Seems I’m not alone

I’ve promised myself that I won’t get caught too deeply in the trap of ‘blogging about my blog’. I may be new to this, but I know that I want to be self-confident without being an arrogant sycophant who is obsessed with how many site hits he’s getting.  I also know that I’ll only end up writing a personal journal on my thoughts of gaming and the gaming industry if I don’t reach out to others and actually network with those who might also share the kind of relevant information that I want to share. May as well start here.

I’ve stumbled upon Mobius over at Blogspot and was surprised to find a post written about Modern Warfare 2 and the PC vs Console debate that parallels almost exactly with my feelings on the topic. Furthermore, Mobius seems to cover many of the same subjects that I wish to.

Nothing is more gratifying then to see someone else independently verify your own sentiments in public, and I would like to do the same in return.

tl;dr: Shout out to Mobius for an article I agree with.

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Entitlement

You’ve got to love the PC vs Console debate, so much angst and gnashing of teeth as to whether or not it is preferable to enjoy the gaming experience on a couch with a controller, as opposed to sitting at a desk with a mouse and keyboard.  Recent newslines in various gaming blogs and other sites have only exacerbated this debate, specifically the launches of Left 4 Dead 2 and Modern Warfare 2.

One phrase I’ve read multiple times … repeated to the point that it sounds like a political talking point is “… PC gamers have such an [adjective] sense of entitlement …”. Being a PC gamer, this grates on me a bit, as I’m being actively called out in a collective statement.

This begs the question however. Do I have a sense of entitlement when it comes to the games I play?  Damn right I do.  I feel entitled to receive a quality product in return for the money I pay, knowing full well that I have little to no options as to return or refund. Furthermore, I’ll be very, very lucky to have an opportunity to play a demo of the product before I make this irrevocable purchasing decisions.  All I have to go on are trailers, game play previews and reviews, none have which have been completely successful at predicting how much I would actually enjoy my purchase.

Let’s put all this into context concerning the two controversy’s that have come up as of late.  I’ll start off by saying that I have purchased L4D2 … and I have not purchased, or pirated Modern Warfare 2.  I refuse to pirate for the simple reason that it would rob me of intellectual honesty when arguing the case for games developed for the PC. Yes, I’m that narcissistic, and I have the money to actually pay for the games I play.  I have not participated in a boycott for either of those games as actions speak louder than words.

When Left 4 Dead launched, I was pleased … the actual game play had the same polish and love that I had come to expect from Valve titles. However, I had some reservations.  It was a Source game that felt like it had been partially redesigned with the console in mind … which it was.  The server browser was gone, replaced by an initially irritating matchmaking system.  The console was still there, and the server browser (albeit modified) and mod support came in time, but there were definite misgivings and alarm about the fact that Valve was starting to cater to the console.

Let me get one thing straight, I don’t hate consoles, but there’s a lot of bad blood with me over the fact that many quality developers who used to make quality games for my platform, had either voluntarily switched to the console gamer as the primary intended audience, or done so at the behest of a gaming publisher.  In too many cases, PC franchises suffered for it.  System Shock to Bioshock, Deus Ex to Invisible War.  At this point there are precious few AAA developers who put a priority into optimizing PC versions of their games.  Valve is at the forefront of those that do … a proverbial last bastion of PC gaming.  ID, Epic, Maxis, Blizzard and many others have switched focus to developing multi-platform titles … with results of varying quality.

The very thought that privately owned Valve might follow in this trend was worrying … as I see very little in the way of PC exclusive content coming out of any of the other AAA developers.  But I kept quiet (for the most part, I still bitched about matchmaking) … I trusted Valve.

Then Left 4 Dead 2 was announced … and oh boy, was that a firestorm of outrage from the PC faithful.

For those of you who don’t understand what all the big fuss was about, Valve takes care of it’s customers, relies on consumer feedback, and takes FOREVER to release a game. I’m talking a five to ten years for a full title launch. Valve had a very clear commitment to quality.  The episodic content for Half-Life was a new and fresh idea that was welcome, as it got good content into our hands much faster and continued the story.  To see a full sequel title announced to launch nary a year after the first game was a surprise. Even bigger was the fact that they would be using the same game engine to simply add more campaigns, weapons and special infected and slapping a sequel numeral at the end of it.

Yes, yes, they promised us support like we were used to receiving for TF2, new weapons and nifty features for free, I got over that “broken promise” in a hurry. What was really troubling was the reason for this move.  Microsoft does not allow content DLC available for XBox 360 titles without forcing gamers to pay for it.

I respected that Valve was trying to co-develop a title for PC and console equally, but in the process it had painted itself into a corner.  Valve would badly damage it’s reputation with it’s core PC gamer consumer base if it started charging for small, incremental updates on the PC. On the other hand, it would not be fair to the 360 players to pay five bucks (or heck knows how many MS points that comes to) for each ‘class update’ equivalent Valve would release if it kept to it’s original plans.  With TF2, PC gamers got quality of service and added content unheard of … we were and still are treated like princes by Valve.  My heart goes out to those who bought TF2 on 360 or PS3, you got shafted.

