly so. Even with a company like Nintendo with a family-friendly image, the end goals seems to be the same as with every other company; work to consume, but never to own or control what you are consuming.

Beware the words “Leave it to use”

For the slightly-less-than-a-decade, I’ve kept this blog I’ve noticed one thing that’s been increasing year by year; the reduction of customers’ agency.  It’s been going on ever since World War II, as corporations became ever more global and information technology kept maturing towards the globally connected era we’ve entered. It’s all about the control of the product, nothing more, nothing less. You would think this just a minor problem, but considering things like homes, cars, the everyday equipment we use to make food, you name it, are products that corporations wish to gain control over. This would be laughable if it wasn’t already taking place with the media we consume.

The finest example of how customers lose agency is with streaming media and online stores that don’t give you full freedom to the product. The examples, of course, are Netflix and Steam. Their users have allowed convenience to take over their own agency, the control of the product they consume. While both Netflix and Steam allow you to consume the content they provide at your pleasure, it’s under their rules. Netflix decides what you can watch in its selection much like how Steam’s library decides what you are able to buy. While this seems natural, it also means they are a controlling middle-man, the ones saying what can and can not be on their virtual shelves. Not only this works against the consumer with the limited selection, something that the Internet has made moot when you could buy whatever game with slight searching, but that’s not possible nowadays as the majority of PC games have become Steam-linked. You are unable to play them without the digital console in the middle without resorting to cracking them. Even when you buy the physical disc, chances are that the default installer instantly jumps to Steam with no other way to play it. You have no options, you lack the control. The same goes what Netflix offers with its model, taking away the control of the product. The difference being here is how Steam allows needs you to download the games and to some extent meddle with them and you retain the right to play them, as long as you go through Steam. You have no control over Netflix. If a show is dissipaters from the catalogue, it’s gone.

Subscription is the word for both. You subscribe to the license or to the service, which means the users are completely willing in most cases to waver away their own agency and control, and all the responsibility those bring with them, to the corporations running these services.  In the case of  entertainment media this seems fair, yet again the customer has no control. To many the idea of having physical media at your house seems distasteful, some even hate the idea of physical items taking space. Both of these are things that require the customer to carry weight on their backs rather than dumping them elsewhere. Despite there being many who don’t want that physical media are happy that alternatives exist, but there are no alternatives that would allow them to extend their own agency and control over the products. All they are getting is the equivalent of a movie ticket.

Hollywood was extremely afraid of losing control over their product when VHS was first introduced in the 1970s. What would happen if customers bought their own copy of the movie, which they could watch over and over again? The theatres and studios would lose money now that they couldn’t control the product the customer owned. They introduced a move to install a magnetic wipe head into VCRs, which would gradually blank the tape as it was watched. By the third time, the customer would lose most if not all of the tape’s content, forcing them to buy a new copy. This idea never came to be, but its vestiges are now in the types of Netflix, where the customer has no control whatsoever.

Netflix has taken everything out of the customers’ hands. The product, at a glance, is the service of streaming series and films. It’s also the second-best way to save space by allocating all that to Netflix digital services, as long as you’re willing to wave away your rights. Much like Steam, Netflix can cancel your subscription at any point they see you breaking their contract. Similarly, some argue that you never bought movies, films or games in general, just their license. The difference, of course, being that by having a physical item in my hand negates this, as none of the companies can come to my home in any legal measure and take that product away.

All this is highly debatable and most people will dismiss both of them. However, this service model of a subscription is being extended to things like cars, printers and washing machines. Rather than buying a machine of your own, you subscribe to a service of which you pay monthly. You would never own it, just pay for the privilege to use someone else’s machine. If something were ever to happen to it, or the service owner deems you to break any of the rules, you’re screwed. It’s the same with cars, and now with smart cars driving themselves, even the responsibility of learning to drive is taken away from the customer.

