An Open Letter to Fanboys

January 12, 2010 by Alex Beech  
Filed under Articles


There always seems to be huge furore over console exclusive titles. Games that platform holders either developed themselves, or heavily subsided. The presumed quality of these titles is based solely on the simple fanboy logic that if their manufacturer of choice feels a game is good enough to grant it the seal of ‘PS3 Exclusive’ or ‘Only on Xbox 360’ then some how it must be justifiably better than other titles on the market.

It is a theory flawed for so many reasons I cannot begin to fully articulate why it is wrong. Certainly manufacturers would ideally like to stock their machines only with the last and greatest exclusive games, but given the current environment this isn’t possible. It simply is not profitable for large third parties to promise their titles to a single platform without the kind of subsidies that would, eventually, bleed even Bill Gates’ pockets dry. This has lead to a generation filled with expressions like the ‘lead platform’, ‘exclusive DLC’ and ‘limited exclusivity’ in attempt to set games apart from their rival platform counterparts.

There are very few other aspects of life that elicits the kind of bile I see so often spewed at something as inconsequential as the console exclusive debate. I never hear a guy saying ‘My girlfriend has better [edit - bump mapping] and a far tighter [edit – graphics engine] than yours.’ If I did hear that I suspect I would also soon hear the individual getting hit by both the chap he was talking to and his girlfriend. In the real world it is extremely rare that we directly compare anything against that of another with the sole purpose of ingratiating our own stance and beating another’s down.

With so many early adopters no longer able to see reviews before the purchase the review process for the hardcore is fast becoming an act of affirmation rather than information. Reviews have stopped being the advice of trusted professionals they once were. Now they are simply used as bullet points during Internet flame wars to bolster arguments and the support of opinions for the vocal monitories.

Of course specialized, console exclusive, sites exist for these individuals. These are sites that unabashedly trumpet the merits of one platform over another, blind to any contradicting facts. But it is on the multiplatform sites where these fights are fought, by people with some misplaced belief that they need to convert other console users, or maybe just try and ruin their day. To go back to an earlier example we are talking about discussions with all the reasoning and consideration of ‘My girlfriends better than yours!’ or perhaps more fittingly, ‘My Dad’s Superman!

In response to this I have had an idea. Basically, sites write two standard, boiler plate reviews, that they simply insert game names into and then they write one ‘real’ review for normal, balanced people who at some point after the day of release may be looking for a game and really want advice on which to by. This third is pretty much akin to everything you see on this site, reviews which reflect the opinions of a real gamer just out to say what they think about a game. The other two fanatical reviews follow.

For a system’s fanatics wet dream of a game.

‘(Game A) for the (Platform X) is developed by (Studio) and is by far the greatest game of its genre. I eclipses the (Platform Y)’s (Game B) in every way. The graphics are superior with higher textures with more polygons and effects on screen than (Platform Y) could ever hope for.

Both the single player and multiplayer are perfectly balanced allowing for some epic battle that the amazing line up of weapons compliment in a way (Game B) could only one day hope to accomplish.

It is thanks to the (high storage capacity, better online components, faster writing of onscreen polygons, generating of textures, anti aliasing – delete as appropriate) that this game manages to achieve all it does. It could never be made of the (Platform Y) without numerous feature being removed/compromised.

The best game I have played in recent memory and a real game of the year contender.’

And lets give it a 97% so it’s believable.

For an enemy of the system.

‘(Game A)’s muddy graphics do little to hide the limited number of effects on screen at any time. It is a sad indictment that (Platform X) that it continues to lag so far behind (Platform Y) even after this game has been so long in development.

I don’t know what (Developer) thought they were doing when they designed the level layout. Wondering the dull, grey, low res, world feels like you are stuck in the movie Groundhog Day but without Bill Murray. Even the action quickly becomes repetitive thanks to the lack of innovation in weapons and enemy design.

Those who have been anticipating the release of this exclusive are set to be disappointed as all of the games praises have been blown out of all proportion by blind fans of the series who mistakenly believe it to be the second coming, and the saviour of the failing (Platform Y).’

Lets call it a 64%, totally mediocre, because lets face if it really sucked no one would try to defend it and that would be no fun.

