Each year, we ask, "Was this the best year ever for games?" A good deal of the time, our answer tends toward "Yes," with a few nostalgia-maniacs vehemently worshipping 1998 instead. "Oh, they're just raving fanboys," I've always thought of those stuck in '98. "Their opinions are rooted in so much misguided subjectivism that even a bulldozer couldn't budge them."
at the always-interesting Sexy Videogameland gave me some insight into another, altogether more-acceptable reason for gamers' unyielding grip on the past. The post, by Leigh Alexander, of course, took a look at our tendency to play a game once, shove it into a nice, dusty shelf corner, and leave it there with no hope of excavation. Why do we do this? Especially when, as Leigh pointed out, many of us were happy to bury months of our lives in a single game back in the day.
But the answer's simple, really: You're reading this column.
As a bleeding-edge gamer, when you're not playing a game, you're probably reading about other games -- basking in the ever-brightening glow of a new title's hype -- and getting yourself psyched to play them. This column, with its daily dose of the latest gaming news, only helps propagate this trend.
Really though, does it matter? As Leigh pointed out, our consumer-focused society breeds hit-driven industries. Movies, TV, sports -- you name it. "15 seconds of fame" is an apt phrase. So we're just like other media. Big deal. But I think it does matter. I think games, by virtue of their interactivity, are meant to break the typical, rapid-fire hype cycle. And that's why so many gamers love 1998. The year was chock-full of top-notch titles, but gamers still spent hundreds of hours with their favorites -- testing boundaries and pushing limits. Why? The hype train as we know it hadn't quite picked up steam. Print was still strong and the Internet wasn't the all-knowing force that it is today.
And therein lies the problem. As the gaming industry grows -- as the press expands and the hype train takes on new carts -- it defies its own potential. Someday, games will shrug off the shackles of linearity, but will gamers stick around to experience those trailblazers in different ways? Or will our own anticipation for The Next Big Thing get the best of us?
Today's Roundup details a couple of initiatives that could grab at gamers' ankles and never let go, but will they work? Can't say. But for now, my commentary will have to suffice. It's all past the break.
$60 is nothing to scoff at. That amount could feed you for a week, propel you for hundreds of miles (price of car not included), or even purchase 2.25 subscriptions to Maximum PC -- an incredible value! Yet publishers expect you to starve, stay at home, or not read MPC (!) just to buy a single game. How ridiculous is that? What if you could play games for free, and then plunk down a little cash from time to time if you like them? That very mindset, says Acclaim's David Perry, will drive Battlefield Heroes to become "a phenomenon."
"Could you imagine if you were to take Halo and offer it free-to-play? How much money do you think some people would spend on Halo if they had a huge array of items that they could buy? I recon there's a cap out at about USD 10,000. When you think about it, the most we ask for is USD 60 and when you get those people spending a lot of money it brings the average up. On Acclaim Games right now we average USD 75 per person," Perry explained.
It's the iTunes mentality, really. A nickel here, a dime there -- no one will notice. Simple psychology to be sure, but I'm with Perry: If EA does this right, we could be looking at a new, longer-term method of both reeling in consumers and sustaining games.
A history lesson: A few years ago, Silicon Knights licensed the Unreal Engine 3 in order to create their latest title, Too Human. However, Dyack and co. whiffed a fishy tinge to their deal with Epic and soon claimed that Epic had witheld a more complete version of UE3 for its own in-house games, leaving other devs to tinker around with outdated software. Naturally, Silicon Knights sued, and here we are. Or there we were -- more than a year ago. In a recent interview with Develop, Dyack broke the silence, sort of.
"Well the trial is proceeding, we feel really good about our claims, and we’re hopeful that justice will be done," he said. "We all feel really strongly that they have defrauded us, and a major portion of the industry."
Among other things, Dyack also discussed indie devs, Nintendo, Konami, Microsoft, and Canada. Definitely give the interview a read if you have the time.
Following in Neverwinter Nights' footsteps, Dragon Age will sport a versatile toolset. With any luck, BioWare will take another page from NWN's book and spotlight intrepid players' best creations. And if we rub our lucky rabbits' feet really hard, maybe BioWare will even drop a few modules in the pipeline for the recently announced console iterations of Dragon Age. But even if we stroke those rabbits' feet aflame, I doubt Microsoft will allow such mods on their favorite white box (hint: it's not your PC). Shame, that.
This is less of a dish-flinging divorce and more of a "Mwahahaha, you haven't seen the last of me!" EA obviously plans to keep a close eye on Take-Two while their stock prices draw ever closer to an inevitable splat, and then, when EA sees fit, they'll strike again.
The Hellgate-gate was an exciting tale full of twists and turns. Now, finally, after months of nail-biting suspense, here's the epilogue. The twist: it might just be longer than the story that inspired it. See for yourself.
I'm two-for-two with Olympic stories. Will I be able to hit Michael Phelps' magic number? Also, Rabbids are funny. Watch them.