RE: RE: RE: Respect (Just a little bit)

A question I end up asking myself a lot these days, is what am I really looking for from games and the games industry? And, I don’t mean that in the microscopic sense of assuming there is any one kind of game or one particular mechanic that I’m looking for, but really in the aggregate larger scale, what would make me happy as a customer, as a consumer and as a player. Regardless of which path you as a developer, studio, publisher or retailer take to get me there, what do I feel is a reasonable request to make on my end?

How I or anyone else might answer may depend on how you currently view the players in the industry. These days, the mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore crowd seems to be steadily growing both in population and volume. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them. After all, we gamers have been both the life-blood and the enemy of the industry for a while now. I genuinely think that if major publishers and game makers could figure out a way to be successful at selling games without actually having gamers as a customer base, they would leap at the opportunity.

However, it’s also hard to blame them. After all, whether as a broad group or a miniscule subset, we were the ones who broke some of the long-standing, basic rules of the transactional relationship. Let’s not lie to ourselves, we gamers pirated games at not an insignificant pace. We gamers abused return policies. We gamers took someone else’s artistic work and altered it to our own likings without asking permission, sometimes releasing that work back into the wild without due respect for the creators. We gamers manipulated, deconstructed, demanded and equivocated with abandon, and you could certainly make the argument that in many of these cases we were well within our rights — whether legally or ethically — to do so.

But, whether for good or ill, right or wrong, it’s hard for me not to think we acted with impunity, and that we were shocked when a growing industry, becoming more a business and less a community every day, did the same back to us. Now we are left in this awkward, uncomfortable and distrustful place where every slight is deeply felt and magnified on both sides.

So, to break it back down a bit, and pull myself out from under the weight of a complicated past, I pose a simple question: What do I reasonably want as a gamer?

I’ll start with the games perspective, because in many ways that’s the easiest to put my arms around. And, more than anything else, I think what I want as a gamer is for my time and money to be respected. This may be the biggest reason I haven’t been a fan of games on social media sites, or free-to-play models, because in the long run these games generally respect neither. They irritatingly draw attention to the fact that your time is intentionally being wasted, asking for dollars not for an enhanced experience but just to make the unpleasantness stop. It’s a bit like being poked with a stick, and being asked to pay your tormentor to make the poking stop, at least for a few minutes.

I paint with a broad brush there, I realize. Not all free-to-play models or Facebook games suffer these sins, but the exceptions feel rare. And, for that matter, plenty of video games with often hefty price tags also send me down pointless cul-de-sacs meant only to bloat my perception of how much content the game has, as if the only way I judge value were with a stopwatch.

The other thing I really want from a game is to feel like I left with more than I entered, that it evoked some kind of meaningful response from me. Sometimes that can be an emotional response, though not always. I’m not exactly dying for the heartbreaking untold story of Peggle, for example. Other times it may be an intellectual response, and still other times it may just be looking for a fun fix, but if I walk away from a game feeling like I’m leaving with less than I started, then I end up feeling the way I do everytime I leave a casino.

It’s pretty basic transactional stuff when you get right down to it. Respect my dollars and my time, and give me something in return, and I’m generally a pretty happy guy. Which, really, brings me to what I want from the industry.

My initial thoughts revolve around trust or respect, but that’s not it. What have I done to ask for an industry’s respect? What would that even look like? And, the games business has no responsibility for trusting me. Even if you do argue that gamers haven’t betrayed that trust in the past, or that you shouldn’t be held accountable for the wrongful actions of others, the business still has the right and in some cases the need to distrust its customers. Gamers aren’t exactly a bus full of nuns.

You can ask for trust and respect, but I won’t. No, what I want is something much more basic. It’s really the only thing I need to be able to engage in a fair enough deal. That thing is honesty.

Above all else, I just feel like publishers and retailers in particular have crossed that gray-area threshold from manipulation into deceit. I’m not asking the games business to trust me, but I’m also not going to turn around and heap truckloads of trust back, particularly not with an industry that is so secretive and often so nefarious in the way it twists reality.