If you are one of the people out there telling reviewers that their opinions are wrong then these are basically the kind of reviews you want and deserve. With that in mind in the future feel free to substitute all of the relevant words into which ever review you feel best supports your opinion. You can accredit it to me if you need to, no one will know any different, and just go about your day happy in the knowledge that I at least I agree with your stilted extremist view. Just so long as you don’t go around pestering hard working writers who are trying to inform those more open minded than you, I am happy to take one for the team.

Sex, Lies and Console Wars

January 12, 2010 by Alex Beech  
Filed under Articles




Now I have to ask you bear with me through this comparison of why “console wars” are stupid. Some of what is said to many could be considered immoral, but I regret none of it and everyone involved was aware of my situation. It regards a time in my life when I was broken hearted and I went on what something of a binge before I left University. It was a week of fun and stress that made me realize it doesn’t matter what you have you should be happy with it, and more importantly, there is no need to try and denigrate other peoples fun for the sake of you own sense of self worth.

The week of which I speak was after I finished my Master course, and was working at my Alma Marta settling in new post grad students. My work consisted of carrying people bags to their rooms during the day and, at night, taking new initiates to bars, clubs and parties.

Having already left the university and having no accommodation my plan was to couch surf. What ended up happening was one night on a floor, one night in my Ford Escort… and numerous nights in various beds.

One of the girls in question enjoyed hanging out with our shared friends and me. There was a slight language barrier (she was Chinese) but it was never enough to stop us sitting by the river talking until the early hours of the morning. Given different, less heart broken state of mind on my part things could have been fantastic. One day she said she loved me, but in my heart broken state I didn’t feel I could commit and so ran away.

The next individual I met was from North America. Always wanting to socialize, drink, talk or dance it didn’t matter what we were doing as long as it was a party. Active fun, and always exciting every one liked her. But it all came at a cost, all of the socializing, clubs and drinking added up and pretty soon I was spending more money that I was making in my work. Thankfully it all only lasted a week so my overdraft absorbed the cost, but to stick with it would have been difficult. Despite the cost it was the relationship I could have seen the most future in, managing to be entertaining in every situation. For the record, she was white, from North America and larger than life.

The final lady in question I met at a club while waiting in line. We were talking and hitting it off pretty well, but then out of nowhere my friend came and grabbed me (a doorman at the club) before proceeding to throw me in to the club. I was happy drinking with my friends so forgot about her until two hours later when she found me. Apparently she had been looking for me and having found me proceeded to take me strait back to her apartment. We never went out together but did a lot of time in together.

If you have seen through my paper thin analogies you will probably be aware of the similarities between each of these girls and the three players in the console wars (if you haven’t it was Wii, 360, PS3 respectively). I will let you decide if my experiences are true or fabricated for the sake of this discussion, but it isn’t my possible social life that is the point here. The point is, if I had been in any position to start a relationship I would have pick one of these girls based on what she offered and contributed to me as an individual.

In the short term I know we are attracted to cute, sexy and hot. That is the nature of initial attraction. It is when we consider the long term that we measure merits of everything on offer carefully. We judge what we what, what we need and what is offered. If I wanted to sit at home and enjoy quiet times as a couple I would have dated a PS3… for example. My conclusion would be drawn from a criteria would I had created, and unless someone was a very close friend and was truly concerned I was making and grievous error. No one would say that their girlfriend was better mine for some arbitrary reason based on a check-list of things that they consider important.

So why is it that everyone on the Internet feels they know what is good for me, and believes my choices are wrong. If I chose a partner based on the fact we shared friends and it made socializing all the more fun no one would point out the yearly fee of going to bars to stay connected with her an my friends was a bad thing. Or if there were certain things that only my stay-at-home-together girlfriend would do with me… for example playing with my Solid Snake… then no one dating her would seem to be the perfect thing to do.

Everybody has a personal preference in what they want and what they like, in relationships and their consoles. For the most part the people who go out yelling about how their choice is better than anyone else’s are the ones who are most insecure about something and are attempting to overcompensate.

If you are yelling at the guy who likes Wii because he only plays when his friends are around then all you are doing is showing that you have no imagination to understand his position, and no real friends to play with on your coach. Similarly if you are reaming somebody out for choosing a PS3 because of poor online or fewer games then all you really archive is demonstrating that you don’t respect people personal preferences the games they want to experience. Finally of course if you feel the 360 needs a good hammering for all of its extra charges then remember they are paying, but receiving the better service and support for their money.

