Greatness Delayed Podcast #036: We Deserve Better

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Greatness Delayed Podcast #035: We’ve Got To Stop Taking Such Long Breaks

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Mike and Gus talk about God of War, Microsoft’s first party problem, Nintendo’s Labo and Switch cracking, and E3 wishes!

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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.

 

 

Greatness Delayed Podcast – Sony Helps This Cast Live Up To Its Name

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Mike and Gus discuss NYCC, some new vidyagames, and a whole bunch of Sony’s latest stumbles.

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Listen Up, Fanboys

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E3 was supposed to be Christmas for gamers.  Sure, the conferences exist mostly to appease investors, but this should have been the one time of year internet hate mongers set their differences aside, treat each other like human beings, and rejoice in a weeklong celebration.  Instead, what I’ve seen is a resurgence of the console wars, and it looks even sillier than it did at the beginning of the generation.

Since when did ‘fan’ become synonymous with gnarling your face and spitting the most putrid bile imaginable?  Like, why is this even a thing?  From where I’m sitting, it seems like all it takes is a difference of opinion.  Forget context, forget reason.  Hell, a number of the attacks I’ve seen on the net are completely unsolicited.

Is this really where we’re at?  We’ve struggled for decades to show the world that gamers aren’t childish… and for what?  To ultimately prove that stereotype is true?

Bravo, ladies and gentlemen.  Bravo.

Now, I’m not blanketing my anger over the entirety of the gaming community, but for those of you that have engaged in pointless cock-measurement contests – and you know who you are – I feel a reminder is needed.

In case you’ve forgotten, we’re on the same team… all of us.  So much time is wasted in Sony vs. Microsoft debates, and there’s so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin.

How about the fact that this isn’t a two horse race?  Why do people tend to forget about Nintendo?  I know they haven’t done very well with the Wii-U, but it’s still a great platform to play great games on.  Some people even prefer it.  And let’s not forget about the PC, which plays pretty much all third party games and even has some exclusives that can’t be found on consoles.

I don’t think I’m being too idealistic here, either.  If you want to know how dumb it is to compare consoles, just remember that most of what we play are the third party games.  And you know what the conversation centers around when we talk about them?  The games themselves, right?  When you meet up with friends, you might say, “Have you played the new Doom?  It’s freaking awesome!”  They’ll probably nod their heads and say, “Yeah man.  SO much fun!”  Know what they’re NOT going to say?  “Yeah man, totally!  I’ve been playing it on my PS4, and guess what?!  MY DYNAMIC RESOLUTION BUFFER IS BETTER THAN IT IS ON THAT CRAPPY XBOX!”  These conversations don’t happen.  They just don’t.  And when performance IS discussed, it’s because there’s glaring issues that go wayyyyy beyond hardware capability.

See what I’m saying here?  It’s all about the GAMES.  But, since you console warring trolls – again, you know who you are – can’t help but feed your superiority complex, I have a message I want each ‘side’ to consider:

Xbots – You fools.  You damn fools.  Sony fans have been giving you the business for years.  I imagine you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to show the world you’re classier, more mature… and yet, the moment you felt victory within reach, you lost your minds.  No, really.  You did.  I don’t think you understand just how stupid you’ve looked since the Scorprio was revealed at E3.  It’s been like watching William Wallace’s army in Braveheart when they mooned their enemies… except instead of the ‘freedom’ battle cry, you’ve been banging on about teraflops.  Who cares about freakin’ teraflops?  I don’t.  And you know what’s funny?  Most of you don’t even know what a teraflop is.  All you’ve been doing is parroting the latest buzzword.  And besides, your victory is imagined anyway.  You’re comparing two consoles that have yet to see the light of day.  If that doesn’t make you feel sheepish, then you have a severe lack of self-awareness, my friends.

Sony Ponies – Yeah, the Xbots are coming off like a bunch of delusional lunatics right now, but to be fair, this is how your fan base has looked throughout the entirety of this generation.  900p or 1080p, 30fps or 60fps… who gives a shit?  You act like hardware performance is the most important thing in the world, but if you really felt that way, you’d buy a PC.  It’s really that simple.  Why compare nickels to quarters when you can get those dolla dolla bills, y’all?  And, I know what you’re going to say, too.  “Not everyone can afford a PC!”  True.  Consoles are less expensive than a PC.  There’s no denying that.  But I see a ton of you excited to drop at least another $400 on the Neo… after having already spent $400 on the OG PS4.  That’s $800 in a single generation… just for hardware.  You could have spent that money up front to get a machine that was capable of Neo-like graphics a while ago.  “But Sony are for the players!”  Nope.  They’re not.  They’re the same as any other major corporation out there.  They’ll smile in your face while they reach for the wallet resting in your back pocket.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my PS4, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with bowing at Yoshida’s feet.

