No More Pre-Orders

My last thoughts, in what has turned out to be an impromptu three-part exposé on the release of unfinished games, turn my attention to the way that we shop for our games.

I am going to come off a bit hypocritical to some who have read this blog for a long time, and more so to those who know me personally. But I’ll say this in my defense: Over time, we all learn and either choose to adapt or continue in our own stasis. The reason for my hypocrisy is that I have been the biggest culprit of the pre-order. In the last few years I’ve been known to pre-order 20+ games during the E3 sales either to accrue extra points or receive steep discounts.

Now this is what I’ll say: I have learned, recently, that pre-ordering is just doing us a disservice. I mean, getting a game day 1 at a discount is great. In theory. In practice, what it means for us as gamers is that we’re adding to the companies bottom line and their brag-rights. Huge titles are almost always going to receive massive day one sales numbers. Why? Because most of us pre-order. Whether to get that discount, some knick-knack or some kind of digital chocolate chip cookie that they entice us with. In time, I have pre-ordered for every one of those reasons.

But what we’re seeing now is games coming out to repudiation of what should be consistent values among us gamers. Expectations of quality are not being met. Instead we’re getting games that become memes and that’s all they end up being known for. But the companies making these games are still seeing mass profits, ignoring user sentiment, and continuing with practices unchanged.

Now last week, I said: what can we do? And I didn’t have an answer then. But I have the semblance of one now. We need to stop pre-ordering games. This isn’t the only thing we can do, and it may not even be the best thing we can do, but I think it’s a good start.

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Look at the boast here. Now, CD Projekt Red and The Witcher are examples to the contrary of what I’ve been discussing lately, but I use the image to make a point. If games are getting a million pre-orders, then it doesn’t really matter what they end up releasing. Because even if it’s bad – if even half of those pre-orders go through as full sales – the company has already made back (a substantial portion at least) it’s initial investment. Meaning, they only see black in the books and whether or not it’s a good game is irrelevant. Companies like Ubisoft seem to be ignoring their user base on titles like For Honor, despite massive boycotts and protests like the one on April 3rd. For a company, I’m sure the comfort of seeing the numbers in the black is huge. And the concerns of fans can be brought up during the PR and marketing campaign for the (pretty much inevitable) sequel.

By avoiding pre-orders and trying to have a wait and see attitude towards all new releases, companies putting out games that are unfinished or inferior will have to take a step back and look at those red numbers for a while longer. And this can only serve to benefit us as the end users. A) We will (hopefully) start to see a change in the way games are released and B) by the time we get around to buying the games they will end up being around the price (in some cases and in others possibly lower) than what the discount we would have seen from a pre-order anyway.

If this post tickled you in all the right places, I fully recommend checking out this article I read on Polygon, that struck me as relevant to the discussion.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments below, or check me out and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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From my time

As a sort of indirect follow up to my last posting regarding unfinished games, I wanted to give a bit of professional perspective to things.

Now, one of the big complaints about a lot of games these days is the lack of QA. Now, for those of you not in the know, QA is Quality Assurance. Every game goes through different levels of QA testing. Be it compliance (making sure that the release meets the standards of the specific platform Sony, Microsoft, etc), localisation (compliant with language standards of the region it’s being released in) and functionality (making sure, you know, that the game works and all).

I used to do QA testing for a living. And before people start getting all “wow playing video games for a living? AWESOME!” It’s not as cushy as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong, the company I worked for is definitely my favourite that I’ve worked for to date, but there is a lot to be said for the actual job. I’m not going to get into this now. If you want to know more, I’m happy to answer questions in comments or you can e-mail (theegogames@gmail.com) or tweet me.

What I want to focus on is how some of the issues we’re seeing become predominant in gaming arise.