That’s all this is ending up, ultimately. When the customer is losing their agency and rights to own anything, everything is locked out from their hands. Apple is a massive example of this as their practices both in hardware and software is as anti-consumer as it could be. Their updates are bricking older machines, they refuse to sell spare parts to their devices and offer higher-cost exchange programs instead. The systems are built to fail as well, with flaws that could be nothing less than intentional. Apple’s systems and products are a lifestyle, and their customers buy into that as much as they do into their products. Of course, whatever you do on your Apple devices also means Apple has the right to sell your data to advertisement companies and such, something that they have in common with Google and other big tech companies. Even with Steam and Netflix, they get data from their users they can make money on. Your privacy is nonexistent, and that is sadly something we all have more or less accepted a necessity. It shouldn’t be, and this is one of those points where the law is behind the times. I’ll outright argue that selling user information should be considered an illegal invasion of privacy despite whatever agreement clauses these companies put into user contracts. It’s one more thing where consumers lose agency, and it’s one of those things gets talked about yet nobody is making any moves to actually do anything about it.

The whole Right to Repair seems to be doomed. Companies like John Deere and Apple are fighting it in very dirty ways, but this is all about controlling the product again. They don’t want complete control over the product, but also the way they’re used and everything tied to them. Both corporations aim to lock the customer to their dealers alone in a manner nobody else could service their devices. With John Deere this is even more evident in how this would effectively remove all the competitions from the aftermarket and repair section as there has been a rather long tradition of optional and alternative parts from cheaper manufacturers. Parts that might have been slightly worse, but had the exact same performance. With John Deere moving more and more towards a similarly closed ecosystem to Apple, farmers will find themselves unable to find parts to fix their machines without needing to pay premier prices, but also they’ll find themselves in a situation where field modifications or modified software locks them out and bricks the system. It’s a matter of time, not whether or not this is possible. Apple is already doing this. You can’t even change the screen or the camera between two new Apple iPhones without the phones freaking out and making features inaccessible. It appears that smart devices are the ultimate way to lock control away from the users unless they decide to modify the system to remove these elements, e.g. de-Google an Android phone. Even then, if something is burned to the hardware to make the device effectively non-functional intentionally, the only way for the customer to go would be to not buy such a product and go for another product that wouldn’t infringe the customer’s control. This isn’t even a question if someone would want to modify or not, if there were a need or not, but rather simply whether or not the customer would be able to. When the customer doesn’t have any choice and all there is one singular option, we’ve lost large portions of personal and individual rights to what we’ve put our efforts into gaining.

Hell, you can’t even buy a non-smart TV anymore. Everything has a chip innit to spy on what you do with the device.

What’s the ultimate end goal here? At this pace, the customer will end up losing more of their rights and the agency they have towards the things they purchase. Purchasing itself will turn into a subscription with products, and products will be tied to a service.  With that, the customer’s control over is taken away, after which more and more of our lives will be controlled by an outside power. When you leave everything to the corporations, they’ll take it gladly. The customer is expected to consume, but only under the terms of the provider with no personal control whatsoever.

Most of the previous could be considered a small nuisance, something which we could let go. However, it’s a slide that won’t stop. While ownership is a contested concept, what’s behind it are ultimately strong values of determination, personal responsibility and willing to take control one your own life. These should be clear things to adults. You have to find a way to make a living in order to strive towards your own personal goals. Some of these goals might be at work, others in personal life. It asks determination, and responsibility to carry the necessary tasks out. We can’t play all day long doing nothing or live on other’s wing. Certainly, there are those who would provide for others, yet that means losing your own agency and control in the same manner corporations are taking away customer’s agency. Making our own decisions while we are dependent on someone, or something else, makes us only a slave to the system which can exert control over us however it would wish to. Hence, we must take control of how we live, which requires the two first aforementioned bits. Yet we’re willingly and constantly allowing corporations terrible consumer practices and invasions of privacy as well as underhanded service models to undermine all these. Hell, all those devices at your home, that listen to you during every moment, were introduced by likes of Amazon and Google rather a governmental power. Rather than a nation becoming that stereotypical evil oppressor we know to hate and fight against, we’re gladly willing to let all our responsibilities go and embrace these devices with open arms. At this rate, there will be two points; One where the customer refuses to give away his freedom to choose how they live with all the responsibilities it brings; the other where everything we have is owned by someone else and we have no control over our lives.

It all really ends in taking responsibility on the actions and decisions we make. Something like taking a loan for school is ultimately a decision and a responsibility we must make, and then undertake the task of paying them back. The alternative is that we have no responsibilities, and thus no choices to make.

