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I started noticing something about two or three years ago, when «clearly not for everyone» games started to get noticed along with many other independent games. Every time a game like Dear Esther, or some Tale of Tales’ project, or Gone Home, or any other game, which people also like to describe as «not a game» or even some silliness like «walking simulator» (that applies to QWOP much more than to Dear Esther), got released and had a lot of praise, thousands of voices everywhere shouted that the game is actually bad and shouldn’t exist in the first place. Now, games I’ve listed are a pretty easy target, which is exactly why I used them for the example, but what I wanted to discuss is a deeper problem. The fact, that lots of people seem to be drawn to playing any critically acclaimed game, expecting to love it.

«Well, if the game is critically acclaimed, it means it’s good, right?» Well, not nece— Let’s say yes, because it is true for the majority of cases. It means, that the game is good. Good at what it set out to do and what it did. Which doesn’t mean, it set out to do something you will like. Let’s take a different example, of an older and more settled genre — Starcraft 2. Metacritic shows, that at the moment, I’m writing this, Wings of Liberty (the first campaign of SC2) has the metascore of 93 and user score of 8.1. Will you love this critically acclaimed game? «If I like RTS games,» — you will probably answer. But you may not. Looking at some of the reactions for any game with high score and huge recognition you might find voices hating the game, because it’s not what they wanted it to be. And I’m wondering why this happens…

Easiest thing to do would be to just write it off as something, the industry, with «wide appeal» goals drove itself into. And it’s partially true, but it’s not the cause of the problem. Or, sorry, not the full cause of the problem. It’s something that feeds of the main problem, which is not a problem in the first place. Do you remember how when you were kids you wanted everything? Preferably cool and shiny and colorful and awesome looking. Later, you did learn what you like and what you don’t like, developed taste for different things. But even today, even if you’re not a kid anymore, if you would become interested in something new for you, something that has many different varieties and nuances and all the small things and differences, you won’t be able to just know things from the start, now would you? You wouldn’t know if you’d like banana flavored ice cream, unless you know what it might taste like by tasting similar ice cream and bananas, and even then you might not know how the mix of the two will work. And how different brands of ice cream might mix that flavour — maybe some will make it more sweet, maybe some will add a more creamy feeling to it. And with music — you never know if you’ll like, say, Falkenbach or Summoning, even if you know what Black metal is. And you probably won’t go into watching Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac expecting giant mechs and explosions, even if it has the similar reception as Pacific Rim.

And gaming, in its wide variety, is new for many people today. Gaming became almost as common thing, as other kinds art and entertainment. It’s everywhere and everyone is interested. And people want to try it, to learn what they like. And that’s where that other part of the problem comes into. While trying to «appeal for everyone», industry started to lose the nuances, the differences between genres. In trying to make every game «enjoyable for everyone» industry taught people, who are getting into games, that they can take any game with high enough score, and they will get it and love it. Long gone the notion, that RPGs are played for exciting stories and deep mechanics, the notion that FPS games are for those, who want almost non-stop action for those with quick reactions and good aim. And you know what? I’m all for variety, I’m all for blurring the lines, for creating more genres and subgenres. I’m all for making the start of the game easy to understand (while notnecessarily easy). And this happened and it’s cool. But what also happened is that nobody is given the chance to develop a «taste» in games. To learn, what you «get» and what you «don’t get». To fall in love with some niche. Tomb Raider, instead of being a 3D Prince of Persia, which lasts for 20 hours and focuses on exploration, jumping puzzles and inventory puzzles, is now a third person cover based shooter with RPG elements and multiplayer. Resident Evil, instead of being a survival horror (a name it invented), which can be completed in one and a half tense hours, and focusing on inventory management, exploration, light puzzles and managing resources, is a (guess what?) third person cover based shooter with RPG elements and multiplayer.

And we have a situation, where braver bigger developers and publishers are trying to still do something unlike the usual formula, smaller indie developers doing the same. And succeeding — Dark Souls is often called one of the best games ever, games like Gone Home, The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther get high praise. Because they resonate with some people. Not all the people, they’re not even aiming at doing that. No, just some people, who wanted that game. Yet, people, taught by the industry to love everything that gets praised, are playing those games just because of the score or general idea of what the game is and are unhappy. They disagree with the reviewers. «The reviewers lied. How can it be a good game, if I don’t like it? I was promised online coop in Dark Souls, why can’t I just connect with friends and talk over the voice chat? You can’t. So this game is bad. It has to be fixed. And reviewers are wrong!» Well, you get the idea.