Me I have all three so I am set (consoles that is, I am a one woman man these days). Chances are that, given the choice and money, you would want all three too (again consoles) but failing that settle for the one you have and are with if it makes you happy (either) and don’t let anyone tell you they know what makes you happy better than you do.

Are Horror Games Becoming Less Scary?

September 23, 2009 by Alex Beech  
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In many ways the first “game worlds” would have been terrifying places, with no end to the oncoming alien ships, asteroids or ghosts and death being your only release. Games back then though were, of course, about the game mechanic; simply playing. Yet still the designers felt the need to infuse some familiar symbolism to their tiny sprites to help people understand the world presented to them. I guess these games were scary in the same way books are, leaving so much up to the readers/players imagination that what is experienced varies wildly from person to person.

I am not suggesting that Pacman was the source of any nightmares, even from the most highly-strung children. However by choosing ghosts as Pacman’s antagonists I am sure Namco helped people understand the games concepts of evasion, and also added extra tension to the chase. The symbolism of the ghost catalysed the player’s imagination in way graphics of the time could not.

As games have evolved so too has the world and characters they are able to produce allowing complex stories to be told. Game developers are now free to tell the stories they want. Now developers have the liberty to create something scary by design as opposed to by “happenstance”.

It was during the first generation of Playstation that many of the traits we now associate with survival horror genre were established. While games such as ‘Alone in the Dark’ pre-dated this era and paved the way, it was Capcom’s Resident Evil that marked the first true milestone in the genre. It borrowed heavily from movie conventions, even using live action scenes for the opening and closing sections of the game. The success of this cinematic presentation was in no small part thanks to the inception of optical media with its higher storage capacity enabling the speech, music and FMV. These extra tools gave designers the opportunity to create more involving, less abstract worlds.

resident-evil-1While Resident Evil had technological advancements to thank for its cinematic style it owed just as much to its technical limitations. Capcom’s drive to make the game visually striking combined with the restrictions of the hardware resulted in them using a static camera style that frequently resulted in a very constrained view of what could be seen. Having committed to the static point of view the designers were able to ‘mount’ the camera at positions though out the rooms of the mansion to add tension of highlight key objects in a cinematic fashion that was more concerned with creating atmosphere than game play.

It was unfortunate that in most gaming respects this static camera was denigrating to the game play. For every graphical flourish the style allowed it would rob players of control or visibility. Quick cuts between angles served to confuse the player and necessitated the now infamous ‘tank’ turning mechanic associated with the series. The cumbersomeness and pace this introduced served to add to the tension as you constantly wrested with the game for control of your character.

Many of the limitations seen in Resident Evil were replicated in another horror classic of the PSone generation, Silent Hill (and its sequels). Controls were similarly difficult to master, which became exacerbated by an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. Fixed points of view still made an appearance, but the engine allowed for more dynamism in the camera, allowing it to pivot and in open areas even adopt an over the shoulder perspective. In order to facilitate this flexibility in the camera it was necessary to limit draw distance. They did this by use of fog and darkness, both of which contributed greatly to constant unnerving world of Silent Hill.

silent-hill-1Sequels to the original Silent Hill came to PS2 some years later, yet retained much of the games original traits; movement remained clunky and vision obscured. Despite the fact the technology had progressed allowing for greater draw distance and more was known about 3D control schemes, they made a conscious choice that these elements of the original title added to the experience they were trying to sculpt, even if some of the original reasons for their implementation had become redundant.

The increased power of the PS2 also allowed more detail in the game characters though they remained somewhat indistinct and otherworldly. Textures for the models remained waxy and camera angles limited visibility making the twisted forms of the shambling monsters that inhabited the game indistinct enough that there was always something left up to the imagination. Reminiscent of the first arcade games, a lot of the emotion created was down to what the player brought to the experience.

