Welcome to a new issue of RPGamer's Currents. This week, we'll be discussing what's wrong with the current approach being taken by the video games industry, how Gearbox and Sega are getting their just desserts for releasing the most disappointing licensed game since Superman 64, introducing a brand spanking new section, and much more.
On a more personal level, I've had more time on my hands to get out there and meet new people lately. The past nine-or-so months have been spent focusing on the production of a young adult novel, which will be released next Friday. In Stitches is a dorky gothic comedy about two misanthrope scientists that manage to create life. It's unorthodox, without a doubt, but anyone who's hip to nerd culture will probably enjoy it. This week's random video actually ties into the book, as there are many references to Star Trek:
My references aren't quite as derpy though. What a waste.
Have you ever read through the latest stories on your favourite news site only to walk away thinking "what's happening to the world?" It's a common occurrence for a lot of people who keep up with global politics, but only a fairly recent reaction from many video gamers. We participate in an industry which isn't adverse to change, but has maintained a fairly consistent growth trajectory since the recovery of the great video game crash of 1983. The formula since that industry defining event has been fairly simple: a handful of consoles + limited hardware capabilities = shorter development times, an undersaturated market, and low production costs. Unfortunately, things aren't adding up quite the same way they were and the video games industry is undergoing its most traumatic shift since it got its groove back in the late 1980s.
The video games industry is changing and all of the major players involved are seemingly without answers to address things. We now live in an age where mega publishers seemingly have no idea which platforms to push which games to, how to make an AAA title without trying to swallow a bloated budget, how to maintain consistent development timelines, or produce non-AAA titles that appeal to people that arenít interested in co-op first person or military shooters. To be exceptionally frank, the industry at large is suffering because the people at the top have tunnel vision.
Over the past few months, we've seen the closure of numerous studios, the departure or demotion of several high-profile CEOs, and far too many critically and commercially successful titles being deemed "failures" for only selling four million units. Think about that for a second. There are companies allowing games to be made with budgets that are so astronomical that the titles are expect to ship over six million in months. Not years. When they fail to meet such ridiculous expectations, the people who develop the games are the one to see the negative repercussions, with studio-wide layoffs and closures. Historically, the industry has never had to operate under such high targets and the way executive teams have been laying out sales expectations (damn near predicating them on the success of AAA titles alone) have played a big part in breaking a once prosperous industry.
Studio closures and limited releases make gamers cry.
Not everyone likes Call of Duty. Not everyone plays Need for Speed. Not everyone will buy every piece of DLC for the latest Grand Theft Auto. So why are we only targeting releases at the crowd that will do all those things? When most publishers today are asked about why there aren't more AA or AAA survival horror, RPG, and strategy titles, the common response is that "gamers don't want to buy those games." Because, again, we live in a world that has become predicated on big budgets and bigger sales. As a result, we have a marketplace that has become flooded by games undergoing an identity crisis. Dead Space isn't a survival horror franchise anymore — it's a cover-based co-op shooter. Mass Effect isn't an action RPG so much as it is a third person shooter with RPG elements. Medal of Honor and Battlefield have been completely reworked to take advantage of Call of Duty's success and the Call of Duty franchise continues to produce the same game every year with different weapons. Too many people are trying to make the same game to make the most sales, which has left the few developers who are interested in doing something different to go indie. The video games industry is stagnating in AAA hell.
There are also more places to game now than ever. People play video games on their PCs, consoles, handhelds, browsers, smartphones, tablets, and social media platforms. Each of them play differently and require a certain approach to be successful. Unfortunately, this means that gamer attention is divided between multiple platforms and a publisher can't greenlight a game to be released on every platform anymore. It's too expensive. However, that hasn't stopped them from making strange decisions without properly considering the platforms themselves. For example, Final Fantasy V was released on smartphones instead of a handheld or consoles because the mobile market is become more lucrative. The obvious flaw in this decision being that many on-the-go mobile players don't want a 40-60 hour experience on their phone. They want to play Angry Birds and Draw Something.
In the wake of CEO departures and studio closures, many of the people responsible for their company's misfortunes are blaming the "unexpected market changes" or "sizable developer shortcomings" on their way out the door. That's not fair. The industry might be changing, but the smart thing is to change your approach in accordance. I don't think answer is episodic content, microtransactions, or free-to-play models. If I could propose a new formula, it would be: a reasonable budget + regular supervision and a dedication to quality + unique concept = sales that would more than justify the non-AAA budget. Let's do something smart and step away from the AAA. Let game developers make the games they want to make for the people that want to play them. Just give them a limited budget and keep an eye on progress. I'd wager that companies would be more profitable if they had four or five somewhat profitable AA titles than one or two AAA titles that "completely underperformed."
We've talked quite a bit in the past about the many ways that Aliens: Colonial Marines failed to meet expectations, but this is the first time we get to discuss some of the reprecussions. Sega and Gearbox have become targets of a class-action lawsuit in Northern California which claims that the parties responsible for the game's released mislead the public with demonstrations of what was then referred to as "actual gameplay" of Aliens: Colonial Marines which bore little resemblance to the final product.
The case is being brought by law firm Edelson LLC on behalf of Damion Perrine. It is their contention that by showing trailers and playable demos to the public and press at events like E3, GDC, and PAX, Sega and Gearbox were promising something which they had no intention of delivering. It also makes a point of noting the review code sent to press with an embargo for coverage of the game's launch date, thereby preventing anyone from speaking ill of the game and impacting preorders. As such, Edelson hopes to elicit a ruling for all customer who pre-order the game (although, the suit will be applicable to the public at large).
