Tuesday, June 11, 2013

E3 2013: Microsoft Turns On Its Customers and Sony's PS4 May Crash the Industry


There's an electricity in the air.

Yes, once again, it's time for the Electronics Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3, the big annual video game industry trade show in Los Angeles which we always hear is becoming more irrelevant. And granted, we seem to be seeing less games there every year - what with the ever-increasing industry woes I've chronicled my thoughts on here for years - but still, everyone goes and makes it out to be a big deal. There's always awkward technical glitches and nonsense video game system customers don't care about, like attempts to push Sony and Microsoft branded alternatives to streaming services like Netflix and apparently now convince us that we need to manage fantasy football leagues right there on our console dashboards while also watching more commercials. Everyone still goes - except Nintendo at least had the foresight to do a series of their usually excellent prerecorded Nintendo Direct internet broadcast conferences instead of their usual awkward stage show, just showing up to show off the games directly to the press and to attendees on the show floor - and it's generally kind of terrible and embarrassing every year.

And I still write about it. But this year, it's different.

I've been writing about it for years, the ongoing crumbling of the video game industry with Sony and Microsoft. The previous generation ended since my last E3 posts, with the arrival of the Wii U last November. Understandably, by faults on the parts of Nintendo, third parties, and ultimately the messy state of the global economy and visibly declining state of video game hardware and software sales, the Wii U has struggled so far. They didn't even push New Super Mario Bros. U at launch, when that should have been front and center in the marketing everywhere. Now the 3DS is the only healthy traditional video game platform on the entire market now, dominating globally after its early struggles. This is a turnaround Nintendo is obviously hoping to repeat with the Wii U, though it's awful that it's had to go through this in the first place. But there's a lot at stake in making this turnaround happen, and not just with Nintendo.

Sony and Microsoft have unveiled their new consoles, the stagnantly named Playstation 4 and confusingly named Xbox One. (The very naming of which makes it clear that in retrospect, the Wii U name isn't nearly as confusing as the competition's - nor as tired.) And in the past 24 hours, the day before E3 2013 officially starts, Microsoft and Sony both held their press conferences. But after a whole generation of the industry beating itself to death on the PS3 and Xbox 360, something's different. Change is in the air. This is it. We're finally arriving. Critical mass.

To begin, reality has little bearing on the narrative about the industry you'll hear within the video game subculture. Nintendo has been 'doomed' for coming up on twenty years in this narrative. Every PS3 and Xbox 360 game was a hit, and all industry struggles and losses are nothing to ever think about or consider - let alone dare connect with the PS3 or 360. They were the 'real winners' of the past generation despite losing billions of dollars, the PS3 barely breaking even recently - catastrophic after over 7 years on the market - and the Xbox 360 financial problems carefully obscured by Microsoft couching it within the rest of their entertainment division. As I've been over in this blog ad nauseum - because it never stopped - these platforms, favored by the industry over Nintendo for increasingly irrational and unjustifiable reasons (When you see an industry figure lash out against any company over social media, it's always Nintendo, and it's never any more informed than the average gaming message board rant, which is to say, not at all.), continued to get aggressive third party support all generation despite neither platform ever becoming consistently or reliably profitable, with the average game requiring around 1.5 million copies sold in the early days to break even (The average PS3 and 360 game does not even come close to selling 500,000 copies, and never has.), and development costs increasing with developer ambition unchecked over the course of the generation, with budgets skyrocketing (Quite a few breaking the $100 million budget barrier and taking spectacular losses) and game after game expected to be a smash hit - including titles as recent as the new Tomb Raider game earlier this year - failing to come remotely close to turning a profit, even in some cases after selling several million copies. Instead of changing their behavior, the industry continued this unsustainable behavior and as I've noted time and time again, has hobbled itself more and more every passing year. Because apparently there are very few people in positions of power in the video game industry anymore actually willing to make the necessary budget allocations and platform choices to run a viable, functioning business.

As we head into this new generation with Nintendo attempting to decrease development costs on the Wii U from those of the PS3 and Xbox 360, and Sony and Microsoft pushing new platforms aiming for another dramatic leap forward in graphics and a huge leap forward in development cost that nobody in the industry can afford, has the industry learned anything? No, of course not.

The PS4 was unveiled in February to a relatively flat reception with graphics that impressed, but games that inspired no passion. The powerful hardware specs had leaked months ago, along with details of some pretty heinous anti-consumer DRM intended to eliminate the sale of preowned games and keep people from lending games to friends and family members, among other awful things. Despite this, the vocal elements in the video game subculture that have been declaring Nintendo 'doomed' as long as they've been gaming - and refused to accept that the Wii led the market (In hardware sales, software sales, first party game sales, third party profitability rates, total third party exclusives, and overall cultural impact - by effectively every metric) in spite of all evidence that contradicted their willful ignorance (The sort of cognitive dissonance human beings do not like to have threatened by terrifying things like facts.) - continued to fantasize about the Playstation 4 as a 'new PS2,' longing to return to the days where Sony dominated the industry with their increasingly stagnant, ultra-conservative hardware, which now focused on graphical horsepower and 'movie games' above all else, and they could feel more comfortable with Nintendo's 'doom' as their hardware languished, lacking the sorts of games at the time of Sony's dominance that helped trigger their resurgence with the DS and Wii. Namely classic-style 2D Super Mario Bros. games. Like with the PS3, the cognitive dissonance associated with the PS4 also included completely ignoring what the cost of development actually meant for the industry, telling themselves time and time again that games were 'successful' with the low sales necessary to make the average lower-budget PS2 game profitable, when in reality these games were crippling their parent companies financially, and we saw massive layoffs and both developers and publishers big and small falling over the course of the generation - Sony themselves opening the previous generation with the PS3 putting an end to Factor5, previously a beloved presence on Nintendo platforms, and the generation closing with THQ's utter collapse and the scavenging of its intellectual property after too many PS3 and 360 games bombed.

