186: That's Entertainment?

That's Entertainment?

The games industry has always looked up to the film industry as a model for its success, but it may want to start looking a little more closely. Rob Zacny examines how the tension between "gritty realism" and "family fun" is pulling both mediums apart at the seams.

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Games have indeed gone the way of movies. Fortunately in both mediums the 'indie' section has more than enough to keep you occupied.

Even the good old adventure(ish) genre is alive and well, I'm especially looking forward to Machinarium coming out this year (Or at least I hope it is).

I agree, but I think it's somewhat obvious. Machines built to engage the least common denominator based on profits will always be sub par. And independent products will be hit or miss. Comparing games to movies is very overdone and nothing new was said here.

Sure, the point is valid if you're considering just the huge releases, but what about No More Heroes? What about Devil May Cry 4? These games present an experience with both drama and humor, and are in neither extreme.

The problem with comparing gaming/movies to "the golden age" of gaming is that until the 1950s-1960's cinema's only competition came from radio. If you wanted an audio experience you listened to CBC; if you wanted a visual one you went to the cinema. Simularly back then, "going to the cinema" was as much a social event as simply going to see a film, even after sound was introduced. Removing every distraction from the movie (no smocking, no sound etc) to make it a purely viewing experience came later.

As for the actualities of the golden age; yes some of the best films of the 20th century came from that era; but Hollywood was as bad then as it is now. the studio barons at Paramount, MGM etc milked their actors & franchises just as bad as they do now. Judy Garland was pumped full of Amphetamines so MGM could churn out films with her in. memorable as man films from there "golden age" are (remember your drawing from an era lasting 20+ years), there was alot of easily (& in man cases thankfully) forgettable films made then too.

With that said (& the fact the same can be said about the golden ages of gaming in regards to the quality of the games made then which we've forgotten with time), I would agree there is an increasing polarisation in theme of major release titles. However, with cinema at least its not all bad. The studios may put extra effort into promoting their mass market blockbuster trash; but to paraphrase something I think George Cloony said about The Good German, if you give the studio a franchise they can make money off they'll give you funding for something they wont make money on. Unfortunately, for the mostpart this situation doesnt seem to exist in the Games industry. The industry is constantly portrayed as being on a knife-edge between profit & loss; with most games lucky to recoup their production costs. Eidos' recent turmoil in no small part because Tomb Raider Underworld only sold well instead of brilliantly exemplifies this. With most publishers aparently relying on their mass market titles just to stop them going bust; Im not surprised they dont take risks with what little they have.

Personally, I hope in time the industry will re-emerge in a strong enough financial position that more major publishers/studios are willing to invest in risky projects. The fact that this generation of consoles should last longer then a wink of the eye will hopefully give some breathing space. But till then we'll have to make do with what we have; a polarised market with few willing to fill the widening gap in the middle.

Of course there are some examples to the contrary. Viva Pinata (my favourite game on the 360) is as cutesy as they come; but since alot of the game involves you choosing which of your Pinatas to feed to the others there is a more mature side to it. Mario Galaxy, like Wall-E, has a look, style & story that can appeal to both young & old & arguably is deeper then at first appears (as MovieBob observed; you can argue Mario Galaxy presents God as a women living on a comet with baby stars. Cute but very profound). Fallout3 presents a grimey FPS with far more depth then usual & at times is first aparent. There are games out there that bridge the gap both in matureity, story & gameplay. But for the mostpart we're stuck with stuck with beefcake titles on one side of the fence & cutesy cuddle titles on the other. Both as ultimately simplistic & hollow as eachother.

As may have been heard, I totally agree. Demographics and percentages have surpassed plain fun and enjoyment.

In trying to please all, we fail to please any.

Movies are more vulnerable to a low proportion of greatness than other forms of entertainment. An excellent video game will continue to sell for months or years; an excellent album or book will continue to sell for decades. A movie theater will only show the latest flavor of the week, so it's more likely that there is nothing worth seeing. Perhaps you should check out one of the classics on DVD instead.

How is LittleBigPlanet "too soft"? I think I've missed the point there.

There's a lot of nostalgia clouding this review, particularly towards film.

There has never - never been a time in the film industry where everyone was daring, everything was fresh, or everything was a gem except maybe in the very early years of film, when it was a brand-new medium.

There will always be games that do nothing special, that follow the formula, that stick to the beaten path. That will never change. The thing that makes games like Braid or World of Goo great is that they are different and fresh.

