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The reality of changing the gaming industry - Destructoid




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I write about video games and video game accessories. More specifically, I write about video game mechanics.

Lots of gamers want to start blogs about their opinions on video games and how they would review game X, Y and Z because "Yahtzee, Jim Sterling, IGN, Destructoid, etc. are wrong and my opinion is better, so I must write about it!" No one usually cares and I want to talk about different things.

Game mechanics aren't discussed enough in comparison to reviews and industry practices. Let's try to change that.
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This is probably one of the few times I'll ever do an opinion piece on my blog, but I think that with "everything" going on lately, some reality checks are needed. I want to start this off by quoting the truest line in video game history from a game called Advance Wars. A wise Blue Moon CO once said:

"Money buys power!" - Colin

And that about sums up the solution to why most problems in the gaming industry don't get solved, whether it's yellow journalism, biased reviews, paid shills, gender diversity or any other hot issue.

When you take the time to reflect on the growth of the gaming industry in general, let's consider how gaming when from a male nerd hobby to an industry with profits that dwarf the the movie industry. Now ask yourself the hard question about this: Did we gamers really accomplish this? The answer is pretty much no. Our fan art, gaming articles, blogs, websites and fandom did not accomplish the goal of getting gaming mainstream. If we were actual able to accomplish this through sheer love and devotion to our hobby alone, then anime would be bigger than Jesus by now.

Here's small list of what gamers can thank for bringing their hobby into the mainstream:

Halo
Grand Theft Auto 3
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Guitar Hero
Madden
FIFA
World of Warcraft
Angry Birds
Clash of Clans
Mountain Dew
Doritos

Everything on this list generated so much cash that the board rooms collectively orgasmed when the accountant brought in the balance sheet. Larger revenue attracted investors with deep pockets that could afford to advertise gaming on a grand scale, and pay for huge titles backed by market research into how best to distill the AAA formula for a single release. And as much as we complain about everything being a grey and brown COD clone or a GTA clone, it works every time.†

The greatest kick to your gendered bits is that we gamers also probably had little effect on stopping the "Violence in video games" attacks from a few years ago. You can thank Citizens United for that, not gamers. Always remember that the ESA is a Political Action Committee. When you have to thank Citizens United for a win, you know it's a Pyrrhic victory.

Something that gamers haven't quite comprehended yet is that becoming mainstream is a double-edged sword. Yes, being mainstream means that there are now more fans and more money going around, but the mistaken conclusion that gamers drew from this was that the increased amount of fans and money circulating in the industry would mean more diverse and creative titles could be funded and created. This has not be the case in the slightest. We really only have ourselves to blame for being so naive. Gamers could've looked towards their previous media brethren of music, TV and film, and it would've been clear as day that mainstream gaming would not spell good things for the more devoted fans. Just as Justin Beiber pollutes music, Duck Dynasty pollutes TV and Micheal Bay pollutes film, so too does Call of Duty pollute gaming. History has a funny way of repeating itself. In old days, when gaming was niche, a new console like the Sega Genesis was enough to rock the industry at its foundation. Now that gaming is mainstream, it takes billions of dollars to even dent the industry's impenetrable wall.

Now let's use the past lessons from other media in order to draw conclusions on the gaming industry's future.

Will indie developers usher in a new era of creativity and shift the market balance someday?

Not just no, but HELL no. First, let's examine one of the most successful indie developers right now, Notch. Let's check out his most recent profits:

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-03-19-mojang-made-a-USD129-million-profit-in-2013

$129 million for 2013 is pretty impressive, until you realize that Call of Duty and GTA make billions in profit respectively. Remember how money = voice? Well in this instance, Notch is a whisper and CoD and GTA are screaming from the top of a mountain with 1 million people all on megaphones. Plus, thinking that an indie dev who manages to reach CoD or GTA level profits will be the savior of the industry is naive. The movie industry called to remind us that George Lucas became what he used to fight against and Kevin Smith didn't get very far in the end. The indie music scene has also yet to produce a band that could change the face of their landscape. Sure, some people will carve out hefty wages, but it's highly unlikely that the indies will crush the titans.

Plus, comparing mainstream gaming companies to indie dev teams is a joke. The big corporations function like a well-oiled machine with each company working as a gear to power the overall behemoth into an unstoppable force. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all buddies at the end of the day and Gamestop is their weird friend who has no decency or manners, but it too hilarious to not hang around. They conspire together to make season passes, exclusive pre-order bonuses, strip content to make DLC, force you to pay for online play, create pay-to-win games and damn near made the 8th console generation a DRM nightmare, but since they're all doing it, and they all stick to the same lie, people accept their crap as "normal", "added value" or a "bargain".

