GOG Lays Off 10 Percent Of Its Staff

Well, that was unexpected.

GOG have just let go of at least a dozen staff members. That may not sound like much compared to the 800 or so that were blown out by Activision Blizzard, but really, they’re close percentage wise (this is 10% compared to Acti-Blizz’s 8%).

How could this be? Isn’t GOG the darling of PC gamers everywhere? Doesn’t CD Projekt practically print their own money?

Apparently not. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier was told by someone on the inside that the company’s revenue wasn’t able to keep up with growth, so they were dangerously close to being in the red over the last few months. As a result, a tough financial decision had to be made and here we are.

It’s also come to light that GOG’s Fair Price Package program is coming to a close at the end of March. For those out of the loop, this package:

“…is a form of store credit, which we give back when you buy a regionally priced game that is more expensive in your region, compared to most other regions.

“So, if you buy a game for 40 Euro (so roughly 45 USD), but the same game costs 40 USD in the United States and most other regions, we give you the 4 USD difference back, in store credit.”

It’s great that GOG were making up the difference themselves, but now that they’re giving developers a larger cut of each sale, they needed to ensure they could still turn a profit. Something had to give.  

I hope more information comes to light, because we know next to nothing. Only one source that we know of has stepped forward with nitty gritty details. That source painted a doom and gloom scenario, but I’m not entirely sold on it, not yet. I want to see more ‘confirmation’ of the company being in dire straits, because they could lay people off for a number of reasons. Maybe they’re changing direction? With the way the market is changing, it’s a possibility. Despite the 8% cut in staff, the company still has 20 open positions. Why?

Anyway, the knee-jerk reaction online is that this was inevitable. There are people who believe it’s stupid to sell DRM-free games, because all it takes is a single person to add those game files to a torrent and then nobody will be incentivized to pay for it. I believe this has to impact sales at least a little, but studies have shown that piracy doesn’t really hurt a studio’s bottom line. Basically, the people who pirate a game were never going to buy it in the first place, so no harm, no foul. Again, I take issue with this, but I’m not going to argue against research.

GOG believe that best way to combat piracy is by earning good will. The company once told Fraghero.com:

“… our closest digital competitor is piracy. And they’re even bigger than Steam.

“We’re not necessarily a competitor for Steam. We’re an alternative. We provide things they don’t – namely, a DRM-free experience, flat pricing world-wide, and goodies and attention to our games and gamers. They provide things that we don’t. Many of the games that we sell are available on Steam as well, and the fact that we do as well as we have in the last year proves that some people find what we’re doing a valuable alternative to Steam.” “So with that said, the fact that we’ve taken the no-DRM approach makes a lot of sense if you think about who it is that we consider as the largest ‘digital distributor’ in the market: pirates. We’ve deliberately designed our signup, purchase, and download process to be as quick and painless as possible, because if you compare the process of buying a game with DRM to downloading the game from a torrent, the stark difference in simplicity and user-friendliness is boggling,” Trevor Longino, PR Head of GOG.com (at the time) explained.

And this wasn’t just GOG slinging bullshit, either. When CD Projekt RED released The Witcher 3, the company put their money where their mouth is, and it paid off handsomely .

“We released [The Witcher 3] without any copy protection. So, on day one, you could download the game from GOG, and give it to a friend (enemy as well)… and still we sold near to 10 million units across all 3 platforms.”

“We don’t like when people steal our product, but we are not going to chase them and put them in prison. But we’ll think hard what to make to convince them. And uh, convince them in a positive way, so that they’ll buy the product next time, they’ll be happy with our game, and they’ll tell their friends not to pirate it.” -Marcin Iwinski (2016, per Kotaku)

So if piracy isn’t impacting their bottom line, why is this company letting go of people and ending one of the greatest good will assets they’ve had (the Fair Price Package program)?

Well, the industry is changing.

While selling DRM-free games is awesome, that ideology only serves a niche market. People are content using Steam because it hosts virtually everything and it’s where everyone has always bought their games from. Sure, it’s ideal to actually own the products you spend money on, but GOG isn’t an attractive option. That may sound like blasphemy to some, but it is what it is.

Downloading installers and storing them on a hard drive is a tough sell these days. Your personal library in Steam allows you to download and uninstall games whenever you want and will store your save files in the cloud. Redownloading a game means you won’t start over from scratch. Yes, you can hold on to your save files in a folder on the PC, but there’s something to be said about convenience. “But managing your files is as simple as clicking and dragging,” you might say, but keep in mind that the average consumer merely wants a ‘plug and play’ experience. If you just go with individual installer packages for each game, you won’t get that. You can rectify the problem by using GOG’s launcher, but if you’re going to do that, then again, you already have Steam and probably want to keep your library there.

Steam also has an achievements system and automatic updates. GOG’s launcher incorporates similar features, but there’s other reasons why people are dissuaded from buying stuff through their store.

