Let the consumer make the decision

I’ve often criticised modern video game developers, saying that they lack the tact of their predecessors both in and out of industry. One thing that has been an age old golden rule; don’t attack your customers. However, this latter part of the 2010’s has seen the media itself come after its consumers, like Gamasutra with their Gamers don’t need to be you audience article, which was echoed in numerous other outlets at the same time. For example, now beaten to death event where one of the staff members of Battlefield V outright told the consumers and outlets that if they didn’t like the direction where they were taking the series and the title, they always had the option not to buy it. A corporation shouldn’t really remind its consumers that wallet voting is the best way to make their voice the most heard, especially when some sort of controversy or contest is going on, as this effectively ended up in the game being delayed and the game overall taken to a slightly different direction.

To give a short run about what the whole thing was about, Battlefield has always sold on its more realistic take of warfare (within video games). The trailer shows a female character with a rather high-tech artificial limb going on a battlefield of World War II, and while such thing may have occurred, the statistical reality of that is absolutely minuscule. Well, completely impossible if it was a bionic enhancement, but I’ve read some disagreeing info. Outside this being an highly implausible scenario, the game’s demo more or less confirmed something that other series have done time and time again and rarely succeeded; we want the other game’s audience. Fortnite has been mentioned many times to be the target this new Battlefield target, changing elements of the series to fit this new mould to some extent. For any business, it is at least twice has hard to gain new customers than to keep the old ones, and trying to go half-cocked way in trying to do both is not the answer. Or you could be Patrick Söderlund and make this completely unrelated but politically much more rosy issue and tell your consumers not to buy the game. Unsurprisingly, after this debacle Battlefield V‘s release date was pushed back and the game is seeing further additional work to get it back into the Battlefield formula to a larger degree, but seeing how the game play itself suffers, not to mention the whole approach how the game has been designed, I’m not trusting that the game will come out at the top and satisfy any real consumer base as such. For context, give this video a look for the review for the demo.

Damage control is important, but it should really come from somewhere else than telling your consumers off. Well, I’m guessing we all know the reason why Söderlund is no longer with EA, nothing hurts a corporation more than losing massive sales due to single person fucking PR up.

Söderlund has not been the only person to tell his customers off. Total War: Rome II has been patched for some year now with increasingly more and more questionable changes in regards of historical authenticity. Scratch that, supposedly Creative Assembly’s stance is that Rome II is authentic, but not accurate. This is standard bullshit weasel worlds and the situation should have never achieved this point. What the patches have done is that the number of female generals with darker skin tone have seen a raised percentage, which would seem to contradict historical records. However, the thing is that the patch that changes the percentages are over half a year old. The current controversy is about Creative Assembly telling their consumers to stop playing the game, or mod the patches out. Again, it’s easier to give this a spin the narrative to something that’s politically more palatable than having a PR catastrophe at their hands. One Angry Gamer has a rather decent article on the debacle, but do keep in mind that it is somewhat one-sided.

I want to reiterate that no corporation should tell their consumers to piss off. The end result is that they will and they will go to the competitor, or simply go without your product. Especially with video games, which are a non-essential luxury product nobody truly needs, and there are always alternatives. Even in an industry that is at the top of the entertainment ladder, losing one big sale can damage a property to a point where it is simply cut off. Look at what happened to the sales of the most recent Mass Effect and where the series is now. A franchise once dead in the water is rather hard to resurrect, as it requires winning back the old audience first and foremost, and to make a splash in general. Despite the slow change of mass demographic throughout the years, the fact is that any product that is aiming to sell widely should stay universal. When brands get into politics, it automatically cuts a section of your consumers off intentionally. Your competition will only gain consumers through these actions. Your conscience might have it good, but not if your company starts going under. Imagine if something like Cif, the window cleaner, was announced as the choice of -insert politician and party you dislike here- and the company producing Cif now openly supports whatever political agenda or message they have. I’m making a wild guess a lot of people would trade brands if they would, for example, become pro-Trump in their next ad campaign. While this sounds like the issue is only on the business side, both Battlefield V and Total War: Rome II were affected by decisions unfavoured by large portion of their consumers who enjoy historical authenticity and accuracy. The results of going against the consumer has visibly affected the games’ contents negatively and their reception has seen a downfall. This can be seen especially in the reviews of Rome II on Steam, where it has seen a drop from Positive to Mixed. This is about a game that came out five years ago no less, so before the consumes were really enjoying the game as it was. Creative Assembly’s stance and message has also caused a consumer backlash, resulting their other games being rated downward on Steam, though there is no real reason for this outside consumers just getting back at the company. This is, however, nothing out usual, sadly. Rather than trying to force a round peg through a square hole, perhaps it’d be best to cater to different audiences with different products.

