Compete with two similar products, not with one same

Some time ago I read an article about why video streaming platforms like Netflix will go by the way of the Dodo soon some time ago. The main argument was IP and copyrights and how they strangle the system. Not in the way you’d think, but because they allow companies to have a monopoly over a single show and not allow it to spread around to other streaming services. This supposedly leads into a position the monopoly over a show leads into an unfair competition as other platforms don’t have the tool to compete, the same show. I wish I could remember where I read this, because its so goddamn dumb. I have to wonder at what point we dipped over that consumers think two different platforms can’t compete with each other unless they have the same product in the lineup. That is nothing less than misunderstanding how two competing companies compete with their products. This to stay relevant to the blog, we’re of course going to use games as an example.

Super Nintendo and the Mega Drive competed each other just fine without largely sharing the same library. While the SNES dedicated itself to be a role playing machine alongside other games with slower pace, MD was more about the arcade action, all the while PC Engine had loads of shooters and B-Tier action games. Despite their preference in genres being rather clear, especially in the US, where MD had a sort of infamy for sports games among certain circles, the three consoles did compete directly with different entries in the same genres. Sega had Alexx Kidd to counter Super Mario Bros. before Sonic the Hedgehog was around the corner, and PC Engine had titles like Shubibinman and Valis, though Valis is more known for its Mega Drive entry in the Overseas market. Nevertheless, the series’ halcyon days were on the PCE. All these offer a different kind of platforming experience with their own flavour of style and approach, with varying degrees of success.

On the RPG side, Sega had its Phantasy Star and Shining series of games, with Koei bringing its Uncharted Waters series to the table. PC Engine had Cosmic Fantasy, Cadash, Vasteel and such, though Far East of Eden was first largely a PC Engine game before it jumped the ship when PC Engine effectively died. SNES had its fair share of RPG most already know, ranging from Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy.

The point I’m trying to make with all that is that streaming services aren’t dying because one service has a monopoly over a show. While it is true that people don’t really want to subscribe to a service just because it has one or two shows they’d like to watch, and seemingly have gotten used to the idea of everything being one place, these companies compete with each other with their unique libraries and takes on the same base concepts. Any station or streaming service could have tackled Game of Thrones with their own high-budget, semi-realistic adult fantasy epic if they had chosen to do so. None of them even seemingly attempted this. The same can be said for Star Trek Discovery, though The Orville was its direct competitor, and by all means, did get far better reception and is the show with superior writing. Star Trek Discovery currently stands as the show with the stupidest writing among all shows we have now, which doesn’t exactly spell promising future for the upcoming Picard series, especially now that Amazon picked it up after Netflix supposedly doesn’t want anything to do with modern Star Trek. I can’t blame them.

Back when The Addams Family debuted in 1964 on ABC, it was followed by The Munsters six days later on a rivaling network CBS. It is often mentioned that Bewitched first aired at the same time as well, though on ABC. While this sort of pace of production probably will never be matched nowadays, shows also have longer pre-production and hype period before they ever come out should make it easy for different channels and streaming service to put up their competing shows. While The Munsters enjoyed better ratings, it has been criticised for relying more on elaborate make-up and special effects over creative writing and show content. Perhaps that why The Addams family has stuck harder to the global pop-cultural schema while The Munsters hasn’t seen as much growth or appreciation, despite that relaunch attempt with Mockingbird Lane, a serious horror take on the series, which got less than appreciative reception.

Two different providers rarely compete with each other with the same product; they compete with two products that offer the same baseline consumer experience. This is why console business has become more twisted, as both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 offer largely the exact same baseline experience with all the multiplatform games, which means most of the third party companies don’t really care which one might succeed more over the other. Well, unless the first party games manage to install a large userbase, then the third parties will follow in-suit. All the generation winning consoles had the largest library of games exclusive to them.

While television (streaming is just modern television) and gaming are two different kinds of medium and forms of entertainment, the comparison is still apt. A monopoly over a single product is not a problem in itself, as long as the product is not one single, all-encompassing product that allows no other to enter the market. That’d be true monopoly then. We can make jokes about Microsoft and Windows all we want now, but that’s effectively what people who wish there would be only one console, one streaming service or one provider for anything really. No company will be altruistic if they have the whole market in their hands, they will take as much control as possible and squeeze. Much like how Disney is doing by amassing larger and larger amount of media property and companies under their belt. Disney is already the largest media empire we have, and if things continue to move to this direction, we are going to end up with few extremely large corporations controlling the media landscape.