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.

A chance for Microsoft to push forwards in Japan

Microsoft is supposedly aiming for the Japanese market, according to Bloomberg. Some are taking this as some sort of new thing, but Microsoft has always tried to make itself a big thing in Japan with Xbox. This is, in itself, nothing new. The original Xbox S-Controller was developed and design the Japanese market in mind, and it ended up being successful enough to kick out the Duke controller for good (because the Duke, in all honesty, is kind of trash). The 360 had a hard PR push in Japan, with booth girls designed to appeal to the local tastes alongside numerous exclusive games and titles that should have been hit with the audiences. However, the X360 ultimately ended up playing the third fiddle (again), but kind of did follow the footsteps of old Japanese computers in its game selection. If you love shooting games and peculiar managing titles, the X360 is chock full of exclusive titles like many of CAVE’s shooters e.g. Death Smiles and The iDOLM@ASTER killing your hopes for a new chapter of Berserk. Down the line, these titles did get sequels and ports elsewhere, but at the time the X360 was, effectively, the otaku console to have with many niche titles. Hell, even Muv-Luv saw a port for 360 before Sony got its own. It’s niche library of Japanse games that didn’t get Western releases and were behind region locking meant that the X360 saw some limited importing within certain circles. Nowadays most of the good stuff has appeared elsewhere with no bullshit in-between outside needing to use Steam, so there’s very little reason to consider doing so nowadays.

The reason why Bloomberg is making a thing about Microsoft’s ever-continuing attempts to court the Japanese consumers is that Sony’s employees internally are more or less disfranchised. Analyst Hideki Yasuda of Ace Research Institute saying that Sony’s attention is drifting away from its consumers in the home market, and that’s an understatement of sorts. Sony’s American HQ has been making hits and after hits on the marketability and development of their third party titles, of which I’ve got few posts in the past. The fact that Sony’s pushing for censorship on games on their design phase and banning whole play elements and methods surely will push developers away, which turns the consumer tide elsewhere. Sony’s emphasize with its new internal rules and regulations has damaged the company in ways that are becoming apparent in consumer behaviour. Furthermore, an example of straight-up Americanisation of PlayStation as a whole can be seen in switching the X and O confirmation buttons around in Japan, something the Japanese consumers aren’t exactly keen on. Granted, that poll was open to a thousand participants only, but treating it as a sample size should give you an indication what the majority of the population thinks. Changing an established form factor that’s been there since the Super Nintendo days is extremely short-sighted. Not only this means long-time users have to work against their muscle memory, but also that X and O make no longer sense in cultural context, as they’re now reverse. There’s also a worry about this applying to backwards compatible games. Sony has confirmed that this isn’t optional, meaning Japanese who purchase PlayStation 5 will have one helluva time trying to figure out why the hell their O is suddenly a bad thing instead of X. However, now both Xbox and PlayStation share the same scheme of menu confirmation, with Nintendo still using the “classical” layout.

Then again, that first Bloomberg article states that Sony of Japan has been sidelined. I’ll quote this bit and then drag that horse carcass back for a moment; “The US office believes the PlayStation business doesn’t need games that only do well in Japan, employees in the California headquarters reportedly said.” Whoever said this needs to be fired from their job for effectively ruining PlayStation 5’s chances. A console’s lifeline is in its library. A console can not be a success alone. When you grind things down even slightly, hardware is just the middle man, the unnecessary evil, the crutch. You only buy hardware that has software that you want to consume. A console must have its own unique library of games that entices the player enough to purchase the hardware. If you want your console to succeed in Japan, it must have a wide variety of different kind of games that appeal to the Japanese culture of video games. These games are widely different from what appeals to general consumers in the US, UK, France etc. Every nation and culture have their own things that are bombshell sellers. For Finland, it would seem NHL and FIFA games because fuck these people are thirsty of sports.