The biggest issue, at least in my opinion: not enough time. The last big project I worked on was a AAA title for the PS3. Now, this game was a sequel and what I can tell you is that the original time from from start to release was approximately two years. The development cycle for the game I worked on: Nine months…Now, there are some things to take for granted like the fact that an engine doesn’t need to be developed for the game the second time around. But, where as the first game had a little over a year for testing/development, this one didn’t have anywhere near that kind of time. This one had about six months. Now, as a tester, you’re expected to find tens of thousands of bugs over the course of the project. Which, given how many builds a game goes through, isn’t really a challenge. But it is a challenge for the devs to be able to fix everything. There comes a time in a project, especially when they are rushed, that choices have to be made to decide whether or not it’s worth the time to fix said issue. Now, there are going to be a lot of small things that your average player won’t run into, the issue is when those things you don’t have time for, end up in the forefront. Like it did in AC: Unity, ME: Andromeda, etc.

The other big issue I ran into was devs butting heads with testers. Like any time you’re dealing with other people, you’re going to have clashes over decisions. For me, I can remember a series of what I considered extremely obvious bugs (one being a game breaker if you play like me) just being flat out denied (ignored too, but consciously) by the devs. I had to watch one of them play out during an E3 demo. There seems to be some level of animosity between the two stations, with the devs often feeling superior due to their more “prestigious” placement in the scheme of things. Sometimes the end result of a bug going un-dealt with is simply a matter of opinion or (sometimes) pig-headedness. One such instance I faced, having a background in writing/editing, I pointed out and corrected a number of text issues (grammar, spelling, etc) where rather than just copy/pasting my corrections (as emphasised by my supervisor and the functionality manager of the company) they chose instead to leave the mistakes in place.

Well, that’s a small glimpse behind the curtain and a bit of my experience. It definitely doesn’t answer all of the questions, but I hope it sheds a little light on things.

– The Ego

So, this is it then?

Say what you will about old games and the improvements in technology that the gaming industry has made over the last decade or so, but one thing seems to be turning into a constant: we are waiting for months after release for “finished games”.

Now, I don’t mean episodic games. I’m talking about release a full priced, AAA (often) game that comes out and is either missing a chunk of the story that was pulled to be included as DLC or games that just didn’t get the polish they deserved.

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As an aside, I don’t have a problem with DLC as a concept. Because, I’m sure most of you have been gaming long enough to remember, DLC used to be something to extend the life of a game. When fans were clamouring for more after the ending, sometimes they’d get a smaller nugget as DLC, like Bioshock’s Burial At Sea. Now, DLC is used to fill in purposely created gaps in a lot of narratives to be able to get a little extra on top of the title price.

I could probably fill up a Simpsons/Family Guy rolling credits list of games that would make a list of the kind of games I would describe, but for the sake of your eyes and my fingers, I’ll pass for now.

But let’s look at some of the major offenders here:

No Man’s Sky: This game is going to forever live in infamy. Released actually unfinished. The game lacked the lion’s share of features that the developers had touted. It received a recent update, seven months (approximately) after initial release and we’re just starting to get (what I feel) is close to what the game’s original concept was meant to include.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Can’t say I made the wrong choice in cancelling my pre-order here. The thing that makes this a real debacle is that BioWare is one of those studios who I feel (and I’m sure many would agree) was great because they showed serious attention to detail in their games. And then this happened. Now they’re releasing updates (granted in a timely manner) that are meant to fix and “tweak” the animation issues and increase customisation options. Good for you BioWare. Too bad you didn’t think about this, I don’t know, before selling it?

Destiny: I won’t over scrutinize Destiny. If you read me regularly, you know how I feel about the lackluster release that Destiny received.

So, now we ask: Why?

Well, the simple answer is money. The companies that own these studios want to see results in their quarterly profit reports, and sometimes that means shoehorning in a game to a release date it isn’t in any way prepared to meet. I know this is a business. I’m in no way naive. But when the companies do this, when they release unfinished, terrible looking games – it isn’t just the companies at fault. There is a level of complicity among us as well.

In some cases, like ME: A, how could we know? People take for granted that BioWare produces excellent games, especially for a series that is more or less beyond reproach. And then it ends up having serious issues. But in cases of games like Destiny, we know. We know what the first game was. We know it came out unfinished and missing a lot. But I guarantee, even for a lot of people who complained about it, they will be on the front lines to pre-order and pick it up day one same as the last. And in that, we show our complicity in this crime against the medium.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure. I know that we need to find some way to make it clear to companies that we won’t be apart of the cycle any more. Whether it means boycotts or at least turning every game into a “wait and see”, something has to change and hurting the profit margin is all they understand.