The Xbox One was unveiled to more of an uproar less than a month ago when Microsoft revealed its own draconian anti-used-games DRM much like that which had been leaked as being in Sony's PS4. It also lacked in compelling games at the reveal, and much like the PS4's announced library, relied heavily on up-ports of PS3 and 360 games releasing at the same time, which are no incentive to buy expensive new hardware. Much of the reveal was focused on unnecessary features like fantasy football leagues and the idea that the Xbox brand should be all about your watching TV - including getting achievements for watching TV - while gaming was an afterthought. Microsoft was finally trying to push their overpriced set-top box where gamers did not actually own their games. On top of which, they decided against offering any backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games and for all the focus on their account system - as with Sony - they opted not to allow their customers to carry any of their digital downloads forward, making building a longer-term digital download game collection impossible. Sony has done this with the PS4 as well, but is getting a pass on criticism for it due to the bias overwhelmingly in favor of Sony that has existed in the video game subculture since their initial domination of the industry following their entrance back in the mid-'90s. This is a bias that has remained unshaken even in the face of the failure of the PSP outside of Japan, the PS3's existence as gaming's biggest financial catastrophe - outweighing those of the Atari Jaguar and Panasonic 3DO by far, not that the Sony audience tends to know what those even were - and even the complete and utter failure of Sony's Playstation Vita, gaming's most ironically named platform in market history. At their own conference just a few hours ago, Sony barely acknowledged the Vita, tossing some old PS2 ports - curiously, the Wii was always jeered at when it got improved versions of PS2 games, yet the Vita isn't - and insisted it was fine, despite the fact that the public has access to their hardware sales numbers. There's no question that the platform's effectively done already, not even a full year and a half after its release outside of Japan, as it's proven to be nearly as costly to develop for as the PS3, and barely anybody owns it, making it impossible to make money on. A crisis mirroring what both the Xbox One and PS4 are going to face upon their launches, even more harshly than the Wii U's own deep sales woes. At any rate, when it comes to the aforementioned Sony bias, where Nintendo has been 'doomed' forever, Sony has been 'on the verge of a comeback' ever since the DS and Wii crushed the PS3 and PSP in the market. The writing is never on the wall for Sony, and Nintendo is never allowed to have one victory - also, whenever exclusive third party games get announced for Nintendo platforms anymore, it's the obsessively self-entitled Sony audience that throws tantrums, no matter how dangerously unviable their platforms are. It happened with Dragon Quest IX, it happened with Mega Man 9, it happened with Monster Hunter Tri, it happened with Resident Evil Revelations, it happened with Shin Megami Tensei IV, it happened with Bayonetta 2, it happened with Sonic Lost World, it happened with LEGO City Undercover, and it even happened with the recent announcement of the end of Sony's Yakuza series exclusivity with HD ports of the first two games now Wii U-bound - and Nintendo funded and published some of these games as collaborations themselves. The list is still growing.

Microsoft held their E3 press conference more than twelve but less than twenty four hours ago in the early afternoon. It lacked in exclusive games, and what few first party games it had had no shot to speak of at turning a profit, selling the millions more they would need to, when they couldn't make Xbox 360 development viable with a sales requirement to the tune of millions less. The whole conference was an embarrassment, from them dredging up old Nintendo franchise Killer Instinct - owned by Rare, which Microsoft bought quite a few years back, and effectively reduced to a shell making games for their failed Kinect peripheral, while all the staff that mattered at Rare left the company years ago - just to hand it to a notoriously inept outside developer to turn it into a generic Mortal Kombat clone to trying really hard to convince people that they'll get the most out of the Xbox experience by buying the suffering Windows 8 (Which reminded again that Microsoft is in no way infallible as a corporation, despite the undue reverence they often receive.) and their Surface tablet to use their Smartglass application, which, after its big unveil at E3 2012, has gone on to be incorporated into very few games and essentially bring no real value to the gaming experience. And on top of all of this, just as Sony has tried to awkwardly force people to stick with their failed Wii remote and nunchuck knock-off in the Playstation Move by making a few more PS3 and now PS4 games using it despite its vast unpopularity, Microsoft has continued to push Kinect with the new Xbox One, but it's less about games now - when it was always a cynical response to the Wii's incredible success and nothing more, like Sony's Move, typical terrible business moves that've been made hundreds to thousands of times before and will be made again; there are books dedicated to these mistakes that nobody ever seems to learn from - and more about spying on you to make sure you're not violating any license agreements by doing something horrible like streaming a movie while there are 'too many' people watching it in the same room with you. On top of which, they set a $500 price point for the system, and the next Halo's not coming for another year and a half or so. It's a vastly anti-consumer train wreck, conceived with the notion that the PS4 would be too, effectively colluding in an attack on consumer rights. Just as Microsoft went from a laughingstock with the original Xbox to somehow beloved with the 360 despite its numerous shortcomings from excessive reliance on FPSes to massive financial damage to the industry to its infamous Red Rings of Doom, Microsoft fell in their hubris back to being reviled. With that, the ultimately entirely unprofitable Xbox line joins the ever-growing pile of failed Microsoft electronics, in part due to how incredibly unpopular and untrusted their brand is with much of the public, and they seem to think that pretending that isn't the case will somehow make that be. The fact that they thought those "Scroogled" ads were a good idea when they also datamine on Bing and sell your information, like Google, says much of Microsoft today.

