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.

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

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

Prey for me

I know from time to time we all get at least a little excited – delve into the hype so to speak – over a new game. One of those games for me was Kingdom Hearts 3. When it was announced, I was going absolutely nuts. Waiting for it though, has softened that blow a bit in the interim. But Kingdom Hearts isn’t what I want to talk about today.

Today I’m going to talk about my new hype wet dream: Prey.

Before I get into it, if you haven’t watched the new footage released by Arkane Studios, do it now:

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Arkane Studios is one of those up and coming game makers – well that may be under selling them a bit. Having released both Dishonored and its sequel – I think they’ve made it. But what I mean is – they haven’t got a lot of titles under their proverbial belt. But everything they have put out has met critical and financial success and has been extremely well received by fans.

And in comes my newest obsession: Prey. Now, when they released the first trailer at E3 last year, it piqued my interested. And, in my spaghetti against the wall method of pre-ordering games, Prey was one of those games. I mean, worst case scenario the game turns out to look bad or I lose interest, I cancel. But I can say right now – this is a day one buy and play. And, saying that about any game for me is basically the highest praise I’d give it. Even if I hadn’t pre-ordered it at a discount, I would happily buy this at full price on day one.

The game seems to carry with it tropes from a variety of different and amazing games. The one that strikes me the most from the onset is how similar it looks to Bioshock. And, given that Arkane did assist in the development of Bioshock 2, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. I digress. The similarity in level design and the HUD, play style are all great things. Arkane may end up turning Prey into the same giant success that Irrational Games was able to do with Bioshock. Of course, the story of Prey will determine whether or not it is able to reach those same heights. Prey also seems to be going along the same sort of upgrade RPG path as games like Deus Ex – using body modifications to upgrade the protagonist’s abilities. Of course, neither Bioshock nor Deus Ex had cool features to their RPG upgrades like Prey is currently boasting. As you’ll see in the video – using the alien mods  too often can bring about, shall we say, uninvited guests.

The thing that interests me the most about Prey is that even though it seems like a game we’ve seen before, it’s still showing that it has it’s own unique spin. There is still something that separates it out from the rest of the FPS and RPG games. And I don’t know if it’s the graphics or the style, but there is something about Prey. Maybe it’s the ingenuity it provokes the end user to employ to find creative solutions to progressing through the game. But it has that special quality that only truly great games possess.

Now, will it live up to the hype? That’s always the question that one has to wait out. Games like No Man’s Sky have proven that going too far down that road is extremely dangerous and leads to ethical and legal issues (despite being exonerated). Though, Arkane is good about letting just enough slip about their games to keep the appetite whetted but not enough to gorge ourselves on. And, like pretty much all Bethesda released titles, it will almost certainly be worth the wait.

As always, if there is a topic or game you’d like to see covered, let me know here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook. Until Monday, enjoy your weekend and game like it’s your last.

– The Ego

When games are art

Well, here we are. Something that’s been bouncing around my head as I see reviews for some of those up-and-coming games. Games like Journey, The Unfinished Swan and No Man’s Sky. Now, I know the former two aren’t new games by a long shot, But the PS4 remakes are a little more recent, or on their way in the near future.

The games don’t have any kind of central narrative, save for Unfinished Swan. They are games with the intention of capturing the senses through sheer visual appeal. Frankly, I think they’re on to something. Don’t misread me. I still think a well crafted story is the key to a fantastic game. Granted, I’m biased. I couldn’t draw, paint or craft a decent picture/object to save my life. I’ve always been a word person. So at the end of the day – the words the game chooses to impact it’s world and the end user – that’s always going to be where my bread is buttered.

That’s not to say, though, that those games don’t have something going for themselves. The majestic dunes in Journey and the picturesque planets and galaxies that we’ve seen of No Man’s sky thus far are exactly the kind of games I’m talking about.

No Man’s Sky may be the first time, in games at least, where true inspiration can be born. Now, I know games like Minecraft and Littlebigplanet have been around for some time and they are by and far away the best games to inspire creativity. However, they are limited to the extent that their creative spaces are only creative within the enclosure of their models. Meaning, they are creative but limited to the tools given to the end user by the developers. Yes, I know this is more true for LBP than Minecraft, but I feel my point stands. No Man’s Sky gives you the ability to explore and interact with planets and people to whatever end works for you. Discovery – I think that’s the key. Bear in mind that I’ve said some of this before and the game still isn’t out – but I really think the potential here is colossal.

Journey – I won’t lie, I’m not crazy about the game. I bought it because it was something that was talked about and raved about for some time. Now, gameplay wise, not my cup of tea. But the game is majestic looking at the worst of times. Does that make up for the game’s flaws in terms of structure – no. But, it does present a unique insight into the game/art paradigm. The game is a moving Monet. There really is almost nothing like it. Keep in mind too that the game was released on a 720p console. Seeing something like that is tantamount to something directed by Kubrick. It’s a world that is amazingly beautiful and mysterious at every turn and every frame. It’s clear that painstaking efforts were put forth to make this game what the developers had in mind.

The Unfinished Swan deviates from the others mentioned in the sense that it does have a linear story and, basically, an on-rails story. That being said – the world that is there – even though it’s white from the get-go, is still yours to create to an extent. At least in the sense, that the world doesn’t appear without you. Your interaction, either through paint or water or the problem solving that is necessary to advance, is all there because you make it. Much like the story in the game, it’s a world that is a blank slate until you are involved. And then, much like moving through a gallery or museum, the paintings change when you move through them and they only exist (existentially speaking) because you are there to be a part of them. To bear witness, as it were.

Enough of my bloviating on art. Frankly, it’s always been a subject I’ve known very little about and therefore, interacted with it on a limited basis.

– The Ego