Perhaps it is the current economic situation, devs and companies can make choices like this. There are less threats overall, and pretty much everything is selling. Perhaps certain levels of recession where products are required to be worth the money invested is needed, and consumers have to select their purchase choices with higher rigor than normally.

 

Sega’s Mania effect

So after couple of decades of failed starts, concepts thrown around and DMCA’d fan titles, Streets of Rage 4 is a thing that’s coming out. Finally, might I add. Sega and Streets of Rage fans, rejoice.

 

I have to say, these redesigns are pretty damn nice

There are three companies involved with the game, outside Sega as the licensee; Lizardcube, who were in charge of the recent Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap; Guard Crush Games who have a history with beat-em-ups (or belt-scrolling action games if you’re Japanese) like Streets of Fury; Dotemu, who function as a publisher. Lizardcube is in charge of graphics, while Guard Crush Games handles the programming, though Dotemu has the handle on game design. This is pretty nice package, as Lizardcube has a pretty nice, French comics style that fits so many of these older titles’ revival, and Guard Crush Games seems to have a handle on programming just fine. Y’know, the hardest part of making a game.

I’m probably going to make a comparative post regarding the character designs, because both Axel and Blaze got a real nice new lick of paint.

There is exactly two things this game needs to do in order to be accepted by long time fans and be at least a relative hit with the general audience; faithfully replicate the Streets of Rage formula, and expand on it. This is effectively what Sonic Mania did, and it has been hailed as the best Sonic the Hedhehog game to date, which isn’t too hard to accept.

Which raises the question; did Sonic Mania‘s success kick this title off the ground? Both it and the new Wonder Boy were well received and raised new interest in certain section of older titles. Both of them function as data to further the idea putting the money and effort to realise a Streets of Rage title in its proper 2D mould rather than take the Final Fight route with Streetwise. After all, game genres don’t just die because new technology makes new genres possible with extra dimensions or additional gimmicks like VR. Despite how 90’s marketing wants you to believe, 2D hasn’t gone anywhere at any point. Sure, you the newfangled thing always gets pushed, but you can’t deny the customers the things they want. Just look at how well 2D Mario sells over 3D titles. That’s another dead horse I need to stop kicking.

All this data of revival games doing at least decently well is most probable reason Streets of Rage 4 got greenlit. Add Mega Man 11‘s upcoming release to the mix and we’re entering an interesting era, where old franchises are getting new releases in more budget range, but with none of the lacking elements. Hopefully more companies realise this; you don’t need AAA budget to make great damn games. Pretty much all of these classic franchises could be revived and developed at a fraction of the cost with modern tools. Easier to make profits. The only real problem is to deliver a wanted product, which didn’t really happen with the New SMB series after the first few entries. Once a franchise is revived, it needs to move forwards. Mega Man 10 failed in this term by simply being same thing again. We now have three Mega Man 2 games and that’s two too much.

Sega of course wouldn’t develop this themselves. They don’t care about the IP. Sega hasn’t given two shits about Streets of Rage since the mid-90’s, when they essentially gave the middle finger to the Western consumers. Eternal Champions used to be a big thing, but then Sega just neutered it. You can’t treat Japanese, American and European markets the same. Hell, you have to treat Europe as multiple market zones if you want to do it right. This was clear how Sega’s tactics with the Genesis in the US region only kicked off after the US branch pushed through their tactics of including a game with the console and marketing Sonic the Hedgehog their own way. If most of the data is to be believed, Sonic‘s been the most popular in the US. Sadly, Sega of Japan’s management killed all the motion their American and European sections had going on, effectively beginning their own downfall from grace. Westerners do classic Sega better than Sega themselves.

