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Yes 2013 is dead, long live 2014. 2013, a year which saw the “next gen” become “current gen” and the “current gen” become “last gen” (Not that you could really tell the difference frankly). Meanwhile across the globe Nintendo was off doing…whatever it is they do, and millions of gamers referred to themselves as part of the “PC Master Race” all without a hint of self-awareness or irony.
And with the New Year upon us it seems life goes on much as it has this past age, with scarcely a sign of change to be found. Personally, this is a cause for consternation instead of celebration as -to be blunt- the games industry can be described as a hot mess. With problems springing up all over both sides of the creator/consumer coin, it’s high time that gaming as a whole started to buck its ideas up.
Now I’m not one for resolutions, so instead for the next two articles I’d like to present you with a wish list of 14 things I’d like to see happen over the next 12 months, which I feel would be good things for gaming and gamers overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the first seven of my New Year’s Gaming Demands.
1. The end of Pre-order/Season Pass culture
First on the chopping block is the increasingly crass and disheartening practice of Pre-Ordering and the SeasonPass. For the last few years now publishers, seeking to claw back as much capital from customers as quickly as possible, have taken to offering the option to Pre-Order your games weeks, even months in advance.
Now, under normal circumstances I could see why this is a fine idea, you’re excited for something, why not pay now to ensure you’ll be enjoying it come release day, and hey if it comes with a few neat little extras for doing so all the better right? Well, like with most ideas in this industry it has been shanked in the ribs and dragged into the gutter. Now, gamers are barraged with offers to “Pre-Order Now for EXCLUSIVE extra content (to be sold separately on or shortly after launch), or fancy “Collector’s Editions” containing the game, maybe an artbook, a soundtrack and some other bit of pointless tat not worth the expense. And then, on top of this there are MULTIPLE versions of the game to pre-order. Do you get the one with the toy AND the poster? Or the one with the toy, poster, making-of DVD AND special glow in the dark lithographic masturbatory aid sold only through specific retailers worldwide? It’s too much. Instead of being an extra incentive for the dedicated fans it has become an overbearing press of publishers desperately trying to get you to offer up as much cash upfront as soon as possible.
Which brings me to Season Passes. With a SeasonPass you can pay upfront (with only the tiniest slivers of information to go on) a flat price for additional content that will appear…at some point. Oh sure, it’ll be at a discount compared to buying each piece separately. However, beyond maybe telling you how many pieces of content the Pass nets you consumers aren’t told when they can expect their content, what the content involves or crucially, if the content is even worth the money in the first place. Coupled with games that release rafts of extra content not included in the Season Pass price just shows how, once again, they exist purely as a means for publishers to rake in as much money as quickly as possible whilst their game is still hot news. Rarely will you see ads for Season Passes after a game has launched. Often because by then if the interest hasn’t waned there is a good chance people will have played the damn thing and discovered that it wasn’t worth the money to start with.
2. Nintendo finally getting digital publishing and distribution
Nintendo have, somewhat unfairly, developed something of a reputation for being the stuffy old men of gaming; out of touch and seemingly alienated from today’s gaming audience. Now overall I don’t agree with this assessment. Yes, they are notoriously plundering their properties for nostalgia value, but they do manage to produce quality games (and it even seems like the Wii-U is starting to become a valid gaming option these days). However, there is one area in which they are woefully behind – that of digital publishing/retail.
Take a look at the eShop, on the 3DS or Wii-U. Their pricing is a mess. Far too high, with too few sales, even on older products that very few-if any-care about. Their reasoning for their digital pricing matching or even exceeding physical copies is that to sell them cheaper would “devalue their properties” in the eyes of consumers. Yeah.
On top of this, they still have yet to understand the basics of good customer service in the digital space. Now on PC or other consoles when you buy digitally your purchases are linked to an account, be it Steam, PSN, Xbox Live or what have you. This means that say your machine breaks, or you upgrade to a different model you can still access and re-download the digital content that you paid for from your new machine because those purchases are not tied to a single machine but a multiple device-spanning online account.