GOG doesn’t offer all the games that people want. If you’re looking for a brand spankin’ new AAA title, chances are that GOG won’t have it. Publishers want to protect their investments, so they very much want DRM attached to their games. For the games GOG does have, post-launch support does have a tendency to lack. Game features have had, at times, to be removed from the GOG version (when Steamworks is involved, sometimes publishers don’t want to waste resources for parity on other digital platforms). There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing patches get released on platforms like Steam, only to wonder when, if ever, you’ll see it show up on GOG. That’s more on the developer/publisher, but still, it’s something consumers have to take into consideration.

That’s not to say that everything about GOG is a horror show, because things can also work the other way. There are times where games on GOG have included patches, even ones produced my members of the gaming community, in order to sell the best possible product. Steam, on the other hand, requires you to find and install said fixes on your own.

Still, all things considered, when compared to Steam, GOG isn’t what most people are looking for. That, ultimately, is the crux of their problem.

And now that they’ve dropped the Fair Price Package plan, even less people will be inclined to go there. Why’d they do this in the first place? Because they have little choice with the competition out there. The Epic Games Store has made a decent splash by promising developers a larger percentage of game sales than Steam will provide. GOG probably felt they had little choice but to head down the same path, and it’s going to hurt them.

I wouldn’t freak out and start downloading everything you’ve purchased from GOG anytime soon, but it’ll be interesting to see how the company plans to remain relevant moving forward. DRM-free gaming is an awesome thing to have in the marketplace, but again, it’s rather niche, and with digital platforms being easier than ever to use (like Steam), the whole ‘it’s easier than pirating’ shtick isn’t unique.

The only thing GOG really has going for it in 2019, is that you can buy many of yesteryear’s best games, and with a launcher that ensures it’ll run on your modern operating system without (much) issue… but will that be enough? Only time will tell.

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Electronic Arts, Clueless Again

Electronic Arts have been floundering these last few years. I have appreciated some of their output – PvZ: Garden Warfare, Star Wars Battlefront, and Battlefield 1 come to mind – but there’s no denying that they are completely oblivious to how they should be conducting business. Their tactics have proven to be some of the most aggressive in the industry, and no matter how many times gamers have told them they aren’t interested in being fleeced, the publisher has flat out refused to listen.

Madden continually wrecks its brand with heavier implementation of ultimate cards. Star Wars: Battlefront required a season pass to feel like a complete game. In response, the sequel didn’t have a season pass, but planned to feature a heavy enough grind to entice you to spend money via microtransactions. Battlefield V followed the same path, but had a lot of missing content at the time of launch.

More than that, they take third party development companies under their wing until they’re smothered to the point of closure. They’re also really poor at planning in general, as they’ve set some pretty horrendous and damning launch windows for notable titles (Titanfall 2 was wedged smack dab in the middle of two monstrous releases, for example).

So it’s been no surprise to standers by that EA’s stock has dropped substantially on a year-to-date basis. At the time of writing, the company’s stock is heading towards the largest single-day percentage decline since December of 1999 (information from MarketWatch), and how do they respond?

By blaming the prioritization of Battlefield V’s single-player campaign as opposed to the as-yet unreleased battle royale mode.

That’s right, they believe this game sold one million copies below expectation because they didn’t have battle royale available at launch.

As usual, EA just don’t get it. I mean, they SAY they do, but it’s all lip-service to satisfy their investors:

“A combination of a poor start in our marketing campaign together with what I think was a longer development cycle that put us into a more competitive window and the amplification that competitive window against of those underperformance factors is how we resulted in ‘Battlefield’,” said EA president Andrew Wilson during their most recent conference call.

Come on, Andrew. It’s not like this is coming out of left field. Your company has been on a downward slope for a while. This ‘oh, we know what we did wrong and will change in the future’ shtick clearly isn’t fooling your backers.

Now personally, I do believe there’s a little room for a battle royale experience gated behind a $60 price tag… as long as other content is included to justify it, but Call of Duty had already scratched that itch. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is still a thing and costs substantially less, but free-to-play is unquestionably where it’s at… you know, because it’s free. Fortnite has become a real monster in this industry as result (credit is also due for being genuinely fun and nice to look at), and better yet, all the items you’d unlock with real world money are cosmetic.

‘Free’ and ‘no pay-to-win’ is music to the ears of gamers everywhere.

But do you know what’s really confusing in the grand scheme of things?

Despite hedging so much on Battlefield V’s last-man-standing mode, EA were planning to launch their own free-to-play battle royale all along, as evidenced by the surprise release of Apex Legends (developed by the Titanfall crew).

How would DICE’s game have ever competed?

It was never going to, is the short and thick of it.

Sure, maybe including battle royale on day one would have sold a few more copies, but it wouldn’t have come close to filling the million copy deficit EA are scratching their heads over.

Why they’re scratching their heads anyway, I have no idea. The gaming community at large knows EXACTLY what happened, so why don’t they?

