June 10, 2013

The State Of The "Game Industry" Going Into E3 2013

Yup, not that I’m doing a prediction post or anything, I’d just like to talk about the state of the "game industry” going into this year’s E3.  I’m only for Nintendo, but I still like to see what the competition is doing since I work in video games and it’s good to know these things

Before I begin, I’m not under the blanket label of what most people in the “industry” (the console makers, the publishers, developers, retailers & gaming journalists) or even those outside the industry (mainstream media and gamers themselves) call either a casual or hardcore gamer.  I don’t like labels to begin with but those two are particularly stupid as it does nothing to define the person or define the types of games they like.  Those lame terms were made up and spewed about the industry as a way to excuse away the success of the Wii with expanding the market, a market that the industry itself was shrinking.  That’s a whole other topic altogether, the point is, most people like to simply label things with easy defining names so that they can name it, excuse it away and then move on, like as if to ignore it altogether.

If you play games, you’re a “gamer” but ultimately, we have opinions, preferences, biases and due to that: agenda’s.  Mine would defiantly be a skewed towards Nintendo, sure, but that doesn’t make me a “casual” gamer any more than if a person preferred Sony/Microsoft consoles being “hardcore” gamers.  Most people really make a lot of assumptions based on those labels and that’s really ignorant.  Not all hardcore gamers like shooters ‘cos you know what…there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all hardcore gamer.  Likewise, not all casual gamers play cellphone games…they don’t ‘cos there’s literally no such thing as a casual gamer.  What’s a casual game…Tetris?  Well I know several people who play that game pretty hardcore.  What’s a hardcore game…Call Of Duty?  Well I personally play that game casually, as in lightly from time to time.

I’m getting off topic here as I’m trying to talk about the state of the industry going into E3.  The industry pandering to the broken ideas of casual vs hardcore is just one of the many problems with the state it’s in.  If you want to read more about this I’ll make more posts about it later, in the mean time I’ll put a link at the bottom of this post to Sean Malstrom’s blog as he’s written extensively on that and many other worthwhile topics about video games and such.  Anyways, the industry’s current state is not very good.  Of course gamers take direct offence to that ‘cos they see how much time/money they spend on their hobby and they think: “How in the hell could the industry be hurting?”

Well it is, BADLY…the numbers don’t lie…year on year everything is down across the board.  Do the research yourself.  In this last generation we’ve seen huge mergers of former rivals to weather the storms, tons of layoff’s and whole development studios shut down, smaller publishers either falling off the map or getting gobbled up by bigger ones, even large publishers being dismantled, console manufacturer’s going for behemoth hardware sold at huge losses that they’re only just now making their money back on, a prolonged hardware cycle to help ease the pain of those losses, after the highs of the previous generation gaming journalism had their own TV station, big publications like EGM & Nintendo Power magazines…now, that’s all gone and they’re relegated to low-budget web vlog’s, even GameStop who was arguably making the most off this last generation is considering closing stores, publishers trying to cash in on the “casual” fallacy losing their asses in the end ‘cos that bubble burst a while ago yet they still talk about it like it’s still okay, rising development costs that go for the chasing Hollywood AAA business models when actually one game could make or break your whole company, etc.  On and on the list goes and yes, there’s been good games and success stories, but overall the industry is hurting.

Nintendo foresaw this decline, that’s why they made the Wii (codenamed Revolution for a reason) to fight disinterred, to keep development budgets under control, costs down and to ultimatly expand the market beyond the declining state it was in…but the industry shunned it despite it selling out for 3 years straight ‘cos they had invested so much on the HD generation (PS3 & XBOX 360) that they couldn’t switch gears and catch the next big thing.  So, since they missed it, they’re going to act like it didn’t matter, mislabel it as some casual fad and ignore it even to their detriment.  They left money on the table!  They used the quick careless cash-ins they made on Wii games to fund their huge HD projects on other systems.  Even Nintendo fell for the self-fulfilling prophecy the industry was spewing about the Wii and stopped thinking disruptively (which is how the Wii had done so well, ‘cos it was going against the industry’s ideals) and started thinking like everyone else by making “hardcore” and/or industry-like games.