However, Disney still has competition with Warner-Brothers. Perhaps the most relevant competition is their Looney Tunes against Disney’s Merry Melodies, or in modern era, DC vs Marvel. Two isn’t exactly a healthy market and there are more comic labels out there, like Dynamite, but the Big Two are most well known across the world. It is far from a healthy market still, and the competition is questionable at best at times. On silver screen however, Disney has taken the lead in the Superhero movie department with better quality scripts, though the future can be questioned.

While these corporations have ownership over whatever they are legally owned, nothing can keep from other companies or individuals using these materials as a source of inspiration and create something to compete. However, fans will always be willing to make fan games or fiction instead of creating something new and original. One of the many reasons why original homebrew and indie scenes can be very fresh places to visit occasionally due to new ideas propping often up, independent of the major providers. DL Site isn’t good just for porn, but for for wholesome new games and other content as well. Sometimes both.

No, streaming services aren’t going bust anytime soon because they can’t compete with the same show. However, if they are not able to provide a quality alternative, like how The Orville is to Star Trek Discovery, then that’s problem either in the creative lead department, mismanagement, or simply because that section of the consumers is not their target audience.

For whom is the Switch Lite for?

While the Switch is a mobile device just fine, it is rather bulky in certain aspects. It has to be. After all, it must serve as both home console and as a takeaway handheld console. Some play it solely in handheld mode, some just keep it attached to a screen for larger resolution play. Both are valid options. The preference just seems to change according depending on the nation. With some little digging, it would seem that the West likes to have the Switch docked most of the time and then just separate it whenever someone’s on the go. This seems to be a bit different from Japan, where handheld consoles have always been the top dogs. Be it space or because its just so much easier to nab a small console out for a quick play, there’s something in the nation’s cultural schema that supports small portable devices like this. Flip phones are still a culturally iconic devices, despite them being completely overshadowed by iPhones in the current day. Its one of the many reasons Monster Hunter found its breakthrough on the PSP was because people could just whip it out, check if there were other players in the area and a have quick hunt or two. This does not really work most of Western world nations. You’ll most likely get ridiculed if you are seen playing a handheld in public if you’re over fifteen. It took long time for Monster Hunter to become popular in the West, and despite the success on the 3DS (Nintendo really, really wanted that PSP Monster Hunter money on the 3DS) the real Western market breakthrough wasn’t until Monster Hunter World. Just don’t play with the French.

Switch Lite probably has a two-fold aim, First is to provide the Japanese market a smaller, more portable device that functions as a dedicated handheld, especially now that the Vita’s dead long dead and finally buried, which has left Nintendo with no competition in the handheld market. While Nintendo always had largest sect of the handheld market to themselves, they flourished whenever they had competition. Hopefully there will come some competition from whatever company might want to tackle the market, so Nintendo’s monopoly won’t make them lazy. Despite Nintendo claiming that they don’t follow what their competition is doing, this is of course PR bullshit. No company would willingly stay ignorant how their competition is doing and why. The second reason is that the Switch is not exactly a child friendly device. The simple fact that the Joycons are removable device raises the system’s cost and kids can misplace them rather easily. I’ve heard few friends having to buy new Joycons because lil’ Jimmy misplaced one in the backyard. This sort of hybrid nature doesn’t really work, unless the machine is dedicated to stay in docked mode, but that’s wasting the Switch’s potential. The same can, and must, be said of Switch Lite, where now you can’t switch modes, but now kids have something that can have their mittens properly on. It is far from a perfect solution, but you won’t have perfect solution for a hybrid console like this at this moment. Perhaps if Switch Lite still supported the docking it would have some leverage, but as it stands now, for average adult, the Switch Lite is a weird choice to go for.

If we use the past portable consoles Nintendo has manufactured before, their modus operandi should be roughly as follows; produce original version, create a smaller version with some improvements here and there, then create an upgraded version that seems a standalone from the previous iterations. For original Game Boy, we have its Pocket version as the “lite” iteration and Color as its final upgrade. The GB Advance is the deviation, with SP being the lite model with backlit screen, but nobody really seems to think GB Micro as the end-all version of the system. The NDS follows this line just fine though, with Lite being a thing and DSi followed soon after. We also got the larger screen versions to go by. 3DS is pretty much the same, followed by lite and the New 3DS version.

