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.

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.

Perhaps we take electronic games as self-evident

The whole thing Sekiro and discussion about difficulty and accessibility still seems to be a thing, and this post is not about that. Rather, it’s how we perceive electronic games in our daily lives. This blog has numerous posts about electronic gaming’s history and culture, some of which cover stuff from the late 1800’s to modern day between the time when kinetoscope was the hottest thing to see people box or lady showcasing her knees (a type of erotica is always relevant and present with any form of entertainment and will always stay as long as human is a sexual being) to the pinball scare in the middle of the 1900’s and how people rebelled by simply becoming pinball wizards all the way to the modern era of video and computer games. Looking back at the history we have, electronic games have become part of our cultural landscape in rather record time, spreading across the globe in matter of few centuries, covering all continents and places. Even the poorest places on Earth have seen their electronic games in a form of another, sometimes first with piracy, then maybe even build something on it. Playing overall is such a significant part of our anyone’s past time and cultural original, it’s not hard to see that a new way of playing would seep right in, especially when it is playing that broke the previously established barriers what play can convey and showcase. The closest we can get to what electronic games give is, specifically computer and video (and arcade) games, comes from the tabletop games, be it pen & paper like Dungeons and Dragons or your childhood favourite board games, and the playing we did when were as kids. Cops and Robbers, knights in shining armour, forest adventuring, playing house/family, playing you were a racer and so on. Electronic gaming is a true extension of these elements given, for the lack of a better word, reality and a way to accomplish those plays in actuality. No longer you’re moving down leaves that represent the enemy hordes of the evil wizard Red Eye, when you have a controller in your hand and playing your given action title. At the core, the play is the same, but the means have changed widely. It’s also become more acceptable for an adult to realise these sort of plays at their adult age.

The technology isn’t there to allow us a completely unique and dynamic kind of play. We probably will always be tied to the core tenant of games instead of playing; the existence of rules. Perhaps this is why gamer has become the term for people who play electronic games as a hobby and passion. It makes a difference between a play and a game. A play doesn’t necessarily need rules, but a game does. It’s perhaps a bit arbitrary and the term doesn’t really come off in all that positive manner. None other hobby has the kind of lead off towards its hobbyists, at least it wasn’t the case before gamer as a term solidifed itself. Readers are readers, film watchers are film buffs or viewers, runners run and so on. A gamer is not the same thing as a player. Maybe because a sport like soccer has players, not soccerers. The electronic game culture had to find its own term to describe its most enthusiast consumers. Outside some journalist trying to shake things up few years back by attacking their consumers, there really hasn’t been any significant attempts to change the term in itself, and has effectively stuck. For better or worse.

The above argues that electronic games have two sources, which don’t exclude each other and perhaps are even needed for playing games. If we take for granted that playing is a natural state for animals on Earth, anything from an insect to a lion cub seems to play in some kind of way, then playing seems to be stuck to our genes. No wonder electronic gaming was taken in as a natural evolution. It met the usual resistance that all new media and hobbies go through, and one could even make a comparison to movies with the current scare towards sexual content electronic games have, even to the point of Sony applying their censorship world wide. It might affect us now, but this shall pass in time. How or to which direction I couldn’t wager a guess. Even then, corporations often follow the money. Though they only have the luxury of practicing something like Sony’s standards now is because we are enjoying good macro-economics and everything seems to sell, people have money to burn.

It is not a surprise that electronic games have eclipsed Hollywood in terms of money then.

