Burnt Ships

The one thing I can say with some confidence about the videogame industry as a whole is that it rarely, if ever, runs in reverse. While trends and fads may resurface from time to time, usually in the context of nostalgia, the industry at large never says things like, “You know what? 3.5-inch floppy discs really were the best medium. We should go back to using them.” Retailers never say, “Blech, consumers really hate us asking for pre-orders. Let’s go back to just stocking a bunch of extra copies of every game.” Publishers never say, “Let’s refocus our marketing strategies back to big, single-player PC games as our flagship titles.”

It’s a burn-the-ships kind of industry, which I think is both one of its great strengths and one of the reasons I find it so often frustrating. The big names in the business strike off for new lands, and when they go crashing haplessly into some pristine beach frontier, first thing they do is break out the torches and sink the boats so they can never go back.

It makes sense in some ways, because technology by its nature is as inexorable as water flowing downhill in its own forward progress. There’s a pretty good and obvious reason no one is ever going back to floppies. Constant movement and change, regardless of who the actual change benefits or hurts, is a cornerstone of the 'gamez biz'. For gamers, that change can be the hardest part of the whole thing to deal with.

There is a part of most gamers, I think, that probably remembers some moment in time, some year or console generation that was formative in the ideas we hold as iconic to games and the gaming business. And, the further away that moment in time is, the more likely that most of what defined that era is long gone, and never to come again.

This is why when gamers talk about companies rolling back initiatives like always-on DRM, microtransactions, DLC and many of the other modern nuisances in gaming, I have polite but firm doubts. I understand and support the decision to vote with your dollar, but realistically, the end result of that is not pressure on the industry to change, but a personal decision to limit your current-generational exposure.

I had a few moments over the past year or so when considering whether to buy games like Diablo 3 and Sim City, games where I came face-to-face with a choice as to how I would engage with the industry. Ultimately, I decided that those things I disliked about the business model were ultimately now just the realities of this and probably a good chunk of the next generation. It’s at the point where I shrug forlorn and click the buy button anyway that I always feel a little bit like a sell-out.

I appreciate people who choose to hold firm to ideals, but my perspective is more that, when it comes to buying games, I don’t really have a lot of those ideals. I have preferences, certainly, and I can be upset and disturbed by corporate greed like anyone else, but I have plenty of areas in my life where I need to have firm lines and a sternly held belief system. Does this entertainment medium really have to be yet another place in my days where I need to be ever vigilant to the abuses of a corrupt system? As long as the major publishers stay firmly out of the domains of human trafficking, genocide, arms dealing and the like, I think I've become comfortable conceding the ground lost and not spend an extraordinary amount of time drawing deep lines in the sand.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not because I don’t care at all when confronted with a stupid decision like requiring Diablo III to sign in online before it will let me play single-player or preemptively deciding that every game needs to have microtransactions. I mean, stupid or at least callously inconvenient decisions are still just that. I'm no apologist for this kind of action, but like I think the vast majority of the games buying public, I'm not interested in making a big deal out of it. I have better, bigger things I am firmly busy making a big deal out of these days.

I am also fairly confident that in a few months or years time, the issue, whatever the issue of the day may be today, will be left obsolete or irrelevant soon enough by some change in technology or the business. By the time anyone can work up good momentum for change, no one is usually talking about the issue anymore.

I spend a lot of my days banging my head against walls I’m unlikely to move. I reached a point some number of years ago where I just had to admit I didn’t have enough hours in the day to bang my head on every wall. Even if they were righteous causes and truly unnecessary walls that by all rights should be well and truly head-banged, I was just going to have to let myself off the hook on some of those responsibilities. At some point, the callousness of the videogame industry became one of those walls, and to my delight, I realized that the vast majority of gaming’s walls just ended up knocking themselves down all on their own.