If all games were different and fresh, none of them would be. If you get my meaning. You can't break the mold with a mold already in place.

And for its purposes, genre-movies and "genre-games" are good for what they are. There's a kind of comfort in knowing exactly what you're going to get. And both game developers and filmmakers are counting on that when they make movies or video games.

For every David Lynch, there are a hundred Michael Bays - and it's just not true that films used to be different, "back in the day". It's just that back then, maybe the films weren't car-chase-gunfight-films. They were westerns. How many westerns were released in the "golden age of film"?

How many were special?

I agree with the article, but I have some differing opinions also. I think that what we are seeing here is not new. This polarization has been happening for years, it just became plainly apparent now.

In the Golden Era of video games (which were the 90's as far as I'm concerned), game developers were born from bedroom programmers, tech geeks and role playing nerds. Development studios (with a maximum of 10-20 people) were formed around the common goal, a dream, to create something that the developers wanted to play, what they envisioned to be great fun, games that had meaning, and to show them to everyone, who wants to play it. There was no "Game Industry" back then, no business suits sitting in the CEO chair, no board of directors, no full-blown marketing campaigns or profit maximizing schemes... just geeks who made games and geeks who played them. A miracle of creativity, a new outlet for artists, writers, designers, programmers and nobodies with great ideas. The huge majority of them didn't wanted to get rich by making games, they wanted to create and make their dreams available to everyone to enjoy. But sadly some business people got wind of a new, emerging "industry" and so...

...the tables have turned (on us). Nowdays, games are made by programming "droids" based on focus groups, marketing research, business plans and profit projections, not by simple people with ideas. The term "good game" became the "game that sells". In this world, where the so called Game Industry is ruled by publishers and marketing agencies, the idea of "dreams" and "meaning" is lost in transaction. Well, of course they are playing it safe, because the publisher won't allow anything even remotely revolutionary because "what if it won't appeal to the masses". The reason is simple: lost profits. No, Portal wasn't daring at all, remember, they bundled the game into the Orange Box, along with Half Life 2, Ep 1 and Team Fortress 2. They haven't even mentioned the game in most marketing campaigns, or only just as a side note "oh, and there is this Portal thing in there also." They knew people would buy it for HL2, Ep1 or TF2, and if Portal would've been a failure, no lost profits there, but if it hits big, all the better, so they were safe either way.

But there is another side to this issue: Public Idiocy. "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups" they say. With the birth of Gaming Media came public awareness. And what does the public do best? That's right, bitch about everything!! Enter the tabloid journalism, self-proclaimed experts, con-men, hordes of concerned parents/lawyers/activists...etc, and of course the dear "public opinion" itself. Games started to matter. Back in the day, games were largely ignored, people playing them were regarded as geeks with no life and when kids played video games, the parents were unconcerned, even if they took a closer look they thought "well, the kid is shooting at pixelated soldiers with pixelated guns, so what, its a game". But they forgot that in an instant when the mass media entered the scene. Everybody remembers the "VIDEO GAME KILLS AGAIN!" scandal(s) not so long ago, for example. Sensationalism came, and f***ed everything up. Now the public has been led into thinking that they "care" about video games by nitpicking every single detail that is not politically correct, tagging games as foolish, offensive or even harmful, making way for rating systems, retarded standards (green blood anyone?) various civil groups consisting of overprotective parents, self-righteous lawyers and zealous idiots who try to police video games. All the games got separated into categories once again, the M and the dreaded R-rating entered the scene, taking every game straight to Hell that had a drop of blood, a single scene of violence, a visible breast or genital, harsh words and everything that makes a topic even remotely worth mentioning and make it unrepresentable in a video game.

So now game designers are constrained by three huge brick walls. From one side, they have to work around these arbitrary limitations set by oversensitive retards (or face the music in the mass media: public ridicule, witch-hunting and lynching), on the other side, they are strangled by publishers and "higher-ups" to cater to every single living being on Earth, to maximize profits. And on the third side, there are the players themselves. A sea of self-righteous idiots hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, constantly bitching and bickering about every single detail that doesn't suit their special snowflake tastes. And game designers can't ignore them because of walls A and B. They can't ignore wall A, because they won't be allowed to publish games or they get dragged through the mud by the media. They can't ignore wall B, because they simply won't be able to get their game out there. It's an impossible situation, so no wonder they can't make good games anymore...

