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Journalists Make Video Games Worse


Gaming by media is a recipe for crappy games and crappier consoles

When will the video game world learn to block out unsolicited suggestions from journalists about the direction of the industry?

Time and time again we hear from the so-called “elite” writers of tabloid press outlets (like Kotaku and Polygon) about where billions of dollars should be invested by game publishers and console makers. Worst still are the executives that actually seem to listen to this advice.

Facebook launched “Facebook Platform” to developers back in 2007 which allowed apps to be made within the social network. It wasn’t long before games started popping up and titles like Zynga’s Farmville became popular. And so the narrative turned to the suggestion that all publishers ditch home consoles for the sake of free-to-play games on Facebook.

You probably wish you hadn’t spend so much cash on a game that’s basically a rip off of Sim City and Harvest Moon

Zynga was massively successful to be sure, but thankfully some in the industry saw through the short term wins. While that company was preparing to launch on the stock market, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said he wasn’t too keen on taking advantage of that low hanging fruit;

“Consumers want to be entertained in a variety of ways, like watching TV or reading a book. The thing about entertainment — as consumers have a range of experiences — their desires for what’s new continues to be pushed out. So delivering the same experience all the time … consumers will move on.

So when I look at gaming experiences on social networks, there’s a variety of entertainment value. Some are strong, some are not. But in the end, how will they evolve? Doing the same thing over and over again is no longer fine.”

Of course, he was right. Zynga raised US$1 Billion when it hit the stock market but today its a shadow of its former self. As consumers exited the world of Facebook games en masse, the company had to rely on online gambling to make the bulk of its profits.

Zynga’s downfall (although, they still rake in $700m/year) was also catalysed by the “rise of mobile gaming”. This is another category journalists seem to be pushing publishers towards. For Zynga and others, the problem wasn’t the lack of consumers on this platform rather the gluttony of apps they have to choose from. With zero quality control measures in place from Apple or Google, anyone with a PC can whip up an app and clog up the search results. Consequently, quality titles get lost and forgotten while “free” apps that vampire your credit card reign in the top of the sales lists.

IGN and others were championing the use of mobile phone technology as a use case for home consoles. OUYA was a so-called “micro-console” founded by the ex-editor of IGN and used Android and its app store to play games on your TV. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, it had the tick of approval from all the major commercial gaming media outlets. The result was a product full of shortcuts, cheap plastic and failed promises. Gamers, it seems, don’t want to shell out money for a crappy phone that can’t call anyone to play games they don’t care about and never intended to download on their more expensive phones. Go figure.

Attention turned quickly to publishers like EA, Activision, Sony and Nintendo. “Go mobile or get out!” was the cry from journalists. Sony’s case is interesting as it actually produced its own line of smartphones including the Xperia Play, designed specifically around playing games. Sony also launched a development platform called “PlayStation Suite” (later renamed “PlayStation Mobile”) which was intended to lull consumers into a false sense of security with the promise that these smartphone games were on the same par as a PlayStation game. The platform shut down thanks to the lacklustre development support, the poor sales of the games, and the market failure of PlayStation Vita and PlayStation TV.

Not the future of gaming.

Unperturbed, journalists now insist Virtual Reality is the way of making sales in video games. Facebook’s Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are the two most likely to pop up in articles claiming doom on all the developers who refuse support. There’s even goggles one can strap to their smartphone to play these fantastic “look around sims” on the go. Of course, their novelty makes for a great Christmas stocking stuffer — especially and exclusively in the case of the cheap, Google Cardboard variety — but in general the gamers of the world have rejected the platform. Doing VR well requires whole room set ups and massively expensive PCs. PlayStation VR has a growing library of games with VR support, but has not been a commercial blockbuster as a platform. On average it sells about 100,000 units per month since its launch in October 2016 which puts it under the PlayStation Vita’s most optimistic sales rate of an estimated 170,000/month since launch.

There are successes in all these categories, of course but they always seem to be short lived, micro-termed successes. Does anyone really look back at Plants vs. Zombies with the nostalgic fondness they do of a game like Super Mario 64? How many VR roller coaster rides with compressed video artefacts are people going to sit through before it becomes a little sad?

What do gamers want? Gamers want good, old fashioned dedicated gaming devices to play their games. The runaway success of Nintendo Switch — which doesn’t even offer a means to browse the web — is testament to this fact. Seeing PC gaming as a category continue to rise is further proof. PlayStation 4 is still selling well despite a “premium” version being on the market.

Journalists might know how to get invited to product launches, industry parties and have unreleased games sent to their offices but too often they display a short sighted view on the video game industry. It’s the gamers that we all need to pay attention to, not the media.

Journalists Make Video Games Worse was originally published in Squish Turtle on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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