Realize, I’m not talking about individual developers or studios here. I’m talking about the big parts of the business, the things that seem to create facts out of thin air to support disingenuous directives. Maybe it is cynical of me, or maybe I’m looking through the lens of someone with only just enough information to feel confident in coming to the wrong conclusions, but I just flat-out feel like the leaders of gaming’s largest businesses have become practiced, if often transparent, liars. Whether it is about the insidiousness of the used market, the cost piracy has impacted companies, the hidden millions and billions of dollars publishers make with their properties that they never mention when talking about how miserably destitute they’ve become, even their own policies and procedures in how they handle consumer rights and ownership. I’m not telling them they have to change these policies, but simply to be honest.

There are obviously tons of specific things I would like to see from the games industry. A resurgence of single-player games with rich storylines. A trend away from PC games primarily just being console ports. The comeback of return policies. The end of DLC as a method for stringing out the full release of a game. Frankly, a lot of this stuff is too far gone and unlikely to change.

But, at the most basic level, I also have the temerity to want to be treated decently. Don’t lie to me. Don’t rip me off. Don’t string me pointlessly along. Don’t waste my time. These aren’t unreasonable requests, I don’t think. You’d almost think they shouldn’t even be a topic for debate.

Comments

I'm so pleased that my headline suggestion for this stuck.

I get the respect part.. but plenty of F2P Micro-transaction games seem to be getting it "right" including some games that are in beta (Mechwarrior Online for example.. Planetside 2 for another)

I'm actually fairly pleased with the vast amount of choices offered gamers (of all "types") right now.. the CoD crowd has to be super pleased as they are served with an almost steady supply of these types of games.. the old school single player PC gamer has to be happy these days.. Skyrim, Dishonored, Deus Ex:HR are just a few off the top of my head that I enjoyed top notch PC versions with deep meaningful single player game play.

2013-14 should see some notable big name Kickstarter PC games come to fruition as well.. we will see how awesome or terribad these end up being.

I think as a whole though.. you don't to travel that far as a PC gamer to become annoyed at the state of gaming.. there are plenty of bad publishers with bad games and bad ideas out there willing to part us from our hard earned cash.. but at the same time there are plenty of <$30 gaming to be had if you just ignore the trash.

I think what I want as a gamer is for my time and money to be respected.

Remind us, how many hours and dollars have you spent playing WoW?

There are obviously tons of specific things I would like to see from the games industry. A resurgence of single-player games with rich storylines. A trend away from PC games primarily just being console ports. The comeback of return policies. The end of DLC as a method for stringing out the full release of a game.

Amen to that, brother!

When I lived in the UK for 5 years, I got used to watching movies on TV there. Typically, a full-length movie would run on BBC with perhaps one or two short commercial breaks. Returning to the US, I was amazed at how a station would break a film up into ever-shortening pieces as the film went on, and how precisely they balanced it: I would always JUST be reaching for the remote to turn the channel (having forgotten what I was watching) when the movie would return, sucking me back in for five more minutes.

This example showed me what will happen when the psychologists and marketeers get together and finely tune price points. Games, I fear, are already on this road - they are carefully exploring the parameter space for how little game they can release as a triple-A title and still charge the full sixty bucks for it.

Don't believe me? Go play Black Mesa, the reboot of the original Half-Life. Remind yourself how long Half-Life (and HL2) would last on a single playthrough, how many different variations on pace and atmosphere they explore within what is, frankly, a straightfoward shooter mechanic. Once upon a time, we would have thought that return on investment to be a fair trade; now, we rarely get that much play without extra DLC investment.

As much as I would love to get more Re: spect, I fear that instead they will wring us out on their cost-benefit curves like this for quite a while.

Thank goodness for FTL, which I've happily sunk 150 hours into...

Nathaniel wrote:

When I lived in the UK for 5 years, I got used to watching movies on TV there. Typically, a full-length movie would run on BBC with perhaps one or two short commercial breaks.

The BBC doesn't have ads. That's what the license fee is for.

