Another Epic PR disaster

When the Epic Game Store came around the first time, I considered it an addition to the whole economy of digital games stores. There’s always more room to challenge Valve, GOG and the rest as long as the service is right, the price it tight and products stand out. The last bit Epic has been working on overtime, but not the way most consumers would want. Its not that Epic has put studios to work for unique games, but they’ve been doshing dough around like no other, picking up games off from developers from Patreon, Kickstarted products and such. Kickstarted products is the sore point, as many were promised either physical PC release or a Steam key, but with Epic bringing its bang to the table, these promises turn empty and they’re given Epic codes instead. While Kickstarter is not a store and changes are always going to happen, keeping tight on your delivered products. When things are like this, you need some good PR management skills to handle the situation. Ok, let’s be realistic; you need someone with excellent PR skill and background to manage the consumers and dampen all the possible damage. You never go in head first yourself, because you don’t have the skills or knowhow. You’d be an idiot to assume that consumers of any sort are a kind bunch. Outside already promised products e.g. via Kickstarter changing their form and direction, in principle there’s nothing wrong in Epic’s way of making exclusives. Personal opinion doesn’t exactly matter, when the majority has made their negative view on the platform rather vocal.

Consider why each and every successful corporation, company or individual businessman has a front while everything happens behind the curtains. That is to keep the consumer at an arm’s length away to keep some details behind the curtain while having proper discourse with the customer.

You probably already know ins and outs how Ben and his wife Rebecca have been working on a game titled Ooblets and how it became a timed-exclusive for Epic Store. I didn’t know about them two days ago, and apparently not many others had either. Still, Ben doesn’t mention his last name or sign with full title, so I’m going to call him just Ben, uncharacteristically. Sorry Benjamin, don’t mean to mix you with this Ben. After Ben announced the situation, he and his wife got some heavy backlash, which should have been completely expected considering how negative reception Epic has. Of course, being Ben he went on to Medium and wrote a long response. Archived version for your pleasure. We’re mostly going to concentrate on this, but you can jump on their Discord if you want to read how easily Ben is willing to take a shot at people for whatever reason. OneAngryGamer has some of them archived, just like his article is.

It really is largely trite to read through, as anyone who have followed any standard events regarding production of games from the start within the indie scene should know, especially the title has been Kickstarted. Most interaction with fans is positive, until you fuck up somehow. When you fuck up, that brings in the rest of your silent backers and other potential customers in like a lightning rod. Ben describes how their style has been jolly and non-serious all this time, which is the first error most of these independent creators do, because that means nobody can never really trust their info without analysing through the bullshit you’re spouting. Having a joke here or there to break the ice is great, but being tongue-in-cheek as your standard style of interaction is about as welcome as a rash on your ass. Sure its colourful and gives you attention, but in the end you want that clear and fresh feeling instead.

The Internet is nothing new when it comes to mad people. It is a misconception that the Internet brought us some sort of new era of hate messages or the like. No, hate mail has always existed. Before direct messaging and emails, people used letters published in news papers or sent directly to the provider, or simply calling by phone. The Internet just has democratised who and how they are able to voice their opinion. Ben listing some examples of people going over the board does show that there are people either genuinely mad, or that there are just people wanting to pitch in for good time’s sake. Neither really is constructive, but emotions tend to take over people very easily.

Ben makes clear that he doesn’t consider anyone a customer. He or his wife hasn’t sold anything to anyone, so there isn’t a provider-consumer relationship. He’d be wrong. The relationship that exists between the two and their audience is potential consumer base, which has effectively become their fanbase that they were nurturing. In the face of law this is the case, he can argue that. However, considering he team has a Patreon that is directly about funding the game. Still, they don’t offer any of the game there, just some merch when they begin to produce it. Maybe.

However, when you have a fanbase and interact with and constantly update them on your progress, you have a group of people you have cultivated as your main consumer base. There is a certain silent agreement between you and this group of people about a transaction and this has been going on for three years. If Ben thought for a moment that there wasn’t meta-transaction on an emotional level going on, he has been sorely mistaken. He can call people entitled all he wants or whatnot, but do remember that when you are promising a product to fans, and have given your word (despite this not being a binding contract), you’ve already made emotional connections and managed to tie the future consumer of your future product to your brand. That tongue-in-cheek nature nature of messages and updates is an element that backfires twice as worse in situation like these, as that tone is often seen as facetious and deceptive. At best it’ll be regarded as condescending, though often that’s the underlying tone. There has been implied promises going on for three years. Morally speaking, Ben and his wife do owe to these people. Furthermore, they owe their very current monetary situation and success to their fans and especially to their patrons.