Suffice it to say, the Xbox brand is done. With that, and after the PS3 and Vita, you would think that things would be a cakewalk for Nintendo now. Even after Sony and Microsoft's press conferences, Nintendo still has the games advantage by a galaxy, with a growing mountain of exclusives the competition lacks and a massive, continuous deluge of  incoming indie support for the Wii U and 3DS eShops that the gaming media, for all its lack of objectivity, refuses to acknowledge, much like the subculture - 'indies hate Nintendo' has been part of the 'Nintendo is doomed' narrative for as long as online download shops have existed on modern gaming platforms, while somehow indies have an undying love for Microsoft and Sony, despite Xbox Live Arcade having been awful for most who published on it, Xbox Live Indie Games having been a huge failure that led to Microsoft's dropping XNA, and PSN notoriously charging developers and publishers for bandwidth and indie games largely going ignored on there too. But hey, Microsoft started the indie push, so their love is assumed and that narrative is unshaken, while Sony funds and publishes their own awkward 'artsy' games and calls them 'indie' even though they aren't in any sense. We're watching indie developers flee from Sony and Microsoft to Nintendo's eShops as they reach out to indies aggressively - Dan Adelman deserves a lot of respect for the excellent work he's doing - and to online platforms like Steam (Where Zeboyd Games saw their fun retro-style RPGs, Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World - which I can happily personally recommend, having enjoyed both thoroughly - dramatically outsold their original XBLIG releases in short order.), Desura, Gamer's Gate, Good Old Games, and so on. The PC scene is still unquestionably the strongest gaming scene for indies. But it says a lot that as Sony and Microsoft's indie support falls - with Sony just creating their own 'indie' games as previously mentioned, then getting a few bigger name indies to appear on stage at their events - the fact that Nintendo routinely receives no credit for their eShops' significant strides and massive increases in support says it all. We're already seeing indies largely picking the winners this generation in the Wii U and 3DS.

On top of all this, Nintendo's poised to increase their exclusive game advantage even more in less than twelve hours at their big Wii U Direct conference online. And Pokemon X and Y, which releases on the 3DS in October, is easily a bigger game than anything coming to competing platforms this year. The forthcoming release of Monster Hunter 4 exclusively on the 3DS this September will, together with Pokemon X and Y, put an end to whatever last gasps the Vita's heaving at that point. But despite these games and the huge influx of major, sorely needed first party games coming to the Wii U in the latter half of the year, Nintendo has a major challenge at hand after Sony's conference, and more than just Nintendo's future rides on it.

There's an electricity in the air. The very fate of the industry is at stake. We're finally there. Critical mass. Different from previous years. There's no carrying on like there's nothing wrong with the PS3 and 360 causing the industry to deteriorate while said industry continues to thumb its nose at Nintendo and Nintendo customers. We're finally headed for that climactic collision.

Now, let's slow things down for just a moment as we move on to Sony.

Imagine you're standing at the edge of an active volcano. At the base are people hoping it doesn't erupt, but they're drowned out by a crowd cheering for it to erupt, certain that its eruption won't kill them, but would instead make all of their dreams come true.

This is where the industry stands now. Sony's software lineup in their conference was decidedly weak, riddled with first party titles that wouldn't have made money on the PS3 - and the vast majority of their first party PS3 titles did not, even this year and in recent years - and Sony themselves can't afford their own leap forward in game budgeting. The game that was supposed to 'save' the Vita, an excessively tasteless, gory Monster Hunter knockoff called Soul Sacrifice, even ended up bombing hard in the end. And last year's hyped up return of Sly Cooper at E3 led to a silent release and complete flop on both the PS3 and Vita. Sony's own shameless knockoff of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series was a spectacular failure as well. Rather than pushing any of their bigger IPs for the PS4 launch, they focused them later in the PS3's life, with smaller titles that wouldn't have been viable on the PS3, giving those even higher budgets, while they'll do little for the PS4's actual sales when they finally arrive. Otherwise, its third party support is largely shared with the Xbox One, and the one somewhat dismaying moment was watching Square Enix - which acknowledged in recent interviews that one more failure of the catastrophic financial scale of Final Fantasy XIV would bankrupt them, and hasn't had a single successful game in years, increasingly turning into a Japanese-run Eidos/Crystal Dynamics with no sane budgeting to speak of, their Japanese staff mostly long gone - announcing that Final Fantasy Versus XIII (Essentially the Duke Nukem Forever of the Japanese RPG genre - over 7 years in development with still no real gameplay footage and only prerendered videos to show for it, impossible to turn a profit on) is now Final Fantasy XV and PS4 exclusive, as is the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts 3. Though in the meantime, the Kingdom Hearts series has fallen hard in sales, and Japanese RPGs notoriously couldn't break even on the PS3 - the announcement of these games (On top of titles that've been in development hell for years that don't break even, like an upcoming new Thief game, and a very high budget mystery, Murdered, that doesn't have a prayer at profitability) was effectively Square Enix announcing that they will be going out of business in the next couple of years. I wouldn't be shocked if they ended up going bankrupt before some of these games released. The silver lining is that Dragon Quest creator - and franchise owner - Yuji Horii, industry legend close with Nintendo, will likely end up taking the Dragon Quest series over to Nintendo with his studio, Project Armor, and establish his team as a new second party for Nintendo, which has been localizing and publishing Enix's Dragon Quest games abroad for years now. Most of the Square staff from their '90s golden age has formed teams at Nintendo in the past decade as well, so the Square that's perishing now is a husk of its former self, and what we'll be losing isn't really worth mourning anymore, sadly. I wonder if we'll see Akitoshi Kawazu and any of the Crystal Chronicles series staff come Nintendo-ward after Square's collapse.

At their conference, Sony also had the gall to be smug and ugly about their calculated choice not to screw their customers, just to screw Microsoft instead, making the calculated choice not to pursue anti-used-games DRM at the last minute after the Xbox One backlash, while shrugging at the fact that they've abandoned free online play - the very same fanatics who used to boast about Sony's free online play are now scrambling to say going pay made sense all along - and attempted to replace backward compatibility due to their own poorly planned Cell-based PS3 hardware design with paid game streaming. They're also now heavily focused on trying to sell the public on 'cloud gaming' for how cool and essentially futuristic it sounds, but it's inherently anti-consumer and in no way a replacement for backward compatibility. And their basis for their streaming service, Gaikai, failed independently, as did OnLive, for reasons very different than merely lacking a major corporate backer.