There has never been a time when Hollywood was anything but a dreck factory with only a few rare gems pumped out every now and then. The only reason we think so now is because those gems are the only ones that have survived, either in memory or in print. Hollywood didn't suddenly discover that they don't need to make great movies, they didn't one day realize that they can just keep pumping out repetitive crap and people will still snap it up. They've ALWAYS known that. It's just that decades later, nobody remembers the crap that was made, and everyone remembers the few indie gems that managed to fight their way through the studio system.

That said, the major problem now is that the stakes are so much higher. Every "major" motion picture these days has a nine-digit budget, so there's even less incentive to take risks, but there have been some gems slipping through (there's a great book on this topic called Rebels on the Backlot, check it out).

The games industry is going the same way. Development costs are skyrocketing because game developers know that all the mass audience cares about are shinier graphics, and as the budget goes up, so do the stakes.

Yeah, I'm gonna side with the folks arguing there never was a Golden Age. Not in film, even Pauline Kael in the 1960's devoted mountains of paper to bitching about movies back then. And not in games, even during the 90's.

For every Gabriel Knight there was a cheesy live action adventure or an Altered Destiny. For every Warcraft II there was an RTS knock-off.

Sturgeon's Law is just as true as ever, 90% of everything is crap. Always has been, always will be. And every year, a few gems rise to the top and prove that they were the ones that broke the trend.

I'll also throw my lot in with those saying that the Golden Age of Film wasn't nearly as golden as it seems, when looked at through the rose coloured glasses of history. I mean, people talk about a ten to twenty year period of history that took place almost a full generation ago. The fact remains: that era sounds great because we remember the great movies. In another thirty years, we'll talk about how great the 90s and 2000s were, remembering movies like Toy Story, Lord of the Rings, and Batman Begins, and forgetting the forgettable like Tomcats, Dungeon Siege, and Daredevil. (You've forgotten them already, haven't you? And all of them came out less than 15 years ago.) And the same will be true about video games. The comparison is false, anyway. Twenty years ago, video gaming was in its infancy. Everything was new and daring. The only way we can compare gaming to film is to wait until gaming matures for another twenty years or so.

The thing that really gets me about articles like this one, though, is that there isn't so much as one single word about how to remedy the supposed problem. There is the same vague idea of how the development studio system is "bad" and we should really get rid of it, without any word on how to replace it with something that will provide the money and manpower to make quality games. And there is also the thinly-veiled elitism and smugness that so often comes out: "Well if everyone was as smart and culturally in touch as me, they'd really only play indie games, because the only way a game could be any good is if no member of the development team has ever actually been paid for their programming work and has never been within two miles of an EA or Microsoft employee ever. Then life would be grand." (Ok maybe I overstated a bit, but as soon as someone starts talking about how the only really good games [or movies, or music, or anything else] are indie, I start to hear a roaring in my ears and everything goes red for a while.) If you're going to gripe about the current supposedly deplorable state of the gaming industry, at least try and come up with some viable solutions that don't just boil down to saying, "Everyone is stupid except for people who think like me."

The thing that really gets me about articles like this one, though, is that there isn't so much as one single word about how to remedy the supposed problem. There is the same vague idea of how the development studio system is "bad" and we should really get rid of it, without any word on how to replace it with something that will provide the money and manpower to make quality games.

Still waiting for the solution.. :p

Perhaps money corrupts and a lot of it corrupts absolutely? This is to be expected when consumers are reduced to statistics and whether or not a programmer has dreams is completely irrelevant. It's business, and in business you try to maximise your profits, you reduce your risks, you widen your audience. Shareholders, managers, CEO's, they don't give a rat's ass about what consumers or their employees think or feel, unless that knowledge can be turned into money.

First, it has to sell. Secondly, it has to sell WELL. If you can't even cover your costs, what's the use of production? Basic principles, people.

So, anybody have any idea on either how to succesfully mix business and inspiration/ originality (avoiding mainstream) or succesfully separate them? Because in the gaming industry the business aspect is the restricting factor on the content. On the other hand it's also the enabling factor (not content related). It enables games to be made and published in the first place.

It's just that..nowadays to make a sophisticated game (complex visually and in terms of gameplay) you need the tools of the pro, you need a 100 man crew, you need money. Sure, an Indie can get a long way if he's (or she) really motivated, has a lot of time on his hands, can afford himself at least a reasonable piece of hardware/ software. Just don't expect a Resident Evil 6 or a Metal Gear Solid 5 from an Indie (copyright issues aside :), or even several Indies working together and definitely not within 3-4 years (current average development speed).

