Tiny Renaissance

In 2007 I looked at the plethora of amazing games, and came to the conclusion that the games industry was finally operating on all cylinders. After a less than stellar 2008, made all the dimmer by its proximity to the previous year — like trying to look at Mercury next to the morning sun — I decided that I was a fool to have thought so highly of a bunch of focus group hacks. Now, with 2009, I am trying to take a longer view, and the more I do the more encouraged I am.

Though, I find that my enthusiasm for gaming is tempered by the need for diversity, and the more time I spend away from the big name box stores and their menagerie of mediocrity, the better experience I have. This has been illustrated some what by my Horizons Broadening Project, but even that is the organized manifestation of a deeper sea change.

I join a growing population of gamers that don’t look for the best gaming experiences in the brick and mortar stores of strip malls, found tucked between the tanning salon and a Thai Buffet joint with food that will burn your soul. Instead now, I often can be found playing on digital platforms that can provide an environment harkening back to gaming days of old.

I think it might be hyperbole to say that gaming is enjoying a renaissance, and of course nobody walking around 16th century Florence said to his next door neighbor, “lovely renaissance we’re having, no?” But, as I think about the unique gaming experiences I’ve enjoyed over the past few years, I have to admit that there is an undercurrent of evolution.

For those not keeping track, the traditional gaming market is actually teetering on the edge of crisis. Ignore what NPD and other sales tracking agencies say about the current health of game sales; it ain’t about revenue. It’s about profit, and there are contracting forces pushing at the edge of gaming. Let me be the first to nod toward the way multi-billion dollar companies have bungled their way onto a console bubble, its straining surface tension ready to pop.

But, I say who cares. Game consoles and PCs may stick around as a platform to deliver a new mode of content, but the future may look back on first party and major third party dominance as anachronistic as the old city bosses of the 19th century.

Joined by an explosion of strong, if brief, games that play right in a web browser, and the now commonplace offerings available on platforms such as Steam, PSN and Xbox Live, games like Braid, World of Goo, Uno, Bejewled, Flower and Castle Crashers describe the primordial designs of a landscape that may become vast, fertile and wholly outside the traditional big-budget gaming arena.

No, these games aren’t precisely a threat to the old guard yet, but if you look at the rapid adoption from both casual and hardcore corners of the gaming populace in such a short time, one gets the feeling that a new world order may be afoot.

As it stands right now, one need never walk into a Gamestop or buy a game from a multi-billion dollar publisher again. The decision to invest in the static, mediocre or exploited is a voluntary one, and little sympathy should be wasted on the buyer so desperate that they will invest into whatever pabulum is advertised between Girls Gone Wild commercials on Spike TV.

I don’t necessarily imagine a future where big companies don’t invest millions of dollars into the corporate machine of game making, but I also don’t think the system as it currently functions can manage and maintain. The Activision and Electronic Arts of the world will certainly not abandon the schemes that have made them worth billions of dollars easily, but they will also see the high return on low investment that the new model offers, and already you see EA trying to move a high profile franchise like Battlefield into this new mode. Of course, they’ve bungled the operation entirely, but the point is not success but recognition.

In the long run, the story of this generation is not the delivery method, but how it has legitimized high quality, low cost gaming. As consumers we are beginning to think about our relationship with games in different and more sophisticated ways, and I think the coming generation will reflect the results of a tiny renaissance in a big way.

Comments

Who gives a f*** about an oxford comma?

In all seriousness, I agree. I think in the general sense so does Gabe Newell.

http://www.edge-online.com/news/valv... - This relates to static mediocrity.

http://www.edge-online.com/features/... - And this speakes to revenue vs. profit.

Good stuff from a very smart man.

The influx of solid independent games is great news for gamers but not necessarily not for the gaming industry. One only has to look at the games you mentioned to see the kind of diversity and creativity put into these products. I'm always willing to spend money on a person or groups labor of love than I am the next big epic game.

I don't agree with the assumption that EA has "bungled" Battlefield Heroes. The game isn't even out yet so I don't see how you can call it mishandled already. Unless you're talking about Battlefield 1943 which I admit seems kind of silly, but then I played the hell out of BF1942 and have no reason to revisit Wake Island.

Considering that they're just offering some old maps ported to a new engine with dumbed down gameplay for consoles, at $20 it's not unreasonable to think there are folks who would pay money for that. And I doubt it will be super expensive to produce.

Or were you just referring to the over saturation of the Battlfield brand in general?

Lex Cayman wrote:

Who gives a f*** about an oxford comma?

Vampire Weekend!