What really affected sales was poor marketing, PR, and their release strategy.

The early trailers didn’t capture the essence of Battlefield in any way, shape, or form.

Electronic Arts also alienated prospective buyers by telling them if they were upset with the inclusion of female soldiers to ‘just not buy the game.’ Personally, I’m fine with that message, but from a business perspective, if you tell irrational idiots to not buy your product, you can’t look for a scapegoat when they decide to, you know, actually listen to you.

Also, Electronic Arts should really move competitive shooters out of that October-to-November window anyway. Call of Duty dominates it each and every year, and that’s not going to change. So basically, stop trying to beat them at their own game. I know the holidays are a prime sales period and they want as much of that pie as possible, but asking people to commit to two major FPS franchises in a short time frame is a lot.

And most of important of all:

Maybe, just maybe, they should treat their customers with respect. Don’t say ‘we hear you’ and then blatantly continue to screw people over (this isn’t unique to EA, but they’re definitely one of the worst offenders). Thanks to Electronic Arts, governments across the globe are evaluating their business models to see if they’re even legal… and spoiler alert, it hasn’t been going particularly well for them, as they’ve been forced to remove loot boxes from FIFA in Belgium.

EA aren’t in danger of going extinct or anything, but they clearly need to listen to feedback the gaming community has been providing them if they want to be on an upswing again. That means stopping the lip service and actually showing people – consumers and investors alike – that they’ll use a combination of good games AND good will to create a loyal fan base. I doubt it’ll happen, but only time will tell.

Call of Duty’s War On Gamers

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In a recent editorial, I said that I don’t believe in boycotting games or even particular studios. I’m not a fan of microtransactions, DLC, or loot boxes, but I generally don’t think one lost sale makes a difference. Instead, we should use our voices to fight back, hoping publishers will take note and change things accordingly.

Now, less than a month after making that point, I’ve come across something so vile I’m finally drawing a line in the sand.

Loot boxes obviously set a dangerous precedent. Microtransactions and DLC inherently change the way a game is developed, but loot boxes are much more invasive ways for these companies to make money. Worse yet, they take advantage of people who are susceptible to addiction. But for me personally, they haven’t really impacted my gameplay experience because I pay them no mind. I’ll earn what I can, but I have not, and will not, spend money on loot boxes. As long as I feel like I’m enjoying a game and not a slot machine, I’m alright.

Activision, on the other hand, doesn’t want me to be ‘alright’. They want to finally be the ones to fully intrude on our gameplay, as they’ve finally jumped the shark and fully integrated loot boxes into a game. Not through a menu, but literally INSIDE a game. Which game? Call of Duty: World War II.

It’s been revealed that while sitting in the in-game hub, you’ll see loot boxes drop from the sky. People will be able to see everything you do, including the rewards you’ve reaped. If you’re stubborn and don’t feel like watching people open loot boxes, the game will actually reward you for doing so. Activision must figure the opening of loot boxes on Youtube and Twitch are a thing, so why not let people do so right at the source?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, here’s another kicker: Let’s say you go to a store and manage to get a copy of this game a day or two early. Well, guess what? You won’t be able to play the game you just bought. You’ll need the day one patch in order to make it work. This makes the physical copy entirely worthless. Let’s say some years down the road you want to play the game again, right? You grab your disc, install the game, but the servers are gone; you won’t be able to download a patch, so you won’t be able to even play the single player campaign.

I’m not going to spin some massive yarn, elaborating on the information I’ve just shared with you. It speaks for itself. I’m stunned, confused, angry, sad, disappointed, and scared. I sincerely hope other publishers will refrain from implementing similar tactics in their games, but something tells me this is just the beginning.

Keep in mind that Activision have decided to go full bore with this even after the many conversations about if loot boxes should be considered gambling. Games don’t even have warning labels for this kind of thing, because there’s no government oversight yet. I don’t want there to be government in my video games, but the industry is straight up asking for it. It’s an inevitability at this point.

Here’s what it comes down to, my wonderful readers:

I am not buying Call of Duty: World War II.

You should not buy Call of Duty: World War II.

The line between games and the money machines behind them are no longer just blurred, they’ve been mashed together like different colored pieces of Play-Do.

The time to take a stand is now. This is one time we really do need to vote with our wallets, no matter how glued to this franchise one may be.

Nintendo Switch Early Impressions

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Gus and I have already registered our opinions of the Switch on our podcast, but it’s time to break things down in print.

Now, obviously, Nintendo needed to reveal the Switch in a way that didn’t echo the unveiling of the Wii-U.  I mean, let’s be honest… they didn’t do anything to help that console.  They didn’t convey what it was, nor did they market the damn thing.  But the Switch reveal was quite different.  After all was said and done, we had a great understanding of what the console is, why it has the potential to benefit everyone, and most important of all, how it’s actually supposed to work.  It was the necessary ‘un-Nintendo like move’ they so desperately needed, but unfortunately, the company left their stink all over the rest of their presentation.