Nathaniel wrote:

Don't believe me? Go play Black Mesa, the reboot of the original Half-Life. Remind yourself how long Half-Life (and HL2) would last on a single playthrough, how many different variations on pace and atmosphere they explore within what is, frankly, a straightfoward shooter mechanic. Once upon a time, we would have thought that return on investment to be a fair trade; now, we rarely get that much play without extra DLC investment.

I feel there's a couple of differences to be had there. Sure, a lot of older games were "longer", though I wonder if that is really true (Final Fantasy IV (II U.S.) and Chrono Trigger are roughly 20-25 hours long from beginning to end with all side missions completed, and they are part of a genre where, today, you're expected to invest 100 hours in to complete everything). I mean, how much time do you really think it took to make a level of Doom? How much detail was there? How many opportunities for a simple crack in the level to force a player to fall right on through?

I was often amazed at how large a lot of the landscapes were in Halo 4, but most of that space is completely unused. There are huge ass set pieces for me to fight in, no mistaking that, but nothing compared to just how big they make these worlds. Why? Because that's what is expected. Because back in 2001 players landed on a planet that seemed to stretch for miles, and if you looked up in the sky you got to see the other side of the Halo ring in the distance. This was in a time period when loading screens were also becoming rampant, yet Halo only had a single loading screen each time you booted the game and that was it. Otherwise it loaded like a cartridge based game.

Half-Life 2 managed a pretty long campaign, but how long was it also in development? At the same time, do games always need to be that long? I'm reminded of Doom 3, a game I thoroughly enjoyed up until

Spoiler:

you left Hell the first time

. It broke the immersion for me. I had a sense of "I'm almost there! This is it! The climax!" and then POOF! Sucked right back out. From that point on I kept thinking "Jesus, how much more game is there?"

It is possible for a game, even a fun one, to overstay its welcome.

This is part of what we as gamers expect versus the reality of the situation. That Homefront article Rob Zacny released was fantastic, but it left out one vital villain that also allowed such a horrifying environment to even exist. Us.

Well, not us as in GamersWithJobs, as I think a lot of us are actually more informed and understanding (when Bioshock Infinite was delayed I believe most of us didn't mind). But people want their annual Call of Duty (for some reason) and two years is too many when you want a sequel NOW. Yet that two year development time is what limits the size, scope and polish of a game while we simultaneously demand bigger and more polished experiences.

We got used to the industry being a certain way when it was a lot smaller. Now we expect things to take as much time and be just as polished while being bigger and better. I think at some point gamers have to shut up and accept that we're part of the problem, too.

ccesarano wrote:

lots of words

You're getting at what I see in a good few games too, lots of filler content that just pads out the game.

I think the value of a game is a little bit complicated, and a fair bit subjective. There's a 'long enough' minimum threshold to be worth the asking price, and a "is this actually fun while I'm playing" test. Something novel and short, but cheap can be more valuable than something boring, bloated and expensive.

To use a few examples, KoA:Amalur which recently popped up in the games discussion was missing something for me in it's core gameplay that made going through it's dungeons not that great, and it didn't help that a lot of those dungeons were repetitive and assembled from the same building blocks. On the other hand Divinity2 had something about it that made 60 hours of dungeon crawling satisfying and when a new chapter opened up with a mountain of stuff to do I was only to eager to dig in. The interesting content in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood/Revelations were also spread a bit too thin for my liking too, but was padded with a bit too much content that seemed designed just for taking up time to finish.

I can't help thinking that the cost of development is one factor, for example going back to the year 1998 this is a part of a room from Shogo. That level of detail is probably too low for prototyping now. Back when you could use just a handful of polygons and brushes for a room, compared to now it seems like everything created is rationed and must be used to it's fullest potential. Although this does give rise to another problem I have with some older games, that because it was so quick to just make content with that simple level of detail, that sometimes they would stretch out for too long.

How many people harbor a deep fondness for an old crappy game that was broken, but hit so many things just right? I wonder how much of that fondness comes as a result of that broken part, and all the yearning towards what would have been perfect. Not trying to derail this, I think this is a great article, but recalling games that I sank hundreds of hours into 25 years ago, most (all?) of them had enormous flaws, where now the tiniest flaws seem to put me off a title completely.