We can also tell that the Switch has been a success from this line. The only consoles Nintendo has not done upgraded versions of are machines that weren’t a success enough. The N64 never had a clear visible new edition to it, despite the Famicom/NES gaining top loader model, and SNES having SNES Jr model. GameCube stuck to its cubic form, and we don’t count Panasonic Q as a proper variation due to it never being aimed at mass markets. The Wii had Mini, which apparently sold rather well if I’m top believe a friend who worked at retail at the time. The Wii U was a disaster and never saw similar treatment. Here we are, with the Switch. Nintendo can afford to treat it as both handheld and home console, and seeing upgraded hardware per generation has become a standard again rather than new case design, we should probably wait for the announcement for whatever souped up Switch Nintendo has been cooking for some time now. After that, Nintendo’s attention will move towards their next console generation, though it would be in their best interest to give the Switch as long lifespan as the original Game Boy had. There is no reason to cut their hardware short just because they or their third party developers would like to play with some new hardware and not be limited with almost decade old set. The hardware oriented mindset does not do favours in the console business, whereas software centric is very lifeline these machine run on. I will use the old mantra that system with weakest hardware in the end has sold the most each generation. Deep Red Ocean market can hate the Wii however much they want, but the sheer joy of Nintendo Sports was in pretty much every home possible at the time.

At least the Switch Lite doesn’t have brand confusion as the Wii U had. They’ve learned something from that shitshow.

The price of digital freedom

Just as I put out last post about how Stadia will be pushing game streaming further, Google’s Phil Harrison was interviewed about the price of games at Eurogamer. In addition to a subscription fee, with free model coming out sometime 2020, games would cost your normal game price. He is right in questioning why the games should be cheaper on Stadia compared to any other digital console platform. Streaming games is not the same thing as streaming video. Forcing television or movie model unto games has never been all that successful, and this applies doubly on the whole market side of things. While it is easy to use Netflix as a point of comparison while talking with Stadia, it is also relatively inaccurate. It should be compared to other games streaming services, and seeing only Sony’s has some moderate success with it despite having issues outside PS4, there really isn’t any reason for streamable games to be any less expensive than their other digital counterparts. Google’s PR department just uses this as a point of comparison, because game streaming has not been mainstream consumer product before.

After all, in both scenarios you’re paying for bits and bytes and only. With streaming, you don’y even need to put money into building high-end rig. Just stream it to your Android phone or similar, and you’re good to go. Harrison’s theory isn’t all that applicable about the quality of their games. I have serious doubt any Stadia version of any multiplatform game will be the highest possible quality. Let the PR do its job there though.

Xbox Game Pass and Sony’s PS Now are more like Netflix model, where you pay a monthly free to access slew of games. The consumers who use these two have already gotten used to the idea, as has other markets with Netflix’s style subscription model. However, it is more apparent that Stadia has been modelled after Steam, if anything. After all, with gaming Valve has been the one to push the digital-only model further and further with Steam. Stadia is mostly just the next natural next step in this. First consumer didn’t have to own the physical item, owning the digital data was fine. Then it moved to subscription license, no need to own anything. With Stadia, even needing space for that digital data is unnecessary. While people applaud moving towards digital-only environment, most of them have ignored the loss of ownership in all of its forms. With Stadia, you’re giving all control to Google on the data you’ve purchased, i.e. subscribed to.

Digital-only solution like Steam took nice roots because of its easy availability and unnecessary bells and whistles. Well, there aren’t much compared to it and buying a game from a store, but people are really goddamn lazy at their core when it comes things like this. Having a digital option is just more convenient at the cost of ownership and freedom. That’s where Stadia wants to compete in. Spell doom and gloom for Stadia, but as long as it has ease of use and convenience, people will pay that money for Google’s service. Steam, Bandcamp, GOG, Netflix, and so on and so on. The main reason they’ve become success is because they’re convenient and easy to use.

Of course, some games are going to be free to play and some games will have lower subscription fee. There’s no “buying” as such in digital systems like Steam and Stadia, despite the term used there. Valve could’ve already overtaken this market by making moves towards using streaming for some titles, but as envelope pushing as Steam was, it now has become more or less the tried and tested example to use as a basis rather than anything else. Much like how the NES or Atari could be described for consoles. There is, nevertheless, an overlapping market between Steam and possible Stadia users. Some people who are enthusiastic about the whole streaming thing will jump on the wagon as soon as possible, and the rest of the consumers who find enough value in theoretically fully mobile super computer via Stadia with them all the time. I admit, the idea of throwing a small device to a television on a trip to play a large library of games akin to Steam’s does sound attractive, but the principle of ownership removes me as a possible consumer for Stadia.

Stadia is one of the next steps in digital-only gaming. We’re on full-course to a world where consumers have very little control over their purchased goods withing the digital landscape. Maybe the service model in itself completely acceptable, but the delivery still isn’t. You know my old song at this point already; the ‘net infrastructure to deliver the promised high-end content isn’t there yet, or is available to extremely limited amount of consumers in comparison. High-end Internet connections are still relatively costly outside large population centers, but maybe that’s an issue that doesn’t matter. Perhaps the convenience just beats the slight lag and drop in visual quality will trump the need to have a gaming computer or a console to play these games.