All of Sony's corporate hubris was back on full display in their press conference - honestly, it was never gone. It's been there the whole time, they just never had the chance to display it as proudly and smugly as they do now since Jerry Lambert, the actor who played the obnoxious character of Kevin Butler in years of Playstation brand commercials - a character essentially conceived to paint a 'cool guy' face on the 1% during years of tremendous suffering - quit, and then they sued him for daring to appear in a tire commercial that included a Wii. Claiming that they owned his face. And won. To call Sony's presence in gaming ugly would be kind. And what they bring out in the ever-increasingly toxic video game subculture is something so vile I recommend you never familiarize yourself with it. By the time you'd come to fully understand what brand fanaticism brings out in gamers, with Sony's the most vocal of the tribes, you'd come away from all of it with nothing but the deepest of regrets and disgust. Some things aren't worth understanding. If you stare too long at ugly things, it makes you ugly inside too. That's the central problem of the vile video game subculture - its ugliness is self-perpetuating, spreading and infecting. It associates itself primarily with the two brands destroying the industry, and over time it's metastasized into something cancerous that's headed into its fourth and final stage now. Self-awareness is scarce - the gamers who realize what the subculture is tend to have the good sense to stay away from it entirely.

They also boasted about datamining to create their social platform response to Miiverse - one of the shadiest things you can do, and they announced it with PRIDE, reminding us that they're not a corporation to be trusted. Unfortunately, their fanatics trust them blindly. And thus, we watched as legitimately disturbing moments of corporate hubris and mistreatment of the public at large were shrugged off, as this visibly crumbling corporation - which only posted a profit in the past year due to major western HQ real estate sales, Kaz Hirai has no 'brilliant' plan to turn Sony around - is heralded as some kind of 'gaming hero.' Ugly truths happily ignored in the name of blind video game console tribalism. One of the stupidest sentences I've typed in my life, and yet still true. We have truly allowed corporations to conquer us and become the worst kind of consumer. Moments like this make me think this country doesn't even deserve someone like Elizabeth Warren. And then I sigh and realize that even if it's hopeless and it isn't worth it, it's still a fight I have to do my insignificant part to fight until I'm dead. Better to spend your whole life fighting for better things that will never come to pass than to throw it away over the comfortable apathy with which far too many people prefer to live.

During Sony's press conference, the moment Shuhei Yoshida stepped on stage, the twitter feeds for the event were flooded with comments to the effect of, "GET THAT ASIAN GUY OUT OF HERE," and worse. When it comes to Sony's market in the gamer subculture, I'll leave you with that bitter nugget.

The gaming subculture, as nasty and toxic as it is, harbors a lot of very, very unhealthy people. (For but one recent example, see the aggressively misogynistic backlash to Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs. Women project.) And if Sony does indeed succeed in crashing the industry this generation, we're going to see a lot of very tribalistic individuals with no other hobbies who largely define themselves by their video game console brand of choice come a bit unhinged. There are a lot of very old, very ugly human traits that go into this sort of factional, tribalistic behavior, to the point of proudly eschewing reality outside of the tribe - be it one built on a car brand, a sports team, fondness for a certain show, or even, of course, a video game console brand. There are many things about us that are still very primitive, no matter how far we think we've come. And there's tremendous ugliness in these things. They remind us of how simple we still are. How little progress we've made in many respects - how far we haven't come.

Sony's fanatics are heralding the press conference as Sony 'saving' gaming with the PS4, in contrast to the Xbox One, when in truth, it's nothing but another executioner in a different mask. I've seen this coming and have been observing it here for years. Naturally, the industry has done nothing to avoid it.

Apparently 'winning' E3 has less to do with games, according to this first night, and more to do with a small price advantage in a time when $300-350 is too much for a console and $250 is too much for a portable, choosing not to pursue anti-used-games DRM, and then airing a video you produced to sneer in your closest competitor's face over the lack of said DRM than games. Never mind that Sony has patented something just as draconian, and we had more than enough development leaks to know that they were going to use that technology until late in development - it was a calculated move in response to the backlash Microsoft faced over those anti-consumer measures that undoubtedly caused them to back off on that technology at the last second. It's not even their most heinous anti-consumer gaming patent, either - they have one to force commercial breaks into your gaming sessions that requires you to say the brandname the commercial was for into the camera in order to resume your gaming session once the ad ends. They're by no means 'heroes' or 'champions' of consumer rights. Companies of such conscience don't pursue patents like these in the first place. But this was a calculated decision - hit Microsoft at the last second instead of the consumer, when Microsoft pursued their own draconian anti-consumer 'features' specifically in full awareness of the PS4 leaks revealing its anti-used-games technology - rather than the customer. Eliminate the competition first. Then, with less competition, you can begin implementing these dreadful 'features,' to once again use a term Sony used in the past to deflect criticism of major design flaws in the PSP, complete with an awkward metaphor comparing themselves to a 'genius gate designer.' Because genius, apparently, makes you beyond criticism. There's that hallmark Sony egotism.

The important takeaway? It wasn't by games that Microsoft lost. And it wasn't by games that Sony supposedly 'won.' Both of their platforms have weak announced libraries, and the biggest games announced aren't coming anytime soon, let alone at launch to face Nintendo's significantly stronger fall lineup for the lower-priced Wii U.

There is only one leader and advocate for fiscal responsibility and industry sustainability in the traditional video game console and portable industry - Nintendo. They're jeered by Sony and Microsoft for it, and reviled by the most vocal of gamers for not joining Sony and Microsoft, for not becoming another volcano threatening to erupt and destroy the whole industry. And, of course, the one generation when they outdid Sony in hardware power and matched Microsoft is the generation most frequently invoked as seemingly eternal proof of Nintendo's supposed predestination to failure. That's what you get for trying to please these gamers. With that vocal crowd, they can do no right.

