E for Everyone, Except Me

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E for Everyone, Except Me

It's tough to be excited about E3 when the industry has passed you by.

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Great article. The industry has a lot of problems right now, not the least of which being this one. I have no idea how this is gonna end but my guess is BADLY.

It's true, but it only matters if you need games to have the highest production levels possible at the time. That's really not necessary at all. Games don't need top tier anything as long as the final product is coherent. I know for a fact that the shiniest, brownest and grittiest game on the market, with particle effects that allow me to actually choke on the stuff I'm inhaling doesn't necessarily look the best.

The game that looks the best has the most consistent and interesting design, both for its characters and its world.

Full voice acting is neat, especially done right: but Shamus Young just recently pointed out the advantages of an al text game.

And as for novelty modes or popular online trends, its all just fads anyway. Within a few years the games industry will get it through their thick heads and swing back towards local multiplayer.

You know that weird feeling when you read something by someone else that perfectly mimics the monologues in your head (and/or discussions with your wife, at least the first ten times you talk about the same thing and she bothers responding)? That's how I feel now.

For me, the RPGs are the genre that left me behind - I played just about everything I could get my hands on from Bard Tale and the first seven Ultimas through Planescape:Torment and Icewind Dale. Now I get more joy from an indie production like Spiderweb software's Avernum series than anything the big publishers release.

Oh well, despite the broken heart, it just means more time for reading.

Great article. The industry has a lot of problems right now, not the least of which being this one. I have no idea how this is gonna end but my guess is BADLY.

Very badly. Its doing very little to help, and, with a fair few problems itself surroudning it this year...It seems like its getting a pretty bad beating

True, but then again, these things tend to go in phases, so who's to say that the situation doesn't flip around in the next decade. Powerful animation tools for general use and lifelike CG voices, and the development costs go down again, for example.

Nit-pick: shouldn't it be 'economical' and not 'ecological' in the second sentence of the second to last paragraph?

Best-sellers notwithstanding, videogames once had economics similar to book publishing or music publishing, and now they don't. Now they have economics similar to movie publishing, where you have "blockbusters" aimed at mass audiences, and "made for TV" and "B" movies aimed at niches.

I would even venture so far as to say that Games are in an even more restrictive environment than Movies or TV due to the fact that low-budget television and movies can look almost as polished as high-budget movies...with the exception of massive effects laden movies. And there-in lies the problem, high-end graphics are incredibly demanding, so any game, regardless of how "B" it might be, that wants to have the same polish, needs the same cash.

Films like Blair Witch and Donnie Darko looked good on screen at the time, despite minor league budgets compared to th contemporary films. Now, if you take a game say MW2 and compare it to a contemporary game that was the same percentage of its budget that say LOTR: Fellowship was to Donnie Darko... $150m to $4.5M...so what is that 3.25% or something...and still get the same believable (if entirely different) worlds. Some might say I'm comparing apples and oranges with DD and LTOR, but that's really the point. AAA games are all apples, but where are the AAA oranges.

Kinda similar, maybe with slightly more mainstream tastes. However, so few games interest me these days that I won't even don the once coveted title of gamer. A good article, love the Asheron's Call reference.

It's funny, but I just looked at E3 this year for the first time ever. I've always known about it, but I always pretty much disregarded it since, like most conventions, I don't have a couple grand to go play for a weekend. So I put it out of my mind. But with everyone talking about E3 this year for whatever reason I actually looked into it and learned that the public wasn't even allowed in. I actually felt like I was on one side of a great chasm with the games industry on the other. There isn't really any involvement anymore, and the culture has changed, and it has become like the movie industry, just as detatched and distanced from their audiance with just as much regard for them: Very nearly none.

But that's just the way I feel. I also liked the last line. I'm going to have to find a way to work "E for Endangered" into a conversation at some point.