Nintendo however, feel that this isn’t the way to do this. No, instead any digital purchases you make are stuck on the machine you downloaded it to. So if you break your 2DS or get robbed and lose your Wii-U you lose ALL of your digital purchases with it. Oh sure, you can contact Nintendo and try and get them to let you re-download them on a new machine, but be prepared to have to jump through some pretty big hoops for them to even consider it.
3. A major release featuring a canonical LGBT protagonist
As I’ve said before, despite the progress made in the independent scene to champion diversity and inclusion of LGBT themes and individuals, the mainstream gaming industry is still far too shy when it comes to standing under the rainbow. Yes, there are games which give players the option of which team they want their avatars to bat for, and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us even made GLAAD’s list of Most Intriguing Characters of 2013 for including Bill, a gay side-character. Yet we are still bereft of representation in triple-A gaming as the capital P Protagonists. I want to see a studio have the balls to finally do the decent thing and feature a leading man/woman/anyone in between that doesn’t automatically fit the “hetero default” mould that dominates our popular culture.
It’s a New Year people, and the start of a new generation. Prove that the games industry is still willing to take “risks”, and embrace change and expression. Give us a gay Nathan Drake, a Transgender Lara Croft. I don’t care if it doesn’t “fit with the story” you are the story tellers; it’s up to you to make that happen. Plus if its money you’re worried about remember that publicity equals sales opportunities, not to mention a sizeable pink demographic hungry for some honest-to-god representation in this industry. I tell you now; if you build it we will come.
4. More inclusivity in the community
Coming off the back of the above point it is about damn time that the gaming community as a whole started opening its hearts and arms to those who aren’t white heterosexual males in their late teens/early twenties. In the last twelve months we’ve seen sexism; homophobia, transphobia and a potpourri of the ugliest shades of humanity coat the gaming world from both professionals and fans. Yes, often it is becoming more and more a case of a very vocal minority attempting to shout down anyone who dares challenge the way they view their hobby but still, time and time again these people manage to crawl out of the woodwork to attack anyone perceived as “different” who has something to say about the state of gaming.
To put it bluntly, this shit needs to stop. As hackneyed a statement as it is, we are living in the 21st century here. The time of women being made the target of hate campaigns because they made a video suggesting that there may be a gender bias in video games, or the constant condemnation and attempt to shout down any sort of LGBT representation as “unimportant” should be long over. Gaming is an evolving art form and part of that evolution is the ability to analyse and critically respond to it. By denying these discussions and demanding that everyone else “just go back to talking about video games” (Which, fun fact, they are and have always been), you are actively damaging the very pastime you claim to love and champion so much. Gaming is starting to grow up, this should be the year that the community does too.
5. A release date for Final Fantasy Versus XIII Final Fantasy XV
6. No seriously, give me a release date for that game
7. Next gen consoles having something worth playing
I know it’s still roughly in the launch period of a new console generation (Yes the Wii-U has been out over a year, but it is far from immune from this criticism), and as such we are in a situation where the best games for the previous consoles have been and gone, yet it’s too early for the really good games for the next generation to start to arrive. This kind of transitional state has always plagued console launches-every generation the launch libraries can be charitably described as “not living up to the console’s potential”.
Unfortunately, with the proliferation of independent PC-exclusive games, not to mention mobile and smart devices all taking bigger and bigger bites out of the consumer pie, consoles more than ever need to show strength right out of the gate.
I admit, despite my lack of interest when the PS4 rolled around, that I was caught up in the launch hype enough to want one, yet the knowledge of just how small the launch library was, with most games being simply more expensive versions of games for existing systems, and the few games that caught my interest being constantly pushed back until later in the year, led me to quickly ignore the ads telling me about how great and exciting the next generation of gaming is. So far it felt like more of the same, only less so, with the only platform that seemed to be providing what I want being the PC.
Now, ultimately I am a console gamer first and foremost, and despite modern devices looking more and more like inferior PCs I have hope for them, but a big part of that hinges on them offering up a strong gaming selection. All three console makers need to get things in gear, sure the Wii-U is starting to show promise, but when they are offering a cheaper handheld device with a far more interesting catalogue (that is also backwards compatible) they’re only ending up in competition with themselves.
Get it together guys, if you want consoles to sell, give us something to play. If the best you can offer is shinier sequels without fresh ideas or new properties for us to discover then when it comes to console gaming, I give it a year.