It’s a silly thing, if you think about it. «Back in my days» (when kids didn’t get on my lawn), I missed lots of critically acclaimed games. Not because of money or platform issues, even though those were always true as well, but simply because I knew, that game is «not my kind of game» and no matter how amazing it is, I just won’t enjoy it. And I won’t like it. And it’s perfectly fine. Because, it’s not a game made for me (Drr drr). And niche games, games that can be enjoyed by select few, are also fine, as long as the players and developers are fine with it themselves, as long as it is something they set out to do. Also as long as they’re not called Daikatana and can be only enjoyed by John Romero, but that goes without saying. So, let’s all play and develop different games, develop taste and preferences and enjoy it, okay?

To get more people interested, games now use focus testing, insert hints into hints, show the way even in the most linear levels, set very short term objectives to the player. Yet, with all this, i feel, games not only fail to get more people interested, but make some people, who already love games, loose interest. I mean, sure, they do get easier to understand, more appealing to people, get more game elements and mechanics. Maybe they sell better (while still somehow failing with 3 million sales in the opening month). But i said interested. For a very long time I couldn't understand quite why this happens. But it seems, I've got it now. As always in my posts, I'm speaking from my experience and my knowledge, telling my own opinions, but usually I find some support beforehand or write about some topic, I've seen discussed before. This time, what I write might be true only to me and some of my friends and I might be completely wrong in my assumptions. But let's see, if whomever reads this can relate.

Once, we didn't have GPS or other kinds of clear directions in open world games. To play GTA III or Mafia: The City of Lost Haven properly you'd have to remember the roads, the layout of the city. Yet even with those two games there was a difference - I remember Liberty City of GTA III much better, than that of Lost Haven. Later i realised, that one of the biggest reasons for that was, that Mafia had a very useful and convenient map. It was a semi-translucent overlay map, not entirely unlike automaps in Doom and other older FPS games. And it was faster and easier to consult it and be on your way in Mafia, than using the in-game map of GTA III, instead of trying to remember the roads. Of course, the more linear structure of Mafia was also part of the reason, but the fact that i didn't need to remember the roads there, was reason enough for me to not care about that. And today, when GPS shows me the way to your objective, there's much less incentiveto find shortcuts, I just follow the line.

It's kind of a rule for shooter games lately to have more linear levels and set short term objectives to the player. The usual "follow, get there, open the door, take the RPG, shot the RPG, drop the RPG, go there" rollercoaster ride. And it's not a bad thing on its own - linear games can be entertaining and fun, while hints can help the game help the player keep the "exciting pace". But in both single-player and multiplayer, this amount of helpful information can lead to interesting results. We stop looking at the game. We look at indicators, at the mini-map, at the colors and visibility of names above the moving object on screen. We don't look at the game, don't think about things we do, once we realise how the game works (which takes a very small amount of time do to hint systems and simplified mechanics).

If you played different genre games for some time, you start noticing patterns, you start predicting things. If you see a big room or tons of weapons in a shooter, you know a boss or simply a big fight is coming. If you see carefully placed objects to take cover in the room in a third person shooter, you know there's going to be shooting there. If you find a savepoint in a classic jRPG, especially if it's been quite some time in a dungeon or some location, you know you should save, because the boss is coming up. If you're playing old school survival horror, you know you're safe in the room with a save point and if you enter a new room, monsters won't follow you there. You see those patterns and the most fun and memorable moments in gaming tend to happen, when the developers don't follow them, when they surprise you. When your predictions fail. Because we like pleasant surprises.

Most of the modern games combine the elements from the above 3 paragraphs. And when those elements are in the basis of the game or huge portions of the game, I simply zone out. Gameplay continues on autopilot, in a detached state, i become an indifferent observer of my own playing. Like going to the toilet at home, or going to your studies or your work for several years. It just happens. And I simply forget huge portions of gameplay, while my hands continue doing the familiar actions on a gamepad or kb+mouse, while I'm thinking about something else. Something interesting. Or nothing at all.