– The Ego

My name is The Ego…

And yes, I have a problem. And yes, I know I’ve said it before. But this time, I’m doing something about it!

This has come up in my blog time and time again – backlog issues. What’s the issue? Well, I buy too many games apparently. At least this is one of those problems I can kind of track back to it’s source. When I used to work retail, I was really good at my job. And being good at my job led to me getting a lot of gift cards/free things. So I bought pretty much anything I had any inclination towards playing for about a year, and on top of that, I also picked up anything that looked even remotely interesting when it was on clearance, so I got it dirt cheap.

Oh, and fixating on one game for long periods of time. Like Overwatch and my incessant need to get those holiday event legendary skins. Takes up a lot.

Now, factor that in to a healthy attitude towards buying the good/must have releases of any given year, and you end up with nearly 30 games that have barely/have not seen the light of day yet.

So with that in mind, I’m (for the first time) making a reasonable plan to combat the issue. One of the first “adult” decisions regarding my gaming: I’m just not buying anything new until I can clear out my backlog. Or…you know, find something that is a must play day one game.

I even took it one further. Any of the games that I had coming out with an actual release date that I had pre-ordered at a discount – cancelled. Yes, I have given up on new games and good deals (though, cancelling the new Ghost Recon game came as a sigh of relief after I played the open beta…)And for anyone who knows me, this is huge. I’ve even written about the desire to buy games that might be interesting just because it’s a good deal. But I’ve given it some serious thought. Even if I manage to snag some new release at a “steal of a price” which often means at least half off, if I don’t get around to playing it till a year later, or longer in some cases, then – was it really a deal? I mean, good chance is it went cheaper at some point, so I didn’t win there, and I didn’t play it right away, so I lose there too.

So step 1 accomplished. Nothing new coming in.

(As an aside, I picked a devastating time to do that too, as Horizon: Zero Dawn, my most anticipated game of some time, is due out tomorrow)

On to step 2: Clear it out!

I will say that I am working diligently to hack my way through the library like so many vines in the jungle. So far, so good. Over the last week and a half I managed to finish Farcry 4 and Littlebigplanet 3. And I got a number of the trophies as well. So there’s that. But what I don’t is just brazenly dispense with the games in some consumerist driven frenzy. I still want to play and enjoy them, so I am.

How fast will I finish the other 28+ games? Who knows. Hopefully in time for some of the bigger releases of this year to still make their way to me within a reasonable time frame.

All that being said: I feel good about my decision. Liberated even. Frankly, aside from just picking out games I don’t foresee myself playing in a relative time frame, and just unloading them online, etc – this is really the only option. And, as a gamer, it’s nice to finally get to all of the things that had my interest – fleeting or not.

I don’t know how other people manage this. Life and gaming. Especially to the level with which I’ve become accustomed. But, I’m striving for balance. Let me know if you have any tips.

– The Ego

Cut me in half and count the rings

So I was online the other day, and I got invited into a chat party on my PS4 while I was playing Overwatch. These guys, who I’d never played with before, started talking to me and asking me questions. One of them was: “How old are you?”

To wit, I responded: “Old”.

Now, in context – it was true. Turned out I had nearly a decade on most of them, and an actual decade on one of them. But, in reality, I’m not that old. I’m currently (shudder) in my early thirties. But, in terms of the demographic, I guess I am old.

I later related this story to my wife, who guessed that they were quite a bit younger than me, and we got to talking about gaming as it relates to age. Which made me wonder – is there an age where people say “I’m too old for this”?

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True story: My grandmother is probably as old or older than this lady, and she still games on her NES/SNES. She’s a Donkey Kong Country boss. You need to know where a hidden banana coin is – she knows.

On point: I can’t say that there is a time in my life where I think I will no longer be interested in gaming. And thankfully, I failed 5/5 on this Cracked list of reasons you’re too old for gaming. So there’s that.