I completely agree. The graphics wars of recent generations (and this one in particular) is causing the industry to stagnate. Games are becoming more restricted, and more generic to appeal to as many as possible.
It's not all doom and gloom, I still see many interesting games all the time, but with each passing generation there seems to be fewer standout games when conformity is a must to survive.

The bigger issue is (buzzword alert!) RoI. To borrow Generic_Dave's point, developers are paying for LOTR but, 90% of the time, they're delivering Gigli (or, if you consider sports franchises, Star Trek III).

I've purchased a number of games in the last year, and it has reminded me of why I stopped spending the money on day-1 retail games in the first place. I'll just cover the AAA titles I went for:

Borderlands - It was great, except that the multiplayer barely works. Oh, and I *STILL* can't finish Knox, because it crashes as soon as the end credits roll, and never saves the game. This is in addition to the other launch issues that still haven't been fixed. I'll give it a .5, because it was still fun despite the issues.

Bioshock 2 is Bioshock. They clearly spent nearly nothing on the game, since over 50% of it is just re-used content and resources. 25% is new, 25% is tacked-on multi. Why did I pay $60 for this? Because I'm apparently retarded.

FFXIII was a rail-based RPG, which disposed of all the exploration and side-content that makes RPGs interesting. Fortunately, I managed to sell it to someone, so that's only a .5 loss. Unfortunately, they didn't buy my strategy guide, so that's back to a complete write-off.

Red Dead Redemption - This starts out fantastic, then quickly goes to hell as they introduce a shooting mechanic that ruins the game. I've heard that it eventually improves, but I have little desire to continue playing at this point. .5, if I get back to it.

Dragon Age & Mass Effect 2 - The exceptions. 3 out of 6 ain't bad, until you realise that means I've essentially wasted ~$200

This isn't even to speak of the games that I was *hoping* would be good, but was saved from purchasing:

Blur - Fantastic beta, abysmal servers

MW2 - Did *ANYONE* QA this game?

STO - At least I had a beta key.

APB - At least I had a beta key.

Metro 2033 - At least I knew from the videos that it was YAGOW.

There HAVE been more big releases, of course, but I wasn't interested in the majority of them to begin with - and most of them have been "more of the same."

For those of you saying "But haven't you player anything you *LIKED*?", the answer is a resounding "YES." There were plenty of games that I've had absolutely no issues with:

Shadow Complex
Snoopy - Flying Ace
Mega Man 10
Dark Void Zero
Half-Minute Hero
Patchwork Heroes

What do all of these games have in common? Yes, that's right, they're all priced 50%-90% less than a AAA title! They're simple! They're fun!

The real question is: Why aren't we seeing *more* of them? There are some gems, to be sure, but the sub-$30 price point is really the same mix of wall-to-wall crap as the $60 price point, there are just more games overall.

Oh, and Dark Void Zero? Easily worth the $60 that Dark Void wasn't.

Woke up this morning and read about the flash and excitement of E3 on the CNN website. I share your sentiments about the nature of the gaming industry and often find myself longing for the simpler days of smaller, more obscure gaming titles (I too have fond memories of X-Com).

These days, old-school gamers need to look harder for their fixes, and I find myself buying quite a few games from European developers whose gaming tastes most closely match my own. Egosoft, Taleworlds, Bohemia Interactive and other lesser known companies manage to fill nitch markets without dumbing down their games in order to widen their appeal.

The problem is trying to find these games when almost all gaming news revolves around the "big boys" and their E3 presentations. Game reviewers also do a disservice to niche games by applying the same criteria to which they evaluate mainstream releases. We old-school gamers are therefore forced to look long and carefully for quality games that fit our tastes. What we really need are smaller independent gaming expos similar to the many film festivals that have, for years now, given arthouse films a chance to reach a curious and hungry audience. Or do these already exist somewhere?

Excellent article. My gaming tastes mimic yours but I went more down the traditional RPG (Wizardry, Might and Magic) path than the wargaming path.