The nature of electronic games is not simply a video game or a computer game. While computer and video game have become effectively synonymous with each other, the distinction between an adventure game on a console and an adventure game on a PC is still made, despite the whole cross-pollination that exists between the platforms to an extremely large degree. An adventure game on a console is something akin to Metroid and that’s what it is; direct action is always representative. An action game on a PC might get that additional moniker of point-and-click at some point, or expanded into point-and-click-adventure, and is nevertheless nothing less than a certain structure intended for certain kind of input device intended for certain kind of type of game. Genres are perhaps best representation how we take things as self-evident, and often mix and match whatever together without much rhyme or reason. Metrdoidvania is still the best example of a nonsense word that doesn’t describe anything, but we just assume anyone knows what it means. On the other hand, perhaps that’s a mark of a completely formed sub-culture, when it is bringing forth new terms that are not applicable outside its own circles. Nobody who is into any other form of entertainment but has no knowledge of video game history and genre changes would have an inkling that metroidvania means action-adventure game, often non-linear to boot. Is it approachable? No, but very few sub-culture and its infinite branches are.

Which really brings this to the point. We recognise the historical and cultural aspects of so many of our other forms of media and entertainment, because they’ve been with us far longer. Modern electronic games are less than a century old. The perception that has been driven through is that it is a form of entertainment that is for all, which is widely inaccurate. It’s not exactly the first form of entertainment that requires the consumer to act on their own behalf, but at the same time you hear people complaining about some aspect of the game they bought. We take for granted that whatever we buy we can consume willy nilly straight up, but that has never been take case for any game. You have a set of rules, but in their electronic form, you can’t break those rules. Even mechanical games like pinball allowed nudging the machine, which has been implemented as a separate element and skill in some video pinball titles, but the rules are far more strict. You can not cheat an electronic game, unless it allows you to, or you force upon it. You can’t create your own rules within the game’s own set. Modding certainly exists and could be argued to showcase this, but it’s far from being something completely open, and largely restricted to PC gaming culture as a niche. Just like plays and games we play outside electronic games, there are those we don’t want to take part in, individually depending. This hasn’t changed. We may lack the skill, the enthusiasm, the physical fitness even for some of these activities, but all electronic games in the end require two things; time and effort on the game itself. Your physical fitness doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a functioning input device. Your team mates don’t really matter, unless you play online in a team. Many aspects that kept or keeps you from enjoying a game or a play are absent from electronic gaming, and the rest is really up to the consumer himself. It is, as an acquaintance said about reading, about priorities.

I doubt we culturally are aware what electronic games are to us. We can come up a thing or two about them and tell they’re nice way to spend an afternoon or release some pent up stress by beating a Dutch guy in King of Fighters, but do we actually recognise that video games are, first and foremost, a play. We’re homo ludens, culturally bend to play. Perhaps the whole holabaloo of games needing to be more accessible and the like stems from play being about freedom and control, whereas games like Sekiro are all about strict rules and demanding you to have and approach in a controlled manner. The illusion of freedom is shattered, but that’s not clearly accurate. Tetris is after all a game which allows no freedom of approach and is a game that simply can not exist without its digital medium. However, it is a game of strict yet simple rules. Would that then signify that when an electronic game is clearly a game we approach and consider it as such, and when it introduces larger elements of play in form of role play? Not RPG elements, but playing a role like kids play a role of a knight or an adventurer in the forest with their friends. This clearly isn’t universal, human mind has too many variables how each of us approaches this. Perhaps the core of accessibility doesn’t lie in Easy mode or such, but in allowing the player to ‘play’ more freely. Maybe these games weren’t the first form of ‘interactive entertainment.’ That’s the stick in your hand as a sword, and that tree is the form of a massive, large behemoth you to defeat.

Perhaps this is all backwards. Perhaps he subconsciously recnognise the whole shebang of electronic games being continuation of our past play and game culture, but fail to notice that they have been, since the beginning, something new altogether and have yet to change our cultural mind on them, taking cues from other media and forcing pre-set conditions from unfitting cultural standards. Have video games themselves been too stuck on our play and game culture to the point of them being unable to truly spin off to be their unique kind of set of entertainment and games, with very few examples of truly unique electronic game being present in these fifty odd years? Best not take the next game I buy at its face value, or there might be something odd about this tea.