At least they started strong.  Right out of the gate, they told us what the Switch’s price point was and what its release date would be.  Everyone was surprised to learn the console would be out on March 3rd, sooner than expected – media outlets a plenty had reported March 17th – but the price point, $299.99, was a little confusing.  Without any context, I think $300 is reasonable, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is that Nintendo probably aren’t selling the Switch at a loss, and they really should be.

You see, Nintendo like to pretend they’re not competing with Sony and Microsoft, but that’s poppycock.  If you’re a gamer that has yet to enter this generation, and someone gives you $300 to spend on a new machine, you’re probably not buying a Switch.  As of right now, Target’s website offers the Uncharted 4 PS4 bundle and the Battlefield 1 Xbox One S bundle for only $299.  All of a sudden, the Switch’s ‘reasonable’ price point doesn’t seem so reasonable, especially since it doesn’t even come with a game.  So yes, Nintendo, you ARE competing with Sony and Microsoft.  To pretend otherwise is… well, pretty much what I expect out of you, you daft, clueless bastards.  And let’s not forget, this holiday, the Switch will also be going head-to-head with the Xbox Scorpio.

So, there’s two things Nintendo should have done for the Switch, and keep in mind these are minimal moves.

First, they really should have included a pack-in game.  2 + 1 Switch seems to be a simple a tech demo; a smattering of mini-games which show off the system’s distance measuring IR sensor as well as the HD rumble feature.  If this title was included with the Switch, people would have something fun to play with their friends right out of the box… which would have been a brilliant strategy if Nintendo had employed it.  People would have been compelled to call their friends over to try 2 +1 Switch on the hybrid machine.  This would have put the console in people’s hands in optimal settings, possibly causing these people to want a Switch of their own… but that’s a future not set to pass.  Instead, Nintendo are charging $50 for their slate of demo experiences… and NOBODY is going to buy it.  No, instead, everyone is going to buy Zelda and play the shit out of it for months… alone.  Now, if anyone wants to get hands on with the Switch, they’ll probably have to try it at a Gamestop, which is probably the LEAST optimal setting I can think of.

OR…

Nintendo could have reduced the Switch’s price to $249.99.  Would that put them at a loss per unit sold?  Maybe, but consoles are often sold at a loss.  Hardware distributors understand that selling at a loss usually leads to a faster growing install base.  One day, their console will be easier and cheaper to produce, and that’s when they’ll be able to turn a healthy profit.  In the meantime, they’ll make a little off software sales and accessories… or in Nintendo’s case, severely overpriced accessories.  Cover the ears on your wallet, because this rundown is going to make it cry:

A Pro controller is $70.  An additional dock – which is basically just a plastic case with HDMI passthrough – costs $80.  A single Joycon controller – that’s just one SIDE – is $50… or, you can get a ‘discount’ if you buy two for $80.  The Joycon straps are $8 a pop.  The controller cradle for the Joycons – that is, a hunk of plastic with a tiny USB charge port – is $30.

Worst of all, Nintendo have finally joined the multiplayer paywall club.  And that… that’s just terrible.  But damn it, if you want to play Splatoon or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online, they’ve got you by the cajones, don’t they?  Now to be fair, I think everyone expected Nintendo would burrow down this rabbit hole one day… ‘because’, but that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment.  I mean, this was the only consumer friendly thing Nintendo had left… yet they just cast it into the wind like they couldn’t give less of a shit.  And for those of you thinking there’s some other way they can justify their ‘service’, think again.  They’re going to give you either an NES or SNES rom each month, and some of the latter will have multiplayer enabled.

“A rom?  A bloody ROM?!”, you might ask.

Oh yes, a rom.

That’s what their ‘free game’ offerings will be… and at the end of each month, they’ll take them back… unless you want to buy them, of course.  Know what that means?  Nintendo doesn’t give a squatting shit how many times you’ve purchased games through their Virtual Consoles; they STILL want you to buy them again.  The only positive thing I can say about this, at least for the time being, is that we have no idea how much Nintendo are planning to charge for their ‘service’.  If they were smart, they’d make it way less than what Sony and Microsoft are charging… but nah.  Still, the price of this thing is a big question, and they left it hanging in the air.

There were other questions they neglected to answer too, such as, “What’s the launch line-up going to be?”  It wasn’t until the next day we had confirmation of five titles… and boy, did a lot of people express concern about that.  I’ve lived through numerous console launches that had been worse, so I’m not going to complain.  Besides, can you think of a better launch title than Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

“But it’s going to be on the Wii-U!”

So?  Nintendo have only sold between 13 and 14 million units, so for the many that never bought a Wii-U, they won’t care about Zelda being cross-platform.  The people who own a Wii-U won’t care either… you know, since they’re still getting the game.