Everything I've been observing and discussing on this blog in regard to gaming for years has continued to go wrong in the industry. Naturally, this is a complete nowhere corner-of-the-internet blog, so of course virtually no one heard what had to be said. I've sat back and written about Sony and Microsoft destroying the industry and pushing it toward a crash, and now we're rapidly approaching critical mass. The industry hasn't changed course, and the subculture's only gotten nastier and more tribalistic. If you love Sony - and until recently Microsoft - you're a hardcore gamer. If you so much as like Nintendo and their games, you're a fanboy, and you're wrong. Loving any corporation is a pretty bad idea in the first place.

Unfortunately, there's not much satisfaction that comes with being right about all this, after all these years of words I've wasted on an industry that isn't worth it. All I have to show for it is that quiet sense of insignificance that maybe people would be better off if they felt more often - but maybe not the futility I'm also facing here. I've been shouting into a hurricane here all along, and it's been as effective as just that. There's human nature at its ugliest on display here altogether too often. And in the end, I should probably be pouring this energy into causes much more worthy and important than video games of all things.

All of this reminds me why I have no faith in humanity in the first place. All of their ignorance and ugliness on display.

At times like this, I look at the industry in question and think, "How do you still exist?" and then think, "Oh, right. Not for much longer." Then I look at the underlying causes of this situation, from lack of accountability to lack of the most basic business acumen to the near complete erosion of professionalism - some very ugly sides of the industry itself have come out time and time again on social media in recent years that would get most people fired, but not in this business - to something deeper, more ridiculous and tribalistic in human nature itself. And you think to yourself, "How do we still exist?" and then recall that we're destroying the planet and sprinting blindly toward global uninhabitability, just like the gamers and their brandname of choice and 'hardcore' image trumping the future of the industry they love, and think, "Oh, right. Not for much longer."

(Too heavy-handed? Too bad. It's the truth, and there's no point in sugarcoating where we're going as a species. It's shouting into a hurricane too. There's a lot more of us doing that on this subject, but no matter how many of us there are, our voices never seen to achieve anything but quiet.)

At least in this case, these awful things are happening around something as insignificant as video games, so while a lot of people are going to end up unemployed and lives are going to be ruined, hey, it's not genocide. The video game industry is a multi-billion dollar industry where basic math and common sense hold virtually no sway. Let that sink in for a moment. An entire industry that ineptly run. Anywhere else, these people would have been fired a long time ago. This is what the end of an industry looks like. It's a remarkably ugly and embarrassing case of a whole lot of human beings being human in a way we should be smarter than - better than - but we're not. Because this is what we are. No matter how many years pass, no matter how many advances we make. We're still this same, basic, base creature under everything else. And it's nothing to be proud of.

Will the volcano erupt? We won't have a complete answer by later this morning. Or by the end of the week. Or probably even until sometime next year at the soonest. Every new platform limps out the door, and not all of them recover - despite all the hype so soon after Sony's E3 conference, the PS4 faces no easy ascent either, given that it's going to destroy its supporters with its sheer financial unviability at every turn. And it took both the Xbox 360 and PS3 years to gain anything that could be called substantial support or build up a stable of games making money at all. But until then, next year, all I can do - all any of us interested in this hobby or the future of its ill-fated industry can do - is keep watching that volcano with trepidation in relative quiet, while an ignorant lot continues to proudly, boastfully call for its eruption. Raise your voice in their presence and they'll get mad. After all, you're just a kiddy casual fanboy and not a cool guy hardcore gamer - what do you know?

The games shown for the PS4 and Xbox One at E3 this year will not make money.

This is an inescapable of truth of the video game industry where it is now. The last thing it needs is another dramatic leap in development costs, starting over again on expensive new home consoles launched in a major global recession with a starting audience of zero.

My hope is that by the time the industry crash over these deeply self-destructive budgets arrives - inevitable as it seems after that Sony conference - whether partial or complete, I'd like to be completely numb to this whole business. I have books to finish writing. One of which will be out later this year.

However few of you bother to read this out there, I'd like to leave you with this before it's on to the Nintendo post soon enough. Whether the video game subculture or anything else, don't allow yourself to stare too long at ugly things. It may not be easy. It's impossible to get through life without rubbernecking at a train wreck or thirty. But it's never worth it. It it doesn't make you ugly inside too, it'll leave you dead inside. And it's with a personal bitterness that I look on the hobby I grew up loving from the first time I picked up an NES controller in the late '80s and see the tremendous amount of ugliness coming from this thing I love, and just as much ugliness from the people producing these things. There's a cruel irony in that this is what video games are these days, in industry and culture. Sometimes the things you love will break your heart.

One can only hope that once all of this is over, whatever's left - whatever comes from that - is something new and worth finding. Even if one hopes in vain. Until then, it's time to look forward to what Nintendo has to show for the rest of E3. They need to throw everything they've got at Sony now. Gamers need something to look forward to. We need a future. Don't we all?

17 comments:

Eric said...

Very good article. I can tell you really put effort into it because of how long it is and your great attention to detail. I agree with how both of the conferences were lousy. I didn't watch microsofts, but that's really stupid of them to make the system $500 and to have this supposed restrictive drm. I don't know what to say of the lineup ether, seems pretty bland if you ask me. Halo does not seem halo anymore at all. That trailer does not feel halo to me at all. Killer instinct while I love the series, pretty shameful what they're doing with the sequel now.

I did however watch the second half of Sony's conference and MY god was it boring as hell. It dragged on so long and I was bored to death. It was 2 hours and 20 minutes, 2 FREAKING hours! Seriously! Are they trying to put us to sleep. Thank god Nintendo's direct was only a measly 42 minutes long. The right amount.

