Edge readers share their opinions; one wins a Turtle Beach headset
All about the Benjamins
I recently interviewed at a famous free-toplay MMORPG publisher. What started as a promising session of enthusiastic and heartfelt exchanges about our common passion for videogames quickly turned into a heartbreaking series of disillusions as, one after the other, my interviewers kept bluntly declaring revenues were all that mattered, the benchmark by which the value of its people was measured, and the quintessential goal of any of their endeavours. They prided themselves in copycatting gameplay recipes that have been proven to work in Asian markets, simply importing them with a new skin for the western audience. As I listened to the relentless urges of the offended gamer’s voice inside me, I dared ask about the place that the quality of the game had in that setup, but my question was quickly brushed aside. While certainly a nice supplement, a passion for quality and a willingness to continuously improve games were by all means not an absolute necessity for any aspiring employee.
I was filled with indignation, frustration and irrational anger at the off-handedness with which this company treated game development and the players, and at the very idea of such a dehumanisation of game production, which went against all the fantasies I had always entertained about game developers and their purpose. These ones were dedicating all their creative spirit to find every single most innovative way of milking players. Don’t get me wrong: profit has to be the natural goal of every business. But indulging in a shameless excusing of extracting every possible penny out of the players in front of interviewing candidates mocked all that I ever held dear in the artistic endeavour of creating videogames.
To my eyes, this experience has dramatically put in perspective the backlash triple-A publishers have been consistently receiving for shortening game experiences while not limiting the endless inflation of retail prices with the passing of console generations. Behind these triple-A titles, there are still passionate and creative talents who put their efforts towards creating highquality products for a simple reason: if quality was sacrificed for easy monetisation, how would they justify the high price tag? Behind them, there are still teams that want to make videogames for their ultimate purposes: entertainment, pleasure, wonder.
This is not a campaign against free-toplay, which certainly has a number of merits as a business model. However, the rise of free-to-play will have consequences of which the full magnitude is yet unknown. One of its main perverse effects is that it has allowed for the emergence of a new and unique type of company previously alien to the videogame industry: game publishers devoid of any game sensitivity. There are now exclusively metrics-driven, results-obsessed corporate creatures whose only purpose is to enhance the monetisation of games as they would the monetisation of vacuum cleaners, a policy infecting and capping developers’ artistic ambitions with the practical imperatives of revenue generation. Although numerous free-to-play titles are of high quality and rightfully receive praise, this business model has at the same time allowed for easy-money companies to be born at an alarming rate, and swarm onto mobile and PC game marketplaces at the expense of players.
Passion for games is a nice bonus for any person applying to these companies, but being a successful car dealer would catch their attention far more. After all, if you can skilfully sell a vehicle, what’s to prevent you from being a stellar salesman for virtual swords and mounts? Your background,
“The rise of freeto-play will have consequences of which the full magnitude is yet unknown”
interest or knowledge of games all matter not, only your ability to deliver on revenue targets. So if you can get across with numbers, you’re in. Games are commodified and it’s not about creating the best content, only the highest-revenue-generating content. In this new paradigm, game producers are no longer there to make suggestions to improve the players’ experience, only to make it more profitable.
Games are about the players. Could there be an uglier concept for a publisher than that of sacrificing quality for easy copycat revenue? Developers should be willing to create unforgettable experiences, not bending their gameplay to accommodate the whims of free-to-play publishers. Real progress cannot be quantified in growth rates, average revenues per user or churn, so one crucial question remains: is this model helping the industry live up to its ambitions to be recognised as an entertainment medium on par with other artforms?
When machines are able to make more informed decisions than humans on which gift bundle and events generate higher revenues in a game, a wave of unemployment will suddenly crash over these publishers’ employees. Is there truly no additional value to these people? Coming out of the interview room, I was waiting for them to show me that there was a soul somewhere within the shell of this company. But as I participated in a last round of handshakes, walked down the long corridor towards the exit and closed the door of the building behind me, I never glimpsed it.
Free-to-play copycats may not last, but their potential impact on a generation of developers is a huge concern. Good luck with finding something more appropriate soon. In the meantime, a prize is on its way.
A quote quibble
In issue 265, you reiterated Shigeru Miyamoto’s famous quote: “A delayed game is eventually good; a bad game is bad forever.” Like most followers of the videogame industry, I have great respect for Miyamoto’s achievements, but every time I see this quote I feel that it is not as insightful as it first appears.
Firstly, many delayed games are not, in fact, any good. Sometimes this can be because the project turns in to a death march, or because the game misses its zeitgeist moment.
Secondly, the implication of the quote is that a rushed game will almost always be a bad game. Again, this is not true. It is not easy to provide examples; generally the developers of projects that were rushed but turned out well don’t like to dwell on it. Nevertheless, we often read about games launching with a reduced featureset, and in many cases these are great games.
Let’s keep quoting industry heroes, by all means, but only when their quotes stand up to close inspection.
Doesn’t that quote seem more appropriate than ever in an era where console devs ship in haste and repent across endless patches? But fair enough – the next time we see Miyamoto, we’ll sort him out.
An Oculus rift
I watched with a mix of amusement and resignation as my friends took to their Facebook accounts to decry its creator’s purchase of Oculus. The Rift headset will now, if their fears are to be believed, become a tastelessly branded feed-viewer reduced to running stereoscopic versions of FarmVille and Bejeweled. This is patently ridiculous.
There seems to be some general sense of betrayal – that a scrappy, crowdfunded company finding further investment somehow undermines the pledges made on Kickstarter. But that campaign was all about making the technology work. Prototypes are already available, so it did the job, and while it’s understandable that a sense of ownership would be attached to people funding a device with their own money, they seem to be forgetting that Rift is still far from ready for the average consumer.
In order to get to that point, Oculus needs the money of a larger, established company, and Facebook’s vision for using VR in social ways can, as far as I can see, only be a positive thing for Rift. If Facebook can follow through and make the VR headset a mainstream device, then that only increases its appeal as a gaming platform and will attract more developers. That Facebook has no VR experience isn’t a bad thing either – it means it will look to Palmer Luckey and John Carmack for guidance. And as for those FarmVille fears, it makes little sense for Facebook to abandon the work already undertaken by the likes of Frontier and CCP for the device.
Mojang’s decision to drop out is stupid too (Notch citing his concerns over the “creepy” and “unstable” nature of Facebook on social media), considering that the developer was happy to work so closely with Microsoft, a company facing repeated privacy invasion accusations and that has been criticised for its unclear vision.
In his open letter, Palmer Luckey reiterates his desire to make VR available to everyone. While it might initially seem like an odd fit, if you take some time to consider the potential before angrily updating your status, it’s easy to see why Luckey chose to go ahead with the deal. All of this depends on both companies following through on their promises, of course, but the point is that it’s too early to judge – especially not when your opinion is founded in paranoia. However it turns out, we can at least be sure that with Facebook’s financial might behind him, Luckey is in a better position than ever to move his virtual vision into reality.
Successful companies diversify, but we shouldn’t let that sort of thing get in the way of some good old-fashioned ranting.
Turtle Beach’s Ear Force PX4 (RRP £149.99) is compatible with PS4, Xbox One and PC setups