But the truth is – it’s pretty rare that I find myself playing with anyone older than me. In the last ten years, I can only think of two times where I was surprised to find out the age of someone I was playing with. One being a 70+ year old who was in my first WoW guild. And, strangely enough, the other guy was someone I regularly played Diablo 3 with. Maybe there is some corollary between Blizzard games and elderly gamers…But I digress.

The thing I find strange is this: to be an avid gamer is really a young man’s game. Mostly due to the kind of time requirements involved. Obviously, responsibilities and priorities change as we age. Significant others and kids, etc get in the way of the 10 hour/full weekend gaming binges we once knew. Though, I can also recall a couple I played WoW with who would parent while raiding high-level content. But, that may not be the best idea. The time constraints of life definitely factor out people after a certain age. I can even see this happening to me.

Simultaneously, though, having the kind of disposable income to keep oneself in games and new consoles is certainly the privilege of the otherwise employed. When I was a student, my gaming library was quite a bit more sparse. Thinking back to…2003/4 I certainly didn’t have much going on in the gaming department. I had my PS2, which I had gotten as a Christmas gift when I was still in high school, a Gamecube I got on sale for a whopping 99$ and maybe 10 games between the two of them before WoW came out. Then my gaming money went to the whopping 15$ monthly.

So, there must be a sweet spot somewhere in there for the ideal gaming age. But again, I digress.

Is there a time where we have to say “I’m too old for this”? I say no. Because I will always love games the same way I will always love movies. Do I foresee a point where I have to step back a little to focus on other things? Sadly, yes. But stepping back isn’t stepping away. Quitting gaming, for me, would be denying a part of my personality. It would be saying goodbye to something that makes me me. So, I won’t be doing that. Besides, giving up now would mean I would never get to use the Holodeck. Yes, that’s where I see things goes. And I won’t miss out.

What do you think? Will you ever throw in the towel? Are you already too old? Let me know below.

– The Ego

Here’s to the ones we love

I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried the first time I finished Final Fantasy Tactics (and I know someone will probably complain about spoilers, but if you haven’t played it by now – too bad).

When you find out that Ramza and Alma are dead – oh man, it pretty much crushed me. They were easily two of the only likable people throughout the entire plot. In terms of being good people, anyway. I mean, I love Delita Hyral – he is still one of my favourite characters from any media, game or otherwise, but I do tend to root for the villains. So when we see their graves, and people saying how great they were and how sad it was that they died – oh man – tear central. Of course, when they appear moments later you’re given to smile because they were faking it all along, but it doesn’t change the those moments where you thought they were gone.

But here’s what I ask you: Who is it and why do you love them?

Now, I’m not saying you always have to have an emotional investment for the characters to be loved by you – they don’t all have to reduce you to tears. But there has to be some kind of investment.

I think the leading reason has to be: time invested. Truth be told, there are times when bad things happen to main characters, even protagonists, who are good people – and I laugh, or outright just don’t care. So it isn’t necessarily that I hate to see bad things happen to good characters – like the Beoulves. Given that I probably spent over 200 hours with them – grinding their levels up and following their story, I think it’s easy to see why the connection was established. Hell, I still well up every time I replay that game and I already know what’s going to happen… On the contrary, when I play games like Skyrim that make you the protagonist – I don’t rightly care when I fall off of a mountain or get eaten by a dragon. Ironically, the fact that I’m supposed to be the protagonist makes me care less about the fate of the character. In defense of that sort of narrative – the ultimate fate of the protagonist is left open-ended because there is usually more game to play after the story is over.

The other main connection is generally made when you see elements of the character’s personality reflect aspects of your own. Or, to a much greater extent, traits that you seen in your idealised self.

I personally identify more with the villains in games because they were less hyper-moral. They tend to be moral relativists – which has a very appealing nature. Now, I don’t mean I like the despots and terrible people. But in cases like Final Fantasy Tactics – Delita is the “villain” because he’s effectively willing to do what he has to do to better the world (as he sees it) even if that means betrayal, murder, etc and generally not giving a fuck about the system in place. I can relate.