It is too bad you couldn't get into XCOM Apocalypse. Once you got over the fact that it wasn't turn based and had a steep learning curve the game was actually very true to the XCOM roots. You had funny moments like running in a suicide squad of robot soldiers to try to capture a behemoth so you could research it. The real time pause and slow movement modes were basically turn based, just not action point based like the classic games. Syndicate Wars was another great real time squad based game of the same generation.

I disagree with your implication that a big budget somehow magically translates into higher quality. Compare the original Star Wars trilogy to the prequels. The Red Letter Media reviews nail it on the head. It was overcoming the limitations of the technology (and budget) of the day that made the originals masterpieces. In the movie world you can point to many independent, low-budget movies that give as high or higher an entertainment value than the big budget, heavily marketed flicks. Ink and Primer come to mind as example of this.

The gaming world also has its treasures. World of Goo, Braid, tons of high quality independent games on Steam and XBLA. Mega Man 9 (and 10) proved you can release a game of with previous generation graphics and gameplay and still be well reviewed and commercially successful.

And like the world of movies, a good story is cheap, but is probably the most important factor in determining if a game is "good" or "bad".

Maybe there aren't any "AAA" games released with us in mind anymore but that doesn't mean there aren't tons of gaming choices. And while a youtube video might not replace the blockbuster movie the 8 minutes I spent watching the Mortal Kombat Rebirth video were just as enjoyable as any 8 minutes of Avatar.

Well, I'd say the issue is simply greed.

Let's be honest, this is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Success is based on "projected profits" rather than actually making a profit. Analysts are integral to deciding what kinds of games are developed based on the biggest, and sweetest potential markets.

Simply put, there are more gamers, however a lot of those gamers are "casuals" and kids brought in by games being more accessible. What's more to put it bluntly most of these people are morons. Sad but true, the average common human denominator for anything is pretty bloody low. In making a game that is approachable to the widest possible market, it involves dumbing things down and making them flashy and gaudy enough to the point where it's insulting to the gamers who were here to begin with, which represent a higher "level" of humanity at least intellectually largely because it took more effort simply to get games to work on the PC. Back in the days of DOS for example using things like IRQ and DMA ports/settings for sound cards was enough to plot many people's minds when it came to game installation.

Truthfully anyone who says that it's not profitable to cater to gamers with specific tastes in old school RPGs and turn based strategy games and the like is lying. A decent, solid profit can be reliably generated. HOWEVER it's not the biggest potential profit. What's more an epic RPG or strategy experience takes a lot of time and effort to make, compared to say your average flashy shooter or hybrid game with minimal statistics and variable elements inolved. Heck, half the time they are just adding artwork and tweakes to an established engine flat out which is why so many of them play identically. Being able to crank out "Shoot Shooter 53: The Shootening" three times for the effort of a high quality RPG and perhaps sell more copies to a biggest audience is what game companies are aiming for.

Simply put, you look at all these companies drooling over Zynga's success with games like "Farmville" and it's a sign of the problem. Who cares about making a game, when you can churn out some low-grade piece of junk, and make a fortune selling it to the lowest common human denominator?

On top of this, guys like me and John Funk also debate frequently over things like how much money people in the industry get paid, and whether it's reasonable. The bottom line is that I think people in game development are demanding more and more money, perks, and benefits for the same basic level of work they had been doing before. Leading to things like Maxim's "Why do game developers drive Ferraris?". It's almost impossible to track these things because as you pointed out, the industry is very close lipped on the finances. I believe this happens to prevent an outcry personally.

It's like this, when your dealing with a budget in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, the expense of renting office space and buying hardware is fairly minimal. That might cost you a couple million. That's piddly compared to these budgets, and even less signifigant if the developer doesn't have to buy it all from scratch. Pretty much everything goes towards human resources and paying people for services.

What this means is that no matter how you argue it, if someone allocates 500 million dollars for a game like "Modern Warfare too" that means that hundreds of millions of dollars got split up between game developers and advertising people. Where does this money go? Well the game industry seems pretty reluctant to answer that question.