All I had to do was come to terms with the fact that gaming, at least the largest portions of it, was never going to find its way back to 1997. And that’s ok, because its also never going to find its way back to being 2012. Newness will be the constant companion of this business, and that newness will be in many cases something great — and in many others something annoying, selfish and greedy. If all the ills of the business were cured tomorrow and consumer respect became the centerpiece of the industry, it would be nice — but it would also inevitably change again in what would seem a handful of moments.

Here in Minnesota they have a saying about the weather: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change. They probably have this saying in a lot of places, but the point is that the same applies to the games industry. For me that just means that there’s no need spend a lot of time commanding the tides to stop in the meantime.

Comments

NFB42 wrote:
Keithustus wrote:
NFB42 wrote:

Brad Wardell

cough
I still love the guy even with his flaws.

Same here =D. But I actually pre-ordered elemental before it was even in beta.....

NFB, it's time to compare our nerd cards! I'll show you mine if you show me yours:

On Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 4:25 PM, wrote:
Thank you for your order from Stardock. This email contains the serial number(s) for the software you have ordered and serves as your receipt.

Please print a hard copy of this information and store it in a safe place as you may need it for future installations and/or upgrades.

Customer Name: Keith ******
Order Number: *******************

Products Ordered:
=----------------------------------------------------------------------------=
Product Name : Elemental [Pre-Order] (Download + Retail Box)
User Name : Keith **********
Email : ************@gmail.com
Serial Number : ***********************
Download : http://www.impulsedriven.com/impulse...
Download2 : Install
=----------------------------------------------------------------------------=

Evo wrote:

When I read this article, I got the sense that Sean assumes the main objection to always-on DRM is an ideological one, which is a fallacy. It's a practical one. Despite (because of) the fact that I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, I have very spotty internet service. Today, if I get home one night to find my internet is down right now, I'll be bummed because I can't play Battlefield 3 online, or any of my other multiplayer titles. But tomorrow, if games broadly move to always-on DRM, I'll basically be locked out of everything for the period of time I'm without service.

I don't have a strong incentive to buy Sim City because I know that there will be several times I won't actually be able to play it, either because of my connection or due to unreliability of the game servers. That's unsatisfactory to me and frankly there are a lot of other games I still haven't played yet that I don't need to be bothered with this.

Microtransactions are much less egregious to me simply because it's a model that I believe the market will sort out more easily. But consumers won't really have a choice if next-gen consoles and games move to an always-on DRM if they don't have reliable internet access, other than to simply give up on their hobby.

Your article misses the point, perhaps purposefully, on the pitfalls of Sim City's DRM scheme to more broadly frame yourself as the pragmatic and people who rightfully oppose it as ideologues who wish to uselessly bang their head against a wall for a lost cause. While this issue is probably miniscule in the grand scale of things, even in the context of consumer rights issues, it's still important to those of us who care about having access to the games they own. Even if you don't wish to acknowledge it, voting with your wallet is still the best recourse under our capitalist system.

I appreciate your opinion, but it comes off to me a bit as if you're looking down your nose at the folks who think it's still worthwhile to vote with their feet on these sorts of things. Would appreciate your feedback.

Totally agree. Last year I bought a single player game that needed online registration to play. Family were away and I had the weekend free for gaming. I got back and our Internet was down so that was that. I can understand buying a product from a company whos policies you don't always agree with. But buying products you may not be able to use when you want?

I'm not sure Sean's calling anyone an ideologue - near as I can tell he simply has decided, personally, to not engage in any head-banging over the issue. There is a certain freedom in acceptance and if you don't accept it then keep your dollars/pounds/euros/yen/etc etc home. I don't see any indication he's passing judgment on anyone's feelings regarding the matter so perhaps we should all stop taking it so personally.

I don't have a right to play Sim City without online DRM; I have to choose, as an individual in a free society, whether playing Sim City passes my own personal cost-benefit analysis and online DRM definitely falls into the cost category. So, I'm less likely to play it with online DRM than otherwise. Cest la vie.

Frankly I'm in the same boat as Sean - old enough to wish that I could just stick the disc in and play without being signed into any corporate network but, as he says, those days are (for the most part) gone, baby. The relative costs of doing something else with my free time - books, sex, beer - just went down.

