In December of 2010, I wrote an article about five undesirable trends that have emerged in this current console generation. It’s the article that got me my job here at Piki Geek one year ago after the article made its rounds on Reddit. What better way to commemorate my first full year as a Piki Geek editor than to rant about five more trends from this console generation which have rubbed me the wrong way.
Unfortunately, this industry continues to churn out ill-conceived ideas and business strategies, mostly in pursuit of profit. Now that the end of this generation is within sight, with the Wii U already announced and rumors flying about new Microsoft and Sony consoles, I’ve come up with five more offenses that can be added to the existing list.
5. The Decline of Local Multiplayer
Right off the bat, we’ve got a big one here. The decline of split screen and local multiplayer wasn’t on the original list, and its absence was quickly pointed out by many. Worry not, I’m right there with you this time, as I too miss the days when local multiplayer was common.
Since the advent of online console gaming – admittedly a huge boon for this industry – games have been featuring local multiplayer less and less. Part of this, of course, is due to technical limitations, but that doesn’t really soften the blow. Sandbox games like GTAIV and Saints Row: the Third are simply too large to render twice on the same screen.
Some games that do have splitscreen multiplayer, however, seem to actively discourage it by making it ugly. Games like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Lost Planet 2 (pictured above) divide the screen into bizarre proportions, leaving large amounts of unused space onscreen. It’s as if they’re saying “Well, you could just play split screen, but just look at that tiny viewing space –you deserve better!”. And they’d be right – we do deserve better.
Thankfully, not everyone has forgotten how much fun can be had in a game with real friends in the same room. Games like the superb Rayman Origins allow people to drop in or drop out at the press of a button, though there is no online play at all in that particular example. The upcoming Trials Evolution handles the local multiplayer aspect admirably as well. That is to say, the online experience perfectly mirrors the local experience – simple to set up, and with no onscreen real estate gone unused.
4. “The Highlander Approach” To Marketing
Now, this technically goes back to the days of the old Nintendo vs Sega rivalry, with Sega proclaiming “We’ve got what Nintendon’t”. It’s also not exclusive to consoles, but screw it, it’s going on the list. I call it “The Highlander Approach” – whereby the manufacturers of one product try to make you believe there can be only one such product. These tactics have made a comeback in this generation, however the rivalry is not so much amongst console makers anymore as it is between publishers. The worst offender, by far, has been Electronic Arts, especially when it comes to Battlefield 3 or Star Wars: The Old Republic.
EA’s CEO, the ever outspoken John Riccitiello, had some choice bits of flamebait when discussing Battlefield 3 with CNBC. He proclaimed Battlefield 3 as “a better game” than Modern Warfare 3, and that “I could have pulled our game and moved it into August or January. I picked their launch window, on purpose, because, side-by-side, our game is better in so many ways”. I’m sure Modern Warfare 3’s launch window had nothing to do with the fact that Call of Duty games have launched in November for the past 6 years. Would it not have been enough to simply allow the game’s footage to speak for itself?
And then we’ve got Star Wars: The Old Republic (a game I’m very much enjoying, by the way). Rather than talking up the game’s merits on their own terms, EA Games boss, Frank Gibeau, saw fit to take aim at the industry leader, World of Warcraft, in an interview with MSNBC. He stated, “When I play World of Warcraft, you go and get your quests, and you go and do your quests, but it feels more like doing a shopping list at times. [Our game] is more about talking to characters, learning what’s going on, investing in it, getting emotionally attached to it. You can still go in accessible ways and grind out quests if you want, but at the same time there’s a higher-level story that’s carrying you through ‘The Old Republic.’”
By inviting comparisons like this, EA is only setting themselves up for derision. If you’re David, you don’t talk shit to Goliath – you just throw that stone and hope it hits its mark. Comparing SW:TOR to WoW is as unnecessary as it is foolish. The Star Wars brand will practically sell itself. Just don’t tell that to good old John Riccitiello, who said TOR’s voice acting and dialogue would make WoW look like a silent movie by comparison. Stay classy, EA.
3. HD Remakes and Collections
The way you feel about HD remakes and collections depends entirely on your level of nostalgia. Me? I’d rather look forward than back. Unfortunately, many publishers seem to disagree with me on that point these days, and are only looking to make a quick buck off of your nostalgia rather than make forward progress. It has become an epidemic in today’s industry.
Most of these HD remakes are not, in fact, remakes at all. They’re exactly the same games you played last generation, only in higher resolution. They’re glorified ports, and little else. The problem is, most of these games were not built with future hardware in mind, and as a result, end up managing to look worse than their standard definition counterparts, more often than not. Without the proper effort, all that an HD up-rezzing does is make it easier to notice a game’s flaws.
Some devs have managed to play the remake game the right way, fortunately. Just Add Water’s remake of OddWorld: Stranger’s Wrath is a great example of how a remake should be handled. New character models, textures, and remixed sound all combine to actually make it look and feel like a new game, rather than an old game being viewed through a new pair of rose tinted glasses.
2. The Decline of Rare
This is one that technically began in the previous generation, but has intensified greatly in the current one. When Microsoft purchased Rare from Nintendo back in 2002, people were understandably worried. Their fears were mostly justified, as Rare’s first two releases under the Microsoft banner were the lackluster Grabbed By The Ghoulies, and the similarly disappointing remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Things looked bleaker still when the launch of the Xbox 360 brought Perfect Dark Zero, Rare’s prequel to the original Perfect Dark, which turned out to be merely a mediocre shooter, at best. Kameo, also an Xbox 360 launch title, was only slightly better. Viva Piñata 1 and 2, however, were great games and I am in no way ashamed to admit that. Then came Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, which, while not a failure, did not quite live up to the series’ high standards.
And now, Rare has become the family friendly face of Microsoft, developing games like Kinect Sports and seemingly little else. For those of us who are long time fans of Rare, the possibility of new entries in series such as Killer Instinct, Battletoads, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, and Conker, are seeming less and less likely.
Online passes are meant to be the game industry’s counter to used game sales, which publishers are always bemoaning for the supposed hurt that such sales put on their bottom line. For the uninitiated, let me break it down. A new game will come with a redeemable code that you need to type in before you can access its online component. No big deal, right? Well, since those codes are only good for a single use, someone buying that same game – only used – will not receive said code. Instead, you’ll need to pay, generally between $5-$15 extra if you wish to play the game online.
While it’s one thing to exclude people from multiplayer (not everyone cares about multiplayer, after all), Online Passes are now being added to games that don’t even have multiplayer at all. In Batman: Arkham City, an otherwise fantastic game by all accounts, Catwoman’s entire storyline is excluded unless you buy the game new or buy an Online Pass. The same can be said for the upcoming Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which also locks away a handful of quest lines unless you buy new or shell out extra for an Online Pass. It’s an incredibly distasteful and underhanded means of getting people to pay extra for content that is already on the disc.
If publishers are really serious about undermining used game sales, they all need to come together with the major console manufacturers and work out better digital distribution deals. Steam is already the perfect example of this – games are frequently on sale, and even when they’re not, are usually cheaper than their boxed counterparts. If people see the option to buy a game on Xbox Live or PSN, and it happens to be cheaper and quicker than going to Gamestop, which do you think they’ll choose? And while we’re stating the obvious here, digital copies can’t be resold.
The bottom line is, publishers, if you don’t want us buying used games, make new games available online, day and date with their retail releases, and at a reduced price for cutting out the middle man. Online Passes just make you look even more out of touch than many people already make you out to be.