Steam’s Libertarian Dystopia (with Video)

Boy, that whole paying for mods thing on Steam was something wasn’t it? You probably know about it but if you don’t or want more detail, I recommend watching this video to learn just how big a cluster it was and if you’ve got more time, this in-depth discussion with people involved in the modding scene gives some great insights from that perspective. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest outrages and quickest backpedals in game industry history and that’s saying something after the last couple of years. It’s also only one in a laundry list of problems Valve’s Steam platform has. Greenlight, the tagging system, Greenlight, letting developers moderate and ban users from paid games for any reason, Greenlight, the nightmare store page, Greenlight, abysmal customer service and oh yeah, fucking Greenlight. All of these are components either launched a hot mess or are still one today (I go into detail about each more in the video so I won’t clog this up with that).

When you think about the number of nightmares Valve has caused themselves and their customers over the years, it’s really quite amazing how often and how badly they’ve managed to screw up and how they still have a legion of fanboys that will go into a frenzy to defend them against any criticism. Though there are alternative digital platforms and stores for PC games out there, it’s not unreasonable to call Steam a de facto monopoly in the space. Many games can only be activated and run through Steam (even if purchased elsewhere) and it is still the default choice for the vast majority of PC gamers. They spent many years building up trust with the gaming community and were considered one of the few big companies that understood what gamers really wanted and always put their interests first. This trust has endured through blunder after blunder but paid mods became such a hot issue that it appears the limits were finally tested. Gabe Newell had most of his posts in a Reddit AMA down voted to oblivion and that never happens.

How does a company so successful, that’s staffed with so many brilliant people and literally pioneered digital distribution of games continue to screw up so badly, so often and seemingly with no self-awareness? I believe a lot of it can be traced back to what many consider to be Valve’s most revolutionary trait as a company and the free market, libertarian ideals at the centre of that philosophy.

Valve operates on what’s called a flat structure. Essentially what that means is that the company has no hierarchy. There are no job titles, no seniority and everyone has the same level of authority. Whether you’re a junior programmer or Gabe Newell himself, everyone’s on the same level. You can literally choose your job when you work there. Everyone’s desk is on wheels. If you have a new idea you want to try, you roll your desk into an empty part of the office, try to recruit some people to work on it with you, develop it and ship it. The idea is to ship new things out quickly, to rapidly iterate and let market forces determine what works. If something doesn’t, it gets changed or even scrapped like paid mods did. The good ideas survive and thrive, the weak ideas get weeded out by the market. For a deeper explanation, go check out their publicly posted employee handbook. It’s a fascinating read and it made me instantly want to work there.

As someone who has worked under shitty managers before, the idea of there being literally none sounds amazing at first. It’s a business doctrine so revolutionary and just plain different, it makes you wonder how it could possibly work. I can see why Gabe Newell wanted to try it too. He’s a former Microsoft executive and that company is known to be structured to a degree that’s suffocating to its employees and creates huge tribalism. Experimenting with the polar opposite idea sounds like a fine thing to try. In reality, a truly complete flat structure is impossible, for legal reasons if nothing else. It’s seemingly served Valve very well but indeed, I think the size of the company and the number of pies they have their hands in are showing how like most pure libertarian philosophies, it can’t really scale up that well.

Boiled down to layman terms, the core belief of pure libertarian economics is that market forces can self-regulate anything. Like most economic or political doctrines in their purest form, it’s also naive nonsense. A completely free market cannot be trusted to regulate itself and inevitably, a few handful of the most ruthless and unethical players will accumulate all the power and wealth at the expense of everyone else. Think Andrew Ryan’s Rapture from BioShock. We don’t live in a purely libertarian society in North America and many would say that’s already happening anyway. The idea sounds good on paper but it’s foolhardy in practice. These recent blunders with Steam are a result of Valve’s adherence to this doctrine. It sounds good to just tell your employees “Work on whatever you think is cool, throw it against the wall and we’ll keep what sticks.” but when you have customers to please, it’s not that simple.