I do however point to people like Itigaki (from Team Ninja) and the fact that he was involved in a drama with his former company/employers for tens of millions of dollars he was promised. While many people will say that's a rare exception, and perhaps it is, it's still a sign that a ridiculous amount of money is being paid to people within the industry.

I think the cost of developing games has ballooned so much not because of hardware, but because simply put people involved in development are demanding so much more money. Given that we're dealing with a multi-billion dollar industry, and profits are still flowing, the producers are pretty much willing to indulge this assuming they are still more likely to make a profit than they are to lose money. Of course, the end result is of course that there is less desire to take risks or cater to smaller markets where the potential profits are less.

These are my thoughts on the subject at least.

One bright spot is that I think that we will see more "real" games in the future simply because I think a lot of the kids playing now will grow up, slow down, and want more cereberal entertainment. I also think the casuals will become more discriminating as time goes on.... though this does nothing for those of us who want to see more sophisticated games produced in greater numbers right now.

It's a shame that an incredibly big chunk of that development money goes into stuff that doesn't make the game any better, only more attractive. High-definition graphics, celebrity voice actors, orchestral soundtracks, super-realistic special effects, et cetera. That's not to mention the massive advertising campaigns of many AAA games. Yeah it's all nice, but it takes up a huge part of the budget that could otherwise go into making the game bigger, better, and more complex.

I see myself as standing on the threshold. Old enough to have enjoyed some of the best games of the good old days, but at the same time young enough to enjoy the new, more streamlined mass-appeal games of today. However I can see where games are rapidly developing in a direction that doesn't interest me at all. Modern Warfare 2 is a perfect example. It looks great, sounds great, had a huge marketing campaign... and still it has a singleplayer campaign that isn't even worth five bucks and a multiplayer mode that's far worse than old games like Quake 3 Arena, Unreal Tournament, Counterstrike, or Tribes. The least important parts of the game keep getting improved at the cost of the stuff that really matters.

It's doubly bad for me since my favorite genre is Turn-Based Strategy. In these days the only premium TBS title left is Civilization (which is a great game, but to be honest it's too large-scale for me to enjoy fully), and I've pretty much given up on ever seeing another legendary title like X-Com, Jagged Alliance, or Silent Storm that isn't developed by some obscure Eastern-European studio, loaded with bugs and laughably poorly translated... Stuff like that just isn't commercially viable anymore since the kids nowadays don't have the patience for a good game of 3D chess with guns. I'm more or less condemned to playing the Japanese version of the genre (which is very good as well, mind you, it just lacks the charm and complexity I've come to enjoy so much), since with stuff like Fire Emblem, Disgaea, and Final Fantasy Tactics they seem to be the only ones still making quality squad-scale TBS games.

I don't really disagree with this article. I'm just hard pressed to care. In the article itself you admitted that you're still getting the games you want, as good if not better than before, so what's the big deal if Modern Warfare 2 is prettier? (Even though it really isn't.)

I dunno. I have a hard getting worked up about the eeeevil of casual games as well. People around here get so silly about this stuff. I'm sorry, but soon enough these new people joining our hobby will start to have some experience, and then they'll be able to tell the difference between a good game and a bad one. Sure, it won't magically make the video game industry go back to the way it was, but we will start getting more excellent games with mass appeal and less stupid shovelware. Actually, I think Sony and Microsoft are both about to get burned trying to jump on the shovelware bandwagon just as the market for that crap is drying up.

Plus as those cursed casual gamers find out what they enjoy, some of them will even become niche gamers. Sure, there won't be enough to make small niche games profitable as big budget games, but they will start to make niche games a bit more viable.

It just seems to me that while the news is certainly far from all good, it's just as certainly far from all doom and gloom.

Basically what you're saying is "I want to have my cake and eat it too".

You say you want big, blockbuster, multi-billion-dollar productions, targeted at your specific niche. And *many* of them, to boot. Oh, and they should also be innovative and original, of course.

