Chris's Podcast #2: Videogames are Dead. Command?

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Chris Kennedy's picture

My second podcast has arrived, and it is heavier on the theory than the controversy - at least I hope.

In this podcast, I submit that gaming - specifically the creativity behind it - is dead. This is certainly not a new idea - but I attempt to explain where we have been and look back at what made us successful. Where are we going? That's up to us.

Expect a look at the past, a bit of gaming philosophy, and a short, semi-technical story.

I look forward to your feedback.

Download the mp3.

Comments

HardWar_UK (not verified)
Video games have always been dead.

Very interesting podcast Chris. Couple points on the lack of creativity:

Firstly, video games (as in console games) have always been dead when compared to computer games. Firstly, on consoles, you had major Japanese corporations involved that demanded fees for every game unit sold on their machines. This meant only relatively large publishers could afford to release on these consoles. This meant there was a wide gap between the publisher and the customer. The console was bought from a toy store or department store and the games for it came from just a half a dozen publishers or so. It was more like buying a VCR than it was buying a build your own TRS-80. For these consoles you already had focus groups and layers of management and many games were based on a "formula" (Mario Brothers anyone?)

On the computers, everything was much more organic. There was no fee to pay, and starting with the TRS-80 and ZX81 and moving onto the Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800, if you wanted to learn basic and/or assembler and write a game, you just had to write it, copy it to a tape or floppy, stick it in a plastic bag with a photocopied instruction sheet and advertise it in Computer Games magazine classified or see if your local independent computer store would agree to put it on the shelf. This meant the game designers on computers were "us". gamers felt connected and early programmers asked friends at school what they thought of their idea. All this meant an amazing amount of creativity!

For example, while console games mostly just had platform, sports and arcade conversions, like Mario, Football and Asteroids on Commodore 64 we had Elite and Alter Ego and Little Computer People, etc. Now add to that that very very few console games came to computer, yet consoles have constantly stole ideas from the computer market and it's easy to see that on many levels console games did not have the originality that computer games had. By the early/mid 90's you had PC games like Command and Conquer and Daggerfall and Doom and on console, other than a version of Doom, you still had platform, fighting, arcade and sports games. Since 2000 the big news is when a Doom type shooter done many times on PC comes to console in the form of Halo. Alternatively it's about a publisher who thinks they have cracked how to make a decent RTS on console, a genre around for 10 years on PC. At the same time, on PC, we are getting System Shock 2, Half Life, Thief Morrowind and Diablo.

Therefore my argument is that there has been very little creativity in the console market, and to the extent there is, it has been copied from the computer games market.

This leads me to my second point:

As consoles games have had more and more dollars thrown at them, from loss making machines to loss leading games for new consoles, so they have got a bigger share of the media. Finally in 2005, when we got the Next-Gen consoles of 360 and PS3, the whole thing exploded. Sites that had no right to do it, started dumping their individual format charts and started only having multiformat charts and the PC format was pushed to the sidelines.

As the console market dominated more and more, so the perception of lack of creativity has started to be talked about. My argument is that console games since the late 80's had fed off the computer games market and a couple of Japanese games design geniuses, it has not been that creative in it's own right. As it has moved to dominate nearly all publishers thinking, with it being many years since an AAA publisher like EA, Activision or Bioware released a PC only game. Over 85% of all games from these companies now come out on all format's, but are geared to console sensibilities, not PC sensibilities. This led to a decline in PC games sales, not because their weren't games released on PC, but rather that they weren't "PC orientated" games. It was the major publishers moving into the console market from the PC market, like Bioware, that was required to hire the suits and the focus groups due to that extra cost of paying a fee to Microsoft or Sony. This fee could be as high as 20% of the RETAIL Price, meaning 30-35% extra sales just to stand still.

In short then, as console gaming has grown to take over the market, so creativity has disappeared. It wasn't noticeable in the 90's because the PC format was still strong and being creative for it. (X-Com came out on Playstation, for example).

I will end by pointing out the problem of a dominant U.S. gaming media that is very nationalistic (ie does not care about what is happening in the games market outside of North America). This means games from Europe have to fight to get U.S. coverage and distribution. Games that have sold multi-million units in Europe, like STALKER, Gothic, The Witcher, etc, is not compared with U.S. titles that have sold a comparable number of PC units, like Bioshock, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. While U.S. Indie products like Braid get lots of coverage, a French indie game called EYE: Divine Cybermancy, that uses the Source engine (Half Life 2) and have produced an excellent cyberpunk game in the vein of Deus Ex, with augmentations and PSI abilities, etc. I truly believe that if Braid had been made in France and EYE had been made in the U.S, we would know about EYE and not Braid.