By now you're probably thinking: "Hey, this might actually work... I get together with some friends, we'll hook up our gaming pc's, download some software, read some tutorials and start creating. And maybe after 1000 saturday nights full of pizza, Red Bull and arguing we'll see some results." Suppose you do get results.. in fact you have a game... a working one.

Then the real hell starts; you'll have to sell it... or are you so altruistic that all you need is your name on the back of the dvd/ blue ray/ some new tech and an interview? After all those years of development? After all those frustrations, fights with your friends?

I know that, by now, it's hard to see where I'm taking this. What I'm trying to say is: It's not that simple, especially if you play it by the rules of the system (money, business). "If you want something done right, do it yourself" does not apply. The current system has distinct organizational advantages (for the development studios and publishers).

Can you "cheat" in this system to get what you want? I'm glad you asked :).

Right now, this system is pretty much in balance: there is demand from consumers (gamers) and supply by the studios/ publishers. The true power of the consumer lies in the numbers. If we would all (hypothetically) boycot the next Resident Evil for being racist (and miss out on a great game) Capcom would have no choice but to reasses their choice for textures if they wish to avoid such a display of power (and economic "pain" on their part) in the future. The reason to boycot doesn't really matter, as long as you get em where it hurts most, their wallet. That's when they start paying attention.

Of course I don't need to tell you what the problem is with this. Try organizing a world-wide gamer boycot! Us gamers, we stand devided. An easy prey. We feel powerless and not heard. Well, once we all feel that and agree on the fact that we feel the same... that's when the shit hits the fan for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

Because in the end, gaming is a commodity, it's a choice. Unless you're a serious WoW addict, you won't die from not playing. It's when we stand united and say that we'd rather not play anything than play crap...that we can bring down any industry giant, no matter how powerful. They need us, we are the very reason why they exist. They simply forgot.

So let's make em remember.

You said that Lucas Arts made great games but don't anymore. Well the brains behind the great games, Tim Schafer, is still designing very interesting games. There will always be uninspired games that still make huge profits but I think you're starting to sound a bit like grumpy old men who think society is going to shit.


The thing that really gets me about articles like this one, though, is that there isn't so much as one single word about how to remedy the supposed problem. There is the same vague idea of how the development studio system is "bad" and we should really get rid of it, without any word on how to replace it with something that will provide the money and manpower to make quality games.

Still waiting for the solution.. :p

Hey, I never said I had the solution, just that I wanted to see one amidst all the griping. :P

But I do think you're on to something. Ultimately, the only way to effect change is to vote with our wallets. I myself don't buy a game until I've read reviews from one or two sources that I've come to trust over time.

So I'm ok with a boycott on game-buying. (But not until after mid-February so I can get Dawn of War 2. Oh and let's wait a bit after that until Empire: Total War comes out. And since we're waiting a bit, let's not forget that Starcraft 2 is due soon ... :P )

The motto for me;

The best games are often those that contain everything - Just like the real world does.

I really think that despite how fast gaming is moving along as an entertainment form (because it's trying to catch up to movies now) people are still over-reacting to an innovation drought. Any new idea and interesting concepts that are still out there will be made eventuially but we're stuck in a game generation where there's brilliance surrounded by mediocrity and underdeveloped theories. It's very easy to be nostalgic about the earlier days of gaming but it's not like we've gotten to the second stage yet. The technology has improved vastly and quickly but the ideas and their implementation are still somewhat in their infancy. This is (in my opinion) mainly based on the lack of acceptance for games as anything more than a pastime for introverts and their online friends or (in the case of casual games) something to do in your spare time for fun. There have been and still are gems in the brown wastelands but not many developers have the tenacity and funding to try anything they want and the ones that do tend to get bloated and choosy about who they work for

In a lot of ways the reviews and criticism that drive game sales actually harm the innovative possiblities. Reviewers have too much power over how a game does and most of them aren't very good at what they do anyway. It's as if they hardly know what they want anyway because they constantly make a point of saying something should be done more relaistically or more viscerally without thought for practicality and fun, then the game that they wanted comes out and they hate it because it's not really what they wanted. There are a few good ones but they're hard to find among all the advertising-obsessed mega-sites that have no real concern other than getting their paychecks. As far I'm concerned the reason that gaming isn't moving forward as quickly as possible now is because of money, on all sides, money is the corrupter, the soul sucker, the invention-killer. So many great games have been fairly unsuccesful because they only attract a cult following, most people don't totally get whats even going on and they stick with the easy, casual stuff that they know and play it over and over every day, but there's some true genius that's still out there. It seems to be getting smothered by the American games industry taking over though because games just become another commodity in the great, vast economic structure of North America. It's all about the money, the advertising, the sponsorships, the statistics and the sales number.