Gabe Newell has said on many occasions that Valve doesn’t think Steam is open enough and that want to leave more and more of its functionality up to the community. Again, they want to let market forces have more control over how the service works. This begins to fall apart on its face though because aside from all the demonstrations to date of how that doesn’t work, Steam is still not entirely controlled by the market. If you’re one of a group of publishers or certain indie developers that Valve deems worthy for undisclosed reasons, you get what it no less than preferential treatment. If you’re an unknown who wants on Steam, you have to jump through the horrible Greenlight system. If you’re a big publisher or one of Valve’s hand-picked indie clique, you get to skip that and go straight onto the service. Never mind that some of these partners have released absolutely broken games on Steam multiple times or consist of companies like Strategy First who constantly flood the new releases section with 15 year old shovelware. So right off the bat, you have a system that’s not being controlled wholly by the market and is indeed being regulated. This isn’t a bad thing either. Can you imagine if the community got to pick every game on Steam and Reddit decided to brigade future Ubisoft releases after Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s horrible launch? That kind of thing is what happens when the market gets to police itself without oversight.

When any system reaches a certain size, history has shown that a certain amount of regulation becomes necessary or it begins to crack. These recent blunders have shown that, as have the number of features of Steam itself like Big Picture Mode and in-home streaming, that still are underdeveloped or buggy in many cases with no new recent updates. Hell, Half-Life 3 anyone? The problem when you have a company that operates the way Valve does is that there’s no managers and people can just up and abandon a project for pretty much any reason they want. As suffocating as a bad manager can be, sometimes they’re necessary. Someone who is there to ensure a plan is made and stuck to is vital. If everyone can work on whatever they want and you’re someone who has recruited a group to your idea, everyone is personally invested in its success but they also can be too close to it and not see faults that someone who is tasked with that can. The rumour is that the paid modding program only has two Valve employees and two Bethesda employees working on it. That’s not nearly enough people to give the project impartial oversight and feedback.

Beyond that, there are always jobs in a company that no one wants to do when given the choice. If you’ve ever had to interact with Steam’s “customer service”, you know why I put that in quotes. I’ve submitted tickets that have automatically closed 3 times because it took 6 weeks for anyone to respond and the response was often a boiler plate copy/paste that had nothing to do with my original question. This is a de facto monopoly in the space that’s making buckets of money and they seem to spend almost nothing on this crucial piece of the experience. The thing is, if you worked at Valve and could choose your own job, would you want to work in customer service? Someone has to but their structure also means no one has to. Thus, this company widely regarded as consumer first has service that makes big telecom companies look like saints. Maybe the solution involves outsourcing the customer service with high standards for that partner, maybe it involves hiring a team specific to that job. Regardless, the way it’s working now is another example of how a pure libertarian flat system falls down on the job.

How do you fix this though? Hiring managers or specific teams of people breaks the whole principal that Valve was founded under. There are apparently other companies in the industry like Naughty Dog that have a largely flat structure but still have a small group of individuals at the top who have final approval on things. Maybe instead of managers, a system of peer review could be put in place where an idea and its implementation must be presented to an outside group of employees who vote it to move forward or go back in the oven with feedback. However, even these introduces regulation to a system that seems built from the group up to be as free from it as possible. They could certainly just leave things the way they are too. They’ve taken many lumps before and though confidence from the user base is shaken, they still came through the paid mods mess. Maybe this will cause the employees to step back and more critically think about their projects before shipping them to avoid more blunders. Maybe not though and if they want to keep the system as-is, they can’t guarantee that or force it.