And you can blow up eiffel towers, can kill "my" wives and friends, can do all the crazy plot twists or through cool visuals and effects on screen. But I won't care. Because I won't be in your game at that moment, my eyes and hands will be playing it, but my mind will be someplace else. And i can see more and more reasons to agree with people who say, that while technically more and more people are becoming gamers, people who are truly excited for videogames are getting more of a rarity. Because, how can be excited about something some mindless and forgettable?

6:54 PM on 05.23.2013

An old rewrite of Nine Inch Nails' "Every Day Is Exactly the Same" lyrics I made about 3-4 years ago, while tired of overly samey games released back then. Just silly stuff, nothing special.

I believe i can see the future
Cause i repeat the same routine
I think i used to eat the cake
but then again — it might have been a dream
I think i used to have a choice
Now i never stray from path
I just follow button prompts
I really don’t want think i just play dumb

Uh huh

Every game is exactly the same
Every game is exactly the same
cover, regen health, quick time mini-game
Every game is exactly the same

I can feel as game holds my hand
In case i get lost again
Sometimes i think i’m happy this way
Sometimes, yet i still pretend
I don’t even care how the plot started
But i can tell you how they all end


Every game is exactly the same
Every game is exactly the same
cover, regen health, quick time mini-game
Every game is exactly the same

I used to write numbers on pieces of paper
Now i always know where i can find
I was well hidden in the shadows
Now everyone seems to have lost sight
I’m still a dreamer
Gritty reality bleeding through
I wish this could have been any other way
But i’m a gamer, i don’t know what else i can do

Every game is exactly the same
Every game is exactly the same
cover, regen health, quick time mini-game
Every game is exactly the same

Every game is exactly the same
Every game is exactly the same
cover, regen health, quick time mini-game
Every game is exactly the same

Today i saw this interesting news post on Steam. It really confused me, because i knew those languages were previously available in both Skyrim and its DLCs. Turns out, they were. In locally sold retail copies of the game, which were completely different from the copies you could buy on Steam. In fact, if you'd buy one of those DLC on Steam previously, it seems, they would be incompatible with those specific localized versions of the main game. And this blows my mind.
We're in 2013. We have this wonderful thing called "digital distribution" which came a long way in gaming and other forms of entertainment in the last 4-5 years. From highly untrustworthy deals of early PC EA and console services, where it specifically stated, that you will not be able to redownload the game after a certain period of time, will not be able to get the game if you change your hardware, or couldn't get any service of this kind because you live in a certain part of the world, to super convenient services of today. Most prominently Steam, where you can get your game from any part of the world, you will most likely have regional pricing, since Steam allows developers and publishers to control pricing and restrictions for every single country in the world specifically. Developers and especially publishers with their huge departments dedicated to regional marketing and pricing and all the questions related to choosing best ways to make money in each part of the world, can do this quite easily with huge benefits for both themselves and the end users.
So why the fuck do we have a situation like the one described in the first paragraph? Why the fuck do we have situations like the one, which happened last year with the Russian version of Borderlands 2? Version, which is by the way still a completely separate Russian only game. Game build on Unreal 3 engine, one of the defining characteristics of which is the ability to support for a lot of different localizations at the same time, because of which main Borderlands 2 game supports English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Korean languages. How can you fuck it up?
This baffles my mind. Publishers have access to this huge super easy to use service, with which they can make money while keeping their customers happy. Why is that you are so keen on trying to turn the completely different in the way it works digital distribution into late 90s retail market? It won't work. And why would you? Because that's how it worked previously? Well, guess what, publishers, digital distribution allows you to make money even more easily, why would you cling to the worse way of making money anyway? And it's not a hard thing to understand. I'm saying this because for some weird reason most indie and mid-range developers have no problems whatsoever with making it work the way it should work and making money, while keeping customers happy.
Now, look, i can understand why you would keep the release date separate. It's stupid, very stupid, but fine - you need to keep your retail partners happy and in retail it's usually impossible to make a worldwide release on the same date. Or it least, it seems impossible yet it sometimes happens. But still - that's an important reason and while it still looks stupid in digital distribution age, it still makes sense. But all this "separate versions for different regions" in digital releases bs? Why? Now, i don't know about consoles in this regard, but on Steam it's easily possible to make the game have one id and be considered one and the same game for every region, while making it regionally restricted where needed due to the price difference. It checks IPs. You can circumvent that by using VPN, but it's usually not free slow and painful to use. So most people will not use that and get the proper version for their region for the price you set for them. And if you're afraid that they wont - well, most people aren't dumb to buy cheaper version and waste time with VPN, they will just download the cracked version for free and play the game anyway, while the publisher will get no money from this at all. So why bother with all these stupid hoops for the customer to jump through if he wants a proper version of the game in the first place?
It's really annoying to see huge publishers just completely missing the point of digital distribution and making stupid things, while hoping they will get away with that. I mean, that Resident Evil: Revelations pricing error i was angry about a month ago? Still not fixed. And yes, it was an error - same error, in fact, happened with Remember me at the same time, however that one was fixed few weeks later. RE: Revelations still isn't.
It's weird. We have several amazing services of digital distribution, which are truly the evolution of how you get and pay for your entertainment. Services, which allow publishers and developers make more money out of customers, while keeping them happy. Services which allow to truly cover the global market with ease. And yet all those Rockstars, and 2Ks, and Capcoms, and Zenimaxes are constantly screwing it up for both customers and themselves.