I wasn't even impressed with a lot of the games either. Heck, the ones that stood out to me like Watch dogs and abe's oddysey remake, are also going to be on the Wii U. So what's the point in showing them as if they act like they're exclusives? A lot of those indie games didn't stand out to me either and I honestly don't understand what sony is trying to do. Heck Kingdom hearts 3 and final fantasy XV are also ironically going to be on the Xbox one. So yeah sony and blinded fanboys, stop acting like you won and that they are gonna kick ass. The conference sucked.

I agree, I don't know what the hell happened to square. They are dead to me at this point. FFXV doesn't give me that FF feel at all and kingdom hearts is overrated, I'm sorry. Nomura can't make a story worth a damn. Just bad convoluted fanfiction garbage. Heck, he basically ruined the series by making too many spinoffs that killed the story and made more unappealing and a trainwreck. At least Enix is there and I would leave if I were them before it gets ugly, which it will soon. Microsoft could really be dead or in big dodo with what they are doing with the Xbox one. Same with Sony and the PS4.

Speaking of PS4. Oh great, another unoriginal name, not giving a damn about the failed vita handheld. Still sticking to a motion control not selling at all just like Microsoft is. Ripping off the Wii U and saying this stupid costumer stuff about free will and freedom with games. Classy sony, to at the last second look bad after you were going to have drm in the first place and all the fanboys pound there chests and chant like they won some war. No they didn't. I just rolled my eyes at this moment and felt. Well, that's why I'm excited to be a game designer, because I'm going to try to innovate and actually make games that are compelling like Ikaruga, Phantasy star 4, and Earthbound. (Sorry if I sound like I'm ranting, I just wanted to say how dumb both conferences were.)

The exclusives are dumb to. Oh great, another killzone. A terrible series that wasn't even good to begin with. Oh great, another game to the overrated garbage that is Skyrim. F*** Skyrim, I'm sorry, but Bethesda is an overrated developer after seeing all the problems with there games. That bungie game, while the while multiplayer idea sounds great, do we really need another shooter? I mean wasn't that the reason they left microsoft in the first place was because they were tired of just making halo games?

Eric said...

I'm just flabbergasted at the mess both sony and microsoft created. Now we weep what we sow. I didn't see the Nintendo direct, but I do like the announcements they made. They were a little modest admittedly and it was mostly stuff we knew about, but still, it's nice to learn more about some of the games like mario kart 8 and Bayonetta 2. As well as Wonderful 101 and X. I am really excited for Mario 3d world. I love how dynamic the level designs look and love the fact the main 4 from super mario bros. 2 are playable with their abilities to. I'm also excited for dkc Tropical Freeze. I liked returns from what I've played so far and awesome to hear David Wise will compose the soundtrack for the game. The duck tales game looks fun to, and I'm really excited for pokemon X and Y and Pikmin 3 looks cool and awesome. Heck, all the games I've seen look great and more appealing than the sony and microsoft duds. Yes, it would be nice to see newer or more niche franchises, but I'm glad to see more games of these franchises and at least nintendo tries to innovate even if it doesn't have the best results or is to subtle.

It does make sense to so they can get Wii U sales going because 3ds is starting to kick off which is why were seeing franchises we haven't seen in a while again like Yoshi and the fact people seem to complain every time they try to take risks like they did in the gamecube era. damn does the new smash bros. games look badass as did the trailers, especially the megaman one. I also love the surprises they did like having the Wii Fit trainer as a new character and Villager. As well as the emphasis on unique fighting styles seen so far and how fluid everything looks. I can't wait!

Benjamin Fennell said...

Thanks! Nice to see you around here again. This blog's still as much of a hole in the wall as ever, but I try to at least make up for its obscure nature by making the content I produce as worthwhile as I can. I'm still working on my post-E3 Nintendo post now, but I'm hoping to make it as worthwhile as I can too. Microsoft just backpedaled on their DRM in the past 24 hours, but the damage has been done - their core problem is the same as Sony's: all they're doing is putting out an expensive, much more powerful version of their previous console, tossing out all of their customers' previous purchases, shrugging off backward compatibility, and pushing development costs ever skyward. The industry was brutalized by the PS3 and Xbox 360 - the PS4 and XO are coffins. Makes sense that Halo no longer is what it was, too - Bungie left, after all, not that Destiny seems particularly exciting either, going from one shooter to another. And with Killer Instinct, at this point, Microsoft's just dumping on Rare's legacy where Nintendo's reminding us of how great they once were with Retro's new Donkey Kong Country game with the David Wise soundtrack.

I was definitely reminded a lot of last year's E3 with Sony too - no Wonderbook moment, but a lot more arrogant, sneering moments that their audience unfortunately eats up, and a lot of dragging focus on games that get cheers at E3 and flop when they come out. I wouldn't have minded if Nintendo's Direct had been a bit longer if they'd had some more big surprises to cram in there, but it was definitely a very tight, focused presentation for what it was - they were the only ones who just focused on games this year, rather than demanding their hardware run your life. And they showed this week that they still have tons of surprises up their sleeves where Sony and Microsoft showed their whole hand at E3, dropping the huge new StreetPass games update they did on the 3DS in Japan and Europe the other day. I'm excited for those to come to North America, along with the StreetPass relays to make StreetPass a lot easier here.

Benjamin Fennell said...