There’s no doubt that Valve de facto monopoly position and legion of fanboys affords them a lot of leeway with frustrated users. As bad as the paid mods situation was for them, just think about if it was Origin or Uplay that tried it instead. Much like Apple, they simply aren’t held to the standards everyone else is, a bad way to look at any company in my opinion. I do hope they learn some valuable lessons from this latest mess and honestly, there’s way too many brilliant people there to credibly claim otherwise. However, I think the most valuable lesson is that their current way of doing things as a company just doesn’t work in every single situation. I imagine that must be a terrifying thing to consider, especially if you’ve been at the company for a long time. Is there a way to maintain a flat system but have just enough checks and balances to keep it from tripping over itself? I honestly don’t know. If I did, I’d probably be applying for a job there instead of writing this. I hope they can figure it out though because even companies with the most devoted fanbases only get so many screwups before a large enough group of people decide they’ve had enough. Paid mods was one strike. I’m not sure how many more fans will allow them and ultimately, no structure matters if it doesn’t serve their interests first.

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Late Review: The Order: 1886

An interactive movie in 2015.

The Order: 1886 is a weird thing. It’s one of those kinds of games that would normally make me wonder how it ever got green lit in the first place. It seriously feels like one of those largely lousy interactive movies from the dawn of the CD-ROM era. It wasn’t until I got further into it that I realised it was clearly supposed to be much more than it ended up becoming. It comes from Ready At Dawn Studios, a company whose work consisted of God of War PSP games and a Wii port of Okami before this. They went from that to making a showpiece PS4 exclusive using their own engine, quite a step forward. It’s unquestionably one of the best looking video games ever made from a technical standpoint. Had I looked at this not knowing it was a game, I would have thought it was actually a well done CG movie. That sounds like praise but the problem is, it pretty much plays like one as well.

The premise of The Order: 1886 sounds pretty awesome at first. It takes place in a steampunk version of London where you are a member of The Order, a sort of special forces group apparently made up from King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table that is fighting a rebellion against the Queen and also an infestation of werewolves and other supernatural elements that come into play later. If you’re wondering how that group of knights exists and is still doing stuff in 1886 like fighting werewolves, I’d love to tell you. Apparently these knights are several hundred years old and have access to a special vial of something called “dark water” they wear around their necks that when consumed, causes even severe wounds to heal almost instantly. Here’s lies the first major sign that this game had huge sections of it cut out for time, budget or both because I can recall no point when this is explained at all. They seem rather major elements to just expect the player to roll with but that’s what it does.

There are also huge sections of time between missions that just go unexplained. A mission will end after a huge firefight where you are getting chastised for not following orders, then it flows right into the next mission where you’re walking around your headquarters as if it’s all good. The lack of transition between these major events is jarring and at some points, straight up confusing.

Beyond that, the story takes an otherwise really interesting premise and somehow makes it progress almost exactly like your run of the mill modern military shooter. There’s backstabbing from within that’s telegraphed so obviously, you know it well before it happens, your character is framed, gets badly hurt, recovers and in the end, has to team up with who you have been told is the enemy to stop a plot that would end society as we know it, playing by your own rules. Sound familiar?

Your characters all have the equivalent of radios (which boy, do they love to use), different weapons that range from standard pistols, rifles and machine guns to sci-fi electric arc guns and thermite rifles (this one is actually pretty different and fun to use.) You’ll trapse through various locations in London and at one point, invade a snazzy air ship, trying to take out enemies and be the hero. All the mission checkbox types are ticked. Sometimes you just have to shoot everyone in standard cover shooter ways. Sometimes you have to remain stealthy, using the very clunky cover mechanics to avoid or sneak up on guys, with a frustrating lack of checkpoints. There’s even points where you have to use binoculars to locate targets from a distance and call for air support. There’s largely useless collectibles with trophies tied to them too. Everything is hyper linear and there’s no choices or consequences, you just follow things through until you reach your conclusion. It really feels like a Call of Duty campaign in a different setting.