I don’t predict doom and gloom, or success, for Stadia. No system has been great at the start, though NES had Super Mario Bros. in the US and Europe. No, it is far more likely that if Stadia will become success, it will be after a period of hardship and adjusting to the market demands and needs. People want to play the games, those are there. Now the rest just has to find its niche to expand from.

Convenience will either kill the living room, or let it live

There has been some buzz on the Yotube and  with few of the bloggers and news sources I follow about how traditional consoles are going the way of the dodo, and how the PC and console markets are going to merge and die in their traditional form ever since Google’s Playdia… no that was a Bandai console. …Ever since Google Stadia started making rolls in the media. I had to wonder how this has become a thing just recently, when we can pin point the two moments in gaming history where the difference between console and PC became blurred permanently, and when the home consoles, and even the PC itself, began to lose their status and position. Slowly for sure, just as I’ve been told that physical media will be gone and everything will be digital for some fifteen years now. It’ll probably happen, but unlike physical media being replaced, decentralisation of the home’s living room has been working its magic for a long damn time now.

When the DS hit the market, I questioned why do we even need home consoles at this point. It was like a portable home console. When the PSP hit the market, and had the support to play the games on a home telly, I further questioned the need for any home consoles when you could just plug-n-play wherever you wanted. While this wasn’t PSP most advertised element, you could make an argument that PSP did work as a hybrid of sorts as well, though it lacked the whole separate controllers thing. You had to attach the cables to the bottom of the system and be tethered all the time to the television itself. Still, worth noting. We were on a good road to making the first genuine hybrid that would physically function in both standalone and portable forms with the Switch. The Big N just took few steps with the Wii U, which is still one of their major failures despite making pretty sweet DS emulator machine. and Sony effectively not learning jack shit from the PSP and repeated all the mistakes they made with the Vita and then some new ones. The Vita might have a rabid fanbase defending it like the console was their Hive Queen, but the reality is that despite the initial promises and its ergonomics, the system has woefully poor library, especially when majority of its games were ported to other systems. The first, and in many ways the definitive deathblow to the system was when Gravity Rush jumped to PS4, effectively telling everybody who had Vita that its time was over.  The rest of the system’s lifespan was artificial at best with the minimum of support from its own makers. No wonder Nintendo managed to turn 3DS into a small success despite the extremely rough first years. A good showcase how a rubbish library breaks a console, but it can be saved by improving the library.

That’s where the whole mixing PC and console really steps in. While modern gaming media and  through this many of the consumers want to see these two rough ecosystems as the same, they’re two separate markets that are not in direct competitions with each other. PC VS Console fights are very much just a cultural phenomena, and if we’re completely frank, the games were at their core completely different. Were. PC always excelled with slow as hell strategic games that required tons of reading and were more like chess. IN the 80’s and even early 90’s you couldn’t have fast paced games with good scrolling, because computers just couldn’t do it properly. Screen-by-screen games were the thing, like Prince of Persia. No, not Sands of Timei, the very original. That game might have good animation, but everything happens in one screen at a time. It wasn’t really until Super Mario Bros. made it widely achievable. It was developed as the ultimate Famicom cartridge game anyway. Consoles and arcades where the places where you could find smooth scrolling due to the hardware, and PCs just stuttered behind, not really knowing how to achieve the same level of smooth scrolling. Smooth being the keyword, there were many PC action games with atrocious scrolling, and MSX even had a cultural thing surrounding it about its choppy scrolling. It wasn’t really until the 1990’s when PCs could do as smooth scrolling as Super Mario Bros., and that alone limited a lot of the designs. Consoles and arcades were the places where things happened now and instantly, where you had to rely on your senses and guts on how to act in that very moment in game’s play. For PC, you mostly could take it back and just enjoy the slower pace. PC games, the culture around them, is like a methodical board game with time to spare. Arcades on the other hand were the opposite, more like sports events with tight time limits and challenges that required both physical and mental action to be fast and accurate. With consoles, we have and excellent golden middle path. The Legend of Zelda is, by all means, a mix of Ultima with Robotron. A hybrid of RPG and Action.

We don’t have that triumvirate nowadays, and the distinction between console and PC games is long dead. A rough starting point, where we could see no real difference in games between platforms, would have its roots in Europe, where loads of Amiga games got ported to the Sega Mega Drive. The whole European Platformer or Action genre that was a thing at the time was because most, if not all of them, where designed to be played on an Atari or Amiga computer first. Things trickle a bit, and you can argue shit was ported even before that, but before this point it was almost impossible on practical terms due to the sheer difference in controls and hardware. It was easier to port an arcade game to a PC, seeing everything was made from the scratch to fit that platform, but not as easy to backwards. The Mega Drive had enough oomph to it.Of course, the two main points where we further lost the middle ground between PC and consoles are the PlayStation and the Xbox. PlayStation for offering enough storage space for FMV shit and Xbox for effectively being a Direct X PC in a consolified form. Like how a Steam Machine is effectively a physical version of Valve’s digital game console.