This console cycle is seeing the horror genre develop significantly more rapidly than in previous generations, and not always for the best. Siren: Blood Curse (PS3), is an updated of a 2003 PS2 game Siren. In its translation it bought with it many of its previous incarnations foibles as the developers still struggled to master the PS3 platform hardware. Strange controls (due to special abilities not camera angles), limited visibility due to a variety of effect filters and character models that moved in a wooden fashion despite their greater graphic fidelity.

siren_blood_curse-may20Siren remained scary due how much it had carried through from the PS2. These were decision based on the assumption that the majority of the audience had high degree of gaming literacy. This assumed knowledge allowed the creators to regularly make the players impotent in the face of danger. There were levels that removed all weapons and offensive abilities from the player forcing stealth in an environment filled with instant death.

During his console generation there has been a noted shift to make games more accessible in an attempted to attacked higher sales from a less experienced market. In the world of survival horror Dead Space sits at the forefront of this evolution. Dead Space retained many traits of the genre but moved the perspective of the game to an over the shoulder camera instead of the fixed perspective (in a similar way to RE4). By placing the camera behind the player the EA Redwood Shores development team were able to gift the player significantly more flexibility of movement that removed the sense of claustrophobia that existed in it forefathers. The environment did a good job putting players on edge by being dark and oppressive while making fantastic use of sounds and horrific imagery, the game even managed to create tension through its economy of items, but the sense of being trapped and constrained was never felt.

deadspace

The other trouble with Dead Space was that you always had enough – Enough manoeuvrability, enough firepower, enough time, enough help to succeed. Things could be scary on the first pass but every situation fast became routine. After a death you could be plunged back in a situation and your sense of dread would dissipate and you formulated a tactic. The gruesome horrors the game threw at you were so clear that you fast became desensitizes to their imagery and they just became something to kill. By making everything clear and accessible they ensured players always felt they had a chance, removing the fear and tension.

It is in this that the problems arise. As graphical power increases so to does the temptation to show everything. If the design team spends a year perfecting the creatures you are to fight, you will be seeing them clearly. The lack of abstraction leaves nothing to the imagination, yes they are scary but they are exactly as scary as the designer intended, no more. I think back to the Silent Hill 2 and the armless black bodies that wriggled indistinctly out from under cars, how unnerving their movement was, and how hard they were to kill with my metal bar. I remember my theories and ideas about what these creatures where and where they came from, information the game never deemed appropriate to tell me. Compared to this the ‘Necromorphs’ of Dead Space are just overgrown insects to gunned down by my arsenal of weaponry.

Of course with the cost of creating a current gen game being so high companies know that they have cater to a broader audience. Standardized, familiar controls that are play tested for usability (not atmosphere) remove the palpable tension of the survival horror titles. It is perverse because this means by making a better game you are making survival horror worse.

Perhaps the problem is that I am looking in the wrong place for my horror games. With the mainstream becoming more diluted it is in the indie space where the more experimental games are to be found, titles that are willing to sacrifice usability for atmosphere. One such game is The Path on PC and Mac from Tale of Tales.

pathThe Path feels more like an interactive narrative piece than what would conventionally be thought of as a game. It offers minimal options in terms of controls, offering only basic movement to players by means of the WSDA keys. The concept is a simple retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with you as the heroine. You walk the along the path to grandma’s house and can explore the woods where occasionally you will be stalked by ‘wolves’ which proves unsettling as all you can do is run, never really seeing your stalker. If on you journey certain prerequisites are achieved then you find your self in a twisted version of grandmothers house at the end of your journey. In grandma’s house your only option is to progress forward. You have no agency in your actions, just hammering the forward button as it walks you through Little Red’s nightmares. Simple and powerful it manages to be equal parts tranquil and horrific, it is an experience that proves interactive horror can still scare.

Broader markets will always lead to a dilution of the core. By focus testing the QA teams will reveal poor design and polish it out, while at the same time removing quirks that create atmosphere. It is probably a safe assumption that future ‘triple A’ survival horror games will be leaning heavily on the action adventure genre creating a new breed of atmospheric action games, the ‘Alien’ to ‘Aliens’ evolution of gaming. But as with everything that has proven popular there will always be someone continuing to cater for the niche audience. These titles may come from indie development teams in the downloadable space (like Tales of Tales), or from companies willing to experiment on systems such as Wii with its lower production cost. While the budget and recourses may not match those of their piers, the experience will still be out there for dedicated survival horror fans.

Motivation

September 7, 2009 by Alex Beech  
Filed under Articles

There was a time scores functioned as enough of a drive for players to feed the arcade cabinet their change. Games have progressed from those simple times. Today games have narratives and have to last for hours to justify their price to the consumer. They need numerous tools to motivate the player.