If you’ve read how poorly the developers have responded to some of the criticisms of The Order: 1886, such as its permanent black bars, locked 30 per second frame rate, very short length (it took me maybe 7 hours) and total lack of replayability, it’s pretty clear this is a game created by an auteur designer. When you play it, you not only see these faults but it becomes abundantly clear that huge sections of this game were cut out for one reason or another. As I said above, all the backstory that would help explain the setting is absent. There’s several types of missions present but some of them are barely utilised. Perhaps worst of all, in a game that’s supposed to be about dealing with an infestation of werewolves and other such creatures, you rarely ever fight any. Aside from a handful of horrible dodge and shoot sections and two “boss fights” that are mostly just rhythm mini-games, all you’re fighting is plain old dudes with guns. That is, when you’re even doing that much.

The Order: 1886 loves its cutscenes, some of which are Metal Gear Solid level of wordy. When it isn’t showing you cutscenes, it loves having you walk slowly through an environment while someone else blathers on either in person or on the radio. Nothing can be skipped and many of the cutscenes are full of inconsistently placed quick time events that are just there to give you something to do other than watch. Everything looks incredible, the animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen and the voice acting is top shelf but the story and characters aren’t interesting enough to warrant sitting through it all. There are also audio logs you can pick up throughout the levels that are supposed to better flesh out the world but none of them tell anything interesting. Worst of all, you have to sit in a menu when listening to them and they’re all spoken so slowly, some take minutes to complete. Even Gone Home let you keep doing stuff while the logs played!

These forced passive sections indicate to me both a desperate need to pad out the length and a frankly arrogant attitude on the part of the developers. Aside from the fact that you could probably play it end-to-end in about 3 hours if you could skip all the cutscenes and walking sections, it’s clear they’re insisting that you take the time to see how incredible their art is and that you need to sit in the menu to listen to their pointless flavour audio logs because if they let you play at the same time, you might miss something. It’s disrespectful to the player’s time and frankly, a bit insulting to their intelligence. I have no problems with cutscenes, even super long ones. Hell, I’m a huge fan of Metal Gear Solid. However, the player paid for your game and it should always be up to them how to play it. Forcing them to sit through any of your non-interactive content they don’t want to is frankly just pretentious. If your stuff is good enough, they’ll sit through it voluntarily. If they aren’t, that says more about what you’re making if you ask me.

I blew through The Order: 1886 in two sittings and all I got from it, aside from some impressive nods for the technical achievement, was a clear message that for whatever reason, this game was pushed out when it was at best, two thirds of what it should have been and was probably intended to be. There were really cool ideas here but what we ended up with was a technically gorgeous wasted opportunity. It’s a modern military campaign with a different skin on it and was just as short but somehow, had even less to do in it and even less reason to go back. At least Call of Duty and Battlefield have multiplayer to go along with their campaigns. Once you’re done with The Order: 1886, there’s nothing left. If the setting still interests you, it’s a rental at best but honestly, this is one you’d probably be best off watching a Let’s Play of. Now that the framework is there, hopefully Ready At Dawn can get another crack at this and make a full-fledged game without having to worry about getting the tech done as well. This just isn’t worth it though.

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The Decline of Big Japanese Gaming (with Video)

Konami is getting out of the traditional video game business. Given their output (or lack thereof) the last few years, the comically bad way much of that content has been promoted and recent events in particular, I honestly don’t see how it can be interpreted any other way.

As a huge fan of many of the games bearing their name, going back to the early 1980s, that’s actually something that it pains me to say. Once a juggernaut of video games, the company’s releases have dwindled in recent years, with only two console games coming out in 2015, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and the latest entry in their soccer series. It’s interesting to see because while the amount of titles they’re putting out has shrank, the investment in them certainly hasn’t. Metal Gear Solid has always been among the most expensive game series to produce and judging from what we’re seen so far of MGS V, it looks like at least a few dump trucks full of cash were involved in its creation as well. Therein lies the core of the problem in my opinion.