Also I feel ashamed that Braid was my only non-conglomerate games purchase of 2008. Oh wait, and Castle Crashers. Although I don't feel that I should be ramburgled into playing indie-esque games and singing their praises just because they are indie. That's bordering on Pitchfork Media elitism.

I am, however, glad that my scope of choice as a gamer is broadening in some unanticipated ways.

I don't agree with the assumption that EA has "bungled" Battlefield Heroes.

I think they are bungling the release, not the game itself necessarily. That is probably debatable, to be fair.

Elysium wrote:
I don't agree with the assumption that EA has "bungled" Battlefield Heroes.

I think they are bungling the release, not the game itself necessarily. That is probably debatable, to be fair.

From what I understand of the beta feedback, they've been bungling both. The question is whether or not they can unbungle it, then learn from the mistakes and not bungle again.

Did you happen to see the news that L4D sales were up 3000% this past weekend, with the 50% off sales? I think digital distribution is taking off in a big, big way. I love not having to go to GameStop, so this makes me very excited.

vbl wrote:
Elysium wrote:
I don't agree with the assumption that EA has "bungled" Battlefield Heroes.

I think they are bungling the release, not the game itself necessarily. That is probably debatable, to be fair.

From what I understand of the beta feedback, they've been bungling both. The question is whether or not they can unbungle it, then learn from the mistakes and not bungle again.

Really? I haven't been keeping up on the game. I knew they took it down to make changes after getting beta feedback, but I didn't see how that as necessarily a bad thing. It's got to be easier to make changes when you don't have a fan base crying in your ear after every patch.

I haven't played it though so it could be terrible. I do think most people expected an open beta by now so they may have lost some of their announcement marketing momentum, but I think it could still turn out to be a fun take on Battlefield.

Will it make money? That's the big question. For EA's sake I hope so, no one wants to see more lay offs.

The BF: Heroes beta was awful. And I say that as someone that went in very much looking forward to the game.

It was so floaty and unresponsive that combat was essentially broken. You pretty much just waved your guns in each other's general directions, hoping that the game would decide to award you with The Most Unsatisfying Kill Ever (tm) instead of the other guy.

I have an invite to the new closed beta. I will have to try it, but I'm not optimistic.

*Legion* wrote:

The BF: Heroes beta was awful. And I say that as someone that went in very much looking forward to the game.

It was so floaty and unresponsive that combat was essentially broken. You pretty much just waved your guns in each other's general directions, hoping that the game would decide to award you with The Most Unsatisfying Kill Ever (tm) instead of the other guy.

I have an invite to the new closed beta. I will have to try it, but I'm not optimistic.

And I will wait for Legion's opinion because the damn 2 hours I had to spend figuring out how much the game hates 64bit windows to play was not worth the 5 minutes it took me to get bored with it and its poor controls.

Count Elmdor wrote:

Did you happen to see the news that L4D sales were up 3000% this past weekend, with the 50% off sales? I think digital distribution is taking off in a big, big way. I love not having to go to GameStop, so this makes me very excited.

I've contended this for some time.

Valve may be in a position few people are to fool around with prices a little bit as well to find out what the sweet spot is for game pricing.

For me, I'm reluctant to spend $50 on a game, a bit more likely to spend 35-40, but once the price of a new-ish game drops below $30 it becomes an almost "buy on spec" and for a game that's a year old, $15 or less, I may well buy it even if I don't intend to play it immediately.

I have a bunch of stuff purchased through Steam that I haven't played yet, simply because the price is good.

So I just found that that Valve does have that information.

From:

http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/69...

During the Holiday sales:

10% sale = 35% increase in sales (real dollars, not units shipped)
25% sale = 245% increase in sales
50% sale = 320% increase in sales
75% sale = 1470% increase in sales

As noted in the article, that's a 15% increase in real dollars at 75% off!

Lex Cayman wrote:

Who gives a f*** about an oxford comma?

That song always pairs well in my mind with "Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?"

Different strokes for different folks. Developers and publishers are going after a broader market. This is only a problem if it reaches a point where developers cannibalize resources from development of games I enjoy to work on games I won't enjoy, which would only happen if mainstream tastes were completely divergent from my own. The payment and distribution models are mostly irrelevant, except where they interfere with my ability to play a game I bought with my hard-earned money (but I digress).

If you want to talk about a gaming renaissance, look to tabletop/boardgaming. I don't just mean XBLA conversions of boardgames (although that's an interesting phenomenon too), but the actual physical gathering. Being able to play online wiith strangers around with world is a wonderful thing, but so is the ability to share a drink and a bite to eat with friends.