Ben admits he has a PR disaster in his hands. Yet he blames this on a portion of gaming community rather than acknowledging  his own fuck-up. His business sense overrode the work he had done with his PR, where Epic’s offer for a timed-exclusive seemed a better option over long-term positive feedback. Even my sorry ass has heard enough tales of consumers and fans getting riled up over developers and publishers being swayed by Epic’s bucks. Any and all devs at this very moment should ask themselves Is my fame more worth than the money I’m currently offered? Hell, I’ll even argue that if a dev now would make a bold announcement that they have rejected Epic’s offer for exclusivity in favour if fans’ and consumers’ preference in a proper way, they’d be hailed, in words of an Australian, as fucking heroes.

If you screw your PR like this and make widely unpopular move all the while taking a good shit on people who could have been customers, then still proceed to take numerous dumps on people, belittling people, don’t go cry over a massive backlash. While regrettable, it is also the harsh truth of business and maintaining your image. Ben’s and Rebecca’s first ride on the PR train and it getting off the tracks was, ultimately, their own doing. A reaction always requires something to start it going. Just to make sure, I didn’t say they deserve getting the worst of the rap that’s raining on them, but they are the source of this reaction, which could have been mostly avoided. Not the way Ben and his folks were maintaining their interactions though.

This whole deal shows basic lack of consumer research and expectations evaluation. Both PC and console consumers have been vocal about Epic’s misgivings and even more about how the developers and publishers seem to have lost all contact with the people who buy their stuff. I shouldn’t underline the bottom line with this repetition, but as a provider, albeit as one who has not yet delivered one product, everything hangs on the people who are willing give you money. Now, with their decision to handle things like this, not practicing good sense and proper manners when interacting with audience and not clowning around, they’ll probably see less success and a very tarnished reputation. That’ll take some polishing to fix.

Providers aren’t your friend. They’re in the field to get paid. Directly interacting with them won’t change this, no matter what sort of relationship and emotional connection you have with them.

Claims of censorship do not always apply

Here’s a curious case for you to ponder; is it censorship, when you are contracted to fulfill a character design to an employer, and the employer changes after it is from your hands? If you answered Don’t be daft Aalt, if you’re employed and the contract says that the design needs to fill certain criteria, of course it isn’t then you don’t agree with Olivia Hill. Hill recently gave a small jab toward people who argue and are against censorship, in games and otherwise. She claimed that her vision of a character called Astrid was a bold anti-hero character, which was then changed into a generic fantasy anime lady. He calls the executives, who made the final decisions and changes to the character, douchebags and other unsavory names all the while claiming that they cut people out from the studio who didn’t want to work under their rule.

That’s given; if you don’t do your work, you get fired.

Hill’s claims are dubious at best, seeing there are only screenshots and ads given for Evertale, a game I’ve never heard of, but it seems to be your standard gacha mobage. Considering the game’s developing company, ZigZaGame, is a Japanese corporation and I can’t find any connections between Hill and her supposed past studio that worked on Evetale. Instead, it would appear that she did not exactly have to do anything with the game, and as a reply to her post points out, an artist named furuya. English provided jack shit information, as per usual in cases like this, but you can check Kazto Furuya’s Twitter for a post, where he mentions how he finalised and tweaked Astrid’s character a bit. He also has a promotional render on Pixiv. Considering how Furuya acts like most Japanese illustrators and designers working on a game like this, it is far more likely that Hill was blowing some air, taking credit for someone else’s work all the while accusing of Furuya, and by that extension people of ZigZaGame, of being pedophiles due to Astrid’s design, on or out of bikini. Astrid however does not look like your twelve years old warrior woman as Hill claims, might I add. She looks like any other generic teens-to-thirties Japanese cartoon character.