Iterations vs innovations

The two things in the title do not exclude each other, but for the sake of argument let’s consider them as two things that don’t exactly mesh. Why? Because when we consider video and computer game sequels, we often see both practiced quite a lot, and there’s no real cohesion which one the consumer prefers, but at the same time we can see both criticised for different reasons. That should already tell is that this is kind of tomato sauce case, where people are split in preference. As usual, there’s no real one way to go with things.

If we were to use examples of iterative games, perhaps the best example would be Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 that was got the Lost Levels name in the West. This Japanese SMB2 is an iterative sequel, intended to effectively be more of the same, a pro-player’s version with the stage design and difficulty kicked up a notch for those who found the first game to be lacking. Western Super Mario Bros. 2, which got the USA label in Japan later on, is innovative sequel in contrast, as it expanded the playable roster, the world, characters and mechanics that would be seen later on in the series. Yes, we are going to ignore Doki Doki Panic, and if we didn’t I could use the same points of arguments for Super Mario Bros. 3, which we could use as a third example of innovative evolution of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy of games on the NES. If we extent the lineage to Mario Bros. the innovations become clearer, as the sheer point of having well scrolling action game at that time was something of a marvel, something past consoles didn’t really do or do well. Even Pitfall, the game some would argue to be the best action game on an Atari platform, moved in screens rather than with scrolling. Computers at the time had a hard time to do scrolling well, which is very apparent how the games were structured as per-screen basis or had a chunky scrolling, like what Konami did with their MSX shooting games like Nemesis.

While the Japanese SMB2 is a good example of an iterative game, we’ll use something like Doom and Doom II as an example most people should know. We can extend to this to numerous WADS that simply add stages or weapons, and perhaps even to some total conversion and such, but at the core there will be the good ol’ Doom experience; Shooting demons and trying to save your bunny from being staked. Doom II is by all means a large expansion with new weapons and levels, which was the team exactly did. The levels in Doom II are far more expansive and intricate compared to the first game thanks to the advanced in basic hardware. The enemy type number was effectively doubled. For an original Doom experience, the second game and its later iterations are effectively a sort of Best Of version, though some hardcore purists would argue that the pure classic experience still lays in the first game. Pokémon falls into this category as well, effectively being unchanged since the first game. The series has no renewed itself at any point, which has been more or less why its spin-offs have played with some of the concepts a bit more.

Adding new stages, some new mechanics and weapons don’t really innovate anything; they’re adding things on top of the base that’s already there. Innovation requires that a game is thought again from the grounds up, where the basic premise of the core design is effectively blown apart and the best parts are picked up while discarding everything that didn’t all the while building something new. Innovation is to take a house and renovate it from bottom floor all the while you’re considering all the room framing and how the yard is. Iterative is effectively building a new garage. Sometimes all you need is a new garage and some good lick of paint, because not all innovation hits the spot.

There is safety in iterative games, as they don’t fix something that was already broken, though sometimes they don’t fix what was broken. To use Pokémon as an example again, its iterations are interesting in that each new entry creates a new side mechanic only to be forgotten and abandoned in the next. Seasons of the year still hasn’t made a return from Diamond and Pearl. To contrast this, Digimon games have been widely different from each other from time to time and how they play, both to its benefit and detriment, as the franchise doesn’t have a cohesive core. Super Mario Bros. is a franchise that has a cohesive evolution with its games that innovate, as they don’t simply change the games’ genre on the fly. Side games certainly do, and New SMB series has effectively been nothing but iteration after iteration instead of innovating how the series could play in 2D, despite 2D Mario still making the biggest bank out of the series.