The industry is in bad shape, you can try to excuses that away with: “Oh it’s a shift in generations, of course things are low now!” or even: “No, everything is fine, you’re exaggerating the problems…these companies make millions of dollars!” but that’s the perceived notion that everyone wants you to think.  The economy is nowhere close to as good as it was when this last generation started, so even if everything were normal it would still have to be lower due to the macroeconomics going on in the world today.

What does this have to do with going into E3?  Plenty, even E3 has been in decline in recent years, but besides that, what we’ve heard about the next generation of consoles is the ugly reality of the state the industry is in.  People were SHOCKED when all the negative rumors came true about the strict DRM policies that the next XBOX would have.  Yes I was surprised, but at the same time, since I have a grasp on what’s going on in the industry and not just listening to the byline of: “Millions of dollars, everything is okay!” I saw it coming.  THIS is my proof that the industry is peril.  Why would an industry who thrived in generations past despite with used games suddenly want to eliminate them…hell it’s beyond used games, you can’t even rent them at all or even lend them out to friends without jumping through fire hoops.  This industry has been moving towards things like this for a while.  Things like what?  Not actually owning what you pay for!  Hell, lump in other entertainment industries like music & movies or even other capitalist things like land, homes & cars.

Before I go on another tangent…look at all the industry buzzwords recently.  Streaming, digital distribution, DLC, “the cloud”, DRM, licenses.  I hate buzzwords as much as I hate labels, but these aren’t just buzzwords to try to promise something they won’t deliver on, it’s something they plan on delivering upon!  We buy it, but we don’t actually own it!  That’s right, that’s what it’s all about.  That’s their way of cutting costs, not reevaluating their management styles and/or keeping development costs low in a time of economic depression…hell no, let’s go all digital and “into the cloud” so that we can save money while screwing over the physical media partners, the packaging and distribution channels, the retailers and the consumers who put us where we are today.  “It’s because they’re greedy!” yes, but it’s also ‘cos they’re hurting so much that they want to survive so they’re trying to cut costs any way they can.  Look at instruction booklets nowadays, it's not just about "going green", it's about saving greenbacks.  Eliminating used games is one step closer to that.

I am in no way defending Microsoft here, but really…it’s not like they did this by themselves, they obviously had publisher support for these decisions as it’s the industry as a whole themselves that want this.  And while Sony isn’t enforcing these policies like Microsoft is, they’re “leaving it up to publishers” to do it too…so Sony is no hero here either, I foresee them ultimately doing the same.  Another thing that shows the industry is hurting is that they deliberately made their next-gen systems non-backwards compatible with both physical & digital games so that all that money goes to next-gen games instead.  What’s funny is, Nintendo seems to be doing the opposite of all this which could be why the industry has been dismissing it, ‘cos they won’t conform to the norm.

Now since I work in a retro game shop people are going to say: “Bla bla bla, your time is up you’re just resisting the inevitable in an effort to make yourself feel safer in your job!” and while it could hurt our business, most of our business isn’t even current or next-gen games which I think is due to declining interest in them.  This only amplifies why things like retro gaming are seeing resurgence…’cos retro gaming is still better than modern gaming in many consumers’ eyes.

Now, back to E3, I imagine that even with all the whining about DRM, some people (the self-proclaimed hardcore) will happily bend over to be XBONED…which is really sad considering how anti-consumer it is.  These will be the early adopters lining up to be XBONED on launch day, but hopefully there’s not too many that justify their ownership rights being lost for the sake of *slightly* better graphics or else there’s literally no hope for humanity.

I said I'd be updating this posts with pics/links, but I had no time so I'm just gonna put a link in for Sean Malstrom's blog at the bottom.  Thanks for reading and happy E3 before the impending 2ND video game market crash!

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