The main change between Classic Era of Electronic Games, from 1970’s to mid-1990’s and the Modern Era of Gaming from that Mid-1990’s to current date of whatever date this post goes online, the biggest change is the lack of third in the triumvirate and constant movement to change the video game console into something else and melding PC and console software into one boiling pot. Yet the user cultures have been kept separate to this date by the sheer fact that PC and console gaming are not the same thing. Oh you have your Halos and Call of Duties on pretty much every platform there is, meaning Steam, Xbox and PlayStation, but everyone will tell you that playing a FPS on a controller is retarded. It will never have the same feeling or ease as keyboard and mouse. This is right, of course. You can get skilled with a controller, but its just so much better with KB+M because how the genre was practically designed from the grounds up for them.  Similarly, however, you’re seen as an idiot of you are using KB to play a game of Super Mario Bros. or any other console game. KB+M will never have the same tactile feedback as a good controller does, not even with the most expensive springs and shit under your key. After all, gaming on PC is an afterthought. A keyboard is a device for inputting text first and foremost. This is why you have to concentrate on having all sorts of Gamer peripherals and specific input devices made, because a keyboard really is pretty shitty for gaming that wasn’t designed around it. One of the many reasons why PC gaming culture likes stuff like Civilization and console culture bends more toward Devil May Cry.

If you have a game like Devil May Cry or Nier Automata on a PC, you’re still playing a console game. Then again you need Steam for both, so you’re running a digital console anyway on your PC so there’s that.

So where are we going with this rabbit hole? I’ve said it a thousand words ago; to the death of the living room.

While the Xbox as a console won’t die out, as much as I used to say so, Microsoft is taking the more sensible route and diversifying where Xbox as a brand is going. Halo collection is coming to Steam among other platforms, because why not. The general acceptance seems to be that everything should be available on every platform so the consumer could choose whatever fuck they play with whatever hell hardware they own, and we effectively make the concept of having any consoles or specified hardware moot. Except with Nintendo, because Nintendo sees that they will be able to stay afloat, because they recognise the fact that a unique library is a console’s lifeline. You say its anti-consumer not to have everything on everything, I say that’s bullshit and you know it as well. Competition is the key, and if we lack from the very foundations of consoles, we might as well kill both Xbox and PlayStation. Have everything on Steam and GOG. A PC is enough to be the very core of the living room nowadays, it can only do everything. Except be decentralised.

Hence content streaming.

Streaming games will not be third in the triumvirate. It is mobile console gaming once again. Stadia and pretty much everything else that has been in the mainline advertisements as the definitive game streaming experience have always showcased a gaming controller. I bet you are able to use KB with many of them and so on, but even Google recognises how PC gaming is dead despite its culture and habits still persist and offer that controller. While few people are probably nerdy enough lug a keyboard of sorts with whatever mouse controls you can to play Stadia on the go, most people will be satisfied with a controller. Most, if not all showcased Stadia games, are either arthouse shit or downright designed for a controller first, then adapted to a KB. That’s what modern ports really are, just seeing how you can change controls from KB to a controller or vice versa. Long gone are the days of ports like Section Z. The game industry has become too bloated, has been for two decades now. The chasing of higher fidelity graphics, real world actors modelled in, more and more useless power under the hood to run unoptimised games because the mathematical skills and creative drives have been effectively culled because everything’s too big to fail. Except Nintendo. When they lose, they lose a little. When they win, they tend to win big. Ever since the 1980’s Nintendo has been prophetised to fall and die, especially people like Trips Hawkins who simply don’t understand the console gaming economy. The fact that the Wii and the DS are one of the most selling consoles in the gaming history shows what the consumers value in a console. Yeah bit the Wii has shit games. And that would matter worth jack shit when the console and its library had great value. We don’t have any real rules for the mythical good game but we have everything to determine games of value, and the Wii was a console with shittons of games with value. Cold hard sales numbers trump over subjective opinions.

What does this have to do with the living room dying? If you remove the console and the more powerful computers, you lessen the price the consumer have to pay to access their wanted products. Just have him to buy a subscription account and then a price for the games for him to stream. Most people who are in good area for reception will probably enjoy streaming whatever games they like despite the lag. Buying a new console is an investment after all, and it would not be terribly unpredictable if Sony and Microsoft would allow streaming each others’ content to another’s platform, with Steam and the rest of PC ecosystem being in the play. Nintendo, on the other hand, will be in a position to leverage their own library however they want against their competition.