While I can’t disapprove Hill’s claims about her previous studio (unnamed) or what sort of work she ultimately did there and to whom it went to, Hill doesn’t offer any proof either. However, I’m going to trust what Japanese sources and especially what Kazto Furuya himself says with traceable sources and call her out on bullshit. However, she does claim to live and work in Japan and places herself in Tokyo, so maybe she was part of writing house that wrote the initial treatment for Astrid. Still, that alone doesn’t confirm anything really over Furuya’s case.

That out of the way, let’s reconsider her claim; if executives changes your character design to fit the marketing better, is that censorship? No, that’s just business.

To use a comparison, the censorship Sony is currently practicing is different. It is not one and the same company putting pressure on its own hired workers to finish on an agreed product. This is an outside company, from whom a developer and/or publisher has bought a license to publish a product on their platform. While some may justify Sony’s censorious practices by the fact that PlayStation is their platform and they have the full control over it, other may not agree with that notion fully. The guidelines are muddled at best, demanding developers to send their products to be vetted in English, damaging the relationship between Sony and third party developers. It should also be noted that some products, that already were on release schedule and ready, were veto’d afterward. Simply because Sony can does not mean they should, but their arbitrary rulings are always an outside force, not something that comes from inside the developers’ houses.

Let’s assume Astrid was an experienced warrior woman clad in black first. That’s the first bit I have problems with, as black is such a goddamn dull choice of armour colour in a fantasy setting. If Astrid was changed from this simple description to her much younger looking form, which still would appear to be a high-ranking warrior in a red armour on her own rights, there has been no censorship. It is no surprise to anyone that a work changes as it goes forwards. It didn’t meet up with the standards, it wasn’t what was needed or demanded of you, it does not fit the overall plan or the groundwork and so on. The reasons are numerous. A writer or an illustrator, artist even, are not hired for a company just because they can create something, but that they could create something for the corporation to market and make profit of. If you are employed in any way to produce content like a character design and background, you are expected to deliver by the books. Unless your contract has a miracle clause that says the corporation has to release whatever you do without them touching it, you are there to work for them and they are the ultimate beginning and end for your work.

It always seems like artists’ visions get trampled when someone changes it within a company. The fact is, often these visions are costly and/or not marketable. If an artist has that much faith in his given work, he can tweak it enough not to infringe on the corporation’s rights and publish something with that would be more along the lines of that original vision. Majority of the time, whatever character design work you do, that work is owned by the employer  by default. In very few cases, the creator retains rights to the character or whatnot they have created. American comic’s industry is well known for this, and it has been a long time discussion who should own the rights to created characters; the writer/artist, or the company? As I’ve mentioned, if you’re happy to give your work to a corporation as per contract, there’s no reason to dilly dally and doubt.

It is not uncommon knowledge that games change according to what investors and executives want. Video and computer games are a business after all, their main goal and drive is to make money. Unless you’re a big dick on a company or its head, your vision means jack shit if it is in the way of making some dough. That’s why people who consider their vision utmost importance either work their way into this position or put up their own companies to realise their goals to the best extend they can. No one’s work is untouchable when they’re working for someone else. With ZigZaGames, they seem to put fun first and foremost. To quote their website, If a game ultimately fails to be entertaining, we will never release it, no matter the funds or the effort we have put into it. Taking everything at face value, it would seem that Hill’s initial treatment wasn’t fun enough, and more resources were expended to tweak the character to fit the game director’s and main illustrator’s vision. Again, that’s not censorship. That’s polishing aspects of a product before release.

Heads in the clouds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer agency W

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sakura Wars’ uphill battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compare the two song here;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The price of production

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sony’s warped perception of global standards

While Sony of America confirmed to the Washington Street Journal that they have installed a standard policy on censorship for games that are allowed on Sony’s platforms, Sony of Japan has stepped and made a statement themselves that this isn’t the case. According to a source on Game*Spark (the asterisk is important), they evaluate games by case by case basis rather than a new overall policy. However, their source does state that how Sony now handles titles internally is independent of any rating system that exists, be it CERO or ESRB (or PEGI for the matter.) The source refers to a nebulous global standard they wish to adhere to.

