Category Archives: Opinion

GamerGate – Welcome to games-journalism

I’ve been quiet lately. Illnesses and time in hospitals are partly to blame, but so has “GamerGate”, the elephant in the room that I’ve been reluctant to talk about.

GamerGate is a mixed-bag of intractable stuff, much of it (at best) misguided, and (at worst) ridiculous and offensive. Whatever its ostensible mission, it has had the effect of chilling speech, and causing many female games-writers and games-developers to consider another career, or to fear for their safety and that of their families.

I’ve not wanted to talk about this, because I’ve already gotten a dose of that treatment myself, and it is more or less inevitable that even the slightest criticism of GamerGate will likely generate more. Nevertheless, there are things that I feel need to be said.

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Strippers versus Evil

Strippers versus evil

There are some games that make me purely ashamed to call myself a gamer. Every entertainment industry has its share of tripe, but in gaming, some of it can be really easy to spot.

The quality of a game is generally inversely proportional to the quantity of breast tissue visible in its advertising and promotional artwork.

It ain’t always so, but that’s sure the way to bet.

Traditionally, Deep Silver’s Sacred 2: Fallen Angel was the go-to example of that, for me (it’s not the only offender, and not even the worst, but I’m singling it out, here). Scantily-clad female characters with breasts as large (or larger) than their heads, bouncing and jiggling their way around the countryside to save the world in ‘armour’ (and I use the term advisedly) that would hardly be out of place in a strip-club, and that just seemingly gets scantier and more lingerie-like as its protection increases.

Puh-lease!

Because heck, a woman can’t go out to battle evil unless she looks like an itinerant underwear model, right? I mean, who is going to face giant spiders or a goblin shaman without stocking up on thigh-stockings, suspender belts and high heels?

To be fair, starting out, at least you get to look like a high-school-girl cosplayer, but it doesn’t take long before the mini-skirt has to go, to be replaced by a g-string.

Worse, I actually liked the game to which this was the regrettable sequel. Quite a bit.

Now, I don’t have an issue with the human body – like most people, I’m pretty fond of them, and I like looking at them, with and without clothes on. I think I can confidently say that you and I both, dear reader, are happy with the overall idea of seeing more naked human bodies in future. That’s all a part of being an adult and having an endocrine system, I’m sure.

That’s not really the problem that I have here.

It’s not even like X-COM: Apocalypse, the third iteration in the X-COM series, where there must have been some bet going as to just how many depictions of female and male genitalia that the art department could work into the in-game artwork without the publisher … errr … let us say “cock-blocking” it (congratulations are in order, I suppose, because it was a lot!).

And even that isn’t my problem.

What the problem is, is that it is demeaning.

Not just that it is demeaning to women – which it most obviously is – but that it’s demeaning to Deep Silver, to (the now defunct) Ascaron who developed it, to the artists, marketers, producers, designers who worked on it, and especially to the games industry (as a whole) and to gamers, to whom they apparently thought this sort of thing would be of broad appeal.

If I had this game in my work history, I’d leave a gap in my CV. I wouldn’t want anyone to know.

Now that I’m done singling out Sacred 2, additional exhibits are – alas – not nearly as uncommon as I’d like. Scarlet Blade comes immediately to mind, or League of Angels.

Now, I’m not saying that demeaning crap like this can’t be made. Freedom of speech and expression cuts both ways. It’s easy to grant that right to speech and expression that we like, agree with and approve of.

It’s when you find the speech and expression to be appalling, offensive and antithetical to your very sensibilities that you have to take a breath and remember that that kind of speech and expression has all the same rights.

That said, I’d like it if some of the people responsible for this sort of thing were to just sit back, take a breath of their own, and consider having some darned respect for women, for gamers, and for the gaming industry.

For a change.

King of the hole

A collection of banknotes and coins from various countries

Over the past several years, there have been three major players in the console market, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony.

A console-maker has a number of avenues for drawing revenue from its console. It charges for console development kits, and code-signing, which allows it to pull a share of all third-party games revenue. It can charge network subscription fees to draw ongoing revenue from the console’s customers, it can produce its own first-party games with a greater margin than third-party developers, and – of course – it sells the actual console hardware and accessories. In short, the console-maker has the most opportunity to pull revenue from every part of the console ecosystem.

So, how much actual profit does that amount to for a console-maker? Well, in the case of Microsoft and Sony, the simple answer is none at all.

Sony’s console division hasn’t generated any profit since the Playstation 2, and Microsoft’s console division has never made a profit.