It is kinda pathetic if MS and Sony would begin to cross-stream their contents. It would only show that their libraries have so little to offer apart from each other that they can’t convince consumers to the other direction, despite we can assume the deepest of the Red Ocean market probably already owns all three consoles. PC gamers of course are on that pathetic high horse due to their cultural background, so they’re excused for this. They spend on upgrading a PC worth few consoles every other year anyway.

We have a screen on our pocket, on a device that can be used to stream those games. If the future is in streaming content, we’ll be playing games everywhere wherever we can access that account, have a controller of any kind and a screen. While I highly doubt consoles will die outright, streaming content might become one more way to play the amalgamised electronic games we have now. PC people with phones will be happy, people who want mobile gaming with their big AAA titles will be happy, people who want a portable console that isn’t the Switch will be happy, and people who don’t lug a laptop with them but still want something else but gacha will be happy. Maybe.

Streaming game content will take its place among mainstream media forms to consume. Google’s push will make that happen, at least for a time being. Only when it has been a success for some years we can make proper and definitive estimations whether or not it will replace dedicated systems, or even PCs, as the main form of game consumption. However, as long as Nintendo is around to sticking their guns in what they know best, there will always be at least one physical manifestation of a console, and if it doesn’t have any competition in the same form factor, it might lead to a very hard split between Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo. Even larger than what we have now. That’s all speculation and bullshitting really. Time will tell, just like time has now told me I’ve run out of whisky form my glass.

What we do know is that convenience will make the difference. It doesn’t need to be the best or the bleeding edge, it just needs to work well enough at a convenient price point. Whether or not the game streaming technology has matured enough to become mass entertainment is yet to be seen. Will it be more convenient to stream games with some lag than have a physical console? Currently an open question with no real answer. Just like how modern TVs forced a slight game design in how games are designed control-wise, as CRT tellies have effectively instant response time while every modern flat screen lags behind and thus animation management has become a key to many games to get around this, games can be designed to work with the lag from streaming. It just takes a bit of work. Nevertheless, the issue of only sections of the global market being able to play streamed games at any sensible rate will stay an issue, in which the whole point of having a dedicated machine that sits in your desk, console or whatnot, is the best and most convenient solution. It is more probable that streaming games, specifically Google Stadia, will take Sega’s spot in the “hardware” market. They’re not Sega, and whatever unique games Google will have, they won’t be pushing the envelope as much or innovating as Sega’s titles used to be. That’s multiplatform gaming for you.

Enough time for popularity and fans

Much like Hollywood has been rewarming and remaking old classics, it seems the electronic game industry has been loving to do the same thing for some ten years and then some now. While remakes and remasters have always existed, seeing ports used to be effectively build from the ground up for another platforms using same or similar assets. Mostly during the 1980’s and early 90’s. For example, Capcom’s Section Z on the NES is very different game from its arcade original, just like their Troy. Just compare them for a moment.

Good old CPS-I

Good ol’ FC

I really need to make an entry about the history of character shooting games like this.

The two games are different enough to be called completely different. The NES Section Z could be called to be strongly inspired by and be sourced from the arcade game. There’s no plagiarism in play here. While the two games are counted as separate titles, do remind yourself that every port of a game is counted as a single entry, e.g. Mega Man X4 is as three different titles depending on the platform; PlayStation, Saturn and PC. Anyway, Section Z could be considered a remake of the CPS-I title, as its effectively takes the core of the arcade game and puts it into a form that fits the hardware the best. Capcom used to do this a lot, when it was necessary.

Despite the NES game’s nature as a complete remake to the point of being completely different game, its still called a port. That’s probably change in paradigm how we consider ports. Now we expect every port to be the exact same across the board, while that was, quite literally, impossible with old hardware. I’m repeating things here, aren’t I? The point is, a remake /port like this of a semi-popular arcade title made a great title on its own rights despite it being in all actuality different game altogether. Get on with it!

So I’ve wondered why games that failed due to some lacking qualities don’t get remakes that make them better (there are few posts about that), but at the same time I know its about money and budget. The reality is that something like Final Fantasy VII is able to get a million dollar budget, highly hyped and completely revamped mechanics to the point of game genre being changed to reflect what’s currently more popular (SquEnix has been moving away from traditional RPG format ever since the merger with Final Fantasy now that Dragon Quest is under the same roof) is because the game was so massively popular and impacted gaming culture, especially in the Overseas market. Now I’ll always remind that Phantasy Star II did the whole prominent party waifu death far better way, as did one of the Dragon Quest titles with death of the player character’s father, but all that’s academical at best.