I’ve discussed this topic far too much for this particular blog (maybe branching off to a new one that covers video game censorship solely might be worthy project), but Sony’s stances really tell two thing. First is that they’ve lost touch to their consumers, that they don’t seem to understand their own fame and status in the market. Theirs is a console that was free of regulations that marred Nintendo as the console for kids for years. Theirs is a console that could be picked up and have games that would be completely across the board all the while pushing the envelope to whatever direction the developers and publishers wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, there is no global standard. It’s rather clear that Sony and numerous other publishers and developers live in a social bubble, that they only listen and read certain publications. It’s like thinking Twitter reflects real life to any extent. US allows more violence than sexual content, while France and certain other European nations are the opposite. UK lacks balls on both violence and sex, and even for horror, especially if you remember the Video Nasties censorship. Hell, even outside that the British Board of Film Classification continued to cut and censor movies, e.g. requiring movies to cut certain moments like the moment of bullet impacts, twisting of necks and almost always lessening the sound effects added to punches and kicks. There’s a whole Youtube channel that concentrates on film censorship in US and UK. Russia has its own policies of course that are widely different from Western world. While the US and Japan might be comfortable in showing lesbians kissing in their games, Russia’s not exactly fan gay rights. Then again, neither is China, who have absolutely the heaviest demands on games released in their region. Australia’s somewhere down there, and thye’ve got bans left and right, mostly for violence. You couldn’t buy Mortal Kombat in Australia at one point. Sony of Japan seems to think outrage culture has somehow changed the global standards, or rather created them, and try to adhere to something that does not exist.

This gives birth to the warped perception that PlayStation will be the best playground to all consumers if they limit the amount of sex, sexual content or sexually suggestive themes. This would, of course, not be true. You can’t create a product for everyone. I’m a broken clock with this, always saying that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t. A platform like a game console can only wish to have everything across the board, from the most violent mess to most sexualised ecstasy to the most child friendly content possible. If you cut one part off from this triangle, you’ve effectively cutting off both developers’ interests in developing titles more freely and consumers possibility to purchase whatever violent smut they want. Violence, of course, seems not to be a problem. It’s the eternal discussion, especially in the US, how you can show someone getting shot and skull bashed in, but a sight of a breast raises an uproar. We could take this discussion even further and wonder why violence seems to be accepted when targeted one of the sexes, but not for the other. There is a very strong double standard going in the industry, but that’s nothing out of usual really.

You know the British term Nanny state? The term coined describes governmental policies that are overprotective or interfering in personal choice of freedom. This can be directly adopted for Sony as nanny corporation. Their paternalism has affected the market already. Developers and publishers have lost money because of Sony’s relatively newfound (and highly questionable) moral standards, money they won’t be making back. Omega Labyrinth Z will never see an English release because of Sony’s practices, despite the game was ready to hit the shelves. We could roughly estimate that these policies were installed later in 2017, as the game got a normal Japanese release in 2017, and then was blocked by Sony in 2018. PQube lost money in this venture. Localising game isn’t exactly cheap, and they have no way of making that money back with the game. It’s a dead product.

Whether or not Sony has a blanket standard or they go by case-by-case basis makes little difference. They’ve abandoned the actual global standards that are the local rating systems like PEGI and CERO, and are effectively self-censoring their platforms content even before anything gets to the rating boards. This is almost a repeat of Comics Code Authority, except this for PlayStation titles only. However, question how many developer will be willing to make changes in their multiplatform title, when it’d take more money to make a more censored version for Sony than with others. Just slapping some sort of beam of lights isn’t a solution to all games like Senran Kagura, where losing a game mode effectively removes ten, fifteen percent of the game’s content.

Can we just blame parents for not keeping an eye on the rating labels on games, or does the blame belong on outrage the Internet outrage culture? Probably both, with slight emphasize on outrage culture and media bubble Sony’s execs live in. We’re going through a moment in video game history, where a corporation known for freedom in content adopted censorious practices of their own outside pre-established rating systems, limiting both their library in content and options the consumer in the end has. The sad thing is, all this will be ridiculed and laughed at, pointing that it’s only for tits and ass with no value, while never considering that games like Omega Labyrinth Z are rather hardcore dungeon crawling games that give no quarter to the player, that Senran Kagura at its best requires the player to skillfully control their movement and attacks combined with the limited special resources they have. You could make these games without any of the fan service or titillation for sure, killing the unique natures of the titles. It’d be like removing all SF and fantasy stuff from Star Wars because they’re unrealistic, or setting The Lord of the Rings in a realistic middle-ages with no magic or hairy legged midgets in lead. Games are an audiovisual medium with rules to play with, not just core mechanics. A fighting game character is not just a set of moves and mechanics bolted to a visual frame, but a whole personality of its own.