12:13 PM on 05.11.2013

I was born in the Ukrainian SSR in 1985. My first contact with video games was in about 87 or 88 with some weird light gun and joystick thing, which we would connect to the old soviet CRT TV and shoot white squares on the black background. I guess, it was some Atari clone, but i never knew the name. Then we had those fun games called "Electronika". Those were simple, but  fun and I was really glad that a few years later we would have portable Tetris games as well. I wondered if all the world knew about this game made by a soviet game designer. Then I'd have a PC, one of the soviet-made ones, called Poisk 1. Worked on tapes at first, but then we'd buy a floppy drive and copy the floppies, because you can't really buy soft and games, right? I knew you couldn't, so i never questioned it. But then we had a revolution called Dendy. An "add on" (for TV), as we called it, or "приставка" (pristavka) in Russian. That thing was so cool, it had yellow cartridges and a ton of awesome games. One of the best was, of course, Super Mario Bros. made by some company called Nintendo. Shame it never got a proper sequel, only weird ones, which were clearly unofficial. And then we had Mega Drive, then Playstation, then Playstation 2 - no need to choose, just a straight road of definite upgrades. There were some weird "consoles", as I learned they should be called much much later, i heard about or played, like 3DO. Doctor Hauzer was awesome, Way of the Warrior was fun and then there were those silly funny "on-rails" shooter games... Mario for me, and many people of my generation living in many post-soviet countries, was a thing from the childhood, quite quickly changed for more awesome things, mostly due to the lack of any sequels or follow ups. Well, except for that weird movie i kinda liked, but which had nothing to do with the game.

And then, in the early 00s the internet became accessible and I learned that most of the world lived a very different gaming life. Electronika games were clones of Nintendo Game & Watch. Dendy was a clone of a thing called Nintendo Entertainment System. Sega Mega Drive (known Genesis in US) actually had to compete with a thing called Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Playstation had (some) competition with Nintendo 64... Nintendo, Nintendo, Nintendo.... Final Fantasy, i first learned about from Playstation 1 era, was a Nintendo exclusive before, whaddaya know. There was a thing called Legend of Zelda and it was, apparently, pretty big, and my favorite Legacy of Kain series seemed to have been inspired by it mechanically. There was a weird game called Super Metroid which i later found out to be one of my favorite games ever. Same happened with Chrono Trigger. Oh, and Mario? You won't believe it, but it actually had sequels! Lots of them! And it's probably even bigger than Sonic! Oh and my favorite 3D platformer game Gex: Enter the Gecko? Totally copied it's formula from a game called Super Mario 64.

Those things, things a lot of western Europe, Japan and most of American continent lived with most of their lives, - they were new to me in the early-mid 00s. Nintendo never had, and still doesn't have, a real solid presence in post-soviet union countries. It was never a revered holy household name for gaming needs. All because of one simple reason - Nintendo never bothered to be a part of this market until a few years ago, when it was (and still is) way past its prime days. Most people didn't seem to care much about their wiggly offering, a lot still don't. DS fared a bit better. Because it could be easily hacked and pirated, since it's nigh impossible to find any games sold legally otherwise.