However, that point sort of lose a bit of credibility when something like Grandia, a niche title with no entries in the series bible since 2006 (outside ports), gets remastered ports of its first two games. Grandia has always been a niche title, a cult classic, and these games don’t usually get much in terms of remaster love. Ports and upcsales for sure, PSN is full of some them. However, in Grandia‘s case its more or less a souped up port rather than true remaster. After all, the lack of popularity doesn’t really warrant the money, just like how the Final Fantasy VIII isn’t getting full blown remake like its older sibling, but rather what we used call as HD port. That’s what Grandia’s remaster seems to be at its core too. Sometimes they tweak some things on the way, but ultimately they touch very little.

However, why would Grandia even get this port? It’s not like the series has ever been a massive success. Time is probably the best answer, as mentioned in the title. There are numerous games that are not simply all what they could be, but were made well enough to gather a cult following. Wait a decade or two for the word to get around, Internet hype things up further, look for information how well people regard your title, and you know you already have an installed consumer group you can hit with semi-competent remake. Better take steps easy first, not blow your budget and just give enough for all the old and new fans to play their beloved title on modern platforms, despite everyone and their mother swearing in the name of emulation nowadays.

Imagine if the upcoming Grandia would have been a full-blown remake, with everything made from the scratch with modern day knowhow and tech. No reused assets or such, everything made as good as it could be. While that will never happen, should consumers be satisfied with these remaster-type ports? There are numerous games that could use the same treatment, pretty much every decent game out there, while games with less quality to the originally will be left to be completely alone rather than remade into something better. Even in a case like Grandia, popularity and sales dictate how the series is approached, with time being here the crucial element that has given the series’ first games a golden status that can be exploited. Will it sell well enough to ensure future of the franchise? Probably not, it most likely will make its money back, but history has shown that in cases like this there needs to be far more money coming in to convince the execs to put their minds and effort into developing a new, high-quality entry rather than continue with safe bets. Hey, maybe it’ll sell well enough to warrant a pachislot machine with Konami as the licensee.

The same can be said about Panzer Dragoon. While the situation is a bit different with that game, as the original Sega Saturn source code is lost and the PS2 remake was based on the Windows code, the upcoming remake had to be an actual remake rather than just a remaster. The series has always had a positive reputation, and pretty much everyone who has had the chance to play the games makes a statement for some future entry in the series. Digital Foundry called the game series legendary in their tech analysis even. Though they belittle rail shooters as a genre a bit there, the point stands; even people who value technology and hardware the most value these relatively low-selling titles. Some games simply leave an impact, be it for their quality of game play or otherwise, the word gets around slowly, but surely. This builds both individual fans, separate groups of fans and some fan communities even.

I really hope the poles making this game won’t fuck it up. While the graphics are rather different in style, reminding me a lot of Zelda BoTW, I still ahve hope for it, as stupid as it may be

Still, it’s not exactly a safe bet for SquEnix to make Final Fantasy VII Remake, but safe enough that they know existing fans and cultural osmosis will make it sell well enough. Not so with FFVIII though, and something like Grandia is far behind either of them. Then again, I’m not seeing Sega putting any effort to properly remake any of their older titles, but they are making something new. That’s honestly a lot better. Remaking something like Panzer Dragoon? A close 1:1 remake of the original Panzer Dragoon is not exactly difficult nowadays. Hell, its almost like those ground-up reworked ports, like Section Z. 

There’s more worth in making something like Final Fantasy VII Remake than just a heated up remaster. It may be retreading same steps, but at least it is trying to do something new. We can always go back and play one of the many ports of the original title after all. That is not the case with many other titles, so there’s a golden middle-way we can tread. Hell, I’d take completely new remakes of old games that might be interesting to revisit in a new form, all the while titles with less popularity behind them could always use these souped up ports like the Panzer Dragoon remake or home port of Section Z.

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.

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.

The Family Friendly Sony

Sony came out to The Wall Street Journal about them cracking down sexual content on their platform.  That’s a direct WSJ’s quote too. Supposedly, this reflects the concerns in the U.S. about how women are depicted in games, but in overall terms that’s rather weak excuse, especially when the spokeswoman (shouldn’t that be spokesperson if we want to be all neutral with these?) states that these new guildelines allow the creators can offer well-balanced content on the Sony’s platforms. This is largely bullshit though, as this would likely hint that they want all single elements of content they offer to be balanced rather than the content, as in the whole library of games, to a balance from left to right. Imagine having a selection of ice cream, but all of them are different kinds of vanilla. Because the store doesn’t like chocolate, you won’t see any of that. That’s a well-balanced offering in the store shelves and that’s what Sony’s doing. Excuse the hyperbole for now.