Indeed, it was weird seeing Watch_Dogs be Ubisoft's big game again while the rest of their lineup was rather bland this year, and instead of even pushing more Rabbids on the 3DS or U, they're going for a cartoon with that now. Very few games outside of Nintendo's actually showed gameplay footage too - most of what was announced for the PS4 and XO (Much of which can even run on the U, too) won't be out anytime soon. And largely what Sony and Microsoft showed was more of the same that didn't ever turn the PS3 or 360 into a mainstream platform, let alone one viable for profitable, sustainable game development. And now they're pushing things in an even nastier direction. Square's being very obtuse right now too, given that Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy XV can both run on the Wii U too - KH3's lack of a Wii U version has been blamed on lack of DirectX11 support so far, but it was confirmed as far back as 8 months ago that the U has a DirectX11 equivalent running on it that works as well. And XV was in development for the PS3 for a good 7-8 years now. That game's already never going to make money, but restricting themselves by not putting it on the U is incredibly obtuse, and allowing Tetsuya Nomura to play favorites when Square's already got both feet in the grave is remarkably unprofessional. And indeed - every year, we hear the same thing. Either Microsoft or Sony 'won' E3, usually Sony since their fanbase has always been the louder one. And Microsoft just busted themselves back down to being a laughingstock, so the Sony crowd's only gotten shriller in their usual declarations of Sony's 'victory' and Nintendo's eternal 'loss.' Things have a way of playing out very differently once you step outside of the E3 and gamer subculture echo chamber, especially looking at how neither Sony nor Microsoft is making any real effort to reach out to customers beyond their respective fanbases - just like with the PS3 and 360 - and with dev costs skyrocketing, they're going to lose even more money. Sony couldn't even make their first party PS3 games profitable on average and haven't been able to make anything on the Vita profitable - it's funny to see people suddenly expecting the PS4 to 'dominate' and for Sony to bounce back when they're driving costs even higher than the threshold they couldn't cross to make money before.

Pretty much. At this point, the Square staff of old left for Nintendo, forming teams from 1-Up Studio (Formerly Brownie Brown) to Grezzo to Alpha Dream and more. Yuji Horii owns his studio, Project Armor, and Dragon Quest, so as things collapse at Square, we'll inevitably just see him take his staff and intellectual property and leave for Nintendo, where his games are actually properly backed, and with that, everything Enix will have effectively vacated 'Square Enix.' At this point, after years of media predictions of the collapse of gaming over an entirely unsustainable business model, we're watching it happening, and the gamers are just continuing to stick their heads in the sand. It's typical, but sad. They'd rather see their hobby sacrificed to Sony and Microsoft's 'hardcore' brandnames in the end than dare play a Nintendo platform, but with that kind of attitude, they reap what they sow.

Benjamin Fennell said...

It's funny - there was all this talk about Sony and Microsoft abandoning their previous platform names after all the mockery the 3DS and Wii U got for their names. The 3DS took off once games the mass market wanted arrived and the system was properly advertised. The Wii U's situation is just as correctable, and Nintendo showed a game lineup for the latter half of this year going into next spring to bring just that about as well. The Xbox One's the most confusingly named platform in some time - and I sincerely doubt the names 'Orbis' and 'Durango' would have tricked anybody into thinking they were something startlingly new and different with how ultra-conservative Sony and Microsoft's gaming hardware designs and practices are - where the Vita's the most ironically named platform in gaming history, and the PS4 just reminds that Sony fans really have no room to mock any other system's name. The Playstation name no longer holds any of the gravity it once did beyond the fan community's echo chamber. And of course, Sony's sitting on more than a few utterly heinous anti-consumer patents for their gaming hardware that they won't hesitate to implement if they feel they can get away with it. I wouldn't be shocked if said tech was left in the PS4 too, with the possibility of activation through future firmware updates. At any rate, rant away, this is a space for it, and those are all great games to be inspired by. It's always good to turn anger and disappointment into something constructive - to look at failure and mediocrity and find in that the inspiration to do great things in turn. To produce better works. Gaming needs that, as creatively bankrupt - and increasingly financially bankrupt - as the video game industry has become as of late.

Benjamin Fennell said...

At this point, the industry's largely run by suits more interested in lining their pockets and pimping their brands than they have any concern for gaming for what it is. The stark contrast between Nintendo and their competition certainly comes from the fact that they're the only all-gaming player left in the industry, which makes their leadership all the more vital to the health of gaming. There is no vision to speak of at Sony and Microsoft when it comes to gaming - Sony just keeps thinking they can repeat the PSX and PS2 and get away with virtually anything, while they're incredibly sneering and condescending toward both the medium and their customers for a very long time now. The whole 'cinematic gaming' push has always been rooted in the idea of their being 'better' than gaming, or 'above' it, while it in turn has led to the creation of numerous awful games where gameplay is the last thing taken into consideration. There's a lot of back and forth 'me too' game and hardware design choices with Sony and Microsoft now, while both companies - two of the three major players - have started this new gen pre-launch by playing a game of chicken over seeing who'll screw their customers more. That in itself is a strong argument for why neither belong in this industry. Their utter lack of consideration for their customers isn't in question. As for Skyrim, I haven't played it yet, but I played through Oblivion on Steam earlier this year as my first Elder Scrolls experience after a friend sent it to me for Xmas last year. I didn't hate it, but its world largely felt dead to me, and I honestly didn't feel compelled by a lot of the side content, either. It paled significantly in contrast to Xenoblade Chronicles, or even Opoona, a sorely underrated personal favorite from this past gen. It was also one of the buggiest games I've ever played - I had to open the console and use certain codes just to advance the plot in the endgame to finish the main story. That said, for what it was, I did have fun with it and can see giving Skyrim a shot when my PC can finally run it after some future upgrades, but I definitely never felt, "This should be an MMO!" when playing Oblivion, so the whole concept of an Elder Scrolls MMORPG is utterly uncompelling to me. I'm still iffy on giving Bethesda and Obsidian's new Fallout games a try as well, while Bioshock leaves me utterly unenthralled. When I think FPSes anyway, though, I think back to playing Catacomb Abyss as a kid, and that's still my all-time favorite in the genre, never having been a big FPS fan otherwise and largely being bored by all the endless war and space marine ones. I replayed The Catacomb Abyss recently on DOSBox, too. It held up very well, though it was a lot shorter than I remembered. And yeah, I can't say anything Bungie's done has impressed me much. From Marathon to Halo to, apparently, more of the same.

