Wednesday, June 11, 2014

E3 Catch-All and Big Gaming

I'm not doing a Nintendo "priority list". I thought they actually did a better job than Microsoft or Sony, but it's still a lot of the same blah blah blah.

Man, what has happened to E3?

I've been thinking about this, wondering whether it's my attitude or E3 has really changed, and I think E3 has become--of course--a reflection of the current state of the industry.

Back in the day, I bought a game. That was it.

That CD--or 3.5" disk, or 5.25" floppy--was my entire relationship with the person or team who developed the game. When I bought TV Sports Football for the Amiga 500, that disk (actually two disks) was the entire experience.

There was a bug with TV Sports Football where after a touchdown, and after a cheerleader cut scene, the game sometimes locked up. It wasn't frequent, but when it did happen, it drove me crazy. So after a few months of playing the game obsessively, I actually called Cinemaware. The lady I talked to (no service queue, just someone answering the phone) said "Oh yes, we have a patch for that", and she sent me a new disk.

The patch was a big deal, back then.

So what I bought was an experience, and it was basically complete when I pulled it out of the package.

Today, with big games, I'm not buying an experience. I'm buying a revenue stream. New IP is far less important to big publishers than new DLC. Sequels. DLC. IAP. Sometimes it feels like big gaming has become nothing more than a bunch of shitty acronyms for stuff we don't want.

I'm a cow, and big gaming has their hands on my teats, pumping away. Moo.

To me, that was the biggest problem with Xbox One. Instead of marketing the One as a fantastic gaming machine first, then saying "Oh, and look at all the other cool stuff it can do", Microsoft tried to market it as a Cool Stuff Machine.

Really, though, it wasn't a Cool Stuff Machine as much as it was a Revenue Stream Machine. We all knew that, and it's true of every console nowadays, but marketing a game console has a familiar form factor, one that we're all comfortable with. Microsoft largely dispensed with that, and in doing so, their naked ambition became far too obvious.

There's one e-mailer (Matt Solomon) who has the most elegant, eloquent vision for Xbox One. It's beautifully coherent. The problem, though, is that his vision is not Microsoft's vision. Matt's vision starts with function. Microsoft's vision starts with a revenue stream.

Where the revenue stream overlaps with coherent function, everything's great. But the parts of Microsoft's vision that were muddled were in places where the revenue stream gapped away from the coherent function.

Look, I have a PS4, and I enjoy it at times (The Show is pretty damned amazing). Lego Undercover was freaking phenomenal on the Wii U (and criminally undersold as well). I'm still willing to buy console games. There's just no denying, though, that the "big" game industry has stepped so far away from us as gamers that the experience is--overall--much less satisfying.

There's a however, though. "Small" gaming is better than ever. Much, much better.

Content democratization has happened almost everywhere as the cost of production tools has plummeted. Gaming, though, may have benefited more from that trend than any other kind of content.

Good grief, look at me. The development budget for Gridiron Solitaire was about $20,000, and literally 95% of that was art. Visual Studio is insanely, unbelievably powerful as a development environment, and it cost less than $500.

There's more variety in gaming than ever before. I know we're wading waist-deep through garbage to find it, but that's okay, because at least it's out there. There are so many unbelievable, incredible experiences created by ultra-small teams.

It's wonderful, really, even though I can't get to nearly as much of it as I wished I could.

So E3 is just a husk. Maybe that's a good thing, because it's encouraged new blood flow around the blockage (sorry, listening to a Heart album right now, so it's a natural analogy). Without the "screwyoufication" of big gaming, we wouldn't be getting everything else, and everything else is much better.

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