It’s no secret that AAA console and PC gaming is an industry that’s in some deep trouble right now. The costs and time required to make these games are going up exponentially, far quicker than the audience size needed to make them viable, yet the prices have largely remained the same. The industry is littered with examples of how companies have tried to adapt to this, usually meeting a consumer backlash for it. Big budget gaming seems to be filled with only the safest of bets and sequels. The corpses of many developers and publishers that either couldn’t adapt or didn’t in time also are plenty. Given that many of the big Japanese names are both still around and showing a profit, you may think things are rosier over there but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

While console sales in the west are still doing reasonably well, the Japanese console gaming business is cratering. If you think mobile gaming is exploding over here, it pales in comparison to how it is in Japan. It’s now the dominant way people play games there and many former console players are dumping that past time in favour of just using their phones. As someone who thinks the majority of popular mobile games these days are creatively bankrupt, free-to-play scumware, that’s disheartening but it is what it is. Big budget gaming is very much in decline there but because of the nature of Japanese business culture, it’s not manifesting the same way and unless you follow the business side of the industry like I do, you might not see it.

Many Japanese companies tend to be very diversified and do business in a bunch of often unrelated industries. Not all of them to be sure but it’s not an uncommon practice. Much of these operations either aren’t consumer facing or don’t operate in the west so we don’t hear about them. For example, what do you think of when you hear the name Mitsubishi? Probably cars and maybe home electronics at one time right? Check this out. They’re an extreme example but this is pretty common practice, even among video game companies. Remember Jaleco from back in the day? They now focus on real estate and finance. Seriously. Konami is no different. Many people don’t know that two of their biggest business pillars are slot machines and if you can believe it, health clubs. I’d love to hear the story behind why and how they decided to get into that business.

While many western companies who couldn’t handle the bigger risks of AAA gaming simply imploded, the diversity of many of their Japanese counterparts means that while they appear to be healthy, it’s not a sign that all is rosy in their gaming divisions. Capcom, Sega and many other Japanese names once synonymous with big gaming are either shying away from that field to focus on mobile or other ventures and some like Sega have just straight up said as much. An exception to this is Square Enix but they have also decided to focus heavily on western centric games development through their acquisition of Eidos Interactive and properties like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Hitman and others. It hasn’t always worked out for them but they’re still making a go of it nonetheless and they are still profitable as a whole. There’s also been a litany of smaller Japanese game development studios that have either ceased development or been acquired recently, largely by mobile publishers.

The reality is that the Japanese gaming industry is getting hit just as hard or even harder than the western industry, their companies just tend to be more skilled at diversification and being able to pivot from one industry to another. Don’t forget that up until past the PS2 era, Konami was cranking out games left and right and had a number of different studios running. At this point, they have Kojima Productions (a name since disowned in all the drama), their soccer team and the team that works on music games, that’s it. Those game developers aren’t going to suddenly find work making slot machines or working as fitness trainers so while the Konami corporation may be fine, that’s still a lot of game developers who are out of work. Almost anyone you can think of from that company with fame in the industry is gone and by all accounts, Kojima is also out the door after MGS V ships. The Super Bunnyhop video I linked above makes the salient point that while the cost of making Metal Gear Solid games has gone up and up and while the series still makes money, it’s making less each time. In the world of “public company thinking”, that’s not a good thing and it appears that Konami has just decided that this business isn’t worth it any more. Given the current climate, you kind of can’t blame them (even though it also appears the company is run by a brutal dictator who doesn’t care much for his employees) but it’s still sad to see.

While it’s good to see that these companies won’t go away, the sad part of it is that many of them sit on a vast wealth of games and properties that many still remember fondly. However, since they aren’t going under, they aren’t in danger of losing ownership of those and in general, big companies like to sit on every property they can, even if they aren’t using them. When Midway went under, their properties went up for auction. Warner Bros. bought most of them and as a result, we have great games like Mortal Kombat X that we might not have had otherwise. Similarly, a lot of well-liked THQ properties were bought up and some things are happening with those. In the case of Konami, they have no real incentive to either sell their stuff to other companies that will do something with them or even license them out. Most of them will either just be sat on and stagnate or will get used to make slot machines or crappy mobile games that have nothing to do with the games except the name and some characters. If Sega and Capcom choose to get out of big games, the same thing is likely to happen and many would say it already has. That really sucks from the perspective of someone who has a lot of fondness for these games and would love to see someone get a chance to take a modern crack at them.  Sure, these companies could one day decide to return to big budget gaming but that’s a hard business to start from scratch in and unless it suddenly becomes far less risky, why would they?