I wouldn't go so far as trying to conduct a poll because I really need to get myself to work but I'd be interested to find out how many of the people who aren't bothered by or see no real point in trying to avoid always online have ever had long periods of time when their Internet wasn't working. (My record is 3 weeks). I expect it's probably the same as those who say they will vote with their wallet but you never know.

Keithustus wrote:
NFB42 wrote:
Keithustus wrote:
NFB42 wrote:

Brad Wardell

cough
I still love the guy even with his flaws.

Same here =D. But I actually pre-ordered elemental before it was even in beta.....

NFB, it's time to compare our nerd cards! I'll show you mine if you show me yours:

Haha, lol. I sadly don't have e-mails that far back. I do have my order logged in the Stardock store, but it's also dated September 17. I'm guessing that's when the beta started?

I actually pre-ordered in May 2009, after reading this dev post: http://forums.elementalgame.com/352821 (It's actually quite interesting going back now and seeing Derek Paxton commenting way back then)

Though this is all getting a bit off-topic. =D

NFB42 wrote:

I actually pre-ordered in May 2009, after reading this dev post: http://forums.elementalgame.com/352821 (It's actually quite interesting going back now and seeing Derek Paxton commenting way back then)

Though this is all getting a bit off-topic. =D

That's impossible! Preorders weren't available yet. But ya, I loved those blog posts.

Off-topic is fun.

strangederby wrote:

I wouldn't go so far as trying to conduct a poll because I really need to get myself to work but I'd be interested to find out how many of the people who aren't bothered by or see no real point in trying to avoid always online have ever had long periods of time when their Internet wasn't working. (My record is 3 weeks). I expect it's probably the same as those who say they will vote with their wallet but you never know.

Long periods of internet downtime? Not especially but I do find the idea of having to connect to the internet to play a game I've already purchased, in single-player mode, odious.

The Diablo 3 launch issues should have served as a warning and now I read that SimCity is having similar server load issues that are preventing people from playing. And forget about playing on a plane (without paying for in-air wifi assuming you even have the option) or anyplace outside of home where connectivity is not available (yes, that is decreasing daily but that's easy for me to say, living in a major metro area).

I don't like it, but the point I would again try to make is that EA doesn't owe us anything. We don't have a right to play the game without online DRM. If EA is making a mistake - and I think they are - the market will punish them and they will change their ways in order to survive, or perish.

The SimCity launch has crashed and burned. CNET calls it "a complete disaster". Amazon has temporarily suspended sales of the download version. Ugh, is this the bright shining future of DRM people are giddily heading towards?

Quintin_Stone wrote:

The SimCity launch has crashed and burned. CNET calls it "a complete disaster". Amazon has temporarily suspended sales of the download version. Ugh, is this the bright shining future of DRM people are giddily heading towards?

Exhibit A for my original argument in this thread.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

The SimCity launch has crashed and burned. CNET calls it "a complete disaster". Amazon has temporarily suspended sales of the download version. Ugh, is this the bright shining future of DRM people are giddily heading towards?

If it causes a backlash from consumers I think it's overall a positive from a consumer perspective.

It sucks for people who have bought the game, but they knowingly bought into the model, so it was their choice.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:

The SimCity launch has crashed and burned. CNET calls it "a complete disaster". Amazon has temporarily suspended sales of the download version. Ugh, is this the bright shining future of DRM people are giddily heading towards?

If it causes a backlash from consumers I think it's overall a positive from a consumer perspective.

It sucks for people who have bought the game, but they knowingly bought into the model, so it was their choice.

Problem is it's too late for a backlash. The moneys already in the bank.

The nice thing about not having enough time to play all the games I want to is, I can just move one down the list for moral reasons and I am not really losing out on anything, just changing what I consume. Am I going to miss out on SimCity and Diablo 3? Probably and Definitely. But now I might find time to play Skyrim and Dishonored.