Speaking directly to Polygon, Edelson further explained the reasoning behind the case. "The gaming community had a strong reaction to the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines," said the firm's Ben Thomassen. "We think the video game industry is no different than any other that deals with consumers: if companies like Sega and Gearbox promise their customers one thing but deliver something else, then they should be held accountable for that decision."
Iíve never been a huge fan of class action lawsuits. The punishment often isn't severe enough, the rewards aren't worth the hassle, and they are settled more often than not. However, I do believe that this kind of reaction sends a message. The video game industry needs to be held accountable in the event that products are misrepresented. Maybe other developers and publishers will learn from this fiasco.
Things aren't looking great for the Big N these days. Nintendo has recorded full-year profits of •7 billion ($71.2m / £46.7m) for the financial year, half of its estimated profits. Sales were •635.4 billion ($6.3bn / £4.1bn) compared to targets of •670 billion, revised down by the company in January. The company suffered an operating loss of •36.4. That said, while it did miss its targets, the company has managed to turn a profit compared to last year, where it recorded a huge loss of •43.2 billion ($433m / £284m). Nintendo has since blamed weak sales of the Wii U and 3DS (to a lesser extent) for its performance this year. In the last three months, only 390,000 Wii U units have been sold worldwide. Full-year hardware sales were originally projected to hit 5.5 million units, but only managed 3.45 million, with software sales of 13.42 million units.
Since the release of these financial numbers, a number of changes have been made to Nintendo's camp. They announced that global president Satoru Iwata is taking on the position of Nintendo of America CEO, with Reggie Fils-Aime reporting directly to him. Iwata will take over from Tatsumi Kimishima, who will be taking on a new role of general manager of Nintendo Japan. Four directors of Nintendo are also due to retire by the end of June 2013.
A number of excusatory statements have also been made about why the Wii U hasn't made the impact Nintendo expected. According to Iwata, "[Nintendo] decided to take time to add the final touches to ensure that consumers fully feel that they are valuable titles. The brand of a franchise would be completely degraded without customer satisfaction. This is why we delayed the release schedule of such games [as Pikmin 3]." The delayed first party titles have done no favors for a system that appears to be garnering little third party interest. Most gamers will cite "a lack of games" as the reason why they haven't picked up the latest Nintendo console, something the company now fully acknowledges, but Iwata also understands that the company hasn't done a strong enough job at highlighting what the Wii U is capable of and how it differs from its predecessor.
Regardless of what's happened in the past, it's clear that things need to change in the imminent future. For the 2014 financial year, Nintendo estimates that it will sell 9 million Wii U units and 38 million games — something that usually only happens when a price cut is put in motion and a flurry of games released. While I'm sure they would see a bump in sales if they were to more effectively market the Wii U and cut its cost, the release schedule for this Nintendo console still seems a little bleak.
In an especially strange turn of events, the creators of popular mems Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat have filed a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit against Warner Bros. and 5th Cell Media over their characters' appearances in the Scribblenauts games. Christopher Orlando Torres and Charles Schmidt's complaint says the memes were used in Scribblenauts products without their written permission.
"Since Warner Bros. and 5th Cell chose to act as if we had no rights in characters we created, filing a lawsuit was the only way we had to protect our intellectual property rights from being used for others' commercial profit without our consent. Too often normal artists like us don't have the means and resources to protect our rights against big media corporations who use our work for their own profit without permission. We are looking here just to be treated fairly and to be fairly compensated for our creative work."
I know what youíre probably thinking: "How dare the massive, profiteering Warner Bros. take advantage of these poor internet meme creators." Sorry folks, that's not how memes or copyrights work. The interesting thing about current IP rights management precedence is that if multiple people use your IP without your permission and you do not protect it as much as you possibly can, you lose copyright claim. In the case of Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat, these artists likely have no claim to their copyrights because they don't actively protect and use them.
This is a new section of RPGamer's Currents where we take a hard look at some of the more video game industry rumors and try to assess how plausible they are. Nothing in this section has been officially confirmed, but who knows which rumors will float to the surface as fact in the future.
Respawn Entertainment's Xbox-Exclusive Mech Game
Respawn Entertainment, composed mostly of ex-Call of Duty developers, has said it will be showing off its first game at E3, but not much is known about what it is. We know that theyíve trademarked the name "Titan" and, thanks to Kotaku, rumors are circulating that Titan is an Online Multiplayer Mech Title for the Xbox 360. Likelihood? Not great. We know that the staff's background is in FPS and, according to a statement they made in 2011, their first title is a science fiction shooter. A mech game *might* be considered a science fiction shooter, but I'd expect something more akin to Halo or Destiny.
Thief Might Not Be Looking Great
Polygon has recently tried to deconstruct the inner workings of Eidos Montreal. Its highly anticipated stealth game, Thief, doesn't quite look like a game that has been in development for five years. The claim is that that Thief currently runs on an amended version of Unreal Engine with a number of art assets, environments, and characters not in place. The demo, which supposedly took ten months to create, is purportedly only a vertical slice of gameplay and may not even make it to E3. Likelihood? High. Lead level designer Dominic Fleury chose to leave the developer right as the publicity push was ramping up. Also, BioWare developer Manveer Heir, who also lives in Montreal, recently tweeted about the supposed "internal strife" and "numerous departures" at Eidos Montreal.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII on PS3 & PS4
According to FFDream's "sources," presumed vapourware Final Fantasy Versus XIII will be available for both the PS3 and upcoming PS4. In fact, they've gone as far as to say that they're "97% certain" of this. Likelihood? Who knows? Releasing the same game on two generations of systems during transition periods is not unheard of, and we know that Watch Dogs and Diablo III both plan on multigenerational releases. That said, I'm not sure what benefit the PS4 would offer the game (if it even exists).