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Guns, violence, video-games, and the media

"Don't blame [GTA San Andreas logo], 'cos it ain't San Andreas' fault"

Within mere minutes of any mass-shooting, the media (and assorted interest groups) are keen to tell you why the shooter(s) did what they did. In the recent shooting at Sandy Hook, Newtown, Connecticut, everyone was keen to explain in detail exactly why Adam Lanza murdered a bunch of people and then killed himself.

Of course, since (at the time) they didn’t even have the right name, the various motivations espoused for Lanza’s killing-spree were nothing more than purest fabrication. Fantasy and lies, basically. If anyone actually has gotten it right (and the truth will probably never be known) then it was only by accident – not by any great feats of journalism, investigation, facts, statistics, or deductive reasoning.

Violent video-games (in fact, just video-games generally) once again take pride-of-place as the culprit for this incident, and that’s demonstrably a load of hooey. I won’t try to tell you why Adam Lanza (or many of these other mass-shooters) did what he did, or what would have made things better – I don’t have authoritative information on that – but I can show you that video-games are not to blame.

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The final choice is the weakest choice

An image of the complex narrative tree for kono yo no hate de koi wo utau shoujo YU-NO, a visual novel game by games developer ELF - image source unknown

The release (and reaction to) Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 gave me an occasion to talk about game endings and the sorts of narrative cop-outs that arise from them. Now, Mass Effect 3 has had an “extended cut” of its endings, and I’m going to take that as a cue to do an extended cut of talking about narrative choices.

In short, of all of the choices presented in an interactive narrative, the final choice is almost always going to be the weakest choice.

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The financial GAAP

Financial reporting is a part of this complete breakfast.

Financial reporting from games-publishers often makes for interesting reading. Almost always, you’ll see things quoted like “non-GAAP earnings”, and “non-GAAP net sales” and so on, accompanied by some substantially large dollar figures.

So, what actually is GAAP reporting? Well, there are two major systems of financial reporting. One is the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and the other is Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) which is used in the USA. GAAP is a collection of rules and principles about how a company reports its income, sales, losses, assets and overall financial operations.

The principles of GAAP are: regularity, consistency, sincerity, permanence of methods, non-compensation, prudence, continuity, periodicity, Full Disclosure/Materiality, and Utmost Good Faith.

So, what’s non-GAAP reporting? Well, non-GAAP reporting pretty much means that one or more of those principles isn’t being observed.

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Garage Renaissance

It’s not that long ago that games industry folks were acknowledging (or in some cases, lamenting) the end of the age of the ‘garage’ games developer. The one-person (or occasionally two- or three-person) team who could put a game together, and sell it.

Back when I was younger almost all games fell into that category. Garage developers either self-published, or sold their games to publishers. Developers and publishers and retailers made money (or they didn’t).

Then games got more expensive to develop and required more manpower. Ten people. Twenty. A hundred. Two hundred. Thousands of dollars to develop a game became tens of thousands, became what is now often millions of dollars, and the developers’ relationship with publishers changed.

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Elder Scrolls? Huge fan

As much as I can be said to be a fan of anything terribly much, I’m a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls series of games by Bethesda/Zenimax (even if some aspects of the gameplay have been on the decline for the last three of them).

Now, it’s no surprise that they’ve been working on an Elder Scrolls MMOG – that news has been trickling out of the company for years in fragments. As a huge fan, I just can’t see myself wanting to play the game.

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A satisfying ending

A number of games feature multiple endings to their narratives. Right off the top of my head, I’ll name four: All three of the Deus Ex games, and Mass Effect 3. These come particularly to mind for a singular gaming conceit: The magic pick-an-ending button.

Regardless of what you’ve done, how you’ve developed and defined your character’s personality, who has lived and died, who you’ve befriended or opposed, you’re presented with three choices right at the end. Press the button (so to speak) and get the ending.

In narrative terms, that’s a cop-out. That isn’t even phoning it in.

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Hatters gonna hat

I’m a social gamer. This doesn’t mean that I play what are commonly called “social games”, because generally, they aren’t actually social, and while they might be compelling to some – particularly to those whose experience with electronic entertainment is a bit limited – they’re not generally a lot of actual fun.

No, I’m a social gamer. I like to communicate about games. I like to talk about them. I like to write about them. I like to have enjoyable cooperative gaming experiences with my friends and family – in the same room, if at all possible. I also like to just play them.

That’s the sort of social gamer I am.

Now, here’s the sort of social gamer that I am not

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