Maybe there are franchises that don’t exactly require innovation as such without effectively breaking the game’s core design. Umihara Kawase is a platforming game that has always been about the rubber band physics action; how to get from point A to point B, or C or D. If you’re not familiar with this niche classic, check this longplay for few minutes to get the idea. The point of the game is to use physics and mechanics tied to the physics in order to clear a stage, and these elements were further polished with its PlayStation sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun. Except in its PSP release, which broke the physics completely. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new playable characters, a time stopping stopping mechanic for one of them and few new things, but ultimately where this series’ concentration on the sequels has been in the level design. If the physics change even a bit, or of new mechanics are introduced, the stage designs can and must reflect this either with new geometry or with additional hazards and interactive stage elements. Changing the core gameplay has to be taken seriously with heavy consideration in order not to break the basic design. Umihara Kawase Fresh changes the series’ core structure significantly from stage-per-stage progression to open world exploration with story elements, quests and health management. Effectively, the development team has taken the same route as so many other 2D action game team, and made it action-adventure in fashion of Montezuma’s Revenge and Metroid. While on surface and as an idea this sounds like changing the genre altogether would be in lieu with SMB’s innovation path, we have to seriously question whether or not the series benefits from these changes and additions.

Innovation in itself does not necessarily mean change for the positive. You can innovate something, completely overhaul and change the core of things and be left with something that is broken and doesn’t work. Umihara Kawase Fresh may now be broken due to its additional mechanics and heavy emphasize on story compared to its previous iterations (in which Shun is still the best entry in the series) though at the same time we have to grant the game the benefit of the doubt that the developers are able to keep the core design and mechanics at the forefront and not overshadowed or hindered by the new additions. I’ll probably end up buying the game for a review rather than out of joy to get a new Umihara Kawase.

Innovating a game’s core gameplay to the point of changing a genre can also impact the consumer reception rather harshly, as was feared with Metroid Prime. While taken against the larger FPS crowd, Metroid Prime isn’t stellar material, but against the 2D Metroid titles it made the transfer to three dimensions all the while making stuff work as intended was nothing short of on point. We can argue whether or not Prime actually innovated anything or if it simply moved dimensions, but the rest of the series’ entries have been iterative. Nevertheless, the genre change the game had to carry with it was received relatively well. This might not go so well with niche franchises with a cult following. Shububinman as a series might’ve been changing with each entry, and despite being semi-popular in Japan, the series effectively died with the end of the 16-bit machines. Personally, I’m afraid the management mechanics and story emphasize in Umihara Kawase Fresh will effectively kill the game, though it might as well bring it to a larger audience that can’t handle a straight-up platformer nowadays. Perhaps this is one of those cases, where the developer thinks their game is “just” a platform game, that it needs to be more and slaps everything on top of it. I doubt many would choose a well made meal over haphazardly made five course dinner with raw bits everywhere.

The danger of innovating a product in a way that it backfires is rather common. Ultimately, very few corporation do straight up innovation without having multiple product iterations under their belt already, though some new companies make their breakthrough with something newfangled innovation that hits the consumers’ wants and wishes just right. Games are like any other product though when it comes to sentimental values and emotional attachment, and this extents to the gameplay, mechanics and even visuals. You can innovate something to be something completely new and you might even test well, but if you make an error in what the consumers value in your games and change those elements, you’ll end up like New Coca-Cola. Not every game franchise can innovate itself step-by-step and so many of them are expected to have only incremental changes in their iterations. If you play the first Super Robot Wars now, and then move to the latest one, you’ll see that almost thirty years of iteration upon iteration has transformed the game to something rather different, but still has that familiar game play. While companies have a large amount of research in how people attach themselves to names and faces, brands and such, I’ve yet to see any research on preference on game play mechanics and how they’re presented. Perhaps this is significant part enough for the game developers and publishers to put more attention into, and would possibly explain why Call of Duty and Battlefield titles alongside EA’s sports titles sell year after year despite their most common criticism being in not changing anything. The consumer just has that preference for it, and even positive innovation is met with a cold shoulder.