And you know, maybe some people from Russia might disagree with the history as i present it. Russia was always *the* videogame market of all the post-soviet territories, hell there even was an "Official Playstation Magazine Russia" back in the late 90s, when you wouldn't be able to get anything for PS1 legally in Ukraine. Besides, Nintendo entered Russian market a few years ago, you still won't be able to find any non-imported Nintendo stuff in Ukraine today. But the point is - when a lot of people from "the west" seem to be all excited for Nintendo presentations, announcements and other news, most of the gamer post-USSR don't give a crap. And it's a very strange feeling, to see the excitement like this and understand the history behind it, but not feel it yourself.
Ukraine is a PC and Sony gamer land. Those are two constants which were with most people since the independence. Nintendo never bothered to get us excited, so we never were. Microsoft still excludes us from the list of Xbox Live supported countries, so most never buy an Xbox or a GFWL PC game. Some pirate those. Quite a lot, I'd even say. And it's not a nice thing to do, especially since today you can order things from abroad via the internet quite easily. But, at the same time, would it surprise anyone to see people not supporting systems, which are not supported in the country they live in?

So if you live in "the West" and ever see a person on the internet or real life, who lives in any post-soviet country and says strange things about Nintendo (or Microsoft), says that Mario is a game for kids, that Nintendo or consoles in general just suck - maybe now you will understand the reason for that. And if not, i hope, that at least it was interesting to read about a very different environment for a gamer than that you probably live in.

Several years ago Steam did a very clever decision to support several distinct regions by allowing publishers and developers set specific pricing for those regions and also allowed them to set specific reginal restrictions which can limit languages available for the game, the ability to gift the game or simply the inability to play the game if your IP is detected as being from the "wrong" country. It was a nice step, the one that, it seems, eventually made the previous software piracy heaven CIS region and, mainly, Russia, the second biggest market for Steam. However, sometimes the tools given to publishers, either wittingly or unwittingly, used for some questionable practices. You may remember Borderlands 2 RU 2k fiasco from last year, but there are smaller problems from other publishers that seem to fall through cracks. Which brings me to the conversation I've had with Steam support over the last week. You can read it here.

To give some background to the differences in pricing - the regional pricing on Steam can be set to either entire regions or separate countries, this i know for sure from one developer i know personally. This, ideally, allows for every game developer and?or publisher to select the optimal price for any given region/country and get people interested in buying your game, which is good for everyone involved (if the game is any good, of course). For CIS region, which is the majority of the post-soviet territory, there's usually one pricing, in USD, while Russia gets an equialent of that USD pricing, with slight or major differences in any direction, but in their currency, which is rubles. Most indie or middle-tier developers tend to not overuse (or use at all) the regional restricions and just slightly adapt the pricing, while most AAA titles from big publishers go all the way with all the restrictions they have. And that, in itself, is not a bad thing when done right. However, there are several examples, which i outlined in my talk with Steam Support, where the pricing has been either intentionally or unintentionally selected in a very unfavorable (and legally questionable) way for CIS region. Examples i used included Resident Evil: Revelations pre-order, which costs full US/ROW 49,99$ price, yet is region restricted and has the same id (and regional settings) as Russian version, which costs about 20$. Dishonored, which tells outright on the steam store page, that if bought it will be playable only in CIS territories, yet costs full 60$. Star Trek pre-order, which has the same problem as the RE: Revalations. And, if you think Russian store doesn't get any wrongs, for a very long time Skyrim expansion Hearthfire was at about 20$, 5$ more than other expansions, while everywhere els its price was 5$.
With so many regional options, you'd expect mistakes, especially the ones that go in favor of publishers. What you expect as well, however, is an adequate reply to people pointing out those mistakes, which is - fixing these mistakes and refunding people, who were decieved to pay more for a cheap product in some way. What you don't expect is Steam support saying that there is no problem. You might also notice, that there was no fix as for Ms. Splosion page (addition that it contains GFWL on store page, which is a requirement), something i pointed out in the first question, as well. I honestly don't know how to even react to this, as i thought that Valve did care about their reputation.