Every year in June, I sit down and watch as much of E3 as I possibly can. E3, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo and is a conference held in Los Angeles (I watch it online). It’s basically a place for all the biggest gaming companies to show off new technologies and computer games in development.
Actually, I’m not a massive gamer. Sure, I like games. I like them well enough to have written my dissertation on the similarities between games and theatre and I also like them well enough to consider gaming to potentially be one of the most powerful and fascinating mediums for storytelling in existence. But I simply can’t afford to keep up to date with the gaming world.
So why I sit and watch E3 every year, I’m not sure. I just enjoy it I guess. I find the air of excitement alluring and I can feel the passion that comes off from both developers and fans when something new is unveiled. I find each technological innovation fascinating even if I wont actually shell out for them myself. I find it inspirational (it’s no coincidence that I was writing my dissertation at this time of year!), compelling and just generally excellent.
But, and this is a big but: I always find the commercial side of it so frustrating. I actually would go as far as to say that commercial gaming represents the very worst of humanity. Yep, big claim, but I hold by it.
Last year I was appalled by the blatant propaganda apparent in most of the games announced. I actually began making a tally of the number of game trailers which began with a white man murdering a non-white man, usually a stereotypical terrorist. In the end, I gave up because pretty much all of them were thus. Propaganda in games has always been terrible, hence why I’ve boycotted Call of Duty and the like, but last year it was so distastefully paraded that I ended up feeling a bit sick.
This year, it was to be another kind of evil: Commerce itself.
Gaming has always been a competition between a few companies. Sony and Microsoft always battle it out to become the most powerful and preferred party while Nintendo plays hopscotch in the back garden. This used to be a sort of necessary evil as companies tried their damnedest to outdo the other in terms of technical innovation and quality of games. But this seems to be changing a bit now. That is, the battle is the same, but the tactics are different and they seem to me; dirtier.
Firstly, we have the concept of ‘exclusivity’.
Each console, Playstation and Xbox (I’m leaving out Nintendo on account of them playing hopscotch and not really bothering anyone), have had exclusive titles. That is, titles which are only available on their own consoles. I find this whole concept problematic to begin with.
This doesn’t exist in any other entertainment or artistic medium in the world. Can you imagine if films produced by Dreamworks had to be viewed on a Dreamworks player? Or seen only in a Dreamworks cinema?
Now, if something is made on a specific piece of kit and will only work on said kit, then fair enough. But what Microsoft and Sony are doing are buying up as many game publishers as they can and limiting games which could easily work on both consoles to just one, making sure the buyer has to buy that one. Sure, a game might work better on one machine than the other, but it should be the consumers choice which to get. Instead, that choice is being taken away from the consumer and if they are not willing to fork out for both, then they will simply loose the ‘privilege’ of playing certain titles.
The reason I feel that this is out of order is because the companies are not necessarily doing anything to earn their sale, they’re just creating a system which forces the sale. In this scenario, it is the consumer who suffers not the companies. No matter which company gets more sales or more followers, the real looser of the competition is the consumer because s/he must either submit to buy both or be be shunned by one.
I understand that each company must make money, however they should really have to earn it, not just try to force it out of the buyer. It should be the privilege of the company that a buyer has chosen to purchase their product, not the other way around.
And on that note, I am brought to my second niggle with the whole situation. Now this one mostly just applies to Microsoft at the moment, as Sony seem to be being at least a little bit considerate of the consumer…for now.
For a while these gaming companies have been playing a sneaky game with their products. For years, the gaming community has had a thriving market for pre-owned titles. Shops which trade in games for cash or credit and then sell them on…I think we all get the concept because it has existed forever, for every product imaginable. However, now gaming is becoming a much more complicated affair in this regard.
There are already safeguards up for certain games making the buyer of a pre-owned game suffer a penalty of sorts for not shelling out on a new, fully priced product. Perhaps certain content that is free with new copies has to be payed for in pre-owned ones. Now though, things are really going awry.
Microsoft recently made a few rather vague announcements that their new console will limit the sale of pre-owned games and along with it the prospect of lending a game to a friend. It’s still a bit vague exactly how this will all work, but it looks as though game publishers will be able to choose whether or not their games will be usable pre-owned. There is a possibility that they can be, however the buyer must pay a fee. This would mean that the price of pre-owned games in the shops would go up, not really making it viable to buy them pre-owned anymore. It would also mean that a friend would have to pay a fee to borrow a game from you.
Again, this doesn’t exist in any art form elsewhere in the world. I can freely lend books, art, DVDs or anything. And again, it is the consumer who is suffering because the company wants to maximize their income. It is pure commercialism with a blatant disregard for the consumer – Actually what it sounds like, is extortion.
I’m not even going to get started on the fact that it might be mandatory to be connected to the internet for online ‘checks’ every 24 hours else you loose the ability to play games…
All of this, shows the darkest, most careless side of capitalism. There is no care for the people actually paying to use these products and it really does seem as if we’re supposed to be privileged and thankful that these companies have blessed us with their technology. No, it should be the other way around. We’ll pay you for this stuff because you prove that our investment will be worth it. You deliver the very best product you possibly can, the most enjoyable and eye-blisteringly awesome games and you do it for us. Without the buyer there is no market, so why are gaming companies treating the buyer so badly?
It makes me sad because I genuinely believe in games. I believe that they could be the most innovative, beautiful and wonderful medium for artists and storytellers in the world. They have already proved that they really do have the capacity to transport the spectator to another world, to make the spectator’s own journey the real story of the piece. But at the time being, I feel like I’m getting kicked in the face by a business man who’s pointing at my wallet and laughing the whole time I’m trying to go on this magical journey.
A few things have been forgotten here. Firstly, art has been forgotten. There are some tremendous and wonderfully talented artists working in games today, but I feel as though their work is being bastardised by the commercial aspect of gaming. Also, the audience is being forgotten, I don’t mean the audience as in walking £££ signs, I mean the human beings who will involve themselves in the art of the game and take something from it.
To end; Jerzy Grotowski said of theatre: In order to exist theatre needs at least a performer and a spectator. These are the two most important elements bar none. The same is true for games; you need the game and the gamer. Without the gamer the game is meaningless. Irrelevant. Worthless. The gamer is the one who brings the game to life, who experiences it and remembers it.
It would do these big companies good to remember this.