Ever increasing competition

The video game market is in a point where we are getting more games released every month. More games are being released year by year. More and more people want to get into the industry and realise their dream game, but end up working on a some mobile cashcow title instead. I haven’t managed to keep up with what games are being released at what point and by whom, or who has been developing them for some time. To be completely straight, all the little insignificant titles that get the indie label fall between the rather large gaps. It takes money and position to have your game advertised out there, especially in the extremely fierce Red Ocean market. In market, where expansion is less a concern than making the next big thing. Very few game or platform shakes the market nowadays, and despite the Switch being relatively successful console as a hybrid console, there hasn’t been anything like the Wii. The market has of course changed, and replicating the NES-Wii type phenomena has become increasingly more challenging if not for the changes in the macro-economics but also in within the industry and market as well. Expansion is an issue, as there will be a plateu as some point, where the Red Ocean can’t maintain itself any further. Well, not exactly. The Video game Crash of 1983 happened due to lack of sales. The modern electronic game consumer isn’t like that. We have people who would keep buying games even after their quality had dropped through the floor and was digging itself through the basement floors. Lifelong fandom has become such a driving force that companies are solely banking on that to make success of some of their games despite willingly releasing them in less than half-finished state. It’ll sell, the brand has a good reputation and a strong fanbase. It’ll sell, unless you overtly attack your consumers and tell them not to buy it if your political views are different.

The whole human resource question with this as well. Blizzard recently laid off a lot of its staff despite making a record breaking year, but these two are not necessarily related. A company making large profit probably already knows how much of that profit will be lost on the long run, if the people at higher levels are able to do their job right. Profits don’t just end up as cold cash in someone’s pocket. Capcom, for example, has their fingers in so many things from internal Research and Development to encouraging local businesses and industries in Japanese cities that might, for example, require more tourism. Not all companies do this, of course, and companies like Konami has other venues of revenue outside of video games to the point of gaming probably being one of the lesser ones. A single human tragedy is more or less lost to the sea of people working in the industry, and not to put a much fine point to this, the people don’t really matter. Sure, none of these companies would be successful without the people working hard for their goods, but just as well they wouldn’t be working if there weren’t people buying these goods. There are people trying to enter the workforce all the time, and ultimately nobody is irreplaceable. Even goods can be changed for an equivalent at a whim, and despite entertainment being relatively unique in this sense, especially in gaming where game systems can be extremely unique for one series alone (e.g. Mega Man Battle Network), this happens all the time. Sometimes the superfluous elements are enough, like how yours truly could change between fantasy RPGs on a whim just because they’re so goddamn boring most of the time, systems be damned.

How many times we do really think about the people working in any industry in the end? I doubt anyone has thought the hundreds of people who worked on the car you drive. The people who made the nuts and bolts, the people who coated those nuts and bolts, the people who made the windshield, the people who designed the windshield, the people who milled the steel for the chassis, the people who cut the steel and bent the steel in its shape so it can be put together with thousands of components. A single car is not a work of one man, but the end result is the work of one company, the one whose logo is on it. We don’t care about these ‘little people’ who work on everything we use daily for hours on end. The only face that matters, in the end, is who is selling it to us and for how much. With Internet, even that is gone to a large extent. How many of us really think about the feelings or ongoings of the store clerk we buy our groceries from? Not much I’d bet, unless you’re a frequent customers and get to know them, at which point you’re close. You begin to care, because on the surface you know these people.

The nature of competition determines a lot of things. It requires effort and skill to make a product that would beat most other products on the market. However, this doesn’t mean your product has to be the best. Best is often extremely costly, extremely premium. A product that hits the best middle spot and is regarded as good enough, but “better” than its competitors often gets golden trophy. Or in case of Monster Hunter, the total lack of any real competition means you’re competing with yourself and with the idea of the brand. It’s not exactly something that drives the quality through competition. After all, the amount of people and money going in and out is limited, and if the industry doesn’t want to expand, it will stagnate and break.

