The year is coming to a close and this is the part where most sites look to the past, to the other 11 months that came and went and decide which of the titles released is the best of the year in a vast variety of categories, with or without use input.
I did a bit of that last Friday but as I mentioned, I don’t do that sort of thing and I generally find it short-sighted, but after a month of intense FPS-ing, I just had to talk about these games.
But what I will do for the close of the year is talk about two things I’m terrified by in the gaming industry, trends that should they continue to evolve—or devolve—as they have in the past year, then much of my goodwill and respect for the industry will disappear, eroded by greed and a lack of creativity.
I’m a cynic, I know it, especially when it comes to industries, standards and customer interactions. When it comes to the gaming industry, I assume the worst, knowing that somewhere down the pipeline of a game’s release someone is doing something to screw us over.
That’s the greed portion of it, the second though comes from sheer laziness in my opinion, from a desire to make something fast instead of doing it well, of catering to nostalgia without giving a title its own identity, its own soul.
I think by now you can tell which of the many things inherently wrong with this industry I have on my mind, but let’s get to it anyway.
Reviews, Embargoes and Releases: This is the one getting on my nerves the most.
Before I got into writing reviews, I used to be one of the many reading them to find out if a game was as good as advertised or if all the marketing was the usual deceptive lights show. I remember reading reviews before the game’s release, at least a day before, sometimes even more with reviewers receiving the appropriate time to complete the games and formulate their arguments.
By the time I got into the game, as it were, the “appropriate time” was much shorter, with review codes arriving at most two weeks before release. In the years since starting this lovely site of mine, I’ve seen the time reduced over and over. It used to be that indie developers had the most respect for the press—and confidence in their titles—to give the critics enough time. But now even they follow the trends set by the AAA industries.
Part of this issue is that most companies don’t have in-house PR but rely on the same handful of firms, and these teams are all about controlling the message as much as possible, about making sure that we all listen to their song until the first few dissonant tunes creep in with independent reviews.
And that’s without mentioning how many people they pay to provide positive coverage. But that’s another and much longer and bitter article.
During this year, I’ve received codes on launch day for expansive role-playing games that forced me to play well into the night and sacrifice my already precariously balanced social life just so I could have a timely review.
Worse still are those codes received in a timely manner but with embargoes that go past the game’s actual release. Mekazoo, a game I have praised a few times already, had a release date on Steam of about 8 in the morning, London time, but the embargo for it didn’t lift until 4 in the afternoon. It was still during launch day, which is how I’m sure the PR people will explain it to convince people they are not shady—they are—but hours past the actual release, controlling the message just a little bit longer.
I’m getting tired of it, and many times I’ve resisted the urge to release my review at the time I very well damn please, even if it’ll cost me, even if I’ll never receive another review code. But with the last couple of reviews this year I’ve had to push back the schedule at the last minute—literally—just because they decided to change the release date at the last second. It leaves me scrambling for something to post on the day and thoroughly annoyed.
We’re taught to respect the embargoes, to respect the developers and the PR people that represent them, but only a handful of them respect the critics. I’ve had the pleasure to interact with some of the best, their dedication only matched by their honesty, but on this year alone I’ve also had the displeasure of dealing with the worst, the shady vultures of the public relations world.
On 2017, as a rule I will most definitely refuse games if I even think they embargo is shady. Considering most of them are, it means my reviews will return to the way they used to be, about already-released games that I pick up and play on my own.
I hope the trend changes but I’m realistic and know they won’t. In fact, with Bethesda announcing they won’t send review codes until the last minute, to hide the fact their games are broken messes–hinging the argument on DOOM, a game only published not developed by them—and with more developers and PR firms pushing for this approach, I can only see things getting much, much worse.
Something will have to give and it’ll most likely be critics breaking stupidly conceived embargos and dealing with the fallout.
Nostalgia Drivel: I think it’s about time the gaming industry, and I mean indie for the most part, moved away from the 80s and never looked back again.
I liked the retro wave when it started, as it meant that most developers looked back at the best things of the industry’s past—particularly Nintendo, Konami and Capcom’s greatest hits—and used them to build modern games with some of those awesome elements.
But it seems like indies can’t get away from this and the number of games released that only have nostalgia as their selling point is reaching ludicrous levels. Every week I receive at least four different press release emails telling me about some new indie game “paying homage” or developed as a “love letter” to some “old-school” “classic” of the 80s (or early 90s at the latest). The quoted words and terms are what I now collectively call Nostalgia Drivel and I’m tired of it, sick of it in fact.
Take a game I’ve been struggling with for a couple of weeks already, not because it’s challenging but because of how tedious it is in its unoriginality and lack of creativity: The Beard in the Mirror. Of course, it’s a retro-style point & click adventure game—the genre most firmly stuck in the past these days—with not a single element of innovation.
I used to write for a site that had “Innovation” as one of its review metrics and I argued in the past that it wasn’t necessary, but these past two years have made me change my mind on that one, going through so many bland titles that hinge on nostalgia alone to get across.
Worst thing is, I already know that 2017 will have even more of them, with pixelated graphics and old-school mechanics—all of them—but without a soul or even an identity. I’m looking at a future of classic game patchworks, bits a pieces torn from the gaming industry’s greatest hits but without the compelling elements that made them what they are.
I can only hope that for every dozen of these nostalgia shovel-ware games I get one good or experimental title.
I’m not entirely against nostalgia. I’m not, but you must give me something more, something unique, something new. Set the game apart from its inspirations and lookalikes. Take an upcoming game called Mainlining. It has pixelated visuals and tickles the nostalgia bone by giving you an interface reminiscent of Windows 95, but it uses this to turn you into an MI7 hacker and that is pretty damn unique!
Is it too much to ask that we stop writing love letters to the past and start romancing the future again?
Gaming in 2017 shows promise, both good and bad. Remakes will come, of course they will, as will remasters and rereleases—most of them from Tim Schafer and Double Fine. But the above two are my gripes with the industry and I just can’t see them getting any better, only worse, until I have a psychotic break and storm E3 in my underpants, taking over a stage and telling people what I think.
Or more realistically, I’ll fume and drown my sorrows in articles and good games!