Time for a topical, er, topic, kids!
If you’ve emerged from your disc and sweat-encrusted gaming hovel in the last month (possibly to buy more Doritos and Mountain Dew) you might have noticed that a lot of very angry gentlemen and women have decided to protest against rampant capitalism in the centre of several large cities – most notably New York, Madrid and Athens. On the whole, I support them after all, I too find it insane that such a small number of people own so much money. However, it did get me thinking about gaming.
You see, as a new form of media, gaming is mainly populated by socially progressive types, as well as mostly younger people (the most likely to be left wing). Yet the interest that gives us common ground has for a long time been one of the most ruthlessly capitalist industries in the world. In last week’s article, I talked about how indie developers have started to break out of the vertically controlled publisher model and begun forging their own destinies. I’d like to discuss that further.
Until the early 2000s, when broadband internet and writable discs became commonplace, it was nearly impossible to release a console game without going through a rich corporation who would often rob you of all you had. But has the nature of the industry been an example of capitalism done ‘right’? Let’s look at the arguments.
The move to disc formats in the mid-90s came about largely as a result of the first console war between Sega and Nintendo. When PlayStation entered the fray it showed both companies they would have to fundamentally change in order to compete. Therefore, competition forces consoles to improve.
The publishers provide funds to games that otherwise might not have come out, as well as taking care of advertising so that games get played.
The best games make the most money, so the developers can make more great games. Bad game developers don’t make money, so can’t make any more bad games. Theoretically.
Games often cost several times what the developer is actually paid. It’s unfair on the people who make the games and the people who buy them.
Good, but unpopular games (such as Earthbound) never see the light of day again, not because of their quality but because of low sales.
Publishers can often impose deadlines that restrict the amount of content or polish a developer can add to a game. This can increase the number of buggy or unfinished games being rushed to market before they should be.
All this console war business causes gamers to turn on one another. A single, unified console might host all the games people want without the need to buy multiple systems. [You at the back, shut up about the PC!]
Ideas for games that publishers don’t want often don’t get made. This probably inflicts quite a lot of damage to the number of great games we play!
Well, that pretty much settles it. Capitalism in gaming doesn’t look that great, does it? I’d personally argue for a more horizontally controlled way of distributing games, which is certainly feasible with social media and the internet. If anyone feels like firebombing the Activision headquarters, be my guest!
Seriously though, I wonder why it’s taken people this long to break out of that model? I suppose it’s because Nintendo’s license for a development kit was historically quite expensive, plus you’d have to have a way of writing to those chunky cartridges we all love so very much. The recent lowering of prices on development (and by recent I mean in the last decade) has meant that publishers now have to be more picky about who they promote – this isn’t how it should be. If you have a great idea for a game, go for it!
When we make a move towards a user-centred experience that takes huge amounts of cash out the the equation, then maybe we could work towards what was attempted by 3DO all those years ago – a gaming platform that has everything all in one box. Imagine not having to have cables trailing all over the floor if you want to play Halo, Killzone and Mario all in one sitting. What a glorious day it shall be when we only have a few cables tripping us over and occasionally getting yanked out of the console by a passing cat. Sorry, I’ve gotten a little bit distracted.
Frankly, I don’t see why the companies don’t just collaborate now. It might well be down to Nintendo’s design philosophy being very much at odds with Sony and Microsoft’s – the Big N has had bad experiences with building powerful consoles (see the N64 and Gamecube, two of the most powerful systems of their generations, both of which flopped hard) and would want to create a more inclusive gaming experience, while Microsoft position themselves towards western gamers and Sony emphasis pretty hardware and powerful console guts. See how they might be like three blind men arguing over what an elephant looks like?
In my humble, inexperienced opinion, they all need to get over themselves. I remain convinced that with a little effort, we can work together and build a better gaming experience. Smash the publishers, Occupy Game!
Viva la (Nintendo) Revolucion!