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He displays ruthlessness, ambition, intelligence and integrity (a skewed personal integrity of course), and these are all traits I admire and would like to think I display (though obviously to a lesser extent, given that I haven’t personally overthrown any governments to date). And honestly, the motivations of the villains do tend to be more interesting, rather than the bland desire “to make things right”. Which is often the case. Of course, there are great protagonists, like Booker in Bioshock: Infinite, whose morality is shaken at best, and his personal quest is fueled by all kinds of relativist agendas and questionable actions.

So, all of that to say, there are a myriad of reasons to love a character. I’ve gone through some of mine. What are yours? Is there a game or character that really did you in? Let me know in the comments or on whichever platform you prefer.

– The Ego

 

Refreshing

I’m sure, like many of you, gaming is an escape. A way to soothe a long days woes, the balm of hurt minds – as it were.

But then you have those days, and those games. And we all have them. I’m having one right now as I’m writing this. One of those days where playing the game you love causes you nothing but frustration. Whether it’s an online game where you can’t seem to get a win to save your life, or it’s that collectible you just can’t find even though you’re 100% you’re in the right area – or just one of those games you sink a couple of hours into only to die and realise – the game hasn’t autosaved since you got up to get a drink…about fifteen minutes after you started playing.

So what do you do when you’re having one of those nights? I know for me, I find myself going on a tilt because of it. I end up playing more when clearly – the answer should be to turn it off. Though, admittedly, I do that too on occasion.

How is it that something that we love doing so much, can also be the source of such agony. And, when it gets to that point – do we need an alternative activity  to take our minds off of how much gaming frustrates us? One can liken it to the idea of going on vacation, but then coming back so tired they feel like they need a vacation to recuperate. I know I’ve been there.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon. I can’t recall eating too many meals, only to find myself suddenly hungry for something else.

But as far as passtimes go, being a gamer can be intolerable.

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Personally, I think it boils down to passion. I love doing it. So, even though some times I do it to forget about my problems, or to take my mind off of things – like when I’ve had a particularly hard day – it doesn’t mean that it’s going to relax me necessarily. Because I do take it seriously. So losing those games, or that time from when you started to when you died, can end up exacerbating the problems you’re often trying to escape. I have been that guy – yelling at the TV when something doesn’t go my way. And yea, if I’m there trying to relax or calm down – sometimes playing a game isn’t the best plan.

Conversely – I find that playing games on those days and in general, tends to help me resolve some of my problems – or at least free up my higher brain functions to give me some extra  computing power.

Today, for example, was one of those days I couldn’t write to save a life. I sat in front of a blank screen for hours, trying in vain to put something substantive down. It just wouldn’t come. But then here I am now, gaming away, having one of those frustrating nights where I can’t seem to play a winner no matter what I do, and finally, this is practically writing itself. So there is definitely something to be said for diverting your focus onto other things – even if they seem to be negative in the short term.

And there is definitely something to be said about the curative nature of gaming. It lets us vent those frustrations that we can’t otherwise, into something healthy and constructive. Even if that means yelling at a computer generated avatar of someone across the country or one that doesn’t even exist. Either way – it’s still catharsis, right? Sometimes even that can be enough.

So as a form of escape – gaming can be both the balm and bane of a sane mind. It can soothe and strain. But at the end of the day, the love of the game is why we continue to do it. At least, that’s the case for me. Let me know how you feel in the comments, on Twitter or Facebook.

– The Ego

Buy, Buy, Buy

Has gaming gotten too commercial?

I mean, at its core, obviously the industry is a business. With making money as its key component. I personally have never been one to shy away from a good collector’s edition and I can say for certain, I have more than a few gaming collectibles about my house. But the question I’m asking myself, and you, is: is there a line in the sand?

I’m not even sure that the auxiliaries are necessarily the problem. Expanding the market on an already commercial product is pretty much a given. I mean, if there is a way that a company can make up for a loss in profit or a short fall from one title in order to shore up a studio, make sure that quality games are still seeing the light of day, then I’m all for all of the licensed extras. Even if I don’t personally partake.