We know from the event hold Dies irae that Sony’s been practising these rules for some time now to the point of ready to be released games being completely shelved. Statement the spokesperson makes about the executives being worried about Sony’s brand being tarnished by titles with sexual content is weird at best, as the way the whole moderation is done happens to happen in English. It seems that this is mostly a big deal for the American side of Sony, and Japanese heads are just letting things slide.  But all this is what I’ve covered already in previous posts, the Wall Street Journal is just an official confirmation for all this.

Sony’s image for numerous years in gaming has been all about the hard-hitting titles for mature and adults all the while offering a healthy selection for the kids. PlayStation 2’s library is a prime example of why a console needs any and all sorts of games, as this provides that well-balanced content that spokesperson speaks of. By all means, this image of Sony was well-deserved due to all the realistic games Sony’s systems have offered. However, thus far Sony has touched on their games only to a limited extent, and left most of them stuff to local rating systems like PEGI. On the other hand, Sony’s limitation has always been more about the games’ mechanics. A lot of Japanese titles didn’t get pass to the Overseas market, as Sony of America was pushing the 3D more, the same thing Sega of America did with Saturn. Only very few overtly sexually explicit content was censored or removed, in the West. That was twenty years ago, and now the age is different. Whatever you do, you insult someone, and rage sells. Companies being afraid and aware of the outrage culture is making them bend in unnatural ways in order to showcase themselves as pure and progressive.These actions are directed at a small, outraged part of the population, and it is sadly affecting the whole world. Whoever at Sony pushed these through probably wanted to showcased their tribal colours and how true they were.

This is rather American of Sony though. The view of the United State’s censorship that has been in the rest of the world is that Violence is OK, sexual content is not. No matter who or what are behind the rules, be it the puritan church or politically active movement, this always seems to be the end result. Personally, I find dark comedy in here, where two opposing sides often end up in the same result through different means. It’s not very often a corporation like Sony enacts censorious practices just in afraid of getting pissed at by a sect, but image is what companies need to be concerned. Playing the whole family friendly side of things is their best cover, and that’s what the spokesperson also alluded to. Apparently, having titles with sexual content on your platform would have an adverse effect on children’s growth. One platform can do only so much. As always, the Internet offers more than enough of content to twist a child’s growth, and even then that’s somewhat dubious.

What Sony is using as a cover is really simple and traditional; Think of the children. We can discuss modern parenting however much we want, its pros and cons, but in the end a company shouldn’t take this sort of load unto their shoulders. Part of parenting, perhaps an extremely large part in the modern era, is to look over what sort of media is your child consuming. However, this also requires to know your child and how mature he is at any point and whether or not he is ready to consume the product. This isn’t as clear cut as its usually made out to be. A sheltered child in a good family probably can’t hold much violence or sexual content, but consider a child who comes from a family with alcoholic parentage and violence. We assume that all parents are good and children live a pure life, but the reality often is harsher, sometimes even gruesome. Children can take reality, and even if it seems harsh, reality have to be explicit and explained to them. Simply covering them from hard matters will twist them more. As an anecdote, the time I worked with children, I saw some cases that clearly couldn’t handle anything sexual related when they hit puberty, as I know first hand their parents were, to put it mildly, extremely with the subject to an unhealthy degree. This person is now a bee attracted to a lamp-post rather to flowers.

On the surface Sony’s movements might seem sensible, but on the long run it’ll do more damage than good. The fact that they didn’t come out with their new practice for solid two years since the initial waves of censorship (and let’s be completely honest; this is censorship rather than just moderation) tells a lot. If Sony had made a public statement about this to the developers and to the public, it would’ve cause harsh negative PR. Companies demanding to parent children is nothing new, and sometimes companies just do that for numerous reasons, most often for PR points. Television is a classic example, where channels still are told to lessen the violence and sexual content they showcase, despite programmes containing what is considered harmful content for children are relegated to late-night slots or after midnight. Yet, these shows get lambasted, instead of questioning why are these parents allowing their kids to stay up so late to watch these shows. As usual, it is very easy to put the blame on someone else.

Sony’ gone family friendly (outside violence and other sexual tendencies that are not female nudity) but the common consumer in the West won’t probably notice it too much. Japanese titles of course have already been impacted, and it has already caused some titles to have more visible content on the Switch, with Steam versions being more open than any. Maybe this would be a chance for sites like DMM and DL Site to push their lack of censorship towards Western users as well and diversify their libraries. If you’re a Muv-Luv fan, you probably already have a DMM account for all the stuff they have on the site. This is also why we should have more than just three consoles in the race; there needs to be more competition and platforms that offer choices that are not available on others. If one platform decides to go censorious, another should do the opposite.

I hope you all have a good, peaceful Easter.