Streets of Rage 4 probably won’t be as large a success as Sonic Mania. If the game gets a physical release afterwards its initial digital showcase, we can deem it successful enough. If it gets a physical release from the very beginning, even if it was a Limited Run title, then the developers and publisher have boatloads of trust towards their targeted consumers. There are enough Sega fans that would purchase this title in an instant.

While Sonic Mania was clearly an international title, a game that didn’t have any specific region in mind, the same can’t be said about Streets of Rage 4. Both Guard Crush Games and Lizardcube are European companies, and that flavours oozes through in a very positive manner. Hell, even Dotemu is based on France. I hope they shower more than the average French. However, that probably will rub some people off, as Streets of Rage originally had a very American atmosphere to it, especially considering it was inspired partially by Streets of Fire. Hell, Blaze’s design is essentially Ellen Aim with more streetwise to her. The bits about Sega not giving a damn about the IP still stands, and their actions towards Western markets have been changing only during the last years. The Yakuza franchise is a good line to follow modern Sega in this. English dubbing usually drives sales, but there are titles where this isn’t case. Yakuza dropped this in favour of cheaper releases and simply because the fans didn’t like it. Despite Sega censoring and removing elements from some of the games, the audience kept growing. Despite this, none of the spin-offs outside the zombie romp got localised. Now that the Western audience has grown far greater, Sega’s taken the series’ position in the market into notion with better releases, and now is even considering publishing further remasters and spin-offs in the Overseas regions. Sega of Japan is slowly but surely taking a notion of Western markets.

If we’re going to go down this path, it’s relatively easy to see Sega considering the wants and needs of the Western markets to some extent. The IPs they’ve been giving up and ignoring still have a strong consumer base with nothing to fill that niche. A high quality title here and there goes long way in making profits and keeping your fans happy. I would say Altered Beast and Golden Axe could be next on the list of revivals, but seeing how terrible their last titles were, there’d be a lot of work to fix those damages in the eyes of Sega themselves.

Subscription service as the future of video games?

Screw the blog personality for this post. We’re doing this in-person. Shigsy had an interview with Bloomberg, where he warns other video game developers about greed. This is rich, coming from a dev who can do whatever the hell he wants rather than doing titles that the market has yearned for some time. It’s no secret 2D Mario titles sell more than 3D ones, but they’re too much work and bothersome to design. He’d rather have games developed like a school project.

Shigsy doesn’t really say anything especially worthwhile. His criticism on F2P and lootboxes echoes so many others, and you can read between the lines how there is irritation about mobile games with gacha are making tons of money. Fate Grand Order or whatever it was is making millions per day, supposedly. Shigsy saying the fixed-cost model hasn’t been a success is bullshit though. Something that has worked for pretty much everything thus far doesn’t suddenly become unsuccessful just it seems to be under fire now. Sure, Shigsy talks mostly in context of mobile gaming. Nintendo tackling mobile games has been criticised for good reasons, as the market is widely different from console game market. It’s like entering a market selling pizzas with hamburgers. There is a reason why Nintendo’s IPs on computers has always been handled by other companies, like Hudson with Super Mario Bros. Special.

Shigsy clearly likes the idea of subscription based gaming, like how Netflix is for movies and TV shows. To him, how games have been sold thus far seems to have failed despite gaming has become larger than Hollywood through it. F2P games with in-game purchases is greedy way to make profit to him, but this is business. You make money the best way you can. Subbing services on the other hand would still have the consumer pay a front fee to access titles to begin with, but just as with Netflix and other of its competitors, the question about what games would be available. Nintendo’s upcoming service for the Switch is abysmal in this, as the game variety they’re offering is extremely limited. A subbing service requires to have extremely wide variety of titles, and having something else than the same NES titles over and over.