No, I think the problem – assuming there is one – lies in the development process itself. If companies start looking at games solely as vehicles for quarterly profits, then we start to see issues. Namely – because we start to see games that are rough around the edges, at best, and at worst – incomplete games.

I think that’s the central thesis here.

And I don’t necessarily just mean games full of bugs. Though – we have sure seen our fair share of those over the last few years.

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Having worked QA testing for a bigger release I can say this: Sometimes it’s just not possible to attend to all bugs. Game release schedules are much tighter, budgets are lower and staff expectations are higher. That being said – I think we would all like to see less of things like this.

However, when I say incomplete games, I mean incomplete. As in, you get to reel three of the movie and all it says is “Reel Missing”.

I think of games like Fable 3 – if you’ll be so kind as to let me dredge up the past. I mean, that game had a huge following and made big promises. Now, I’m less concerned (for the purposes of this post) with the broken promises. But what I can say was missing was any kind of discernible plot. The game’s first half basically had you working towards dethroning the king. Once you accomplished that, it was preperation for the war to come. But then it came, and there was really no explanation as to why or what it was you were fighting. The game just comes to a crashing halt as you battle this ignominious enemy.

Or, if you want a more recent example – the much vilified No Man’s Sky jumps right to the forefront.

Now, at it’s core, I still think No Man’s Sky is a pretty good game. And, admittedly I haven’t played it since the “update”, it is supposed to be better.

But the idea that this game – devoid of the majority of its features, would actually launch, is a special kind of deviousness. Seeing this is the perfect example to me that the industry’s commercial interests have become pervasive. It tells me that the industry doesn’t care enough about consumers that they’ll just release whatever and hope we don’t stir up a fuss.

Worse yet, it’s a sign that they think we are placated enough that the majority of people will just buy. Regardless the quality of the product. And sadly, in some ways, we’ve proven them right. That’s not to say some fuss isn’t put up and there isn’t the occasional backlash. But there is a lot of complacency on the part of the consumer as well.

This is all to say that there is a level of acceptance on both sides that has become unacceptable. Though the responsibility still lies mostly on the corporate culture side of things. But we, as consumers (and gamers) need to hold everyone accountable and be willing to forgo the latest game if it’s being produced poorly.

– The Ego

I’ve been watching

Yea, I have. Watching videos, and more importantly – watching the people I play with. One of the videos I see pop up a lot on YouTube a lot is “10 things gamers hate”, and various versions regarding specific games. Today, I think I’ll take a swing at something that has been on my mind for a while.

I think the thing that gets my guff the most when I’m playing a game (especially multiplayer) is when other people can’t seem to grasp the core mechanics of a game. Now, let me preface the rant that’s about to take place by saying:

I accept that there are different people of varying skill levels playing every game. And by no means do I expect them all to be at the same level as me – frankly unless they’re devoting the same amount of time I am, there’s a good chance that’s not even possible. And I’m sure most will agree – amount of time spent playing does not equal skill level. I will also say I don’t have any expectations that people spend as much time watching strategy/developer videos either.

With that said: I really can’t understand it. I’m going to use Overwatch as my prevailing example because I do play a lot of Overwatch.

Now, I get that CoD and BF are the biggest online games and have been for some time. I get that the majority of online FPS players have or do play one of those two regularly. But here’s the thing: Games like Overwatch do not operate on the same principles! This is really where my frustration sets in.

Overwatch, for those of you who don’t play it, is primarily a team, objective focused online FPS. Yes, you need to be good at the FPS part to be good at Overwatch. Being able to put the opposing team down is key. But understanding that going lone-gunner in a 6v6 match-up where the objective is to move a payload from point A to point C will not achieve that objective is the crucial element that seems to be overlooked. It’s so ridiculous that a page on Facebook called Overmeme exists, and is constantly posting stuff like this:

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Of course, from my games, it doesn’t seem like anyone made that their resolution.