Despite everything I’ve just shared, I know this may be hard to believe, but, Nintendo know EXACTLY what they’re doing.  We may not like their approach, but every decision they’ve made has been steeped in money.

While casual consumers may look at this thing now and say, “There’s not enough that interests me,” Nintendo doesn’t care.  They know there’s enough demand from fans to keep this thing selling throughout the entirety of 2017, and why?  Because Zelda, Mario Kart, Splatoon and Super Mario Odyssey.  You can argue nobody will care about a port (Mario Kart 8), nor a sequel that hasn’t differentiated itself enough from the original (Splatoon 2), but again, they have a large ‘didn’t previously own a Wii-U’ market to tap into as well.

But will the Switch sell as well as Nintendo and certain analysts believe?

Well, Nintendo apparently plan to have 10 million of these things produced by the end of 2017.  Considering where the Wii-U is sitting, that’s an ambitious goal.  However, there’s a lot of positivity buzzing around what this console can do, so I do expect this thing to outpace its predecessor every step of way.  Certain analysts have guessed that after all is said and done, the Switch will have sold 40 million units.

To that, I say, “Not so fast.”  I don’t think it’s impossible, but Nintendo need to stop being so wishy-washy.

What’s with all the ‘we’re going to continue to support the 3DS’ bullcrap?  They come up with the brilliant idea to market a console that’s suitable for home AND on-the-go usage, and they want to keep its primary competitor on the shelf?  I get that third parties love this machine because there’s 60 million units out there, but not putting the kibosh on the Nintendo 3DS in early 2017 is a mistake, and Nintendo will have to rectify that by this time next year if they hope to bring over the portable crowd.

And this ties directly into that whole ‘third party support’ thing.

Most Nintendo fans will say, “Nobody buys Nintendo hardware to play anything but Nintendo software!”  But a 3DS fan has to be pretty short-sighted to actually believe such baloney.  That system wouldn’t have moved 60 million units if not for third party support.  If you believe otherwise, think of all the people that would recommend Monster Hunter, Ace Attorney, Dragon Quest, Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei, Bravely Default, and so-on and so-forth.  Beyond that, history shows there simply hasn’t been a successful console without a fair amount of third party support.

Thankfully, Nintendo has told us they’d like all third party games to appear on the Switch, but they shouldn’t hold their breath.  They’ll continue to see remasters of popular games, but that’s about it.  However, as long as the Switch keeps its momentum at retail, it shouldn’t be hard for Nintendo to convince third parties already on board with the 3DS to switch to… well, you know.  But again, Nintendo can’t wait years for this transition to happen.  It needs to be a year, tops, and then they have to commit to the Switch 100%.  No ifs, ands or buts.

I’ve let Nintendo have it pretty good in this article, but it’s so you, the consumer, will be aware of what the current value of the system is for the average consumer (not great), how the first year and beyond is likely to pan out (better than the Wii-U… slow at first, perhaps hot afterwards), and what things Nintendo could have done if they were truly ‘in it to win it’.  That said, I think the Switch is a pretty remarkable piece of hardware, and we could see a healthy balance of first party Nintendo games, as well as third party titles once those publishers are convinced to make their 3DS games for the Switch as well, or perhaps even exclusively, leaving the old portable behind.

Of course, success really is in the hands of Nintendo at this point.  They need to deliver on games.  No more of this ‘Metroid Space Ball Horseshit’.  Nintendo always say they listen to their fans, and now is the time for them to deliver.

Generation Without Definition

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In preparation for the 2016 in review conversation we’ll be having on the podcast in about a week, I decided to write down a list of all the games I’ve played.  Not just the games from this past year, mind you, but ALL of them.  Didn’t matter if it’s a game from 2002 I was playing for the first time, or if it was an old favorite I was revisiting for the 18th time.  Old games are just as much a part of our ‘gaming makeup’ each year as the new stuff we play, so here’s what I came up with:

Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

Far Cry 4

Absolute Drift

Batman: Akrham Knight

The Witness

The Division

Doom

Uncharted 4

No Man’s Sky

Final Fantasy XV

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Battlefield 1

Dark Souls

Dying Light

Life Is Strange

The Witcher 3 (restarted)

Dark Souls 3

Forza Horizon 3

Gear of War 4

Dead Rising 4

Kirby: Planet Robobot

PvZ: Garden Warfare 2

Mafia III

Street Fighter V

Inside

Grim Dawn (official release date)