Scratched wrote:

I can't help thinking that the cost of development is one factor, for example going back to the year 1998 this is a part of a room from Shogo. That level of detail is probably too low for prototyping now. Back when you could use just a handful of polygons and brushes for a room, compared to now it seems like everything created is rationed and must be used to it's fullest potential. Although this does give rise to another problem I have with some older games, that because it was so quick to just make content with that simple level of detail, that sometimes they would stretch out for too long.

Not only the lack of polygons, but the lack of objects. Think about how many rooms have computer terminals, desks with paper stacks, pipes, air vents, graffiti, etc. all over a single hallway, let alone larger rooms. Hell, just compare the foliage found in Halo 1 with Halo 4.

That's a lot more objects that are capable of causing bugs or being buggy, a lot more objects to test, and a lot more objects to change if the level isn't working out. This is one of the reasons I was actually impressed with Spec Ops: The Line and how they tried to make all of their chest-high-walls blend in with the environment as best as they could.

Sean "Elysium" Sands wrote:

We gamers took someone else’s artistic work and altered it to our own likings without asking permission, sometimes releasing that work back into the wild without due respect for the creators.

Did you get Ms. Franklin's permission/blessing before you titled your article?

I agree with everything else you say in this piece Mr. Sands, but lumping mod makers in with pirates? Really?

I'm curious now, what kind of output would a modern game developer team on year 2000 era hardware have. Take a look at the Shogo credits and the extreme end of a modern game, AC:Rev (because 3 isn't on mobygames yet), or something a little more modest like Gears3 (Epic claims their engine tools allows them to work efficiently).

I think it's important that video game credits have reached the point where I'm surprised the janitor isn't included, though. I mean if you look at movie credits you don't see the C.E.O. of Warner Bros credited in The Dark Knight. You don't see the marketing department that cut the trailer for Avengers credited in that film's credits.

Video games have reached a point where everyone that has had even a slight role, even to twenty-three degrees, are credited.

Which only pisses me off because sometimes I have to sit and wait 30 minutes just to see if there's something after the credits that I don't want to skip over.

I think the problem is that you have these amazing engines built and they seem to get used for one game, then ripped to pieces and rebuilt. I would love to see someone take an amazing engine, build it with some more flexibility then release multiple games with it.

They made this awesome assassin's creed engine, they could release a game set in different environments, with different characters that are doing it for entirely different reasons. Like a cyber punk bounty hunter game, built with the brotherhood engine.

I know I am trivializing how easy it would be, but i guess a good example would be red dead redemption which is "GTA with horses" but feels like a very different game.

Or i guess even the modding community is a better thing to point to, with things like day z being commercially viable. And its a game built off of someone else's engine.

So yeah....gaming industry needs to go farther back into the pc way of things.

I think it's more that Ubisoft's engine is proprietary and isn't put out there for others to use. But then again, after playing Brotherhood, I'm not sure I completely prefer that engine for exploration. Sometimes inFamous really felt more polished (and, of course, other times it hadn't).

Jim Sterling actually talked a bit about this very topic on his episode of The Jimquisition this week.

It's about the whole Halo 4 Mountain Dew marketing BS mostly, but it's also about honesty regarding where these policies come from, and how the game industry loves to cry about how poor it is.

I totally agree. Yeah, piracy does have an impact on game sales, but not as much as the industry likes to claim. It doesn't have any real data to back up it's claims. It loves to complain about how hard it is to make money, but they blame piracy and used games, rather than looking in the mirror and wondering if maybe their balooning development and massive marketing budgets (which often outstrip the development spending on AAA titles) are to blame. They sell a million copies and complain that it's still not enough to break even. Yes, piracy and used game sales have some impact on that, but maybe you're also just doing it wrong.

I think it was Warren Spector that said compared to the film industry, video games seem to have a fascination with reinventing the camera all the time, pretty much saying games should stop that and concentrate more on the game they're creating. I think a lot of it gets tied up in various legal rights and ownership, that I assume there's no company like Canon (or whoever) that is just a supplier of tools, although I'd guess the way Canon charge for camera equipment differs from how Epic charges for game engines, so it's not apples to apples.