But deep down, I think what bothers me the most is people’s inability to understand the team mechanic. Even without the use of verbal communication, I think that the concept of playing together is totally possible. If everyone understands that there is a goal, and that the only way to achieve that goal is through co-operative play – then victory is usually assured. I mean, the game breaks down to three simple facts:

  1. There is a goal to be met
  2. Teamwork is imperative
  3. Everyone has a role, and everyone needs to understand their role

Making sure that these three things are met is all the game really asks. And, considering the majority of players are in the competitive games – one would expect this to go without saying. In fact – if you’re going to play competitive, I would hope people would familiarise themselves with things like competitive metas, good team composition, etc. But, failing those two things, the core basics should go without saying. But it is often not the case. People don’t protect support characters, healers focus on healing their friends rather than crucial roles like the tank and the biggest one is the people who only play for themselves. The latter being the most common. Overwatch is not a death match. There is no death match mode. Everything requires that those three principles be met. If not – you can basically guarantee a loss.

Now, some of you are probably thinking that I’m taking the game too seriously. And, maybe that’s true. But like anything you invest time into, you want the people you do it with to put in the same level of effort that you do. Videogames are no different.

Till next week fans.

– The Ego

Rebuttle

Ok, so this post is a response to the following article I read on IGN last week (PSX and GOTY took precedence over me writing this counter-argument). I recommend reading it before reading this.

Here’s the link.

First off, in case this hasn’t become abundantly clear through my use of u’s in my words, I am Canadian. So I won’t be addressing the American Dream/American conflict aspects of the article. I am, however, going to break down the three aspects of the argument where I think the piece falls apart.

Guns sell/Sex Sells

Yes, of course this is true. People love to be excited and titillated. And, just like sex in games and movies, if it’s just shoe-horned in there for no other reason than because ‘who doesn’t like a bunch of violence and some fucking?’ – then I agree it’s stupid and it’s hindering the game. I’m no prude or violence abolitionist – but when something is there for no reason but to serve itself (like 90% of the sex in shows like True Blood) – it annoys me. And in those cases, I would agree that it is just a hindrance. It won’t further serve the art form, and it won’t lead to more great games being made. But one could easily make that argument for a number of things that hold the medium back. Once again – there is no one thing that is stopping the progression of games from getting better.

The Bioshock Paradox

So, the “ludonarrative dissonance” mentioned as the main issue with the series is mistaken, flat out. The whole thing about Bioshock is it’s a morality tale in story and in play. Put a man in a chaotic situation and make him fend for his life – and survival instincts are going to kick in. But where the “dissonance” fails to rear its head is in the choices you make – slaughter the Little Sisters for power and become a monster. Save them, and be a hero. And this choice has nothing to do with guns. The Last of Us is a perfect game to go hand-in-hand with Bioshock on this point. Is there combat? Yes, but it’s presence is not the aspect of the game anyone is (necessarily) praising it for. The guns in this game are simply a vehicle. A mechanic to push the story forward in order to get the story out of it. Could you do it without the guns? Definitely. And it would make a great movie. Does the action/inclusion of guns as a medium hinder the actual story or the message that Ken Levine is trying to get across? Not in the least. If anything, I would argue that the gameplay, in this case, is the most minor part of the series.

Playing it Safe

Is there laziness in the gaming industry? Fuck yes. Like any industry. Sometimes it’s just easier to make another game where you just shoot a bunch of dudes and forget about it. Where the story is just a reason to shoot more people. I get that. The same way the music industry pawns off derivative clones of pop music stars whose albums are nigh-indistinguishable. And there are times where the guns are there for no other reason than people like shooting people in games. I do agree, in a sense, that FPS games like Doom, CoD, etc are safe AAA games to make. They have a following, and they don’t require much in the way of “creativity” to an extent. But the genre of gun-heavy games compared to the rest of the industry is a relatively small number. For every CoD there is a Portal, Skyrim, Diablo, Final Fantasy, Heavy Rain and the list goes on.

So, thesis statement: Are guns holding the medium back? No. Are there numerous games with heavy-handed (gun) violence shoe-horned in to create appeal? Definitely. But the medium, as stated, is in its infancy and it is already proving that it is more than a one trick pony.

– The Ego