That's like saying "I think Hollywood should make more Zombie Apocalypse movies, but not B movies; I want them to be real, fancy productions. And also, I think we need some *new* material in the Zombie Apocalypse genre". I mean, I would definitely be happy if that'll happen, but it's not realistic or feasible.

I, too, have more of a taste for older games. It's always been my habit to lag behind the times - it's cheaper, and I can pick and choose only the games that I'm likely to really love - but to some extent I am getting less excited about new releases than I used to. I'm reading old gaming blogs a lot, and I keep finding fantastic late-90's games that I missed out on at the time, and although there are plenty of new games that I'm interested in, they don't often excite me as much as the older games.

It's partly because of the changing fashions in game design - some recent high-profile RPGs feature mechanics and styles of play that I'm not so fond of, and I'm not interested in Wad-of-Gore-style hack-and-slashers - but also I actually prefer the look of games from five to fifteen years ago, so I find them more immersive even though they're technically less realistic. I sometimes wonder if I've discovered my own personal Uncanny Valley, right slap-bang on top of the capabilities of current graphics technology.

Big name voice acting and "epic graphix" are basically whats stagnating the industry. Along with all these orchestral soundtracks, massive advertising campaigns that do little for sales, and lots of other useless crap that could be scrapped in favor of a better game.

Another big thing is greed. I'd go into detail, but Therumancer already said it better than I ever could.

The Schwarz:
Basically what you're saying is "I want to have my cake and eat it too".

You say you want big, blockbuster, multi-billion-dollar productions, targeted at your specific niche. And *many* of them, to boot. Oh, and they should also be innovative and original, of course.

That's like saying "I think Hollywood should make more Zombie Apocalypse movies, but not B movies; I want them to be real, fancy productions. And also, I think we need some *new* material in the Zombie Apocalypse genre". I mean, I would definitely be happy if that'll happen, but it's not realistic or feasible.

But that was my point: It's not realistic or feasible, even though I'd like it to happen. I even provided a mathematical explanation as to why it's not realistic or feasible. So I'm not sure if you are just agreeing with me, or criticizing me for foolishly not grasping the premise of my own article.

Publisher Note 10: E for Everyone, Except Me

It's tough to be excited about E3 when the industry has passed you by.

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I know the feeling. I'm still waiting on Close Combat VI.

Though, this is exactly why I think the XBL arcade, and PSN are godsends. Companies don't have to pour a massive budget into arcade titles, so dev teams' risks are easier to swallow by publishers (or they can independently produce them). And so you get gems like Castle Crashers, I Maed a Game with Zombies in It, and Braid.

As a gamer, I've always looked for novelty in my gaming experience. The fresh control scheme of Katamari Damacy. The open-world sailing and island exploration of Windwaker. The atmosphere and scale of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

I haven't bought a game in over a year, because all I've seen is "go somewhere, shoot something" titles.

Good article. I, too, miss when games were more targeted in their appeal. Even FPS games (Tribes, Team Fortress 1 for Quake, and System Shock or Deus Ex) were all niche titles with very specific appeals back then. Without the niche titles, their concepts would never have evolved.

Speaking of which, when do we get our next true MechWarrior sim game... :(

I got excited when I saw "E for everyone".

I think part of the problem also is that devs are too willing to abandon older styles of games, or at least publishers wont pay attention to devs that do work on older style of games, like people still like side scrollers, as the new super mario game and shadow complex really illustrated but we still only rarely see them pop up. Like look at castlevania, they are making a new 3d one with high end graphics and all that shit, you know what castlevania players really want? they want another side scroller but on a real system instead of more portable. And what the hell happened to shooters? I mean the space ship ones that used to be everywhere, why the hell did we stop making those?

I suppose my point is this, it seems like the industry is determined to make everything cost as much as possible instead of cutting back on normal mapping and giving a good pixel game again


Plus as those cursed casual gamers find out what they enjoy, some of them will even become niche gamers. Sure, there won't be enough to make small niche games profitable as big budget games, but they will start to make niche games a bit more viable.