- Alan

Elysium wrote:

Joined by an explosion of strong, if brief, games that play right in a web browser, and the now commonplace offerings available on platforms such as Steam, PSN and Xbox Live, games like Braid, World of Goo, Uno, Bejewled, Flower and Castle Crashers describe the primordial designs of a landscape that may become vast, fertile and wholly outside the traditional big-budget gaming arena.

No, these games aren’t precisely a threat to the old guard yet, but if you look at the rapid adoption from both casual and hardcore corners of the gaming populace in such a short time, one gets the feeling that a new world order may be afoot.

What? Are people forgetting stuff now? These games are the old guard.

2D platformers, card games, puzzle games and 'action' games are from the 70s, 80s and early 90s. World of Goo is the only game i look at there that's pretty different from what came from that era (though Sid and Al's Incredible Toons and The Incredible Machine sit firmly in the physics-based puzzle genre).

Have we really come all this way to collapse, full circle, and rediscover the genres we'd previously left by the roadside with the assumption that they were dead? What actually happened was that people's tastes changed enough to make those genres distasteful to developers and publishers from a monetary standpoint - the same with the adventure games and RTSes. The demand never went away entirely and it's only due to the complete switch away from developing these sorts of games that has brought them back with such a surprising (for some) vengeance.

The king died in the 90s, all hailed the new king.... now the king is dying and the original king is back from the dead, dripping with putrescent pustules and watching from the shadows with a glint in his eye.... What no one seems to ever say is that we need a ruling council of games, not a king.

1) Thanks for a new word: pabulum. I don't think I've ever heard that and I'm a copy editor for a legal publisher, so I've heard a lot of words not usually used since Victorian times.

2) I actually think 2008 was better than 2007, but it's pretty arbitrary.

3) I'm interested to see where the Madden franchise goes. Sales are dropping off and I don't know quite what they can do to pick them back up. For now, I'll hold Madden up as the changing of the old guard.

Duoae wrote:

These games are the old guard.

I said wrote:

I often can be found playing on digital platforms that can provide an environment harkening back to gaming days of old.

I really should have phrased some of this better and I really shouldn't have used the word old guard where I did, because what I meant was that they aren't a threat to the current establishment. But I did chose the greater theme of renaissance because of it's quality of rebirth. I almost through a BSG quote "This has happened before; it will happen again" into the article, because I agree with you. Like I said at the end, it's about the validation of high quality at low cost that is the big evolution, not necessarily the uniqueness of the games themselves.

In short, I agree with you, except that I take a much more positive spin on it.

Elysium wrote:
Duoae wrote:

These games are the old guard.

I said wrote:

I often can be found playing on digital platforms that can provide an environment harkening back to gaming days of old.

I really should have phrased some of this better and I really shouldn't have used the word old guard where I did, because what I meant was that they aren't a threat to the current establishment. But I did chose the greater theme of renaissance because of it's quality of rebirth. I almost through a BSG quote "This has happened before; it will happen again" into the article, because I agree with you. Like I said at the end, it's about the validation of high quality at low cost that is the big evolution, not necessarily the uniqueness of the games themselves.

In short, I agree with you, except that I take a much more positive spin on it.

Ah, then i'm sorry for sounding all self-righteous and misinterpreting your writing. I'm just a bit fed up of reading articles on how one genre or whatever is dying and how all these 'new' ways of making games or genres of games are going to save the industry..... i just wish someone writing about the industry would point out that a healthy balance of all genres and games would be the best thing rather than having whole segments of the audience being unaccounted for whole periods of time.

[edited a word that i'm still not happy with.... i'm sure someone will pick me up on it]

Gabe Newell wrote:

Newell said that a weekend sale of one third-party title drove that game's sales up by 18,000 percent and units-sold increased 36,000 percent. It energized the user base, says Newell. When the sale ended, baseline sales were double what they were prior to the weekend discount.

I'll give you three guesses on what game that was...

Bratz: Chernobyl!

As I said in my twitter feed, congratulations gaming industry for taking 30 years to find out people like sales.

Count Elmdor wrote:

I think digital distribution is taking off in a big, big way. I love not having to go to GameStop, so this makes me very excited.

Not only digital distribution, but sales/deals on older titles. During all of last year, the only games I bought new at full price from a physical store were GTA IV and Guitar Hero: World Tour. The other two dozen or so games I've bought over the last several months have all been digital distribution, most of which cost under $20.