It’s trite for Shigsy to argue for Nintendo wanting to bring their games to widest possible audience via mobile games. If Nintendo truly wanted to do this, they’re start doing third party games for Microsoft and Sony. That’s not going to happen, so what they’re really about with mobile games is cross-platform advertising. Show people who play games on mobile phones how great titles Nintendo has with selected IPs, and maybe some of them will be interested enough to jump the bandwagon with Switch.

This has been Nintendo’s strategy with across media platforms and consumables before as well. All the cartoons, toys, cereals, comics and so on were only to promote Nintendo’s games and consoles. Mobile phone games are the exact same thing, as their primary value is to advertise the brands and IPs instead of raking money on themselves.

I’m almost baffled how Shigsy thinks there isn’t already a culture of paying for valued software. Your normal everyday person doesn’t have thousands or millions to blow money on games. Hell, most people don’t even put hundreds into games. Outside some stupidly obsessed people, consumers have a very strong tendency on purchasing products they deem worthy. Nobody simply blows their cash on whatever kind of products if they can help.

Considering Nintendo of Japan seems to has jack shit understanding about global market, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t one of Shigsy’s and Nintendo’s brain farts how consumers act. The main reason why Fire Emblem and Famicom Wars never hit the West before GBA was because Nintendo’s staff thought Americans didn’t like strategy games, despite PCs being filled with them. Then again, this probably is partially true due to how most successful strategy games have been on PC, and we’ve seen, Nintendo didn’t deal in the PC market. Nevertheless, Advance Wars became more popular in the West than in Japan. Then you had Nintendo’s official, can’t remember who, proudly mentioning how Japanese children loved to craft and play with cardboard. Honestly, Nintendo’s corporate culture in this sense has their heads deep in their asses. This line really should be read that Shigsy wants a culture where games he values would be purchased. I bet he is still salty about Donkey Kong Country being the breakthrough title for the Super Nintendo.

Consumers already have a habit of paying money for applications and software  they deem worth the money. Trying to act like this is not the case goes against reality. If this is some sort of jab at piracy and how Nintendo has been fighting against ROMs and the like as of late, it further shows how out of loop he and the rest of the company is. Virtual Console was a massive success to the point of titles outselling new games Nintendo was putting out. There is a market for these older titles, hence why people are willing to pirate and play ROMs. This the same reason why the Classic Mini systems are selling like hotcakes. By not offering a way for consumers to purchase and access them is effectively shooting yourself to the leg and not offering software people are willing to pay for. This isn’t any goddamn rocket science. The habit Shigsy wants consumers to have is already there, but they’re not willing to provide the software. On the contrary, they’ve killed all avenues to obtain these titles. Furthermore, piracy has promoted products far more than any other field; it is not an outright negative impact in itself. A pirated title is not a lost sale, as the case often is that there was no intention to purchase that title in the first place. Comparison with music streaming is false equivalency but its the best Shigsy can muster. You can’t play games Youtube either, so into the trash with it.

Does changing things into Netflix-like subbing service change anything in this? Of course not. If the library of games is lacklustre compared to other similar services, or even outright stores, you won’t see customers subbing. The price has to be low enough to warrant subbing to it as well, and lose all rights to the games. Never underestimate customers’ will to have ownership over what they’ve paid.

How should games grow up?

This will be musings piece, as I’ll outright state that there is no real right answer to the question, and this post really goes just line down. Many times over the past decade I’ve seen writings and demands for video and computer games to grow up, to mature as a media. More often than not the claim is that games should be able to handle hard and difficult subjects. Of course, what these subjects are varies from person to person and group to group, as we all know how political opposites can sometimes be completely at heads with each other to the point of gaining the same overall end result. Then you have the issue of handling a difficult subject in a game is often through the use of player independent narrative, which could be done in any other medium. After all, themes and subjects are simply framing devices for a game. That is not to say framing devices are unimportant, just the opposite.

If we continue this line, discussing hard and heavy issues through games is not something new. It may be new to audiences and generations that did not play the Ultima games or other similar classics. Ultima‘s second trilogy is, after all, a series that discusses human virtues in philosophical manner and how they affect human nature, but also how easily these virtues can be twisted and mangled for extremes. While nothing spectacular on the grand scheme of things, it would be incorrect to think that gaming has not touched upon serious subjects.