Something else that's noticeable with Assassin's Creed (and others) is the amount of reuse of the various parts that make up the world, with chunks that fit together in 90 and 45 degree angles. Understandable when you're trying to make a big city or world I suppose. To compare with film where your problem is mostly finding a location or adapting one, or making a set.

To try and steer it back on topic, I'm wondering exactly how closely tied the 'efficiency' of game production and respect for the value a company presents to the gamer are. Is it a production problem or a business one where they slice it up according to what will sell. There won't be one answer as there's no one company.

DorkmasterFlek wrote:

I totally agree. Yeah, piracy does have an impact on game sales, but not as much as the industry likes to claim. It doesn't have any real data to back up it's claims. It loves to complain about how hard it is to make money, but they blame piracy and used games, rather than looking in the mirror and wondering if maybe their balooning development and massive marketing budgets (which often outstrip the development spending on AAA titles) are to blame. They sell a million copies and complain that it's still not enough to break even. Yes, piracy and used game sales have some impact on that, but maybe you're also just doing it wrong.

I think we touched on this a little in the thread about THQ earlier in the week, that in the AAA area of the games industry there's no room for small. That it's "balanced high" where you put down big stakes with the aim of a big reward. One effect is that companies have to pull out all the stops in merchandising and DLC or the books don't balance. The shareholder culture that profits have to keep increasing every year encourages this, and there's no room for a mild success or a company that just sustains itself.

ccesarano wrote:

I think it's more that Ubisoft's engine is proprietary and isn't put out there for others to use. But then again, after playing Brotherhood, I'm not sure I completely prefer that engine for exploration. Sometimes inFamous really felt more polished (and, of course, other times it hadn't).

I was just throwing random stuff out there. Its more of a lets have ubisoft build a great engine with more flexibility but use it for multiple ip's. I guess like with the frostbite engine and mirror's edge?

or just completely changing the theme. Dragons instead of jets, built on the ace combat engine.

I would just love to see more time put towards the creative side then the engine side, they are pushing so hard to put out games every year. I think a good example is the COD series. I have played friends copies off and on since MW2 and see no real difference in the way the game plays. I would rather have a game come out with 4 new game modes and 30 more well thought out diverse maps and have the same engine that it did two years ago just with bug fixes.

Did you get Ms. Franklin's permission/blessing before you titled your article?

I agree with everything else you say in this piece Mr. Sands, but lumping mod makers in with pirates? Really?

Actually, Respect was written by Otis Redding. Among the changes Aretha made in covering the song was changing "give me my profits" to "give me my proppers" -- credit to Wordy for that one.

However, Aretha also did so with the blessing of Otis.

There are plenty of developers and studios who support the mod community, and I'm a big fan of a lot of that work. There are also people who do mod work without the blessing of the company, and while I don't have an ethical problem with that, it is still potentially in opposition to the rights held by the company.

My heart always breaks for teams that spend 4 years working on something, only to get a C&D letter a month before finishing, but I also always wonder what they were thinking putting that much time into something they had no authority to mess with.

Elysium wrote:

My heart always breaks for teams that spend 4 years working on something, only to get a C&D letter a month before finishing, but I also always wonder what they were thinking putting that much time into something they had no authority to mess with.

There's also cases like the Halogen mod, which was a Halo mod for Generals (an EA game) which was C&D'ed by Microsoft. This was before Halo Wars was announced.

On the flip side you get things like Diaspora which skirt around the borders and avoid getting C&D'ed by avoiding using any trademarks, but I think most of it is true to the fiction/IP.

Scratched wrote:

The shareholder culture that profits have to keep increasing every year encourages this, and there's no room for a mild success or a company that just sustains itself.

I think that this could be the heart of many of these problems.

I'm not sure exactly when it was, but at some point video gaming companies purposely got mixed up with entertainment industry executives. As this evolution in the gaming industry has occurred... games have also changed.