Of course, after Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s CEO, insisted that the company wasn’t Americanised when they moved HQ to California rings extremely hollow. Even the size of PlayStation 5 screams American whopper. It’s ugly as hell and larger than a man’s torso. No Japanese corporation would design their machine to be that big because space is a premium in Japan. The Switch is the king of this Generation of consoles due to its hybrid nature and a good library. Clearly Ryan was spouting bullshit, as the current global agenda is leaving Japan a cold turkey, and that probably will happen to European countries as well. Now with regional departments gone, Sony can’t have its individual arms creating specific plans and games for each region. Now, all we’re getting is what the American centre vomits outs. They can’t be flexible and nimble with only one scarecrow. 2020 has shown the downsides of globalisation to an extreme degree and Sony putting their eggs in that basket was a major blowout. It will only hurt them down the line as it will kill variety and regional specialities in favour of one corporate vision, now driven by censorship. I’ve seen claims of Japanese taking up Steam and other PC stores closer to their heart after since certain kinds of titles were banned and Visual Novels started suffering on the platform. Not only that, but Sony themselves have been shooting themselves in the leg by allowing ports of their harder hitters to Steam in hopes of making more cash. That’s a sure shot method of killing your device, exactly what they did with the Vita. Poor Vita, Sony mistreated you so hard. Whatever PR Sony wants to spin, like Natsumi Atarashi’s assertation how Japan will remain their utmost importance, can be disregarded as bullshit. Sony’s actions thus far have been telling the complete opposite. Don’t tell me a house isn’t on fire when it’s blazing just behind you.

All this is part of the continuing censorship routine and globalisation Sony has been practising for the past few years, something I have posts on. The thing about Sony’s globalisation and concentrating their decision power into one HQ is that in time it’ll be a disservice for them. I already mentioned that they will streamline their services and products with this, but it will also go against them. Global organisations with this size will see the rise of useless middle management that will drag feet down. Arguibly that’s already happening with the whole internal censorship and censorious regulation they’ve put into power. This will sap energy from regional offices and will damage their work capacity to work as they always have to wait for a reply from the main office from California. The more proper answer should’ve been to gut the middle management and allow regional offices to cater their target areas the best they can. The California HQ seems to think what applies to them applies globally. It may not be Americanisation as Ryan claims, but then it’s simply forcing a skewed view of the world forcefully unto others with ideas and values that do not apply even outside the doors of Sony HQ. Sony should value what their customers value in their brand, and they’re moving to the complete opposite direction, thinking that the consumer is a sheep who follows rather votes with his wallet. No matter how much people want to sell the idea of perfect global society as part of globalisation. Take Germany’s latest stance as an example. Globalisation doesn’t mean others will take up to your opinions and views as the holy gospel. Often it’s just the opposite. In a perfect world, we would have objectively the best standards for everything, but that’s not realistic. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for them, but in the current state globalisation, people need to come mid-way to meet each other. Sony’s current practices effectively oppressing rather than allowing themselves to create a company that would truly be of service at a global scale by adjusting themselves accordingly.

I’ve also noticed a certain consumer behaviour that’s tied to all this. Early in the PS4’s and Switch’s life cycles importers preferred the PS4 versions of games if there were two available. In recent years this has drastically shifted for importers to prefer Switch version, if available. This probably reflects what kind of consumer group current importers are at a worldwide scale, with most of them being aware of current happenings and decisions taking place behind the scenes the corporates want to keep behind the curtains.

Despite all this doom speak, Japanese developers won’t abandon the PlayStation. If anything, they’ll probably aim to go multiplatform more. Theirs is a traditionalist way of working, and abandoning one of the two national devices seems to go against the grain rather hard. It’s like how the US prefers Xbox mostly because it’s Xbox. Perhaps more and more companies will go multiplatform and ensure a Steam or similar release on PC as well, while moving some of their exclusive titles being developed for the two competing platforms. Sony will hire studios to make games for their hardware for sure and the usual line-up will come out that most people will be happy with, but then the question just ends up being what’s the difference between the new Xbox and PlayStation?  If the libraries end up resembling each other even more, and there’s no real difference outside an even smaller handful of exclusives, it becomes more brand battle than anything else. Here Microsoft has a chance to shine, but theirs is a steep climb. The Xbox One managed to scrape 0.1% of all console sales in Japan this year. That’s one helluva fight against PlayStation 4’s 10.1%, and all but an impossible task against 89.9% the Switch holds. The Xbox brand could turn things around in Japan if they’d manage to find that sweet spot Sony’s abandoning and working on that like no other. It’ll take a console generation and then some to turn the Japanese consumer’s opinion on Microsoft’s console around, but perhaps if they manage to properly deliver proper titles, that is achievable.