It just might not be a subject someone in particular cares about.

Then, who decides what would be a subject hard and tough enough for gaming to trek into? Naturally, the developer, or the writer or the director would be the person who would make the call. In reality, someone with more power over the product, a publisher or executive, probably can have heavier say on the subject than many are willing to use. After all, games are mass entertainment and not confined to any specific audience. Thus, would it be the consumers at large who would get to decide what would the topics be? It would be impossible to make any sort of voting system that would work, the press would simply mangle messages back and forth for various reasons, and sadly developers and their publishers would only listen to the clique they’re most invested in and the people who yell the loudest. Clearly we need to have some separation between the provider and consumer, in which the developers have the best opportunity to make use of their God given skill and knowhow to analyse the market at large without resorting to media bogus or loudmouths. High hopes, I know.

If we’d follow this, then what would be considered a tough subject would depend on the general consensus of a given area, country or culture. After all, cultures and people differ from each other enough so that we can say some subjects are drastically more taboo in some, while completely in the open in others. There’s also gradual change in the topics, so a game with a long development cycle might be out of date in its themes when it gets out.

This of course leads to the question if a game with certain subjects, and themes, should then be published in a region where the content would be considered taboo? Should it get censored or should it stand free as a piece of its origin culture? If we follow the the idea of games being art, the less they are touched the better, meaning no censorship or content changes should be applied. On the other hand, games are commercial products that should make money, and sometimes changing stuff for the local market is sure way to make more dosh. Both of these can backfire, especially if a title with a significant underground following suddenly finds their object of mania lacking in all of those interesting elements.

Perhaps the themes and subjects themselves are not the important factor, ultimately. Choosing your audience and target consumer groups with your choice does carry a heavy weight, but not perhaps as much as the content itself. Content, of course, is the game play itself, rather than any of the frames. If the frames overtake the content, you’ll more likely than not end up with a cold turkey in your hands. While the game press likes to talk about the importance of story and its themes in games, the cold reality is that games sell more on their intrinsic nature as games far more.

There are some off titles that do mix its carrying hefty themes into the game’s play rather than just presenting talking heads to the player. Perhaps this would be path for gaming to take, and slowly phase away from literary and film techniques. After all, film essentially stems off from theater in many ways, but theater acting does not translate very well towards the camera, or vice versa. Literacy is word written down, yet text has its own ways that speech can’t convey. Naturally, this also applies the other way around. Thus, I have to come to an old argument I tend to present; games should find their own way of doing this, independent of films and text. As much as the two older medium have managed to find their own way throughout the ages, video and computer games still have ways to go. The media’s still young, despite few generations now born in a world where gaming is ever-present. In order games to incorporate themes and topics into the play of the game in wholesale way rather than in more traditional approaches, then there’s a need to further whatever the core element of electronic gaming; playing. The ways to do it are probably just as many as there are games under the Sun, but sometimes it’d be best to take a step back and look at the whole history of games and get to the bottom how to improve them in the future.

Review; Switch Joycons

Two reviews, in the same month? That’s what I call Lack of proper topics but mainly because the Joycons themselves are rather interesting piece of hardware once you get around how they’re spun around.

 

Why grey? Because I intend to change the shells on the controllers and the grey one cost me twenty eurobucks less

The JoyCons are essentially Wiimote 2.0. When attached to the main unit/screen, it becomes the second most unwieldiest portable console after the Lynx. It’s general shapes follows Sony’s handhelds and the Wii U pad quote closely, but at this points its more a necessity of ergonomics than lack of ideas. After all, pretty much all controllers follow the same core design nowadays rather than having widely different takes.

Of course, the main gimmick the JoyCons have is the ability to detached them and use them in tandem or individually. This is very neat, but at the same time these controllers are small by necessity. While slightly wider than the Hori Commander Mini I reviewed on the Famicom, everything else is in smaller scale. When used as single controller, you have access to the stick, four face buttons, two “shoulder” buttons L and LZ, and “top” buttons SL and SR. You can see these on the railing. Depending on the controller, you have Home or Capture button, and Plus and Minus (essentially glorified Start buttons.) The button that exist as shoulder buttons when JoyCons are attached to the main unit or grip rest awkwardly near your palm. The ergonomics are also lacking, but that comes with the size.