More and more games are coming out, and more and more games effectively being lost to the sheer numbers. Some games on mobile phone App stores have single digit downloads, and I dare argue some indie titles on multiple platforms have the same fate. Large games cost more and more to produce, and to make sure they make their money back, they get ever more expensive marketing campaign. All the media outlets understandably want their share of this, be it via clicks or some other way. Corruption in the game media isn’t anything new, it’s laughably transparent and at times driven by politics. At this point companies might a well begin do direct marketing and news coverage themselves. A digital version of Nintendo Power, if you will. However, as long as the industry keeps getting bigger and bigger, the competition and everything that it entails will get sharper and more gruesome. There has been no more than three consoles on the market for almost two decades now, despite at one point around five was the standard. Even the three we have now might become two, and for a competition that’s too low a number. However, the consumer culture keeps changing, and the industry has to keep up. If television has become streaming services and alternative media, where will video games ultimately go? Maybe hybridisation is the route to take or something else. VR it an’t for now.

Sony has (almost) no classics

Is that a hyperbole enough? Should be, as by now it’s more or less clear that Sony has no idea why Nintendo’s Classic consoles have sold out like hot cakes and occasionally still vanish off the shelves. Well, mostly because they’re not Nintendo and the Sony has no classics. PlayStation as a console as definitive classics, but Sony as a company really has jack shit.

Let’s put aside the fact that the PlayStation Classic’s hardware is rather terrible and emulation is spotty at best, but people can put those things aside for a long time. Just look at the people who are still using ZSNES. Sony has no Mario or Sonic. You’d think the whole thing with mascots is so 1990’s, but outside the era slowly coming into fashion (can’t wait to see shit in colour again) the whole mascot wars did at least one or two things right. First, companies had a face other than a human. You couldn’t separate a game console from its mascot. Now, you have such cute mascots as Sakurai attached to Nintendo instead. Nobody cared who or what made our games back then to the same extent, video game developers were not rock stars, which was only a good thing. Secondly, in order to beat the other furry mascots and whatnot you had back then, you had to have quality. Tells you how much quality you ended up having when the only ones that are still relevant today are effectively Mario and Sonic. Sony never had a mascot, not an official one. No, Polygon Man doesn’t count as they dropped its ass faster than your ice cream melts in the sun and it never had any games around it. Sony had all these unofficial mascots that the company liked to tote around like and Sony wanted to keep close to their heart. That was a problem, because that changed from time to time. Both Spyro and Crash were the faces for the kiddies, while Solid Snake and stuff from Twisted Metal served for the adulties. Hell, Kojima even favoured PlayStation for Metal Gear titles and probably would’ve loved to see it stay Sony exclusive to the end of time, which we all agree would’ve been bad because Ghost Babel really is the best Metal Gear game. At times you saw Cloud’s potato LEGO face when talking about RPGs, though Phantasy Star did the whole killing-a-waifu thing first. No, Sony and PlayStation never had anything of their own, and they were largely dependent on whatever shit the platform saw.

The hell are you getting at? I hear Charlie asking in the third row. Well, if we’re completely honest, PlayStation games that were most requested and wanted on the Classic couldn’t be included. Spyro and Crash had their remakes just on the side, so including those would’ve fought against sales. Metal Gear Solid has been re-released digitally to death at this point and anyone who wanted the game already probably had it. Original GTA is pretty shit. But it’s not about the game library, not really. It’s about the sales. It’s always about the sales. And the game library.

Nintendo’s Classics didn’t only sell to people who wanted to play the games and scalpers, they sold to people who wanted their kids to play these older games that had no modern equivalents. There is a certain code standard to NES and SNES titles, a sort-of must play coda that was shared between the Western nations. Not so much in Japan, they had their own groove. Better to think the Famicom library as a whole another thing altogether. PlayStation is a modern console with most of its games having some sort of modern equivalent. It’s not that people wouldn’t love to play PlayStation games now, because they are. It’s not just via PSN, but with through remakes, sequels and remasters. Tekken 3 might be the last good Tekken or the first bad Tekken, depending who you ask, but do you really expect people to jump unto a game that is eclipsed by its own sequel everybody plays, especially when its running on a terrible hardware and Toshinden next to it? I too have a strange nostalgia boner for Toshinden thanks to the PC version I used to play like no other, but holy shit it’s not a classic title in any regard that deserves this spot. Then again, what should take its spot? Street Fighter II is a tied to the 16-bit consoles more, Sega had Virtua Fighter. Legitimately does the PlayStation have another game series outside Tekken that can be argued to be a stone engraved classic to end of times? No, it doesn’t. Guilty Gear got its status only with GGXStreet Fighter Alpha 3 had superior ports on the Saturn and Dreamcast, Dead or Alive was all over the place and didn’t get the attention until tits hit Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.