I admit that it personally depresses me that any sort of censorship has been implemented. Games as entertainment, especially on consoles, had been making good progress towards freedom in content for such a long time, but now that’s been cut down and things won’t heal easily. It’s always easier to break something down, to hold something back or break rather than allow something to move onward, especially if your personal view or preferences are against it.

Games as products

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rude (re)Awakening

Just as I have a say about remakes and remixes, and manage to say that Nintendo doesn’t usually do traditional remakes, they come out from the woodwork and announced the Link’s Awakening is getting a full-blown remake, for whatever reason. The thing is, this is one of those cases where we can justify a remake. The Game Boy has stupid amount of great games that could use a full-blown remake, as the GB in itself was rather sorry little device. Not to fault it, according to history the machine with less power has come at the top in success and game library. However, why this game? Why not build on the world that Breath of the Wild gave to the player with its more direct-to-the-matter approach and stripped off some of the unnecessary baggage the series has seen since, well to be frank, since Eiji Aonuma got in. After all, he is the man driving the franchise and IP, has been since Majora’s Mask essentially.

To find an answer to this question we need to go back to an Iwata askswhere Aonuma directly states that Zelda titles didn’t have a plot before Link’s Awakening. This of course is horse shit and shows how Aonuma mistakes how games tell their stories naturally through the game’s play. A story of a game is more of the player’s action, the FMV sequences and such are just a framing device for the player to make up how they advance, even if it were in a strict manner. Furthermore, The Legend of Zelda and Link’s Adventure both excel in indirect world building, which is one of the best ways games can tell a story, by including settings and character the player has to interact with to a level. LoZ didn’t only make the player collect the pieces of the Triforce, but also introduced the setting, the main players and some of the most important settings of the world. Link’s Adventure went even further and expanded the map, named numerous towns and characters that would later appear in the series in various forms as well as introduced the third piece of the Triforce. Most of this in many ways were introduced in manner that didn’t require the player to stop and look at a story sequence for five minutes, as all of it was weaved into the fabric of the game. Aonuma’s direction for Zelda has always been away from this, as he has claimed to like the adventure games on PC more than action games on a console. Knowing Japanese PCs at the time, it’s somewhat safe bet he was “playing” one of those VNs on a NEC PC-98 with no pants on. Wouldn’t blame him, the dot graphic work in those is glorious.

However, Aonuma doesn’t care about those two, he barely even recognizes A Link to the Past. In 2004, he called Link’s Awakening a quintessential isometric Zelda game, two claims that can be argued very harshly. One would be if Zelda games are actually isometric, as oblique projection would be more accurate, and the second would of course be if Link’s Awakening is as quintessential as Aonuma claims. Of course, seeing Aonuma has a very heavy bias towards the game he himself has worked on and has been very dismissive on two first games in the series, something that has harshly rubbed off to the fandom to a point of revisionism, we can’t take his word for granted. Yes, Link’s Awakening is a popular title in the series and saw a colour remake in 1998, but as a whole it’s influence is relatively minor. Most it did was tweaked what A Link to the Past had done with some hefty points taken from The Frog Whom the Bells Toll, which shared an earlier engine with Link’s Awakening. In a game series like Zelda, with most of the entries celebrated in a way or another, almost all entries can be claimed to be important in a manner or another, be it by setting up the lore, setting up the story, setting up the structure and so on. It’s effectively empty air to throw at journalists for some positive PR points. However, we do know how Aonuma views the game, and considering he made an absolutely terrible Zelda game with trains just because his kid liked ’em, it’s not exactly a far-fetched view to see how Aonuma just wanted to bring this all-important classic back to the masses, so a new generation can appreciate what an important game it is.

So yes, Link’s Awakening is getting remade because it has a story, and apparently it’s something that drives Aonuma more than advancing Zelda as a game series.

