In the wake of more DRM-related controversy and the last of the new console reveals being due next month it's become clear that the game industry has come to a significant crossroad, with time rapidly drawing near the point where consumers must finally confront a number of proposed next-gen transitions head-on. Unfortunately, the belligerent manner in which these looming industry shifts are being pushed forth by game publishers and console makers has become a cause for apprehension, something that has led me to question whether or not gaming is heading anywhere gamers might actually want to go.
If the last year or so of drama involving the likes of Diablo 3, SimCity, and ex-Microsoft creative directors is any indicator, quite a few following the industry have also come to share this concern.
A growing number of gamers are not particularly happy with the current course being taken by major publishers and hardware makers and it's easy to understand why, corporate arrogance and delusion have hurt the industry more than any used or pirated game ever could. It's not a mentality that is conducive to a glowing future for any entertainment industry let alone one already amid serious growing pains.
I feel that that at this stage of its development, the balance of the game industry is way off where it needs to be for the type of service it provides and to whom it is being provided. This imbalance has led to a growing number of poor business practices that will only continue to undermine its future if left unchecked. It's safe to say that how these practices are, or aren't, addressed will play a large role in defining the medium in the years ahead.
What exactly has led to the business side of gaming to become so brazen in their aggression, though? What has allowed the medium's culture to devolve to the point where this approach is even acceptable? I looked at a few possible culprits, and the first this that jumped to mind is the short-sighted greed of bumbling game publishers and it's toleration by a number of passive gamers, which has led to eroding consumer rights and confidence over the last generation.
This particular issue has become quite frustrating to debate over the years, primarily because it's become the same predictable cycle time and time again. It seemingly always begins with 'internet outrage' that leaves as quickly as it came over the latest example of the industry attempting to overstep it's bounds, with most participants either becoming distracted by the next trend to prattle on about or just losing interest altogether. This, of course, is followed by complete surprise when the next instance arises and they find that doing nothing of substance and still throwing money at a problem somehow hasn't changed the results. Wash, rinse, repeat with the latest hyped title / hardware being used as bait.
From what I noticed, the only aspect that seemed to separate the recent controversy surrounding the Orth tweets from the usual cycle was how closely it hit home for a number of gamers who were content with ignoring the festering DRM problem because it usually just affected other people's games. The potential of seeing those same problems being laid at their own doorstep (with that type of antagonistic attitude no less) through a complete infection of a console they were looking forward to buying appeared to burst quite a few bubbles of intentional ignorance.
But the closer I looked at these recent anti-consumerist trends, the more I realized they weren't the main cause. Consumers condoning this type of business seems to be a symptom of deeper rooted issues, which instead led my to focus on the rather dysfunctional relationship that's been on full display the last few years between the three classes of the game industry.
Brendan Sinclair actually put out a pretty interesting article last month relating to this issue, Entitled Gamers, Corrupt Press, and Greedy Publishers, that covered the bizarre dynamic between the respective groups right now, a recommended read for those who haven't sat down with it yet. It touches upon a few valid reasons why each corner carries a measure of resentment for the others and why the hostility is still persisting, and pretty much covers most of what I considered adding to the matter.
Although, while I did agree with many of the points brought up in the article, the closing paragraphs is where the piece started to lose me a bit and touches upon a common complaint of mine in regards to how a possible solution to the drama should be approached. Dealing with the dysfunction will need to be much more than a "just wait things out and hope for the best" mentality, or simply asking for one of the corners to take a chance at offering respect to the others as equal participants in the business. The latter sounds great in theory, but part of the problem (the true dysfunction as far as I see it) is the two corners putting their hands out for payment seeing themselves at an equal, or higher, level of the corner that is expected to open their wallets. The need for respect is of course a given if anything is going to improve, but respect in and of itself is not enough in a service industry, it must be observed from the appropriate perspective to maintain a healthy business relationship.
Those working within the industry do deserve to be treated with civility, but they certainly should have known what they were signing up for when entering their fields. Any malcontent game developer or journalist that cannot get beyond railing for special treatment or using worn buzzwords like "entitled" to admonish gamers who 'dare' question the quality and packaging of products they're being expected to pay for, should really consider doing themselves a favor by finding another day job. I have very little patience for any part of the game industry resenting their fanbases for supposedly being a "bottom-less well of wanting" due to the fact that gamers routinely tolerate nonsense that you'd be hard pressed to keep a straight face hearing about other entertainment industries trying to pull, all while typically swallowing a much higher cost of entry. But again, gamers finding themselves falling into this type of dysfunctional relationship with those colluding against them is another unfortunate result of the imbalance and not the cause.
In the end, what struck closest to what I feel is the core issue of many of the industry's problems is actually what caught my attention most recently - The Consumerist's response to EA CEO Peter Moore's preemptive press release leading up to and after their repeat winning of the 'Golden Poo' for the Worst Company in America:
"Gaming might be a multibillion-dollar industry that attracts the worlds biggest names in entertainment, music, and sports, but it is nonetheless treated by both the media and the business world with a reductionist shrug. Companies like EA are happy to foster the misinformed perception of your average gamer as a whiny, nitpicky loner who will complain about anything, as that image only helps to discredit those who have a valid complaint about a relatively pricey consumer product.
Heres our question to Peter Moore: If your entire industry is engaged in the production of something so trivial as to not warrant inclusion in a contest that features a poop trophy, why do you even work in it?"
The Consumerist's comments following EA's repeat status being announced also stood out to me:
"Moores note also marked the second time EA has tried to deflect criticism by pointing to previous winners of the Worst Company tournament, as if to mock consumers who dared to express their discontent with a mere video game publisher.
Make no mistake: Video games are big business. A company like EA and Activision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, and Sony, etc. merits just as much scrutiny as any other business that plays a leading role in a multibillion-dollar industry. Its only a fractured, antiquated public perception that video games are somehow frivolous holdovers from childhood that allows gamers to be abused and taken advantage of by the very people who supply them the games they play."
All things considered, I feel the lingering insecurities still held by many gamers have had some of the largest impact on the business culture of the medium this generation. The level to which it has emboldened publishers and console makers has become pretty hard to ignore.
I strongly believe that the vulnerabilities that have resulted from these insecurities and the manner in which they've been exploited have been primarily responsible for throwing the balance of the industry off-center over the last few years. The residual effects have helped pave the way for all the issues troubling modern gaming mentioned above to a quite a few others. Its effects are evident in everything from the persistent attack on used gaming, to the increasing level of heavy handed DRM, to the likes of there still needing to be a debate over game being considered art. These are all avoidable headaches that have become increasingly worse simply because many gamers have allowed them to, because for them to resist these hassles would have involved defending what they have been convinced to feel is 'just' their little hobby of buying videogames.
If we are to expect the gaming industry to grow up and begin carrying itself in a more appropriate manner, gamers must begin to grow up in the way they handle their business. Being a gamer does not somehow equal being a lower-class consumer, which more need to realize before undesirable market trends being enacted by publishers get too out of hand. For there to be any hope of an appropriately balanced future for gaming, the gaming community as a whole must find it within themselves to push the industry to accept and maintain a level of accountability that is equal to incredible amount of leeway they've been given in comparison to other entertainment mediums. Positive change will only occur when it is the only viable path for gaming to take.
At the end of the day though, there are no right and wrong answers, and there are certainly no simple answers, but I still feel it's still a discussion that all serious gamers owe to themselves to have at some point. The importance of constructive contributions from gamers of all view points on the matter should not be understated.