Wouldn’t that mean it was about bad game choices and thus about the library? What are the core PlayStation games people most remember, and how many of those still exist? The PlayStation nostalgia is not the like nostalgia for the NES and SNES. The PlayStation was, for all intentions, the first console that was cool to own. Mega Drive aimed for the adult audience and the NES had lots of adult players for the sports games, but the PlayStation had incredible success with the whole cool factor. Hell, WipeOut alone was like a drug gold mine with the European trance club culture of the time. Would you buy a Classic console to play WipeOut when there are so many sequels out there on other Sony consoles and a remake that make this version obsolete?

Nostalgia for the PlayStation is a large part of the console’s successors in various forms that do not exist on the Nintendo platforms from the get-go when it comes to the Classic Era of consoles. If Nintendo is to make N64 Classic, it’ll have the same problem and will face the fact that N64 classics are counted with one hand. It’ll be consisting of titles that either have been ground to halt or are just terrible choices. At least Nintendo doesn’t need to rely on third-party support and have licensing problems, which without a doubt was a major problem with some of the developers and publishers. The consumer population doesn’t have the same affection for the PlayStation as it does for the NES and the SNES. That is not to say there isn’t one or that’s some kind of negative. It’s just different by a different generation.

Sony has often followed what Nintendo does without really realising why Nintendo does things or why they’ve been successful with some of their things. The PlayStation Classic was going to war with trumpets lambasting, but with no weapons carried. Hardware and software are an issue where Sony failed like a dead fish in bed, and the game version choices were weak at best, but those honestly are rather small compared to the problem that Sony completely mistook what made the original PlayStation a hit and didn’t understand the system’s nostalgia. PlayStation nostalgia is hard to capture, because it’s like Xbox nostalgia in that it never really went away, just like 3D Mario. 

2D Sells

Nintendo recently released their Nine months financial results briefing for fiscal year ending march 2019, and it is overall nothing surprising to read. However, in comparison to Wii’s four million unit sales in December 2009, Switch is still lagging despite its high spike of sales in December 2018. Why did the Wii see so many units sold? New Super Mario Bros. Wii. What gave Switch sales the dominance over Xbox One and PlayStation 4? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

People still snicker at the Wii, ignoring the amount of sales and install base it had. The economy ten years ago was in the trash and people didn’t exactly have the money to buy things as much as we do now. Effectively, currently anything sells due to the good overall health of the economy, even if there are some signs of its starting to go down a bit. Wii’s strategy to disrupt the market with a cheaper, less-powered device with software that would hit the consumer wants both in and out the consumer market was a massive success. The Switch being a hybrid console could have lead to a similar position, but the software’s not quite as much there as it could.

However, the spike the Switch saw last December was solely due to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Wii U, despite having the initial version of the game (and let’s be completely frank; Smash Bros. Ultimate is effectively just a souped up port) the hardware and the software library were abysmal. 3.32 million units within four weeks for one title is something other companies can barely dream of, often citing hundreds of thousands of sales made throughout a year or so. It should be noted that Smash Ultimate also sold more than any other entry in the series, with Melee and Smash Bros. for Wii U having the least sales. Nintendo 3DS, despite its lacklustre success (or maybe even slight failure compared to the DS’ userbase) sold about three times Smash Bros. units than the Wii U.