Pokken Tournament

Overwatch

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Pokemon Go

Super Mario Run

Skyrim Special Edition

Dragon Quest VII

Earth Defense Force 4.1

Super Mario 3D Land

Contra 4

Grand Theft Auto Online

Grand Theft Auto 4

Super Mario 64

Super Scribblenauts

Mega Man 2

Mega Man 3

I obviously didn’t play all of these games from start to finish.  Some I may have only played for a couple of hours.  But even so, that’s one hell of a list, isn’t it?  Great titles, alright ones, and even a few stinkers, but overall, I’d say 2016 was rather enjoyable.  Still, this list presents a bit of a problem, namely the inadequacies of the gaming industry as a whole.  Forty-three games, and you know what I noticed about them?  Thirty-two are either sequels or stem iteratively from existing IP’s.  Mmhmm.  Thirty.  Two.  That’s insane.  Even if we take older games off my list, we’re still talking close to 20.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with sequels or reboots.  Doom makes a compelling argument for being my favorite game of the year.  Hell, Dark Souls III is up there, too.  Oh, and surprisingly, Gears of War 4 has proven to be quite memorable, as well.  I also don’t care how many times Nintendo throws Mario at me, because he always amounts to a good time.  Point is, I don’t personally mind when studios lean on formulas that’s proven to work them.  No, it’s when they cross that line… when they insist on using that mindset as a crutch, that’s when I get worried.

And I’m worried now.

Gamers routinely say this is the best generation of gaming to date.  Sure, they’ve conveniently overlooked the unnecessary iterative consoles and the sea of unfinished games that’s been released… but vidyagames, right?!

But seriously, I can’t deny there’s been some titles genuinely worth swooning over, but that’s not unique to the here and now.  There have always been great video games, and there always will be.

But from a first party perspective, Sony and Microsoft have been playing things far too safe.  They’ve relied once again on the likes of Killzone, Infamous, Gears of War, God of War, Forza, Halo, Ratchet and Clank, Little Big Planet, Uncharted, The Last of Us, and a handful of others.  These are franchises that also defined the LAST generation of gaming, and while I understand the desire for studios to milk a cow’s supple teats until they’re coughing up powder, they’re leaving the PS4 and Xbox One without identities of their own.

The Xbox 360 was defined by Forza, Fable, and Gears of War.  But what does the Xbox One have?  Sunset Overdrive was largely overlooked, and Quantum Break was disappointing.

The Playstation 3 had Infamous, Uncharted and The Last of Us.  But PS4?  Well, it has Bloodborne… but that’s about it.  Nobody cared about Knack, and while Until Dawn is great, it isn’t a title that’s going to sell systems.  Driveclub has its fans, but still hasn’t managed to evade the stink left behind by its troubled launch.  And it’s not even worth mentioning The Order: 1886 (I didn’t think it was terrible, but it’s certainly frowned upon by most of the gaming community).

So, if video games aren’t giving this generation a definitive voice, what is?

Well, the struggle over resolution and frame-rate, for one.  But outside of that, this generation will likely be remembered for the releases of the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio.  I mean, their very existence could very well change the way consoles are developed and sold from here on out.  I don’t have a crystal ball or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw a Playstation 5.  If each console is only somewhat better than the version before it, a new naming convention could take over:  Playstation Nitro, Playstation Beyond, Playstation Zen, etc.  All only somewhat better than the previous iteration, and yet still years behind what PC hardware brings to the table.

And if I were Sony and Microsoft, I’d start thinking about how big a problem that might be.

This isn’t rocket science.  GAMES should define how we feel about any given generation.  Sure, we’ll also develop an attachment to hardware designs, but games are what matter most.  Unfortunately, the gaming industry has lost sight of that, and that could very well bite console developers in the end.  If Microsoft and Sony want to continue down the path of pushing consoles more than first party exclusives, they’ll eventually be perceived as third-party machines.  If that happens, it leaves the door WIDE open for Steam machines to make another push, and with Steam having almost any third party title you can dream of, and for less money, that platform could finally become a contender in the living room.

And speaking of third-party, it’s pretty clear the AAA heavies have gotten lazy, too.  They’re just too afraid to let go of moneymaking franchises.  People often complain about being bored of the same old crap, but how do these companies respond?

“We’ll make our games look better.  Cool?”

But people aren’t complaining about graphics anymore.  That narrative just isn’t driving the industry as much as it used to… at least from the perspective of consumers.  Gamers want better writing, character depth, enemy AI, etc.  But nooooo… all anyone has done is say, “Better volumetric fog, god rays, and particle effects!  That’ll revolutionize everything!”

Ugh.

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Shadow of Mordor had the right idea with the Nemesis System.  It was basic, yes, but I was convinced it was the first baby-step in this industry’s journey to develop better AI… and yet nobody has tried to emulate, let alone best that system since.  Nope, every other game still features enemies that either stand against a single guard post, or walk in the same L-shaped pattern over and over.

So let me ask:  Is this truly the best that AAA developers could pull off in 2016?  Is this REALLY the best generation of gaming ever?  I don’t think so, and furthermore, I think the industry CAN do better.  Not only CAN it do better, but there’s nothing wrong with EXPECTING better, either.  But with so many people literally buying products before they’re finalized, what incentive does this industry have to change its unfriendly business tactics?