The most important part with the shoulder button there is that there is no sharp corners or danger for you finger to be pressed between the shell and the button. This is done by giving the button very short travel. Also, notice how the release button is tucked away into a corner

The sticks aren’t exactly the best, and it could use some some of the clickiness NeoGeo Pocket has. They lack any sort of tactile feel, despite the cutouts on the rubber. You simply don’t feel it. It has very short travel distance, which means control with tension becomes a must with certain games that require extensive stick control.

As the controllers have to work both as single entities and in tandem, the placement for the action buttons are sacrificed. They’re very much in the middle of the controller, which works when in tandem, but in single mode they’re just too far from the left edge, though larger hands could probably find this comfortable distance. This is also the reason why there’s no D-Pad on the Switch; everything has to do dual task, and these facebuttons, that use N64 controller’s C-Stick directions, work as D-Pad when used in tandem. It’s awkward and lacks the same smooth use as with normal D-Pad, and sadly its serviceable by a hair. Their dimensions and placement has been worked to its optimum. The buttons themselves are of better Nintendo standard, where the travel is pretty spot on, perfectly raised above the level and have nice tactile feedback.

It must be said that accessing the SL and SR buttons are surprisingly accessible, as index fingers seem to naturally hit their place. On themselves, they’re a bit too flat to use properly, but that’s why Nintendo gave us the wrist attachment people seem to put the wrong way constantly.

Plus and Minus are tucked away in the corner nicely so you don’t hit them, but whatever mode of control you use, they’re awkward to use. Think of Xbox’s Duke’s black and white buttons and you get somewhat similar idea.

 The wrist attachment slide the opposite way you slide the controller into the main unit, corner symbol meeting corner symbol. This adds some heft to a JoyCon and makes it somewhat nicer to hold in your hands, but its main use really is to make the SR and SL buttons more accessible with the larger pass-through buttons.

While you can use JoyCons in tandem separately like with the WiiMote and its nunchuck, Nintendo shipped the console with the grip attachment. It’s not exactly the best however. It’s like they wanted everything to stay straight and have the JoyCons sit like they sit on the main unit. This means whenever you use this, accessing the left face buttons for D-Pad use and the right stick requires either over-extending your thumb downwards or move the whole whole on the handles. Supposedly, the prototype was in an angle to give it more ergonomic shape, but for whatever reason this was dropped. There are many custom attachments on eBay that fix this and make this the most viable option to use the JoyCons in tandem. It would seem that the JoyCons will see rather large amount of optional accessories and attachments down the line. Here’s hoping Hori will do some good ones in the future, like the upcoming D-Padded JoyCon.

So, bottom line? The JoyCons are not the best controllers out there. The whole thing of them working as a single unit or in tandem forces just enough compromises to make all of them feel somewhat awkward. As usual, once you get used to them, muscle memory handles moving your hand up and down as needed. If there had been some concessions for functionality over visual design, these would have been winners as first hybrid console controllers. As they are now, JoyCons do their job, but the alternatives are probably better.

I must admit that the JoyCons have one thing over all other controllers; Switch has the most satisfying feel of clicks and clacks whenever you are attaching them to anything.

Losing battle against ROMs

Rather than discussing how disappointed I’m in the Mega Man X Legacy Collections input lag, removed songs and censorship, the more interesting topic is Nintendo going after ROM sites again.

The whole thing with ROMs isn’t about an issue of legality when, that’s a clear cut thing. What isn’t concerns the relation of re-releases and ROMs. Emulators and ROMs are still popular, perhaps more than previously due to more accurate emulators being more available rather than junk like ZSNES. The increasing amount of fantranslations making games like Rudra no Hihou/ Treasure of Rudra available to the English-speaking audiences is reason enough to download whatever emulator seems to do the job and launch the game without any other considerations done. Then you have games that have changed graphics, completely overhauled game mechanics and pretty much everything under the sun you can think of. All you need to do is to patch the original ROM file and launch it in an emulator. Hell, even patching is optional, as most ROM sources simply list all known variants, patched or not, for any given title. Of course, some people just want to play Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo out of all companies probably has the most reason to dislike ROMs. Well, next to Sega. This is due to the fact how many classic titles exist on NES and SNES. As I’ve said before, any company who is releasing a title on a platform that allows the consumer to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 has high standards to live up against.