Some players want personal challenge. For them the motivation lies within mastery. They must perceive incrementally improvement in skill. The promise of achieving a personal best is incentive enough. Feedback and with positive reinforcement plays only a minute role in captivating players.

Larger game worlds typically require more substantial rewards. To force two artificial categories here; some are narrative driven, others do not. Successful presentation of a narrative can be enough to compel a player. The promise of seeing a new plot element, or location with new challenges is enough to keep a player motivated.

When the in game engine isn’t enough to convey plot frequently players are ‘rewarded’ with cut scenes. As the medium progresses and moves towards a more integrated narrative such devices will diminish. If used effectively such exposition can be used to create a cinematic effect but they are frequently just used as a reward with little relation to the plot.

Some rewards have in game applications. Driving games are a good example; earning or ‘buying’ upgrades and cars is regularly a reward in itself, independent of advantages they yield. A look at recent fighting games sees rewards in the ability to customize your fighter’s appearance. These changes are purely cosmetic, but drive players to continue.

I say ‘purely cosmetic’, but in fact it plays into two reemerging motivators. The meta-game is flourishing since the introduction achievements. This harks back to the high score. A measurable, visible achievement; it could be equated to the customization of a character. Combine to this the other reemerging motivation, competitive play, and the significance of these marks of accomplishment become all the more apparent.

While competition in games has always been a factor, the boom in online console gaming has reasserted it. When gaming first emerged the focus was the high score, judging your skill against faceless opponents. Online gaming has reawakened this. Suddenly visible records of skills need to be seen because the competition (and their score) is not.

Other players see gaming as escapism similar to movies and books. But what makes this kind escape more appealing to some people than these other media? The contention that being able to control the protagonist(s) encourages a connection is viable. Conversely movies and books usually present more consistent and involving characters as they are better able to exploit and control character’s exposition. What games have is feedback from the game world. For some people this creates an emotional investment beyond one that is passively experienced.

All games offer some form of feedback to encourage play. This encouragement and the sense of achievement it communicates, I suspect, creates a feeling of enjoyment even when it becomes challenging. In the best games were play mechanics and pacing are solid these elements combine to elevate the experience. In many games these fundamentals are not perfectly established. It is in games, where the fundamental mechanics are not satisfactory, that players feel frustration. They aren’t enjoying the game but feel compelled to play to see the next motivator.

The Top 5 Dos and Don’ts of Top 5s on Gaming Blogs.

September 7, 2009 by Alex Beech  
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Blog

At this point it is widely accepted that most members of the Internet generation have the attention span of a gnat in heat. We want our information now, and if it takes us more than two minutes to read and doesn’t have pictures then we cannot be bothered. It is a sad state of affairs that basically we have regressed to, (or maybe never matured from) our elementary school selves. I am not judging; I am as guilty as anyone. Hundreds of articles sit in my RSS feed waiting for me to look at their title and see if they are worthy of a cursory glance. We find ourselves clicking on a pandering article titled to get clicks, perpetuating the cycle by reaffirming that is the rapidly digestible that we desire, not engaging discourse.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as we do sometimes push ourselves with more involved articles. News doesn’t have to be given in lengthy prose, and even generic boilerplate articles have merit if the content is interesting and appropriately framed. I have no problem with reading opinion pieces as long as it is clearly labeled and not filled with hateful bile, and when I am in a hurry I would rather have articles distilled into summaries, lists or bullet points.

See that, I don’t mind bullet points or lists. Even the top fives that liter the world of game blogs can be entertaining in moderation. The problem is it is so easy make them that you see more everyday, and it is becoming frustrating. They generate more interest than numerous well-written considered articles based purely on a catchy title and reader’s desires to contradict the author to feel superior. Sites churn out their lists without thought just for the clicks and all to the same generic formula.

‘The Top/Bottom/Best/Worst 5 X (on/in) Z’ – the addition of a year is optional.

(Where X=anything you fancy and Z=platform or time period)

It should be noted I am not (just) banging on the little guys. Even the big sites do it because of the guaranteed traffic. So, in a fit of self loathing I though I would prostitute myself for clicks with a ‘Top 5 Dos and Don’ts of Top 5s on Blogs.’