I am not a PC fanboy. I worked in the games business from 1985 to 1997 in both the U.S, and the U.K. I am not anti console. I am just aware that consoles have taken from computer games not the other way around, and now that computer games don;t really get a look in or any respect, so the market is discovering with a strong PC market being innovative and creative, you cannot have a successful console games market. It is this forced decline in PC gaming that is a direct link to why we still have not seen new consoles for over 7 years. But to prove how biasd the market is toward console gaming, notice how many commentators still talk about "next-gen" gaming!

Matt Barton
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Very astute observations here

Very astute observations here throughout, Hardwar_UK. I agree with pretty much everything you say here.

In my own experience, I resisted consoles for a long, long time. My first new console purchase was a Wii just a few years ago, followed by a 360 just last year. I find that nowadays most of my PC gaming is limited to WOW and indie games, whereas my FPS gaming has moved to the 360. It's hard to argue with solid titles like the Gears of War and Halo series. I also like not having to bother with having the latest graphics cards, since those can easily cost more than an entire console. I also like how consoles give developers a known quantity to work with; they know what you're going to get on your end, whereas with PCs, they don't know if you'll be running at ultra or low. I think a lot gets lost that way.

My biggest complaint with consoles is the exorbitant, outrageous prices they charge for their digitally distributed content. Compared to STEAM for PC, Xbox Live Marketplace is a SCAM. The same can be said for Nintendo's virtual market. They're trying to charge as much if not more for games you can get from Amazon for half it not a quarter of the price. And the selection of indie games is of course miniscule compared to the PC side.

I bought Gears of War 2 from their digital distribution system for $20. Later I found that for the same price I could get 1, 2, and an expansion from BEST BUY (not known for great deals!). Instead of being cheaper, the digital download was actually more expensive. Now I know there are some folks who are fine with that, "you pay for convenience," but I'm outraged by it--"I paid to support a monopoly." As far as I can tell, every digital purchase available at Xbox Live or Wii is more expensive than its physical counterpart or PC equivalent. The only way they can do that is by having the monopoly over the console's content distribution.

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clok1966
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us vs them
HardWar_UK wrote:

I will end by pointing out the problem of a dominant U.S. gaming media that is very nationalistic (ie does not care about what is happening in the games market outside of North America). This means games from Europe have to fight to get U.S. coverage and distribution. Games that have sold multi-million units in Europe, like STALKER, Gothic, The Witcher, etc, is not compared with U.S. titles that have sold a comparable number of PC units, like Bioshock, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. While U.S. Indie products like Braid get lots of coverage, a French indie game called EYE: Divine Cybermancy, that uses the Source engine (Half Life 2) and have produced an excellent cyberpunk game in the vein of Deus Ex, with augmentations and PSI abilities, etc. I truly believe that if Braid had been made in France and EYE had been made in the U.S, we would know about EYE and not Braid.

I agree with this, just disagree with why. I dont think its so much nationalistic, as greased palms. Every game mag will tell you how they are not biased, or how they recieve review copies for FREE and have no vested interest in game companies. Its all BS pure and simple. Just like collage sports stars get no "extra's". The World works on money .. so the people who dont pay dont get covarage. Of course its not that clear cut.. but how things actually work and how they should are so messed up in todays world its silly. Take EPIC.. if GOW 4 (when it comes out).. you reviewed GOW3 badly, you might not get a copy.. and not having GOW4 on the cover the months the excitiment for it was big.. that would mean less mag sales.. hence bad news for you.

I think creativity is alive and well, its just we vote with our wallet now days.. as long as the next MOH or COD sells 2-10 million units.. and E.Y.E (excellent game) sells 200,000 (no idea on actual numbers).. what do you think every game studio will do? Push out more MOH/COD clones.. its simple math. E.Y.E will never get the covarge a MOH game will so it has to excel to get word of mouth. While I think E.Y.E. was a pretty incredible effort, its pretty unpolished and its real weak spot is its complexity. I loved every minute of it.. but the average player wont. Most of us lament the death of the RPG here.. but the fact is, they have been some fair ones up till a few years ago.. but if you cant get TODAY's crowd to buy um.. there just are not enouhg of us old schoolers to pay for um anymore. its all about $$$ , gaming is big now.. not the nitch market it was in the 80,s early 90's.