Not really sure if he realises how shit the game looks. I know, I shouldn’t take sides and just analyse stuff as is within the persona angle, but in this case I just won’t even try. If you look at how Capcom remade both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, they took everything they could to make the game work and look better than the original. The little we’ve seen about Link’s Awakening, it’s mostly a face lift, and it doesn’t look exactly great. You can argue all day long that the simplistic designs work and how its faithful to the original game, but at this point I’d rather enjoy the original game rather than play a remake with its edges bloomed with soft focus to hell. I’d rather not ruin my eyes. I’ve got a proper backlit GBA after all. Arguing over plants looking plastic and being glossy to convey how unnatural things are in a dream is loads of bullshit. This design world is that of toys. Certainly when asked about it, someone at Nintendo probably has a readily made answer that expands the whole thematic content like no other, but in reality probably had nothing to do with it. This remake looks like a LEGO set. A LEGO set that seems to replicate the original game to a tee rather than trying be its own thing or improve on the original. Aonuma didn’t have to stick with a super deformed look, but that’s what the original game was and you can’t steer away from pre-established things. The RE remakes are faithful to their original counterparts, RE:make perhaps to a fault, but they didn’t limit themselves to a similar look. They improved. This Link’s Awakening remake already fails as a remake because it doesn’t improve on the original visual, but instead opts to recreate them in 3D. That’s not enough. If your remake is effectively interchangeable with the original source material, it’s failed miserably. Remakes should always aim to obsolete the original, as should sequels, and thus adhering to the visual like this will hurt the game. There’s going to be people having nostalgia rush for it and argue that Zelda always used super deformed characters, which is true, but doesn’t really take into account that this game doesn’t need to. It could make better use of the hardware, create something new and interesting and still be visually familiar.

That’s the crux, isn’t it? This isn’t anything new. Nintendo doesn’t revisit old games like this too often, but every time they do, it’s not because there’s a consumer demand. It’s because the developer wants to, in this case Aonuma. He doesn’t want to recreate A Link’s Awakening the game, but A Link’s Awakening the story. Truth to be told, so very few game developer concentrates on making a game anymore, it’s all about the story. This remake probably doesn’t have the same budget as Breath of the Wild, but it is still largely a waste of resources. The recycle machine never stops. 2D Zelda still sells, there’s no question about that, so why didn’t they put their heads together and craft a completely new 2D Zelda that didn’t adhere itself to a past game? This is a pattern though, as A Link Between Worlds was effectively A Link to the Past 2. Seeing that was relatively popular and sold some decent units, might as well strike another familiar title while you’re at it, right? Half of the work’s done already, just grab the old design documents and go town.

If another company would make an action-RPG like The Legend of Zelda and use Terada Katsuya’s Zelda illustrations as a source of inspiration, they’d make bank.

The core of a Zelda is not in cutesy grass-hacker, but in the atmosphere of being on an adventure, exploring caves and forests, with all the dangers and perils it brings. Zelda is not about the story, that’s irrelevant. It’s about the adventure and the world

Valve shouldn’t be barking at the wrong tree

Valve isn’t exactly used to competition when it comes to digital platforms. Most games that are on GOG can be found on Steam in some form, so the competition for exclusive content isn’t exactly that high. However, Epic Games store has been making some waves recently by having a deal with Ubisoft to be the seller for their Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, and now nabbed Metro Exodus. Sure, people who already pre-ordered them via Steam will get ’em from there, but Valve’s slightly salty about the whole business, claiming that this is unfair towards customers who are using Steam.

This, of course, is rather bullshit.

Valve does have their priorities just as any other company does, but thus far this is the first time a large company like this is commenting on losing an exclusivity with a title. Hell, they’re not even having that, seeing the game did have a long pre-sales period. Nothing prevents the consumer to jump into Epic Games store and throw their money at the title there. That’s something Valve doesn’t want, as it distorts their own economy. Valve might be used to the idea that they are the ranking king on the PC, a platforms that gets all the big name titles while the rest straggle along to deal with their own in-house titles. Almost any and all big titles that are being released outside of consoles is released on Steam, like Monster Hunter World or the Yakuza series. (Then again, why would the glorious PC master race stoop down and play dirty ports of console games?) This makes Steam such a massive platform, and a platform it is despite some arguing that it is simply a store. No store would have a need to be analogous to digital version of physical DRM that are video game consoles, but Steam is exactly that. Both DL Site and GOG are more stores than Steam, especially considering you are forced to use their software for their service at their terms to play someone else’s games.