One of Wii’s most important lifelines was the Virtual Console. Titles on it outsell some of Nintendo’s big name titles, which didn’t put the Big N into right mindset. If you can’t obsolete a thirty years old game, then clearly something’s not right in the design and execution department. You may not be able to fight consumers’ nostalgia, but you can make see what makes that nostalgia ticking and tackle that. New Super Mario Bros. may have been rather mediocre after the fact, but after twenty year long drought of no 2D Mario it was a breeze of fresh air. Never went anywhere, and the New SMB titles ultimately lacked in quality.

The general consumer will drop five bucks for an old game in digital form, even more if the title’s a household name or holds some special place in his heart. The Virtual Console was a great thing, offering games across the platforms like no other. In the absence of Virtual Console, where does the consumer turn to? Without the older systems plugged in, and not too many have Wii or Wii U plugged in anymore, hardware emulation seems like the next best thing.

Nintendo of course has all the rights to protect their IPs and copyrights. Them shutting down Another Metroid 2 Remake a while back was them covering their asses and to remove competition from their own Metroid 2 remake. We can debate which one was better, but we can say for certain that AM2R was more faithful to the original and didn’t screw up the mechanics. Nintendo Switch Online is supposedly successor to the Virtual Console, but the concept and execution are a far cry from the store that Virtual Console is/was. NSO is essentially a subscription service to let you play online, with the whole thing about being able to play limited number of classic titles being a secondary element to it.

NSO is not a good replacement for the VC. VC wasn’t just about Nintendo’s own titles, but that may have been something that did rub them the wrong way. Nintendo wishes they had been as creative and innovative with their games as Sega was in their golden days, who constantly pushed the envelope with their groundbreaking arcade titles. The PC-Engine titles were a massive pull with the Japanese, with titles like The Kung Fu (known as China Warrior on the TruboGrafx-16) hitting the retro consensus there. There’s a market here that goes largely unused.

Nintendo could slap their in-house emulator for the Switch and sell every single NES game they own rights to for some three bucks. They’d probably make stupidly large amount of money off of them, probably more than what NSO could. Have all other companies that saw the success of Virtual Console hop aboard and have them re-release these title as well. Even better if you had opened this system to those who already had VC titles on the 3DS and could carry their games along just fine. This would have been beneficial and logical step for Nintendo on the long run, as it would have brought incredible amount of content to Switch from the get go.

An age-old argument against emulation from the industry has been that it damages the sales of future re-releases. VC was a massive success, PSN and XBLA’s retro titles slightly less so. Consumers will pay for what they like if its available at a decent price. Considering Nintendo is essentially ceasing its sales of older titles in order to move to Netflix styled subscription for them, the argument has less base than they want to believe.

All these companies know that they can’t stop emulation and piracy. It’s a losing battle, but all the companies have to do it. If they don’t, it’s very easy to see them fall into realm of abandonment and free for all to use. This extents to emulators being taken down as well. Only when patents expire does a company lose most control, like with the NES. When NES’ patent expired, the market saw a slight flood of clone consoles. The consoles themselves were legal, but some of them had build-in ROMs. This is often circumvented by just adding SD-card slot to the machine.

The retro game market is going to more expensive direction as the time go by, and it would be natural for the industry to take an advantage of this through re-releases and competent compilations. However, often we see budget packs with attention put to the presentation or alternative modes rather than on optimisation. Guess we’ll just have to wait and keep emulating before companies make older titles viable options again.

Open the Valves, full Steam ahead

Sometimes, Valve manages to surprise the cynic in me. Just as I mentioned that they should open the doors for free market, it seems that’s exactly what Valve did. Of course, it was received with both positive and negative press, with negative pretty much calling out Valve for allowing games that could have offensive content. Kotaku, for example, takes their usual stance all about wanting to keep games with gross content, as they put it, out of Steam. Furthermore, Kotaku’s beef with Valve being a reactionary corporation when it comes to controversies is old song by this point. Most corporations may go their way to appease sections of the consumers, but in this day and age where practically everything can cause an uproar and everything is offensive to someone in some myriad way, corporations can’t exactly be but reactionary.