I think all the games you listed are strong titles (personally loved Stalker and Witcher).. but "STALKER, Gothic, The Witcher" are also complicated titles in some ways.. The Witcher which is the most mainstream of them all is also the most succesfull (i think?), Gothic has to be doing ok as its on 4 if i got my math right and 5 is comming? Stalker was excellent but when released was quite buggy.. and while (looking today, RAGE, ) that seems "normal" just a few years ago.. that kind of buggyness turned alot of people away.. not to mention steep machine requirments at release. I think (and is opinion only) Stalkers downfall was difficulty, its not an easy game, and sadly regenerating shield and NO HEALTH pack full heals are the way of today... full health sitting behind a conviently placed bericade is the way its "done" nowdays..

I do agree us americans seem to like it a lot easier then most.. as a HUGE MMORPG player i see it when playing titles from other countires.. Most Asian games reward long hours and massive grinds.. European game seem to reward clever thinking and use of gameplay.. us Americans.. BLAZE away.. but i cant paint that 100% on us.. it does seem to be hte games of choice in most countires nowdays..

YOu do bring up some great points.

Matt Barton
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I won't argue that marketing

I won't argue that marketing plays a huge role. You could have an absolutely brilliant game that fails to make money simply because there's insufficient marketing. People nowadays like to say, "Well, look at Angry Birds and Minecraft!", but let's face it, those are flukes. You'd be gambling big time investing a lot of money into a game with no clear precedent or a developer with no brand recognition. That's why a lot of these great indies are for platforms like the iPhone, where you don't need millions of dollars to make a "pro" game.

If you want a reliable return on your investment, you don't count on great games coming out of left field. You count on mediocre games coming out of the "safe" publishing houses who in turn count on the "proven" franchises. Then you make up the difference with a gazillion bucks worth of marketing and advertising.

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HardWar_UK
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Everything is subjective.

If you want to spread it around a little, we have no real numbers put out by any company on sales. they have all stayed resilient about staying private corps set up in a way where they remain very private. Then we have a situation where given the size of the games market, we don't have consumer groups and consumer magazines related just to gaming.

Then we do, I believe, have a dumbing down of young people not being challenged by life, their parents or their gaming. These young people also work for the gaming sites, so we get ludicrous review comments like (on Gamespot), for STALKER: "The graphics show their age.....It's easy to just stop and watch a sunset"! These two opposite statements within 2 mins of each other. This is the sign of a dumbed down media that feels it just can phone in the review when it's a European title like STALKER. The reason say this is the diatribe over Gothic using a non standard keyboard layout. A layout that took no more than 10 mins to learn, and yet you'd think they had released a game that only worked with a trackball or something! Imagine the early 90's with gamers complaining how the games were now using WASD and not the arrow keys!

It has gotten to the point where those more educated gamers now understand the rules. an 80-90% for a smaller U.S. or any size European title is an excellent game. A AAA title from a major publisher that gets the same 80-90% has an average title.

To use STALKER again as an example. Gamespot gave the first two STALKERS 85%, talking about the bugs. When STALKER 3 came out Gamespot specifically pointed out that this title was bug-free - so gave it 85%! This is not a sign of a professional organisation.

There is no doubt that PC gaming is now indie gaming in the U.S. and regular PC games only being developed in Europe. Ask a European to name a cRPG and you'll get Morrowind, Gothic and Drakensang mentioned,. all old school sophisticated cRPG's with lots of stats to play around with. In the U.S. ask the same question and you'll hear Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Oblivion. Markets are diverging. And I see a day soon where large U.S. publishers are spending $50 million per game and only releasing on console, and Europe will be only the place where PC titles for PC gamers are released with a spend of under $15 million with console versions only being written after the PC version is released occasionally, like Witcher 2. Over-branching the whole market, and hurting the big U.S. publisher's more than the European one's will be the indie games market. The best thing a European publisher could do would be to open a U.S. office and harness all that PC programming skill that these indie programmers show, giving them $1 million and letting them do their own thing creativity-wise, and then have the European publisher publish it and put some marketing behind it. Now that's a market I would want to get back into the games industry for! :)

Matt Barton
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I haven't played STALKER, but

I haven't played STALKER, but I must admit that I didn't really care for Gothic, Drakensang, or Witcher. Drakensang is probably my favorite of the bunch, but it felt like a wannabe Dragon Age to me, and since I didn't like Dragon Age all that much to begin with, it's just not on my radar. I spent the most time with Gothic 3, but it ran so poorly on my system that I finally got frustrated and quit. You've seen my review of the Witcher, which again struck me as an okay game but not something I could really get into. My brother is nuts about Witcher 2, so I might end up giving that one a go, but again I think a lot of us are fed up with having to invest hundreds of dollars in graphic cards and CPUs just to run a game. Sure the graphics might be amazing, but is it worth it?