On thing that has changed is the overall experience and emphasis of games. Games are no longer solely about the gaming experience, they about more of a cinematic story telling experience and ancillary experiences outside of the game. For example, any one of the more recent modern military shooters has been very light on campaign and very heavy on the "movie" aspects. They also include a host of additional material to purchase and/or experience; launch events, tv commercials, collectors editions, shirts, branded autos, DLC etc.

There are positive and negative results. Games look and feel better than ever before. But, we also have a host of copycat and sequel-itis titles that we all could live without. In my mind, I consider the movie Die Hard 59 and the game Modern Shooter Game 6 to be equally stagnant in innovation and creativity.

At the end of the day, I want my games to be... games. I could do with 2 less cinematics and 10 more hours of solo play campaign.

Another recent example is Diablo 3. The hype and build up was tremendous. The game looks great and contains a very compelling story. Breathtaking cinematic elements. You know what? It utterly failed at being... a game! Diablo 3 is nothing more than a very complex slot machine. Except this slot machine had a very well done case, but lacked any substance in the actual reason why people would engage it in the first place. Playing a game.

I think there is a reason why there is such a huge retro movement in the indie game scene. People just want to play games. Run, jump, shoot and collect shiny stuff.

For clarification, I'm not against video game companies making money. I'll buy the shirts. I'll buy the DLC. How about you put out A GAME for once and make it worth coming back to. I'd be happy to shut up and let you take my money.

A holodeck, obviously.

So what would you say is a good balance between asking for a modicum of respect from publishers and whining about an overdeveloped entitlement complex?

I mean, from the oblique mentions of lopsided contract deals that came out of the Fallout New Vegas "84 metascore" debacle, to outright complaints from the various * spouse blogs, it seems like the publishers show just as little respect to their employees as their customers.

CrawlingChaos wrote:

Another recent example is Diablo 3. The hype and build up was tremendous. The game looks great and contains a very compelling story. Breathtaking cinematic elements. You know what? It utterly failed at being... a game! Diablo 3 is nothing more than a very complex slot machine. Except this slot machine had a very well done case, but lacked any substance in the actual reason why people would engage it in the first place. Playing a game.

Ok, you didn't like Diablo 3. Fair enough.

CrawlingChaos wrote:

I think there is a reason why there is such a huge retro movement in the indie game scene. People just want to play games. Run, jump, shoot and collect shiny stuff.

I think you just described Diablo 3.

Actually, quite the contrary. I like Diablo 3. I played it last night, as a matter of fact. It was slow out of the gate. The "pick up shiny stuff" part was a little messed up. They have made some very good changes to it. You can't deny that it was not a great experience out of the box.

Aristophan wrote:
CrawlingChaos wrote:

Another recent example is Diablo 3. The hype and build up was tremendous. The game looks great and contains a very compelling story. Breathtaking cinematic elements. You know what? It utterly failed at being... a game! Diablo 3 is nothing more than a very complex slot machine. Except this slot machine had a very well done case, but lacked any substance in the actual reason why people would engage it in the first place. Playing a game.

Ok, you didn't like Diablo 3. Fair enough.

CrawlingChaos wrote:

I think there is a reason why there is such a huge retro movement in the indie game scene. People just want to play games. Run, jump, shoot and collect shiny stuff.

I think you just described Diablo 3.

I feel like attributing the actions of game companies to the lack of respect from customers is kinda the same logic as attributing Hurricane Sandy to not having properly sacrificed the correct kind of chicken.

By and large, I think the game companies were going to do what they were going to do, and the actions of legitimate, respectful customers--like say, people who pay for a game at retail and then sell it back at retail in a perfectly legal transaction--have had far more of an effect on the state of game companies than anything the 'disrespectful' gamers ever did.

In the end, I think the game companies were happy to have gamers castigating other gamers to provide a distraction while they did exactly what they planned on doing from the start. Let people they weren't paying a dime go out do their PR for them on message boards and forums for free. All in all, an excellent business strategy.

It's simple...games went from small private companies with 7-8 developers with low risk profiles..you failed and you maybe lost a few thousand dollars..to mega million dollar budgets with companies in the high hundreds to thousands...

Wrong song, in my opinion. I would have chosen:

Respect is just shorthand for, "Please don't make the game suck. I pay to have fun."