5 – DO ask people in the online community for their ideas.

It is simple advice. If you are looking to compile your ‘Top 5 Worst Mini-Game Collections on Wii’ and you only know five mini-games its is time to do some research. Ask people online don’t just write about the five you have played like you are an authority. That article would be called ‘5 Mini-Games I played that Sucked (on Wii)’ which actually sounds like a fun article, try that one instead.

4 – DON’T pass of you opinion as definitive.

This really follows on from the last point. If you know you have not tried the majority of titles don’t suggest that you are an authority. Even if you have, unless you have some form of empirical evidence to support your claims it is always better make the fact that its your sole opinion clear. I know it’s tempting to use passive voice, how much more professional it seems. It is easily avoided, simply using ‘I’ or ‘my’ will go along way rather then ‘the’. You can even state explicitly state the fact it’s your opinion in the opening if you want to, but remember…

3 – DON’T expect people to read your text.

The majority of the Internet will only read your title and your five choices. As I said in the opening (if you read it) people want their information short and fast. In good cases translates to them scanning your text, but in most cases it means that they will only read the nicely indented one-liners that make up your choices before declaring that you are wrong with out reading your justifications. In fact I half wonder why I am bothering with this part…

2 – DON’T add an item just to pad out the list.

Occasionally you have a legitimately good idea for a list (and often you will just want to install the virtues of a game you like). For this example lets say that we want to write the ‘Top Five Games With Cake In Ever’ list (because you like Portal).  You start off strong with Portal, Cooking Mama and ‘Splosion Man, then you start to run out of steam so you turn to Google. First hit yields you a number of free to play flash games (yes, I have checked) and then a pile of DS games such as Strawberry Shortcake the Four Seasons Cake (I have no idea if it any good but it exists, and it has cake it.) Soon you find yourself seriously considering such titles to fill out the last two spaces rather that adding something of value or making it a top 3.

1 – DON’T listen to me.

That’s right. I am no more qualified than anyone else to tell you how to write or what to write about. If you have a good idea for a then write it. But I would request that you don’t write because you have to but because you want to. If you are writing for a blog then you will have to produce regular content, and sometimes you won’t be feeling inspired but never write about something you don’t care about. As long as you enjoy the subject and the writing it will show. Don’t worry about all the negative members of the audience; you shouldn’t be looking for validation or traffic but the satisfaction of the craft. That said if you just want eyes on your site I have an article about cake here somewhere.

Honorable mentions (or ideas I didn’t want to expand) go to – ‘DON’T publish anything if you and your mum think it blows’ and ‘DON’T go in with a bias/hate campaign’.

That is my top five. Notice that it is pretty hard to disagree with all of them, but I am sure some of you will find a way. If you have more I am happy to read them, or at least title, as more ideas can only serve to improve the quality of my writing and that of others.

Activision and the Rising Price of Retail Games

September 1, 2009 by Alex Beech  
Filed under Articles

Bobby Kotick is an interesting chap isn’t he? CEO of arguable the most software publisher in the world overseeing games like Modern Warfare, Guitar Hero and now even World of Warcraft. It is no wonder the guy pulled in fifteen million dollars last year, doing is doing a simply fantastic job looking after his investor’s interests. It seems that his is a virtuoso of gaming business, but perhaps someone needs help him with his PR now and then.

During recent question and answers session between analyst Tony Gikas and Activition Blizzard’s executives holiday releases Kotick chipped in with a single glib comment. It was this one sentence that caught the Internets collective eye. On a question regarded the pricing of their festive line-up in light of the premium being placed on Modern Warfare 2 and the bump associated with all their other plastic paraphernalia based games Kotick felt the need to contribute to Publishing head Michael Griffith’s response, with this little nugget “…you know if it was left to me, I would raise the prices even further.” You have to wonder if he knew someone was recording the session, right?

Everyone went crazy. Part of their reaction was tied to the fact that it would hit their wallets directly. At a time when many are struggling to make ends meet and trying to manage their holiday budget to include a new piece of over-priced plastic gaming paraphernalia Kotick`s responses seems at best seems naïve, at worst exploitative.