Taking an axe to a dead horse

Let me start this post by not just kicking that one dead horse, but again mince its meat and turn its hooves into glue; the story of a game is in its play, the rest of framing. The thing that makes electronic gaming so interesting is that the framing is considered equal, if not more important in some cases, than the content it is framing.

A game’s framing narrative will always be second to the play of the game, that’s part of the medium. The framing can never escape the play part, and ultimately has to be break itself apart and into segments to satisfy the needs of play. This could be, for example,  the need for the player to move a character from locale A to locale B in order to continue the narrative segment. Or in case of Xenosaga, walk from a room to another to continue from a fifteen-minute FMV. The narrative also has the option to cover game mechanics as part of the world, but that is not specifically necessary.

The game can cover rules of the play by other means as well, but for the sake of game’s own narrative consistency, more often than not the rules are implemented as part of the framing narrative. Sometimes it makes sense, like how Trails in the Sky has the whole orbs-in-slots system, something concrete that the player sees and collects, and other times it’s rather abstract like Junctioning Magic to Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy XIII. Nevertheless, the framing itself matters less than the function and rules of the play the provide.

Of course, depending on the game, the framing device can be extremely important, or matter very little. Modern audiences are used to having everything in FMVs and pre-scripted sequences that take control out of the players’ hands, but in the arcades this context was delivered via cabinet marquees and attraction screens. In the best cases, games were laid out and designed to deliver the framing without much words or time wasted. For example, the subtitle of the first Street Fighter II was The World Warrior, referring to the world stage the player’s chosen character would be in. The selection screen itself presented this concept with the world map and plane flying here and there. Much like any other visual medium, games excel in the visual side of things. Certainly, many arcade games slapped a text to give you the base framing and that was that, which is effectively an equivalent of any modern FMV. More abstract games didn’t need any. Pac-Man eats pills and tries to avoid the Ghosts. That’s the minimum amount of framing a game needs to fully justify its play. Funnily enough, that is also the description of the play, getting two birds with one stone.

The framing fights the player agency because it’s not the content, the play is. Nowadays we take for granted how large the overall framing is to give a whole world for the play to be justified, which is overreaching it rather hard, but it is one of the easier and most accessible aspects to analyse regarding games. This is because we are taught to read from a young age and how to analyse media overall. Film criticism comes a bit later, but often we build our own preferences based on certain aspects of films, which makes the whole analysing this framing device very easy.

It’s not as easy with other media, where specialised knowledge is more or less necessary to understand how the content is being framed. To drag the remains of the horse’s corpse here for a moment, not many people concentrate on the frames of a painting or on the pedestal of a statue despite the possibility that they too could have seen masterful works themselves. A painting is being elevated further when an unique frame has been designed and carved for it, accenting its strokes and colours properly. Often they just get overlooked and whatever readily made models are there on the table gets picked up, because the frame isn’t the main point. Not many know wood-crafting well enough to begin to appreciate the necessary skill and knowledge master framers have built up throughout the years to pair a painting perfectly to a frame, and proceed to frame it in an equally skilful manner. Everything from material selection to the attaching itself must be taken into account. Or, y’know, just nab that proper sized black frame from Ikea and go with that. Sure, same thing. I’m overstating this point because handiwork and craftsmanship isn’t something we all learn too deeply. We dabble in it and may learn base skills, but we aren’t taught them to any deeper extent. Craft lessons at school mostly just play rather than building up any true skill, unlike your native tongue lessons.

Games that rely heavily on the framing narrative also tend to decrease the agency of the player, the freedom of play. This doesn’t matter too much in games that are laid out as fields of challenge, like almost every action and racing game out there, but raises its ugly head when it comes to RPGs. More often than not, RPGs do not offer a whole lot of ways for the player to realise their own play. Some RPGs allow completely free character creation and follow in suit, but even then framing device is ready and sometimes can’t even be affected. When the developer concentrates on emphasizing their framing as a single narrative, the player agency is effectively nil. Very few times the framing allows the player to have a large agency on its course and in cases like YIIK the narrative is overwhelmingly more important than the play to the point of it having been designed to hate the player. The greater the narrative design, the more it has to rely on the techniques from other media, but marrying it to the play also requires an equal amount of design decisions regarding the play. For example, Kojima may have made his titles long-ass movies at times, but simply allowing the player to turn on the first person camera and look around for clues and easter eggs add to the player agency. While the player can’t continue the scene on their own terms, they are given control over an aspect nevertheless. A small thing that adds value to otherwise lengthy scenes of doing nothing.