Meanwhile, the indie scene is quite fractured in comparison thanks to controversy, big egos, big mouths and cliques. A group of amateurs just isn't going to match a group who've had decades of education, training and experience in the same business, sales and marketing tactics. I've never seen Kaz Hirai, Satoru Iwata, Bobby Kotick or Bill Gates make an ass of themselves on social media, but I sure have seen it plenty of times with indie teams. At the end of the day, we've seen Sony and Microsoft CEOs sit down for dinner, but I doubt we'll ever see The Fullbright Company (Gone Home) and Lab Zero Games (Skullgirls) teaming up in the slightest, nor will we ever see any indie teams form corporations as powerful as Capcom, Square Enix, Rockstar, etc. and become a bigger, and more well oiled machine that the incumbents. And I'm never going to forget that it's indie developers who started the "Early Access" tripe and constantly flood Steam with garbage.

Will the gaming industry fix its problems with gender ratios in games?

Not until a game with mass female appeal hits an untapped gold mine. Basically, video games would need its version of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey to convince the CEOs atop their piles of gold that catering to a female audience is worth the effort. AAA gaming is heavily skewed in favor of male purchasers, so naturally market researchers would rather spend cash to study an audience that it already knows how to appeal to vs. risking trying to appeal to what amounts to uncharted territory in their eyes. Sure, you can claim that Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite or Ellie from The Last of Us is some kind of progress, but in the big picture they amount to two drops of spring water in an ocean of piss.

Also, don't let yourself be fooled that kind gestures like female soldiers in the next Call of Duty is a breakthrough thanks to progressive change. How much does Activison-Blizzard need to pay Kotaku and Polygon to run an article about the new inclusion of female soldiers? Pretty much nothing given their usual topics of choice to report on. Now how much do you think Microsoft spent to get the Mountain Dewritos advertisement? Likely millions. I'm very cynical to AAA developers in general, so I'd take every "kind" gesture they do with a huge grain of salt. Women in gaming is a hot topic in gaming right now, and riding that bandwagon for free promotion is a smart business move. I'm going to admit that I'm a filthy degenerate, and I've owned stock in Activision-Blizzard for over 4 years and counting. My return on investment has been over 200% in the past 4 years (for the financially illiterate, imagine if your checking account's APR was 23% for 4 years straight), so my bank account has made me well aware that Bobby Kotick is like a fusion of Xanatos and Lex Luthor in every good and bad way. The female soldiers in CoD sounds like the Lexatos side in action. Meanwhile, every other huge gaming company's stock price chart has looked like a damn roller coaster over the past 5 years. Take it from a shareholder when I say that Kotick is an evil genius.

The important take away from all of that is those marketing goodwill gestures will disappear quick if they yield no extra cash, so don't view any of it as progress. We had progress when both Parasite Eve and Xenosaga featured females only on the front cover, had a female protagonist and sold over 1 million copies, not when Elizabeth was hidden on the back.

Will the gaming community's voice on X or Y ever be heard?

Going to lean heavily towards no. There are two conclusions I can draw on the gaming community based on what it says most of the time and what the sales reflect:

1.) The gaming community we often think of that hates on Call of Duty and its clones, DLC, Pay-to-win and the lack of more diverse and unique games is actually just a vocal minority in gaming now that happens to shout the loudest about gaming related news in comment sections, Youtube and Twitter compared to the average gamer these days.

1.) The gaming community is a bunch of hypocrites who shout and throw a shit fit about Call of Duty and its clones, DLC, Pay-to-win and the lack of more diverse and unique games, but when the cards are on the table, we belly up and do the exact opposite of what we say we want.

Both conclusions don't bode well for the gaming community as a whole. Either we're just a minority now, or we're all liars (Considering my Activison-Blizzard stock, file me under liar.) I really don't know which it is, but I do know that numbers don't lie. For all the talk of how terrible IGN and Kotaku is, gamers sure do lap up their bullshit en masse. Whether the answer is #1 or #2, both essentially mean that your voices over yellow journalism, paid shills, cronyism, DLC, pay-to-win, Call of Duty, etc. are never going to be heard because either the gaming community we think of doesn't have enough purchasing power to make a difference anymore, or gamers as a whole are constantly failing the grasp the concept of "vote with your wallet".

I'm sure by now anyone reading this has noticed the common solution to every problem I listed that I quoted in the beginning: "Money buys power!" If you want a voice in this industry, you need to either make a lot of money yourself, or cost someones else a lot of money. I promise you Bobby Kotick, Kaz Hirai and Satoru Iwata doesn't reads your blogs, Tumblrs, comments and watch your Youtube videos. Now, let me end my blog post with a link to the loudest and most powerful woman in gaming.



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