It’s been kind of a slow week – is what we’d be saying if we were compulsive liars. While the summer game drought snoozes on, news is stealing the spotlight and hurling it into the sun. Here’s what it all means.
What happened: Nintendo finally got knocked off its cloud, and it hit the ground. Hard. No, it hasn’t hit rock bottom and it’s certainly not six-feet-under, but you don’t need to be a brain surgeon, rocket scientist, or rocket brain to see the writing on the wall: slashing one-third of a device’s price after only a few months does not bode well.
What it means: Errant VG247 fifth Beatle, fourth Musketeer, and third best-located (for reference: Steph – awesome horse farm, Pat – in a secret underground sky volcano) Rob Fahey pretty much killed with his blow-by-blow analysis. The gist: the price was far too high relative to everything from iPod to PlayStation friggin’ 3, marketing was incredibly narrow and didn’t do it any favors, and – of course – we’re not in pre-App-Store land anymore, Toto. Then the PS Vita ruthlessly took aim at 3DS’ price advantage, and it was sink or swim. In other words, no more treading water for Nintendo. Without a doubt, Nintendo’s approach to the 3DS’ launch was haphazard and soaked in the retch-worthy musk of arrogance. Turning things around is going to be a tall order.
Worse, we have to take issue with perhaps the only argument in 3DS’ favor: core games, more depth, etc. We don’t buy it. Mobile gaming has been quietly growing its own crop of core-tilting titles – and though they may not be up to snuff with dedicated portables just yet, they’re getting there. Between ports of titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, ambitious Oblivion imitators like Aralon: Sword and Shadow, and gobs of interesting indies (Machinarium, Emissary of War from a former BioWare lead, etc), we simply can’t add our voice to that anti-core chorus. Sure, the control method may not be as well-tailored, but it’s good enough. And all other factors considered (price and convenience being chief among them), “good enough” will more than suffice for most.
What happened: Ubisoft’s reviled “always on” DRM reared its ugly head yet again – first with Driver: San Francisco, and then in a scare involving From Dust. Predictably, PC gamers were pissed. So, how can Ubisoft possibly justify what appears to be a dogged war against common sense, happiness, and bunnies? Try “a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection.” Ruh-roh.
What it means: Until we see some hard numbers, you won’t see our skepticism monocles popping off our faces. But even if Ubisoft could definitively prove that it took the wind out of pirates’ sails and – just to make us happy – put Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series out of our misery, we still wouldn’t approve. In what crazy topsy turvy Bizarro Land is it OK to consider something a “success” when a large contingent of your customers despises everything you stand for? Capcom hasn’t been on much of a hot streak lately, but at least they had the right of it on this issue: If your fans start rallying against you, you find a new way of doing things. You don’t just stick your fingers in your ears and then wave your alleged “success” at their expense in their faces. This is simply common sense: If you rub your customers the wrong way, they’ll bite back.
What happened: THQ had another rough quarter, so it did some house cleaning. With a hammer. Red Faction’s less-than-desirable results stuck out like a sore thumb, so THQ took a big swing right at the franchise’s foundations. Goodnight, sweet destruction engine. And flights of Ostrich Hammers sing thee to thy rest.
What it means: Red Faction’s another victim of the triple-A transition period, and a chilling reminder of how quickly you can swing from overnight success story to over, done, down, and out. For big-budget franchises, a thinning of the herd now seems inevitable. If it’s not a megaton hit, it’s only holding you back. When one wrong move can mean a company’s slow (or disturbingly quick) demise, there’s not any room for second chances. THQ, especially, seems to be learning the hard way. If it’s any consolation, your precious Master Chiefs and Call of Duty dudes aren’t going anywhere. Right now, it’s a good time to be incredibly big or incredibly small. If you’re in the middle, though? Yeah, turns out those vultures aren’t flocking to you simply because of your charming personality.
What happened: BioWare’s FemShep popularity contest ended up being more of a blowout. As of now, blonde FemShep is winning by a Reaper-sized landslide, commanding nearly 30,000 Facebook “likes.”
What it means: Diversity is dead, Barbie’s cruel influence has corrupted everything you love, blah, blah, blah. No, not really. We’ll miss redheaded FemShep, but this is hardly another Reaper plot to end the universe. First off, bear in mind that male Shepard’s default design isn’t exactly Eyecatcher McIndividuality. He’s an actual, factual bald space marine, for crying out loud. These are default designs after all; essentially, they’re blank slates. Hell, they generally end up encouraging people to customize their characters. As BioWare told us, 83 percent of Mass Effect players customize their Shepard.
Which brings us to our next point: customization. In this age of personalization – be it in social networking, music services, or even your morning coffee – games are embracing customization options in a big way. If you don’t like your character – if it doesn’t represent your background or who you are – change it. The world’s a gigantic, incredibly diverse place. The only way to really cater to everyone is to let them do it for themselves. We’re not saying that game designers should take this as an excuse to ignore everyone who isn’t white and currently wearing Axe bodyspray, but things aren’t as dire as they may seem. A default character design is hardly representative of a game’s entire direction.
What happened: Mommy and daddy kept fighting. Shortly after Dragon Age II’s “Legacy” DLC made its way into the wild, the game proper mysteriously disappeared from Steam’s virtual shelves. Except there’s really no mystery here – no convoluted conspiracies or “aha” moments. Valve’s new terms of service are to blame, plain and simple.
What it means: Except not, because there’s a lot more to it. For one, EA’s now looking to “to work out an agreement to keep our games on Steam.” Really, though, both sides are being overly controlling to the detriment of their customers. EA’s just trying to look like the knight in shining armor while Valve keeps its cards close to its chest – just like it always does with everything ever. So EA pipes up first, blames mean old man Newell, and then promises to fix it all. Really though, both companies are equally at fault, and gamers are the ones suffering for it. Sadly, this is just another byproduct of a gaming world ruled by increasingly proprietary networks and communities. Steam, Origin, Call of Duty: Elite, Battle.net, and their ilk – separate, but hell-bent on doing things their way and their way alone.