And while we’re talking about console fanboys being a little too mouthy for their own good, there’s a couple other camps that also need to be addressed:

Nintendo Fans – You are, undoubtedly, the nicest fan base of the bunch… but some of you take your affection for this brand wayyyyy too seriously.  Yes, Nintendo is a great place to play great games that can’t be found elsewhere.  But some of you straight-up pretend that games on other platforms aren’t any fun.  I totally get that we’re inundated with annual franchises and iterative formulas, but I still – and this is coming from someone who loves Nintendo – find plenty of great games to play.  Unfortunately, some of you believe it’s your job to hype the company up, and feed their bottom line by supporting every shitty business decision they’ll ever make.  Folks, on occasion, it’s OK to hold Nintendo’s feet to the fire.  You won’t lose your fan badge.  I promise.  Complaining is the only way to keep major corporations reasonably ‘honest’.  Do you really think having DLC in physical form is a good idea, especially in such short supply?  How about the short charge life on the Wii-U gamepad’s battery?  Have gimmicky controllers ever made any of their games better?  You don’t have to shy away from these issues.  I’ve made my feelings quite clear on Nintendo’s business practices (read here and here), and yet, I still enjoy their games.  I still consider myself a fan.  Crazy, right?

PC Master Race – With a name like ‘master race,’ you’d think some level of ACTUAL superiority would come into play… but oh, the hypocrisy.  You act like gaming on a PC puts you above the squabbles of console fans, yet you actively seek opportunities to fight with them, to let them know how much better your rig is, and likely has been for years.  But at the end of the day, you’re no better than those people, especially since you fight amongst yourselves over which brand of GPU is best.  I see hateful AMD vs. Nvidia arguments far too often, and I’ve only been actively looking in on those conversations since the beginning of 2016.  This year, PC has been my platform of choice, but your community is by far the most negative.  Outside of those pitiful GPU battles, you also come off as spoiled brats who won’t spend more than $5 per game.  Oh, and you try way too hard to justify piracy.  As gamers, we should all want to ensure devs get paid for the games we’re about to enjoy.  I get you want a better deal and all, but even without taking advantage of Ebay-like sites, pricing on PC games have been WAY better than anything I’ve seen in the console market.  There’s zero need to steal stuff.  So, when you cry a game isn’t within your insulting price range, I’ve got zero tears to shed.

Look, at the end of the day, we’re all gamers.  Is it really worth arguing over minor fluctuations in performance?  No.  Of course it isn’t.  For the most part, we’re still playing the same exact games.  There’s only two times off the top of my head where I felt a noticeable difference because of a change in platform:

Dragon Age Origins – Its battle system was designed around a keyboard and mouse, and unfortunately, that means the console iterations had to suffer.  Having played both PC and console versions of Origins, I can tell you that playing on a PC is almost like playing an entirely different game.  I’ll never play this on consoles again.

Diablo III – Oddly enough, Diablo III’s situation is precisely the opposite.  While the mouse and keyboard configuration worked well enough, hacking-and-slashing at a thousand clicks a minute wasn’t very comfortable.  In Blizzard’s quest for more money, however, Diablo III was eventually ported to consoles.  Not content with following in the steps of Dragon Age, Blizzard worked hard on ensuring the game felt nice to play on a controller.  Well, not only does it feel nice, it is, in my opinion, the definitive way to play the game.  Not sure they’ll ever convince me to play the PC version again… unless they patch in controller support at a later date.  Seriously Blizzard, why haven’t you done this yet?!

I’m sure you guys have some other examples where gameplay itself can change from one platform to the next, but point is, these are exceptions to the rule.  So, stop your squabbling.  You’re wasting your time on that ‘mine is better than yours’ crusade.  The cold, hard truth is that each platform comes with its own unique set of flaws.  So, when you make it a point to attack another ‘side’ of the equation… well, you know what they say: “Don’t throw stones in a house of glass.”

My goal today wasn’t to just sit here and sling a bunch of shit talk your way, so please, don’t take it like that.  Instead, I’ve merely attempted to show you all how foolish you look when you behave like children, a look which gamers simply do not need perpetuated by people who aren’t secure in the financial decisions they’ve made.  Game on, everyone… but please, let’s do it quietly, or at the very least, positively.

Sales: A Matter Of Trust

Trust

The internet has been on fire with post-E3 impressions and controversy, and while I’ve been watching and participating in those conversations, there was little worth discussing on my site. My duty has been, first and foremost, to keep consumers informed when an industry ‘wallet predator’ comes along. The sad reality is that the video game industry is built upon unfriendly business models (for the consumer), so I’ve kept my mouth shut, lest I risk repeating the DLC and microtransations Doomsday spiel once again.

But I’ve seen something during a recent Steam sale that needs to be addressed.

This is going to come across as common sense for most, but it’s worth talking about. Why? Because gamers have a tendency to get attached to their favorite devices, services and development teams. There’s plenty of reasons why, the most important being that they want to defend the stuff they have fun with… but there’s another, more personal element they struggle with: How much their favorite entertainment providers care.

“They care about their customers” is a common discussion thread, and is hardly ever as true as people would like to believe.