What this all points to is that the AAA gaming industry in Japan is experiencing the same struggles as the rest of the AAA gaming industry, it’s just manifesting in a different way because Japanese and western businesses operate in very different ways. This is a real bummer for me because while I’ve played a ton of great smaller games, I don’t like where influential elements of the indie game development community are trying to steer that stuff and franchised to Hell and gone or not, AAA games can provide experiences you simply can’t get from smaller games. As a technology enthusiast, I also like to see the envelope pushed and AAA games do that, arguably they have been instrumental in pushing a lot of computing technology forward more than other fields. Retro style, pixel art platformer “exploration games” are not going to be what drives technology and new ideas forward. I think a healthy games industry needs a good mix of big and small stuff and more and more, it seems like the bigger side of the industry just can’t figure out how to make it sustainable. In the west, that means a lot of closed doors, in Japan, it more often means pivoting to another industry. In either case, a lot of talent loses work and that’s not good for anyone.

It’s an interesting time to be a gamer and particularly one who grew up with the game from a lot of these companies that seem to be backing away from them. Not to say that the AAA industry didn’t and doesn’t have a lot of faults but the general rule of thumb is that the void will be filled by something but I don’t think mobile free-to-play crap and indie art pieces that barely even resemble games are the best thing to fill it either. It appears that the gaming business in all places is undergoing not it’s first revolutionary transition but arguably it’s biggest and most impacting. I hope when it all shakes out, there’s still a good place for those of us who like the big stuff as well. We shall see.

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Life Is Strange-ly Telling

WARNING: This post will contain major spoilers to key parts of Life Is Strange episode 2.

I was on the fence about Life Is Strange at first. On one hand, it was by the developers of Remember Me, a game I loved and felt was criminally underrated. On the other hand, I was seeing a lot of comparisons to Gone Home, a game I felt was at best bland and at worst, pretentious and cliché and extremely overrated. I figured I’d wait until the full run of episodes was out before jumping in but my friend gifted me the first one for my birthday. After playing it through on a live stream, I discovered that the only real similarity to Gone Home was the conflicted, female teenage protagonist and that there was much more to this game so I immediately bought the season pass. Episode 2 came out last week and I also played it through in one session this past weekend. What I discovered in the end was that this fictional title about a character I couldn’t really relate to actually showed me something unexpected about my real life and potentially validated a recent decision I made and had been questioning since.

A quick primer for those unfamiliar: Life Is Strange is an adventure game and at several points, you’re forced to make choices that will impact how the story progresses throughout the series and how other characters interact with you. If you’ve played and of Telltale’s recent titles like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, you know the kind of thing I’m talking about. Also like those games, when an episode concludes, you’re shown all of the critical choices you had to make and how your decision stacks up with the rest of the player base. You can also show a comparison that is run only against your friends list (which was Steam in my case as I played on PC.) It was when I looked at these two comparisons after completing episode 2 that I had quite a surprise.

Here’s where the spoilers come in. During the game, Max (your character) meets this young woman:

This is Kate Marsh.

This is Kate Marsh.

Kate is sweet and friendly but shy and is often the victim of the clique of “mean girls” at Blackwell Academy where you both attend (and seriously, these girls are mean.) She’s also a religious person with a conservative upbringing which has given her a rather prudish reputation.

Prior to the start of the game, she decided to attend a party hosted by the elite social group at Blackwell known as the Vortex Club in an attempt to fit in. The short of it is, someone drugs her (very likely but not provably the asshole son of the rich family that owns the school) and she’s filmed making out with a bunch of different guys, a video quickly spread online by the aforementioned mean girl clique. A direct implication of rape is not given (likely because the developers didn’t want to go that far, even though this series is rated M) but if you read between the lines, that’s clearly what this is about. Her reputation gets destroyed very quickly, the school security guard hassles and threatens her to keep things quiet and her religious family all but completely ostracize her, leaving her extremely depressed and alone.