Agreed. We can also help by getting these people into better games like Shamus Young said in another article I don't feel like finding right now. Here's a good example. How many of you have FaceBook friends that keep bugging you with those annoying Farmville messages? Do they also own a wii? Tell them they should get one of the Harvest Moon games. Give it to them as a birthday present it's not expensive. It's a farming game but it actually, has graphics, animations, characters, cute animals you an actually interact with, and a story so you actually care about why you're doing the menial farm chores. Seriously, what is the point of Farmville? Does it have a leader board? I can pretty much guarantee if they play harvest Moon they'll wonder why they ever wasted their time on Farmville.

You can bitch and moan and complain about "casuals" all you want. Or you can actually do something about it.

Yep, this sounds pretty much like me. Heck, I remember when the magazines covered CES and E3 didn't even exist.

Guess I can count myself in with the sabre(star?)-toothed tigers. E for Endangered indeed.

I would have to say I somewhat disagree with you. Right now I think a main issue is greed. Every developer wants the next Halo 3 or Modern Warfare 2. Developers seem a bit scared to try new ideas and IP's, since it is safer to create a sequel to something people are already familiar with and have already invested money into.

Also, a point that I think you forgot to mention is the number of gamers there were over those periods. We have the best selling consoles of all time right now, there are new audiences appearing that just were not there 10 years ago. My mother, who is 60, who never touched a computer game in her life has recently started playing Farmville and now owns a Nintendo DS and has started playing games. This mass audience could mean that developers will start creating games for the 'niche' audiences. When you add millions of people to the customer base, you add the possibility that not all of them just want Wii Sports Resort 2.

I think that publishers and developers need to take a couple of mild risks and test the waters a bit. Heavy Rain was a start, let's see what happens over the next year or so.

You only need to watch the credits for a recent AAA game to see that it simply can't be like books or music. There are just too many people involved, like in movie making.

The amount of people in game production is orders of magnitude more than the people involved in producing books at big publishing houses or records at big labels. So no, there's no way niche titles can have AAA production values.

But there's enough technology, know-how and talent around so that niche games can be made using technology from some years back. They can be quite pleasing graphically without being AAA.

So there are two options: make niche games with older technology, or make AAA blockbuster titles with the latest technology. Maybe there aren't more niche games with good production values, although using outdated technology, because they are usually targeted for PCs, and lots of people fear the piracy problem. But it's possible once digital distribution becomes more common.

I don't see a problem, really. I can still enjoy some good AAA games among the newest ones, and I can play indie games when I want something different. The industry must evolve, as any other, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways. I think the nostalgia factor is strong too, just ask older people if they don't think old movies were better, or older anything were better than what's made today. We're just becoming nostalgic earlier.

Maybe we should return to N64-PS2 graphics, maybe with some modern game design applied to SNES style games ;D

You've expressed this a lot better than I've ever managed to; I completely agree.

This is so, so true. For me, I just want my niche RPGs, but because they're not very profitable, the releases for good games are far apart, and because the formula on the games has been labeled "dated", less and less developers are producing hardcore dungeon crawler RPGs other than Atlus.

Excellent article, going to be a shame when this power armored marine bubble busts and people have to start being creative again.

Maybe we should return to N64-PS2 graphics, maybe with some modern game design applied to SNES style games ;D

So the solution to "they don't make the games I like with cutting-edge technology anymore" is "no one shall have games made with cutting-edge technology anymore"?

(I know you weren't necessarily serious, but some people do say or imply this seriously as a "solution").

Good article. I have longed for having good decent games and most is overrun with being shiny technology, 3d graphics and super realism like never before. And that simplity non games like Zynga and it's games that are basically copy and pasted versions of the same.

Almost every game that's mainstream I gave a sigh when I know there are better games than just the typical.

I concur with Therumancer on greed and he speaks out better than I can.

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