Well, consumers have to realize that more powerful hardware isn’t going to solve a damn thing.  If you want better quality products, you have to stop pre-ordering games.  Stop telling studios you’re willing to buy their crap sight unseen.  Also, if you’re not having much fun playing the games being released on the PS4 or Xbox One, playing them on a PS4 Pro or Xbox One S (or even the Xbox Scorpio) isn’t going to change that.  Your gameplay will be enhanced, but enhancement of non-enjoyment is still just that… non-enjoyment.

If you want newer, better IP’s, and advancement in storytelling and AI, then all you need to do is keep those conversations in the public eye.  Keep those narratives strong so AAA publishers and developers can see that they’re no longer going to get away with repackaging the same two or three gameplay formats time and time again.  Make damn sure they know you want more than just:  FPS – The Game / Blasting From Behind Cover – The Game / Stealthily Wipe-Out Poor Enemy AI – The Game / Detective Mode – The Game.

Not that AAA games should be villainized, though.  Again, I still find them to be quite enjoyable.  I’m just disappointed that the industry refuses to broaden its horizons in the ways that are most needed.

The good news?  As long as you’re willing to wander outside the AAA scene, there’s plenty of great games being released by smaller and/or independent studios.  Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witness, Inside, Limbo, Absolute Drift, Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge, Grow Home, Child of Light, Never Alone, Outlast, Trine, Braid, Undertale, Owlboy, Soma… and these are only some of the most notable choices.  And hey, if none of these pique your curiosity, there’s still decades worth of games for you to go back and enjoy.

It’s easy to forget that gaming isn’t a ‘box’, but an art form that we can enjoy… well, pretty much whenever.  Games take a bit longer to digest than music albums, movies, and even a number of books, and as a result, people always feel like they have to play the newest stuff and never look back on the old… and that’s just simply not true.  If you find yourself in a rut, just look at your back catalog or start working on games that you may have missed.  Sure, there are some titles that may not have aged as gracefully as others, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that most hold their own quite well.

 

 

CD Projekt Red May Be Preparing To Protect Against Hostile Takeover


Earlier this year, video game media made everyone aware that this industry isn’t just about selling games. No, there’s backroom deals, corruption, and of course major moves that may be construed as hostile. This information had come as a result of Vivendi’s continual attempt to take over Ubisoft, and that tug-of-war still wages today. 

A lot of people assumed Vivendi taking over Ubisoft would be a good thing. Gamers began to fantasize about a world where in-game protagonists would no longer have to climb towers in order to reveal more pieces of map, but the reality of the situation is that if the company taking things over isn’t competent, the game developer could eventually cease to exist. Vivendi has a track record of soaking up game industry assets, mismanaging their funds, and then allowing those assets to go belly up. That’s not a good thing for anyone. Even if you loathe a company like Ubisoft, we need more competition in this industry, not less.

And one such contender has been rising over the years: CD Projekt RED. They gained a bit of notoriety with The Witcher and especially its sequel, but The Witcher 3 has propelled them to the next level. They’ve proven they can make games just as large and intricately detailed as anybody in the business – including Rockstar – and that they can do so with a fraction of the budget and staff members on hand. This has not only made the company financially successful, but their consumer friendly practices have also generated a lot of good will… and the industry as a whole has taken notice, with multiple offers having been made to acquire the company. They’ve all been turned down, of course, but CDPR are no longer a private company. They’re public, meaning there’s ways for companies to wedge themselves in if they play their cards right.

Well, it seems that CDPR have called for an emergency meeting. The gist is that they’re exploring the possibility of buying back around 60 million dollars’ worth of their own shares. I’m not an expert, so maybe this is just a case of the studio wanting to go back to their independent status. However, the urgency of this meeting and what it entails more than likely means they’re preparing to protect themselves against threat of a hostile takeover.  

I’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available.

EDIT:

Other reports are now flooding online. Since the early details we broke on Byte-Size Impressions, Neogaf member ‘boskee’ has posted some additional details about the meeting, being held November 29th:

One – Vote on whether or not to allow the company to buy back part of its own shares for 250 million PLN ($64 million)

Two – Vote on whether to merge CD Projekt Brand (fully owned subsidiary that holds trademarks to the Witcher and Cyberpunk games) into the holding company

Three – Vote on the change of the company’s statute.

“Now, the 1st and the 3rd point seem to be the most interesting, particularly the last one. The proposed change will put restrictions on the voting ability of shareholders who exceed 20% of the ownership in the company. It will only be lifted if said shareholder makes a call to buy all the remaining shares for a set price and exceeds 50% of the total vote.

According to the company’s board, this is designed to protect the interest of all shareholders in case of a major investor who would try to acquire remaining shares without offering a ‘decent price’.”

Again, more details will be reported as they become available. 