So, in order to find the best of both worlds, they wrapped up a year’s worth of incremental improvements coupled with a longer set of campaigns than the original, and stuck a big, fat 2 on the end of it.  Not the happiest solution for us PC gamers, but probably the wisest.   I wanted to continue the wacky adventures of Bill, Zoey, Francis and Louis, but with new infected and more weapons … I didn’t get what I wanted. I still got my money’s worth.  L4D2 is an excellent game … an improvement on the original, it’s just a shame that there’s now little incentive to play the original content save for the nostalgia of watching Louis talk about his narcotics habit. Oh, and I may not like the four new survivors as much, but Ellis is so lovable.

In the end, I saw my darling developer make a concession away from the PC gamer, and the thought that this was a beginning of a trend terrified me.  I bitched, I moaned, I joined the mindless throng that erupted into an internet firestorm of protest.  For the record, I did NOT join a boycott. I bought the game, and my enjoyment of it, along with statements from Valve, kept my trust intact. End of story.

Activision coupled with Infinity Ward are not Valve. This much is obvious. Activision is a massive publishing company that rivals Electronic Arts.  Activision is publicly traded, whereas Valve is privately owned.  Activision has a commitment to it’s shareholders, Valve has a commitment to it’s customers.  Get the idea?  It’s not a matter of good versus evil, it’s simply a matter of different priorities.  With that said, the announcement that Modern Warfare 2 would be essentially a direct port of the console version was still such a solid kick to the balls that it made the Left 4 Dead 2 ‘controversy’ look like a weak but affectionate punch to the shoulder. Still, the outrage from the PC gaming community, to me at least, came from the same source.  We had lost another PC centric franchise to the name of profit, completely.

I see a lot of people blaming for Infinity Ward for this … but it doesn’t rub with me. I’ve played Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4, enjoyed them both. A developer like this doesn’t make such drastic changes to a flagship franchise that would needlessly upset the original consumer base without someone or something else calling the shots. I took a good look at Activision and I’m starting to see a pattern.  Paid DLC for aditional optional content in WoW … Starcraft 2 being launched in three parts without LAN support, and now we have Modern Warfare 2 without dedicated servers and no promise of mod support. Then I found this article and things fell into place.

I’m not blaming this on piracy, or on consoles themselves. This all comes from a very painful ‘truth’ that has been slammed in the face of PC gamers for years now.  We aren’t profitable anymore.

I’m going to save you some of my more divisive logic on this subject and simply stick with the simple facts.  AAA titles with massive ad campaigns for well established franchises sell more copies off the shelf for consoles than they do for PC. Far more. Digital distribution and the new face of gaming is just that … new.  Lots of money there but it has still yet to prove itself interesting or compelling to the investor looking to get a return on his money. Statistics for products sold at Wal-Mart or Gamestop can be showcased in analyst meetings and draw more investment money. This is how the business world works, behind the times or not. Unfortunately, being behind the times for big business isn’t hurting the gaming industry nearly as much as it is hurting the music industry … yet.

Don’t believe me? Go to your local Gamestop and look at the proportional shelf space they set aside for PC titles as compared to console titles.  The future of PC gaming is in digital distribution, something that the console market is just starting to experiment with.

Activision is taking a card out of EA’s playbook, and arguably, they’re doing a better, more cutthroat job of it.  Take an established franchise, cut out all unnecessary production costs, spend the money you saved in marketing and it’ll sell off the shelves like hotcakes to those console gamers who don’t know any better.  The product may not be any worse for the intended audience … but I’m still pissed because I’m no longer the intended audience.

Even without this trend with the major publishers, it’s hard to shovel through all the crap to find the good titles for the PC.  The fact that all sales are final and demos are a luxury, rather than mandatory … added to the fact that review scores are of debatable value … and any PC game purchase is a crap-shoot.

We as PC gamers could take all of this siting down, or we could say something about it.  And boy are we … as evidenced by all of the bitching and moaning in the steam forums and at Infinity Ward.  But the investors don’t care about a few whiny geeks who boycott a game and then buy it anyway. We don’t have any damn credibility.

I can tell you with a straight face that I didn’t join any boycotts.  I probably would have enjoyed Modern Warfare 2’s single player, and I really wasn’t interested in the multiplayer to begin with. I didn’t pirate Modern Warfare 2.

I feel that my sense of entitlement to get what I pay for is justified. I also didn’t buy the game.

tl;dr: Big publishers are screwing PC gaming for the sake of more profitable markets. Boycotts are innefective. Vote with your wallet. Make your voice known on the forums, but in a way that lends credibility and maturity. Don’t pirate.  There are a few quality alternatives left. Let’s make those quality alternatives profitable by buying them.