While the framing narrative sees ever-rising budgets and effort to have the most well-scripted stories to be delivered, there is an immense lack of any effort to meld this narrative within the content. This, of course, would necessitate far larger scale of stories and pathways the player can take, making it necessary to consider completely opposite directions of their current framing narrative than intended. For example, imagine if during a Call of Duty campaign the player could at certain points make a decision to change sides. Perhaps this could be a multi-campaign element, where the player could choose to effectively change one campaign to another, but at the same time changing the way the framing of the campaign works from thereon. The rules of the game don’t change, but rather than being one of the Allied, he might end up playing a soldier who now fights for the Axis. This would offer the developers ways depict a more complex narrative as well as offer the player more options to explore. Perhaps even allow a third option of abandoning the war altogether and be chased throughout the fields by both sides. These aren’t RPG elements or the like, these would simply be options to be presented to the player in a similar manner that optional routes are. All this of course goes in the face of the current paradigm, where the narrative must one whole that the player must experience. The Last of Us 2 aimed to make the player uncomfortable by making enemies lament on their friends’ deaths while the narrative didn’t offer any other options but what the developers intended. It didn’t work out.

This isn’t exactly railroading the player as much as the paradigm for video and computer games haven’t shifted to consider these a valid option. Not that they necessarily should, as these spreading games are more or less considered gimmicks. Surprisingly, the Drakengard series, including Nier, has taken strides in this. Their multiple endings can be unlocked by player actions to different degrees, though usually, the first round is always the same. Nier: Automata has one of my favourite examples of this, where you can turn around as 9S when you first get control of him in New Game + and just fuck off from starting point, you achieve an end to the game. Another example would be when the player reaches the peaceful robot village, and despite their pacifism, the player proceeds to murder every robot there, gaining another ending. Again, these are minor things and yet they show how the developers considered possible player actions or at least their want of certain kind of action, and realised it as a solution or a path as part of the framing narrative. None of this, of course, would function if the frame wouldn’t have designed to house these deviating rules of play.

The thing is, with games making the framing is easier than making the content. The content isn’t as freeform or artsy, it requires intensive labour hours and demands a lot of skill even if you use a ready engine. The designs of play and choices made have to function, each and every programming error and design mistake compound on top of each other faster than it does in the framing narrative. Creating the framing for a game is the fun part, but creating the game itself is where the true difficulties lie. It’s no wonder that a multi-branching game that would allow the frames to change at the player’s decisions are still rather rare, and even then some franchises make clear-cut marketing that this is an element of their play, that routes are a franchise gimmick. That’s not even what I’m truly trying to convey with this post.

Let me try to rephrase the whole thing in short; Computer and video games still rely on methods of film and literature in their framing narrative and have not been able to truly marry it to the play. This some times comes through as route selections, sometimes as exposition being spouted during a boss battle. The main split is whether or not the player is in control. The marriage of the frame and the content would need to be as with painting that has specifically made frames for; a player should have large agency, perhaps even control, to move the framing narrative. This way the story, that is the player actions during play, would be part of the narrative. This is just a solution. Furthermore, the more the framing device aims to be the main point of the game, the more the game will suffer as it still has to accommodate the play. This is why video game adaptation on the silver screen can’t work as intended because they are written and planned around the game. Point of a game is to be played, to be the active participant.

Here’s a point where this is apparent. During TGS 2020, Square-Enix released a trailer of the new Final Fantasy because overseas customers wanted to see a trailer that shows the game’s play footage. What SquEnix did first was to offer the game’s frame, as that has always been their forté. However, what the customer always wants to see is the content and that applies to every field. You can jingle shiny keys in front of the customer however much you want, but at the end of the day, they want to go for a drive too.

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.

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.