 

The Illusion of Choice

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Unless I’m misreading how people feel about the gaming industry’s economic climate, they’re sick to death of microtransactions and DLC. However, instead of rallying against these business models, folks are opening their wallets, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they’re not seeing the forest through the trees. The average consumer should be ashamed of how often they’ve fallen for the carrot-on-a-stick routine… but I guess from their perspective, ignorance is bliss. While that’s okay for some, I’m the kind of guy that would rather be bummed by knowledge than be oblivious to what’s going on. But unfortunately, consumer complacency reigns supreme, and some recent headlines have brought to light a new business model which hopes to further exploit that. And what is it? The illusion of choice.

First, let’s talk about Sony.

They’re taking a proactive approach to consumer grumblings. Instead of allowing minor complaints to fester into nasty headlines, they’re finding creative ways to appease their audience. That said, Sony’s peace offerings have been rather inadequate.

PS+ has changed a great deal since the initial launch, but much of the good will it’s garnered comes from a single perk: ‘Free’ AAA games. We’re talking Infamous 2, Bioshock Infinite, Demon’s Souls, Uncharted 3, Shadow of the Colossus, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space 3, and the list goes on.

Have gamers been spoiled? Perhaps, but Sony implemented this strategy to combat the multiplayer paywall known as Xbox Live. But that’s lost on them nowadays. They, too, have shackled multiplayer behind the bars of subscription fees, and those ‘free’ titles have devolved into an eighth generation indie-thon. Not that indie titles are bad, but it’s not what PS+ subscribers have been conditioned to expect.

I don’t think anybody expected Sony to give us retail games in the PS4’s first year. If they did, they were naive and just looking for a reason to bitch. Why would they cannibalize sales just to satisfy a few loose-lipped idiots on the net? But now after two years in this generation, we have yet to see so much as a launch title on the program. Are Killzone and Knack REALLY still selling enough copies to warrant their exclusion from PS+? I doubt it. Hell, even Microsoft – who, by the way, are still losing money per console sold (once taking research, development, and marketing into consideration) – have given Gold subscribers Tomb Raider and Rayman Legends. So, what gives?

This means the value of PS+ is plummeting, regardless of whether consumers care to perceive it that way or not. The promise behind this program, specifically in regards to the Playstation 4, was to strengthen both their servers and quality of ‘free’ content, while enhancing their community-based features.

I’d argue they haven’t done that.

Their servers are weaker than their (direct) competition. The quality of ‘free’ games have gone downhill. Their community-based features are nearly non-existent… unless you count clicking the ‘thumbs up’ button on a game or app a ‘community feature’.

And little by little, people have taken notice. So, Sony have invited PS+ subscribers to collectively vote for one of three indie titles… which is smart. VERY smart. When you give your customers the power of choice, they feel appreciated and shower you with good will. But in the business world, very few – if any – decisions are made with our best interest in mind. This vote was manufactured to extract good will, and more importantly, make people forget the ‘where’s our AAA’ discussion. And unfortunately, if the comments I’ve seen can act as a decent barometer, it worked. People don’t get that this was a diversionary tactic. They’d rather believe Sony are gracious and altruistic.

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The next headline that fits in with this ‘illusion of choice’ theme, is the recently unveiled Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ program.

Pre-order exclusives have plagued this industry for a long time. Publishers have held content for ransom unless you’ve promised to buy their products sight unseen, and when you do, you’re STILL missing out because of retailer specific pre-order exclusives. “Buy it in advance, FROM US, or fuck you.” That’s the gist.

How much worse could it possibly get?

How about Kickstarter-inspired reward tiers based on pre-order numbers? The more people that pre-order, the more content they’ll get! Isn’t that GREAT?!

So, let’s break down why this sucks major donkey dick:

Kickstarter is meant to fund projects that wouldn’t exist without some financial help. But Square Enix and Eidos Montreal aren’t doing this to bring a passion project to life, but to sucker people into a ‘buy before you try’ agreement.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a loyal fan of the franchise, either. If enough people don’t pre-order, these companies are basically going to punish you and say, “Too bad, so sad. You should have told all your friends to pre-order, too.”

Now, pre-order DLC usually consists of cosmetic items, but the third tier for Mankind Divided features an in-game mission.

Last but certainly not least, three of the five tiers force you to choose between one piece of content over another. That means there’s no possible way to acquire all the extra goodies in the ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ program… unless you feel like buying multiple copies..

Of course, the whole idea of ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ isn’t meant to make you feel like you’re being raped by the anal splitting cock of a minotaur. No, it’s supposed to make you feel like you’re in control of your own destiny.

Well, whoopy-fuckin’-doo.

All gamers really want is to get a complete game at the complete price. But is there an option for that? Of course there isn’t. And why? Because ‘fuck you’. That’s why.

The ‘choose your own rewards’ mantra, much like ‘vote for your next PS+ game’, is little more than marketing bullshit to make you forget how hard you’re being screwed. I sincerely hope consumers are wise enough to tell Square Enix and Eidos Montreal to shove it up their ass. If that message isn’t delivered loud-and-clear, make no doubt about it: We WILL see more of this. A LOT more.