The strange thing is in a way Kotick is right. Development costs continue to increase as the technology improves. High definition gaming increasing art overheads, online requiring extra production time and QA costs and of course the increasing complexity companies need a way to ensure they are going to recuperate their investment. If any company is concerned their title will not make its money back unless the price point is higher then they absolutely have every reason to alter their financial model.

Unfortunately for publishers who would like to try this during the first generation of Playstation and the inception of optical media storage game prices have become more or less standardized. Gone are the days of magic SFX chips hidden in cartridges that enabled developers to charge for the physical edition to the games storage medium. Consumers seemingly only acknowledge the delivery method of their entertainment and not the development cost or quality. With the standardization of price companies could no longer form a business model that could accommodate niche games for a smaller audience by altering the price accordingly.

This system though, of standardized price regardless of quality, rewards rehashing ideas and recycling assets. Some companies of course strive for innovation, but many have failed, as their game either didn’t have the brand recognition of their franchised brethren or the advertising budget of a big company.

The EAs and Activisions churned out sequel after iterative sequel, it was only recently that more involved gamers started to beg for innovation. But any innovation is a gamble, especially for a publicly traded company. Kodick even spoke to this fact saying ‘A small segment of very vocal gamers say everything has to be new and different every year. Actually, people are happy with existing franchises, provided you innovate within them.’ While this is the response of a CEO concerned only with the money and not the art of gaming, it does hold a grain of truth. Small new intellectual properties frequently struggle to be noticed, even if they are of a comparable quality to an established product. Thus if you remove all of Kodick’s comment from him and instead impose them on a smaller struggling developer, or even a publisher that is willing to back innovative projects they seem more reasonable.

Look to a game like Mirror’s Edge. While it was a game which was admired for what it attempted it was undeniably flawed and failed to capture the attention of many other titles in the same period, limiting sales and profit for EA. Many players of the original though would like to see a sequel to see if developers Dice could reach the potential the game displayed. In the current market with new top tier titles unable to break from the established pricing structure their hands are seemingly tied. Without the ability to form a price model that could accommodate the games development by increasing the price for early adopters, but supporting them later in the games life cycle with promises of free additional content where late comers would have to pay.

Some of Activision`s current Holiday season line up do actually appear to be experimenting with this model. Though much of the increased pricing is hidden in the plastic extras required to play the games. Tony Hawk: Ride and the new skateboard peripheral will retail at $120 in America. While some of that $60 represents the cost of the board and its development, much of it also represents the risk they see in it. With the weight of advertising and the Tony Hawk brand behind it the chances of it failing are slim, but the increased price of the bundle means that they are going to have to sell far fewer units to start turning a profit.

Profit is of course the sticking point. The cry goes up that it is about making back the money for development but it doesn’t seem like something Activision really has to worry about. Their titles are franchised, they have savvy marketing teams and the budget to ensure that their titles will be recognized by every mother entering a store come October. Even in the unlikely event of one of their products selling absolutely zero units, the rest of their releases would at least ensure that they don’t loose money. But they are a business and they want to make as much money as the market will bear. Many regions have to suffer a price bump in Modern Warfare 2. The stated reason for this is the cost of development, but is that a fair explanation when you know sales are going to be enough to completely cover the development? I don’t feel so.

There is a case of course for developers using the big budget titles to support smaller niche products. While no company is going to make a game they know is going to fail, they are more likely to take risks or invest in a lower profit venture if they have their metaphorical backs covered by a sure fire hit. When companies state this as a reason for their pricing however they become accountable. They have to produce something original and inventive if they don’t want to lose their public support. Unfortunately few companies seem likely to make this promise to their customers in the current market on products which are so expensive and time consuming to create.

We need to realize as consumers that with the current technology we play on in the present financial climate we may have to start buying things for more than we are currently comfortable with if we want the quality to be maintained. But not everything, companies should be free to price as they see fit according to their projected sales to development cost. Of course some degree of profit should be built in but when a company is seen to be deliberately price-gouging products they know will be a financial success that is when it is time to put your foot down.

Perhaps the only real problem with Kotick`s statement is that it is unpalatable coming from a man who can afford to buy 116,667 copies of Tony Hawk: Ride, and still have a million dollars pocket money and from the richest company in the industry. You have a right to be mad at the man especially if you are buying `his` games this Christmas, but you also have to accept that the essence of what he says is true.

Written by: Alex Beech