This whole deal is interesting and dumbfounding, to say the least. For number of years, gaming snobs have wanted the electronic games industry to grow and mature. No medium is free of the growing pains of vast, endless multiple points of views and political leanings. For a rough comparison, banned games equate to banned books. This is especially important if we are to take games as an art, as simply banning or removing art because the subject is something you dislike or disagree with infringes the free expression of the artist.

Of course, the opposition of Valve’s new policies take the business view on things whenever it pleases them. Steam having games with content other developers don’t like shouldn’t matter to them. If their product is superior, they should be at ease of mind. The free market will tell what’s more demanded. Of course, it could always turn out that doing politically or otherwise controversial topically charged games might not sell well in overall terms. If the developer and/or publisher wishes to move their games off the platform because Valve has allowed games with offensive content in their mind, they can always move away to GOG.

After all, censorship and limited freedom of speech is something that can be easily expanded to serve only one master.

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Brands, such as Steam, should not partake in politics of any sorts. Valve’s stance of keeping trolling titles (how in the fuck would you even define that properly in hard-down legal form) and illegal content off their service is enough. The market will handle the rest. Simply because content exist for consumption does not mean one has to go their way and consume it.

Is it immoral to allow content that might be considered offensive on Steam, politically or otherwise? The question is No, considering Steam already has games with content that does offense someone. Valve’s Weik Johnson has the right stance; they’re not the one to decide what developers make. If we are to promote equal treatment of all, it is required to mean equal treatment in all terms, including games that have offensive content of any kind. It is up to you as the consumer to decide whether or not it is consumed, not by a committee, a busybody soccer mom or another developer.

Another criticism Valve has got is that this means they do not stand up to values, or more accurately, the values of the critics have set up. Just as morals, values are up to each person. Cultural values and morals set up by the society are ultimately what matter the most, not the ones sections of the Internet want to be upheld. In effect, it is equally morally reprehensible to allow one offensive content but not the other. Valve’s ultimate morals lay in what makes the most profit, and free market is the best way to make a buck.

Whether or not Valve is finished with underestimating their consumers with this is an open question. It can be expected them to flip flop on the matter in the future, especially when take into notion how vague their new stance is. What is illegal changes country by country, and there is always the remote possibility they’ll simplify things and use all of them. Somewhat unlikely, seeing Valve has always tried to stick with the US legislation and have a history of arguing against foreign laws to an extent. What is acceptable varies wildly, especially in places like China.

Secondly, trolling, as mentioned above, doesn’t exactly hold water. It is extremely subjective and sounds like a scapegoat wording that they can enact on a title whenever they find it applicable. Titles like Hatred may get hated out of the platform due to its content, as it was removed from Steam Greenlight. It took Gabe to get it back. The title’s developer certainly did use trolling as part of the marketing campaign, yet the title is nothing short of fully fledged isometric shooter.

For better or worse, Valve’s announcement on the subject does touch upon this. To quote the post; we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. While this could be viewed as slightly concerning, this sort of extension of corporation’s own decision making is expected. This allows Valve to cover their asses whenever its applicable while supporting the freedom of game development and publishing, as weird as it sounds, considering anyone could do that outside Steam on PC already.

In the end, all of Valve’s announcement ends up being PR speech. It’s not exactly virtue signaling either as much as itch.io’s Leaf’s tweet on the matter. How things will go down in practice will probably be a very different story, though only time will tell. Claiming that Valve has dropped any responsibility or the like is childish bitching, as the responsibility has always been with the developers and publishers, and even then to the extent of the law.

The consumers within the market will make their voice heard on the matter, and that is ultimately what matters, despite what different sociopolitical factions like to think. Let capitalism function as intended.

Then there’s the point that none of that matter jack shit if the gameplay is not up to the level. That is what matters the most after all.