Benjamin Fennell said...

As for all my Nintendo thoughts, those'll be coming in my next big blog post in the next day or two.

In the meantime, I'm continuing to enjoy Animal Crossing: New Leaf - which is already bigger than just about anything the others showed at E3 - and Genius Sonority's Denpa Men 2 on the 3DS, and even these games are more exciting to me than anything I saw Sony or Microsoft unveil at E3. Project X Zone's out next week too, and Shin Megami Tensei IV's out next month. Then Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and Rune Factory 4 in August, and the new four StreetPass Mii Plaza game should be out here in North America sometime very soon too.

Eric said...

No problem :). Your a great person to look up to in my opinion when it comes to the business world and game design. After encountering Spiral reverie, I realized all the truths of game design and learned a lot from you. Your writing is superb and your points are spot on. It really woke my mind up and made me realize many different things on a career I seek that I was still learning of and finding answers. True about Halo and the rare situation. Exactly, Sony and Microsoft are running themselves into the ground just like how Sega almost did with Sonic in 2002-2007 and what Square is doing with Final Fantasy.

The new streetpass features sound cool. You sum up the Sony Conference perfectly.

I'm pretty suprised we haven't heard much about the rabbids lately. Rayman Legends looks cool though as does Watch dogs. Very excited for both of them.

Pretty dumb excuse on Square for why both games aren't on the Wii U. Although it's probably a good thing since they don't interest me in the slightest and Final Fantasy is at rock bottom in its dark age that Final Fantasy 7 started.

Eric said...

Agreed that Microsoft is now a laughingstock again. Nomura is really wrecking and running things into the ground. Exactly and spot on with Sony and Microsoft not reaching out to consumers. It just annoys me how were so blinded by this and can't admit the truth... This toxic mainstream audience is really bad and seeing such ignorance with we need more horsepower is even more ridiculous as is basically running your company into the ground.

Very true. Have you played magical starsign by any chance? It's good to see the talented employers leave to smaller studios that usually assist in Nintendo related projects. It would be best for project armor to be with Nintendo, it just screams that in my opinion with the good relationship they've had in recent years and the collaboration. Indeed, the gamers have their heads up their asses and like Sony and Microsoft and many third parties reap what they sow. The truth is starting to be exposed. Truly sad to see these gamers not accept the truth.

Eric said...

Vita does have an ironic name as its mostly flopped it seems just like the reboot of Sim City. (Wow, what a botch and embarrassment that was with EA and that whole situation.) The names of Wii U and 3ds may sound weird, but I don't mind them. PS4 just sounds stupid. At least the former two aren't using yet another sequel name and Xbox one is really bizarre.

Honestly, other than solid third party support and some decent first party games like the older spyro and Crash bandicoot games. The only reason Sony became so dominant was because of the Sega Saturns difficult hardware and expensive price tag and poor advertisement in western shores. And the 64's cartridges like with any being expensive to produce games for, difficult to make games for, and very time consuming and not as friendly like cd's were and Nintendo's president at the time being very arrogant which turned off people which Satoru Iwata has done a great job repairing the damage the former president did and creating better more innovative infrastructure. Now, the things Sony got away with are not working anymore and their arrogance is causing their own demise. Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid are not the holy grails everyone makes them out to be. They represent the dark age of final fantasy and wasting Kojima's talent on a stale series respectively.

Thanks. I really enjoy coming here and I like to say my thoughts because of how you really understand the gaming side well. I like to reply to your good blogging. Your quote is very spot on, true, and very inspirational, very good morale. That is pretty much what I'm doing so I don't make the mistakes these companies have made and try to create a new good era for gaming. the dysfunction is what really inspires me now to become a game designer especially after watching the dreadful Sony Conference.

Eric said...

The whole cinematic thing does need to stop with gaming. Metal Gear Solid is what created it to sadly... Soon enough, what Sony and Microsoft have done as you've said, will die off as consumers are starting to wake up a bit.

I just don't like all the hype Skyrim is getting. Morrow wind from when I saw my cousin play it looked alright, but I just don't like Bethesda in general. As you said, the games are notorious for being very buggy and that's pretty bad what you experience as Skyrim has similar bugs. Besides, the Scrolls series is bland.

I would love to get my hand on Xenoblade and I've read your thoughts on Opoona. It sounds interesting. Is Catacomb Abyss pretty good? It looks unique. I'm pretty tired of the FPS's now myself as am I of the overly violent stuff we keep making for movies, books, and games.

Can't wait for your post on Nintendo's e3.

geokahani said...

nice idea you have explained author thanks

Family Computer said...

I like how you shift blame for bloated gaming budgets to MicroSoft and Sony. The only people that decide game budgets are the publishers. You're trying to place blame on Nintendo's competitors because... I don't even know why? I guess you're extremely partial to Nintendo so you spend tons of time concocting a narrative where they look like the only savior of the industry.

Family Computer said...

"we're going to see a lot of very tribalistic individuals with no other hobbies who largely define themselves by their video game console brand of choice come a bit unhinged. There are a lot of very old, very ugly human traits that go into this sort of factional, tribalistic behavior, to the point of proudly eschewing reality outside of the tribe - be it one built on a car brand, a sports team, fondness for a certain show, or even, of course, a video game console brand. There are many things about us that are still very primitive, no matter how far we think we've come. And there's tremendous ugliness in these things. They remind us of how simple we still are. How little progress we've made in many respects - how far we haven't come."

ROFL. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. This article is hilarious. Nearly every(extremely long and filled with shit in parenthesis) pretentious paragraph of this thing ends with going off the rails and trying to explain why Nintendo is better. It's like some wanna be intellectual wrote to Nintendo Power. I'm so glad I found this.

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