Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Patches, Advertising, and Maggots

DQ reader Tom Shannon sent me a note last week about the first patch for SWAT 4. It does what patches normally do, generally, which is fix bugs, but it also adds "Massive Streaming Ad Support."

In other words, in-game advertisements now appear.

Well, it's about time. I was on the fence about buying SWAT 4, but knowing that when I'm in a tense tactical situation I can see posters on the wall for "Reno 911" makes me head for the game store.

Other games already have advertising, but to leave it out of the initial game then ADD it with a patch is pretty slimy. Particularly since it's added to the single-player campaign as well, from what I've been told.

In many ways, this is the best time ever to be a gamer. Unfortunately, because of gaming's popularity, it's a Dickensian bargain. We get unbelievably high-quality games--occasionally--and a huge number of games on many different platforms to choose from.

That's the best of times.

Here's the worst of times: many publishers having nonexistant standards about actually finishing a game before it's released, the inability to return a game when it's sold in that condition, exclusive sports licenses that will destroy sports gaming as we know it, spyware (and worse) copy protection, and now publishers adding in-game advertising after you've already purchased the game and bundling it with a needed patch.

It's easy to understand why so many bad things seem to be happening: money. As gaming has become so potentially lucrative, every maggot under every rock wants a piece of the action.

I know--maggots aren't really found under rocks. It's alliteration or a metaphor or onomatopoei or something.

The irony, of course, is that most games don't make money, and most of the slimeballs who get in for a quick buck are going to lose their sweat-stained, stinky undershirts. I'm not sure the gaming industry even has a defined, sustainable economic model for an individual publisher at this point--success seems to be far more singular than that. What sustains the industry right now is that a hell of a lot of people want to play games, not the business sense of the industry.

It's just where we are in the development of gaming as a mainstream form of entertainment. I'm not nostalgic about "the old days," because believe me, there were plenty of shit games back then, but our hobby is going to twist and transform in ways that are going to piss all of us off.

I'm still along for the ride, though. I think we can handle it.

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