This is business, and Valve recognises that when few notable titles move to away from their platform in favour of another, it can lead further titles to move away from them and that could lead them losing their competitive edge. Unfair to Steam customers my ass. Valve knows why their platform is so popular, so much used and that’s because all the titles they effectively have exclusivity on. Steam as a platforms isn’t particularly great in overall terms, their customer service sucks, they take 30% cut on all sales initially, Valve decides what titles go to sale and when, and they don’t stick to their own rulings when it comes to controlling why titles are banned from their store. Just like any platform of their kind, the reason why they’re used so much is due to exclusive games. Now, there’s a slight threat to their sales by losing titles. Valve’s not losing any sleep when the shoe is in the other foot.

Exclusivity is of course a thing this blog endorses. The argument that it is against consumer interests because the consumer can’t choose whatever platform they like to consume entertainment is, at its core, petty. At its extreme, you would only have one platform to play games one, and that would always end up being the PC. Not even via Steam, just the raw, undiluted PC. (Might actually be the best possible endpoint in many ways.) Nothing should be keeping you from picking up the title and platform if you really want to play a certain game. It often comes down to argument of money too, where the argument claims that with a title on multiple platforms would end up raking in more money. This has more merit to it, as it is a pure business argument. Hayes Madsen on Twinfinity has a post how Square Enix must hate money because they’re not releasing Kingdom Hearts titles on the Switch and Xbox One. As it always is, there are deals behind the door that is to benefit one platform.

Incidentally, this blog both supports and is against in Valve’s position as mentioned above. Not in that losing the titles from Steam is against customer interests, but the underlying reasons. Exclusive content should push competition for value and quality. The Classic Era of console gaming saw Sega and Nintendo competing for numerous titles with each other, most notably so-called mascot wars where Mario and Sonic were neck to neck to beat each other in similar games. The situation would be similar of Battlefield and Call of Duty were exclusive for PS4 and Xbox One; similar titles but with significant differences at their core. In current state of console gaming with titles existing across the board almost everywhere, there is no need for another company to make somewhat similar product in their own way and image in order to compete. When you have one title everywhere, it fills the niche and competition struggles. Have more similar titles on one console, and its a red ocean of competition, companies fighting over the same scraps of consumers. Thus, exclusivity helps the situation to some extent, raising that one platform a bit higher on the sale what it can offer and thus draw in more customers, which most likely will put more money in consuming further titles on the same platform. If the company has concentrated their titles to exist solely on this platform, they’ll most likely also rack loyal customers that will buy most of their other product. When it comes to console exclusive, the fact that a game can be optimised to for that hardware is also important, though arguably not as important as it used to be, outside the Switch. As for Kingdom Hearts, you can bet there’s a deal that benefits both corporations. Who knows, perhaps its not even about the money, but some romantic reasons why a title should only exist on one platforms because that’s where it truly belongs to due to history and success.  The extreme end of this would be that each console and platform would have totally and widely different libraries. (Which would too be the best possible endpoint for other reasons.)

Nintendo of course is always a different beast in this. They are both console and game manufacturer. They design their own devices and games to play on them. Exclusivity is their bread and butter, their model of service and business. Theirs is a unique console each time one is released due to this very nature. It is something the competition should go for, aim to have just as many exclusive titles with the same level of quality to compete. Instead, more often than not, there’s a divide where two consoles share majority of their libraries while Nintendo kinda just stands there doing its own thing. At least currently, things weren’t like that in the Classic Era. Valve is effectively in a Nintendo-ish position when it comes to the PC ecosystem, but it has no real competition outside GOG. Perhaps what we need is more titles moving away from Valve’s juggernaut for everywhere else like Epic Games store just to spread about a little more and encourage some healthy competition, something Valve’s not really used to.

As an end note, Epic Games store is one of the few stores that I’ve seen to have a clearly marked section for Fan art policy.