And no, I’m not trying to say the industry is evil. But facts are facts, business is business, and money is ALWAYS the bottom line. If a model is consumer friendly but proves to be unprofitable, it won’t continue for the sole purpose of putting a smile on your face. So, some models are inevitably dropped, but most get reworked into something else… and that ‘something else’ is typically a better attempt to exploit your psychology.

The good news is that you can prepare to defend yourself against this. How? By learning about the products you’re interested in. Research is VITAL for consumer protection, especially now that impulse buys are just a click or two away.

We’ve been conditioned to jump for joy at the mere mention of a sale. I mean, the flash of excitement that sparks in most is virtually Pavlovian. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, either. Rich or poor, people will ALWAYS chase after a better deal.

And it all comes down to how our brains are wired.

When someone walks into a store and sees ‘SALE!!!’ in monster-truck sized font, they feel compelled to gravitate towards the sign.

Desire is triggered.

Next, their brain weighs the value of sale against the initial price. If the savings are significant enough, they reach for their wallet/purse and make the purchase.

Pleasure is achieved.

Amazing, isn’t it? We feel a rush, gravitate towards our goal, take it, and feel a sense of reward. We then have positive association with sales events, and keep seeking them out or take advantage when they roll around. And why? Because businesses have learned they can exploit sales to trigger a release of dopamine in our brains.

Haven’t you ever wondered why you buy so much useless crap? Dopamine. This chemical is highly linked with desire and reward, so when we emerge victorious at the end of the ‘reward pathway’, we’re more likely to perform the action again, logic be damned.

Steam sales are a perfect example of this. If you game on the PC, chances are good you have more games than you’ll ever be able to play in your life. Why buy so much if you’ll never have the time to get to it all?

The answer is, obviously, that you thought those deals were too good to pass up. Even though you didn’t need those games, you bought them anyway. It felt GOOD, so you acted on impulse. And all in part to dopamine.

Of course, not every sale feels like a win. In fact, some seemingly go out of their way to take advantage of us.

A short while ago, Grand Theft Auto V appeared on a Steam sale for… wait for it… $59.99 (regular price). How could this be? It was advertised as 25% off…

It’s because the ‘normal’ price was hiked up to $80.

Valve says this was an unfortunate glitch, but it matters little in the public eye. ‘The damage has been done’, as they say. People took a ride down the ‘reward pathway’, felt they were being had, and reacted accordingly. Instead of being treated with the pleasure of a dopamine release, their brains registered the experience as painful instead.

But I’m going to assume that Valve were telling the truth, and that this truly was done in error.

Still…

This sort of thing happens all the time. Not to this degree, of course, but it happens, and intentionally at that. Pay attention to those PS Store prices. During a good number of sale events, the ‘original’ price goes up. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Microsoft does the same thing. Either way, if consumers haven’t done their research, the subtle increase goes unnoticed, and they walk away feeling like they got a better deal than they actually did.

If the sales model sounds manipulative, that’s because it is. Again, not because it’s evil. That’s just how business works.

Every major business takes all aspects of human psychology into consideration, and I do mean ALL. Everything from store layout, to product placement, colors and even smell. It’s all diligently researched, tested, and (once fully optimized) implemented.

They’re essentially treating us like lab rats, with their stores as the maze. If the marketing department has done their job well enough, we’ll go through a majority of that maze to get what we want, impulsively grabbing things we didn’t intend for along the way. The end result, of course, is walking away and saying, “Wow! That place is great! I’ll have to go there again!”

You know, as if it were some sort of accident.

Of course, things play out a little differently on platforms like Steam (since there’s no physical property to walk through, nor any physical product to speak of), but it’s the same basic idea.

Soooo… where does this concept of trust come into play? Why do people feel the need to defend their favorite brands? Are the likes of Valve and Rockstar REALLY above doing this sort of thing? Of course not. EVERY company wants your money, and if they can implement changes to get more of it, they will. To believe otherwise is… is just silly. Especially in regards to this ‘console war’. Both Sony and Microsoft are willing to do whatever it takes to get your money… and people find it’s worthwhile to argue which one is ‘kind’ enough to fuck us the least?

The reality of the situation is that businesses only extend their hand far enough across the table to grab and pull you in. Forget about ‘trust’. It simply shouldn’t exist between company and consumer. The only things you should trust are research and your intuition. It’s a money hungry world out there, and everyone wants a piece of yours.

Consumers HAVE to be vigilant if they hope to come out on top, because this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to the video game industry. No, ANY business worth their salt knows the key to success is to keep customers happy, while not going as far as to ‘give the house away’. That’s why it’s so common to see things like the ‘original’ price go up during a sale event: It makes a larger psychological dent on the consumer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local mom and pop, major retail chain, or even an internet giant like Amazon. They all do it.

The largest weapon in your arsenal is knowledge. With that in mind, remember that most sales are hardly worth the raise of an eyebrow. Some are certainly worth acting upon, but without your due diligence, you stand to lose more than you’ll gain.

Happy hunting!