Ten years ago, both the industry and the press weren’t exactly friendly towards Nintendo or its software. Despite it being the era of Retrosploitation with titles like Mega Man 9 being a thing, the industry and media lambasted that there wasn’t any space for 2D games, people didn’t want that. The Wii wasn’t powerful enough console to run the latest games and that its games weren’t wanted. Even Nintendo themselves were wrong in this. The sales the Wii made with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. showcased that there was, and still is, a strong demand for 2D games, even when Nintendo trips with them to some degree. NSMB on the DS was the start of it all, and the stupidly large amount of sales Wii’s Virtual Console made were stupidly insane.

2D games sell. The tale from the late 90’s and 00’s that 2D is dead and have no place are time and time again shown wrong in sales numbers. Even titles like Octopath Traveler makes waves by being high-profile 2D game. Another title that kicked a franchise back into the general consumer’s awareness is Mega Man 11. Despite being a budget title all things considering, its sales have been impressive and have effectively given Capcom the boost to seriously consider reviving their old franchises, as I’ve discussed earlier.

There is a way for the Switch to effectively make Wii level sales. However, that would require using the same mindset and tactics the Wii utilised, which would mean using the same tactics and mindset the DS utilised, which would mean using same the tactics and mindset the NES utilises, but Nintendo’s more often than not unwilling to return to their Classic Era arcade roots in this manner. Look at the lack of success of the N64, the Game Cube and the Wii U how that often goes, or in case of an extreme, the Virtual Boy. Actually the Wii U is probably even worse failure than the VB. You don’t become the top selling console in the market by having the most powerful console on the market; you do it by having a library that the consumers are needing to consume. Want isn’t enough. 2D Mario is the perfect example for this, as Nintendo, Miyamoto himself and the whole of industry considered 2D Mario effectively dead after Super Mario 64. The few re-releases here and there did some good, and the DS hit around.

PlayStation 2 is the best-selling home console to date. How it managed that is a combination of effectively making the DVD market in Japan overnight (it was the cheapest DVD player despite being rather poor player in overall terms) and how both of its major competitors made mistakes with Dreamcast and GameCube. Granted, Sega pretty much fucked up everything after they started ignoring Western market during Mega Drive, but we’ve covered that few times already. Xbox didn’t enter the fray until later, and by that point the PS2 already had most of its success ensured thanks to how much games were rolling unto the platform, despite being a bitch to code for. Sony wanted to repeat some of this with the PS3 by using Blu-Ray discs, but that wasn’t cutting it. We won’t be seeing another success like the PS2 due to the massive changes in how consumers use and purchase media, and how Microsoft and Nintendo are playing completely different game than what they were almost twenty years ago.

However, the console generations have repeated the Atari and the NES model of sales more often than not. You could even say that his has become a sort of mantra for the blog throughout the years; The software matters, not the hardware. The Switch is able to make Wii like sales if it hits the same core the Wii and the DS did. Despite I see it becoming one of the best arcade ports platforms we have currently, these are still ports and that’s not enough. The industry and the red ocean market of video games have a certain view on what kind of games AAA titles are, and how they sell. It’s not exactly positive, all things considered. Now consider what would happen if even half of the budget of these titles would go into developing 2D games with the same mentality.

Sadly, that’s not going to happen, because it would appear the mentality for 2D games is still stuck in mud. If it’s not full-blown 3D, the price isn’t really worth it. Mega Man 11 didn’t get a physical release for the Switch in Europe because of this. More and more games of 2D nature are relegated for digital releases only, further downgrading their status. While digital distribution is becoming the standard, there is a view where stores are chock full of mediocre to terrible 2D games from various developers and publishers, and throwing one more amidst of this sea of dregs doesn’t serve them.

Will the Switch overcome Wii at some point in the future? It will, if the software is there. It’s not exactly an uphill battle at this point, but rather a battle against Nintendo’s own internal wants. After all, you can’t just do whatever you want when you’re providing entertainment like this.

Valve shouldn’t be barking at the wrong tree

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

This, of course, is rather bullshit.

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

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

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

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

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

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