It will end just like every other period in entertainment but hopefully we can remember and cherish the diamonds in the rough that we do find in this console generation

As may have been heard, I totally agree. Demographics and percentages have surpassed plain fun and enjoyment.

In trying to please all, we fail to please any.

It reminds me of a quote I love to CnP all the damn time.

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
- Benjamin Franklin

Sort of carries into what you said :P. We give up a little difficulty to gain a little larger player base thusly deserving neither and losing both ;)...then blaming piracy because it's the reason nobody bought our terrible game.

"Owen Wilson has a baaaad dog in Marley & Me, but he'll grudgingly come to love it. So in case anyone missed Turner and Hooch or Beethoven, Fox 2000 Pictures has you covered. Both Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have a movie out, and each is exactly what you would expect. There are two computer-generated talking animal movies. Alternatively, we could go see a romantic melodrama, or a World War II movie about good Germans trying to kill bad Nazis.


Compare this situation to films from the period between 1930 and 1960. Consider the list of producers, actors, directors and films that are connected with that era. Ernst Lubitsch and Darryl Zanuck. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Hitchcock and Hawks. Citizen Kane and The Lady Eve. I could go on for pages listing the treasures."

I don't know what point the author is trying to make here.

When you compare the movies of December 2008 and January 2009 to 40 years of film releases one can clearly see that film is now creatively bankrupt?

More to the point though I'm not entirely sure I can put a finger on what point this article is trying to drive home.

Yes there are a lot of mass market, lowest common denominator appealing, brainless games out there, just like there have always been a lot of mass market, lowest common denominator appealing brainless movies. This is absolutely nothing new.

The early 80's and 90's had some great and creative games, I won't argue that point.
I would however point out that there were a also lot of terrible games being released as well. A great deal of the titles released at the time were all variations on the same tired concepts being rehashed and repackaged over and over again.

In retrospect you can say that in the "golden age" of gaming we had original and creative games and compare it to the "golden age" of film.
I would suggest however that you also take note that these games like "Day of the Tentacle" and "E.V.O" came out at the same time as "Aero the Acro-Bat" and "Revolution X" much like Casablanca and Citizen Kane came out alongside "The Ghost of Frankenstein" and "King of the Zombies"

I'd thought I'd just put my two cents in here. There seems and underlying sentiment in the article that the film industry almost purposefully went after the blockbuster, paint by numbers business model. That's not really the case. The thing that changed the face of Hollywood is something that gaming is absolutely reliant on: television.

As televisions became cheaper, the clarity of the broadcast became better and the number of channels expanded people were confronted with a choice. You could either stay home and watch entertainment (perhaps not a high budget film but certainly entertainment) or go out. Once you've paid for your TV its a sunk cost; the cost and effort of going to the pictures seems greater.

Fast forward many years. Take Joe Six-pack. He's had a long week. He doesn't have that much cash but he wants to do something in the evening. What's he going to choose? TV which he knows will probably provide him with some laughs, but even if it doesn't it doesn't cost anything, or he can go get in the car, drive to the cinema, pay for tickets and snacks and sit in the dark for 2 hours. If he is going to make the decision to go to the cinema he wants a guarantee it's going to be worth his time. So when something makes the audience laugh it gets recycled, give the consumer what he wants or he won't come back.

Now with gaming the model is slightly closer to the DVD market as opposed to the film industry in general. Who hasn't heard the phrase "I'd wait for it to come out on DVD" in relation to a film. People would rather stay in a spend a small amount and risk enjoyment, that is often the review. Basically the recommender is saying "it may or may not be your thing so wait for it to be cheap and easy".

Gaming is almost there, free flash games are. If you cut the price of your average game in half the market for more experimental games would explode. If I'm going to drop £40/$70 on a game, I want to know that its going to be enjoyable. If I waste that money I'm very annoyed (*looking at you Fable II*), that's a lot of money. £40 is a good night out. £20 isn't. I suspect that the answer to the (mild) gaming malaise is drop the costs, drop the length and drop the price. Make it like TV. Lower the opportunity cost of a game. No one gets that angry at Lost because even if you don't like it you're not out more than an hour or so. I bet the hatred towards Halo 12 and it's hype would be lower if it cost £15.


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