WizKid wrote:
Gabe Newell wrote:

Newell said that a weekend sale of one third-party title drove that game's sales up by 18,000 percent and units-sold increased 36,000 percent. It energized the user base, says Newell. When the sale ended, baseline sales were double what they were prior to the weekend discount.

I'll give you three guesses on what game that was...

I'm guessing Mount & Blade. The discount was huge for what was a fairly high (but not over) priced indie game.

Do I get a cookie? :p

The creator of Flower agrees with you.

“I feel it’s a time where a lot of people who study games start to graduate and come into this field. It’s a really good time for all these people to really push the boundaries of what games can be. With digital distribution — PSN, Xbox Live, WiiWare, Steam — all those [avenues]…Before, everything sold through retail. You can’t even make a game that’s below a million dollar budget. I think right now — in the future, when people look back, I think it’s the renaissance of video games.

– thatgamecompany co-founder and “Flower” mastermind Jenova Chen in response to a question about the affect of digital distribution on games

http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2009/...

MrDeVil909 wrote:
WizKid wrote:
Gabe Newell wrote:

Newell said that a weekend sale of one third-party title drove that game's sales up by 18,000 percent and units-sold increased 36,000 percent. It energized the user base, says Newell. When the sale ended, baseline sales were double what they were prior to the weekend discount.

I'll give you three guesses on what game that was...

I'm guessing Mount & Blade. The discount was huge for what was a fairly high (but not over) priced indie game.

Do I get a cookie? :p

That was my guess. Elysium will have to ask them about that when they're them on the show.

The cookie was a lie...
or was that the cake?

Lex Cayman wrote:

Who gives a f*** about an oxford comma?

I like to think of it as a Harvard Comma. And I HATE it!

Yeah they bungled Battlefield. As a fan, they definitely have confused me since BF2 was released.

It started with 2142. Here was, in effect, a mod for almost full price and came ~1 year after BF2 was released. Oh 2142 improved a few things in BF2, but had its own problems and yet they wanted you to buy it even though BF2 still could have used a patch or two. I mean BF2 seemed like is still had room to stretch its legs.

Then BF:BC was announced and released for consoles last summer - 3 years after BF2 on the pc hit. Not a bad game per se, but a bit surprising it was a console only release given their success and big fanbase on the pc. If you came from Bf on the pc BF:BC wasn't exactly a step up in most ways.

Then they announced BF:Heroes. Free to play. Sweet right? I thought so. Cartoony graphics? Sounds good. Going to run on grandma's laptop. You go grandma.

Well then they let you play it and after a groan and a hope and a frown the reaction is a big fat meh ( which in inflated score game review terms is an 8.) Free is great, but watching grass grow is free to you know. Does DICE not know they have to compete with that?

Your character moved around at the pace of an over-fed turtle. And you were asked to spam all these ability keys every firefight to increase your bonuses (why not ask the player to jump and turn around in their chair before each enemy encounter? AT least we won't be reading any more about how obese our nation's children are.) and you could take a zillion shots before you die. It all just wasn't fun imo. DICE got away from the magic BF formula which is like KFC tinkering with the Colonel's recipe. (IMo they should have worked on the core gameplay before showing it off to the public, but my arm chair is worn out at this point.)

Then Heroes goes into hiding to be reworked and months later instead of hearing about Heroes we have a BF43 announcement. Whoah Nelly. IT sounds like fun, but what happened to Heroes? And this BF43 is sandwiched in between BF:BC and BF:BC2 which was also announced for ~early 2010. It's a download-only title. 24 players, and BF42 with less classes, Halo rengenerating health and unlimited ammo which I will reserve judgemen ont, but call me Skeptic Al. I guess they are creating yet another BF demographic or are blindy throwing darts at a New Age business model board that Riccitiello hand-crafted in his free time.

Meanwhile Heroes is still on I guess. The beta is back. I haven't heard if the experience is better or I'm just an idiot for not particularly caring for my first go with it. And BF43 is coming soon after perhaps a month or two after Heroes. And BF:BC2 is coming maybe 6-9 months after that.

Anyway my head hurts. Sure signs of a bungle.

I am a fan of the Harvard, Oxford, and serial commas.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

I am a fan of the Harvard, Oxford, and serial commas.

Back into the abyss with you! Back I say!

Quintin_Stone wrote:

I am a fan of the Harvard, Oxford, and serial commas.

I like the AP view on the issue, personally.

wordsmythe wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:

I am a fan of the Harvard, Oxford, and serial commas.

I like the AP view on the issue, personally.

REALLY? You're going counter to The Chicago Manual of Style?