I think Europeans are probably more tolerant of translations, too, which makes a lot of sense geographically speaking. As soon as I hear that a game has been translated--especially if it's a game with a heavy emphasis on story and dialog--I am already skeptical. Of course, there are plenty of examples of translated games that were done right and you don't even notice or care. But all too often I'm hit with god-awful lines of dialog that just make you laugh, throwing you out of the game. It's not surprising that the translations could be bad, given the huge amount of script that has to be translated and then spoken correctly by an actor who probably has little to no knowledge of the context.

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HardWar_UK
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Witcher 2 is

Matt,

Witcher 2 is very scalable, and still looks fantastic at low settings.

I think in both your comments you talked about graphic cards and CPU's etc. Saying that a graphic card costs the same as a console.Well, I think that's being a little disingenuous, as the current consoles are 7 years old - so they are cheap. This means a new card, relatively,will be more expensive. Generally you are wrong about having to upgrade (unless you have a REALLY old PC!) It doesn't take much logic to realise if your PC is three years old and 85% of games are being written for seven year old consoles with a PC port, you shouldn't have much problem running them!

My PC is 3 yeas old. I only have a dual core CPU, an ATI 4680 and 3GB of RAM, and I can play Witcher 2 and Oblivion and Bioshock fine, but that's probably because two were written for console with a PC port and The Witcher 2 was written with a 360 conversion in mind from the start!

So as I say, with consoles 7 years old, and likely to be 10 years old before new consoles come along (if they ever do!), how are currently 3 year old PC's not going to be able to run AAA multiformat titles? With European titles having a marketing spend 25% of the big U.S. publishers, it's doubtful their games will be overly demanding. Certainly recent titles like Metro 2033 and Hard Reset have looked and played great, but did not need a high end PC to look good and play great. Europeans understand PC game coding so have engines that are much more robust and scalable. I play Witcher 2 with some options on high and some medium, and as I told you, my PC is not the latest model by any stretch of the imagination! :)

Matt Barton
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I can't argue with that

I can't argue with that logic.

Here's my specs. If you think it can handle Witcher 2, I'll give it a try.

Nvidia System Information wrote:

NVIDIA System Information report created on: 10/17/2011 19:19:41
System name: BLACKLILY8-PC

[Display]
Operating System: Windows 7 Professional, 64-bit (Service Pack 1)
DirectX version: 11.0
GPU processor: GeForce GTX 260
Driver version: 280.26
DirectX support: 10
CUDA Cores: 192
Core clock: 576 MHz
Shader clock: 1242 MHz
Memory clock: 999 MHz (1998 MHz data rate)
Memory interface: 448-bit
Total available graphics memory: 4095 MB
Dedicated video memory: 896 MB GDDR3
System video memory: 0 MB
Shared system memory: 3199 MB
Video BIOS version: 62.00.1A.00.60
IRQ: 16
Bus: PCI Express x16

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HardWar_UK
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Seems fine

I wouldn't be surprised if you could run it at high. One thing I would say is I still run XP and DX9, so my overhead is a lot lower. Certainly I would have thought, like me, that a mixture of high and medium would do the business. And , as I say, I specifically had a look at the game with all the lowest settings set, and it still looked good!

As I say, the Witcher 2 engine is very scalable to take advantage of different machines. It's one of these games where a computer doesn't really exist that could max it out, so you have something to look forward to when you DO upgrade your PC! :)

I would just remind you what miracles CD Red Projekt did with the NWN engine with the first Witcher, that I would never worry about them understanding how to make a game look and play well on a wide range of PC's! :)

Bill Loguidice
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Apparently, The Witcher 2 was

Apparently, The Witcher 2 was illegally downloaded over 4 million times: http://pc.ign.com/articles/121/1213607p1.html?utm_campaign=twposts&utm_s...

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