You have several choices to make with Kate over the course of the episode which largely involve telling her how you think she should handle things. At the end of the episode, she ends up pushed so far that she goes to the roof of the school, ready to commit suicide by jumping. You have to try to talk her down and it’s possible to fail and have her die but also to save her. I unfortunately messed up and couldn’t save her, a choice I’m living with as I think that’s what you should do in these kinds of games but I’ve felt like crap about it ever since.

When the episode ended, I compared my choices and found that I was in line with what most people picked, though I felt extra bad when I discovered that most people were also able to save Kate’s life. What really threw me for a loop however, was the stark contrast of one earlier choice when I compared the world to my friends list.

When Kate tells you her version of what happened at the party, she asks you what she should do. She wants to go straight to the police and make an accusation against Nathan, the rich kid who she’s certain drugged her. Your choice as Max is to either encourage her to do that or to tell her to wait for more evidence first.

I chose the latter. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, having had several experiences with Nathan up to that point and knowing the influence he had at the school and indeed in the town, I knew throwing an accusation out with no concrete evidence would only damage Kate’s reputation further. Proof is undeniable, an accusation is easily brushed off and retaliation certain when there’s so much corruption involved.

Secondly, when I play games like this, I try to play with my own set of values as the character to see how my own moral compass intersects with the writers and designers. My compass said that while sexual assault (especially on campuses) is a real, serious problem, so is false accusation and the presumption of guilt until proven innocent, the opposite of due process. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believed Kate’s version of events but in the eyes of the law, an accusation alone isn’t enough without proof (or at least, that’s not how it should be.) So, assuming I’d be able to find her more evidence, I told her to wait. She didn’t take it well but agreed nonetheless.

Here is how that particular choice stacked up against worldwide players versus my friends list:

My choice versus all of Steam.

My choice versus all of Steam.

My choice versus my friends list.

My choice versus my friends list.

With only a 1% difference, my friends list was the polar opposite of the worldwide stats, though it was fairly similar on almost everything else. This was a huge abnormality that really blew my mind and I began to ponder why it happened. It didn’t take long for me to realise it.

After Extra Life last year, I wrote a personal post talking about how among other things, I was deciding to step back from an online community I had been a part of for a long time. This was largely because of a shift in tone there to the extreme end on some issues which have boiled over in recent months, an extreme I do not agree with at all. The vast majority of my Steam friends list is still populated with people from that community and everyone on it who has played this game at time of writing is from there. On a regular basis, I question whether stepping back from that as I have was a good idea and whether or not I should go back. This choice comparison and how the community members were literally 99% different than the rest of the world has provided a surprisingly indirect, yet clear answer to that question, at least for now.

As weird as it is to have a personal quandary like this answered by a statistics screen in a video game, I think the way this informed a decision I was otherwise unsure of is quite something. Unfortunately, showing who made which binary choice doesn’t convey any nuance or context. Did they believe that what they’d witnessed of Nathan’s behaviour up to now was enough evidence on its own, even though it was anecdotal? Did other choices they made in episode 1 reveal more concrete evidence that I hadn’t seen? What choices could those have been? Were they trying to play to their own moral compasses as I do or were they projecting their gut feelings alone because they knew it was just a game? Or did they tell Kate to go to the police because they just believed her based on her say so alone, despite a lack of proper evidence? This is a common symptom with the “guilty until proven innocent” problem I mentioned earlier.

I made the choice I did because while Kate’s story certainly was believable because of what I’d seen up to that point, it didn’t matter as the law is clear and a false accusation can destroy someone’s life, even if it is an asshole and even if the accuser is being unjustly dragged through the mud themselves. The burden of proof should always be on the accuser, not the accused. It wasn’t the best choice for my feelings (seriously, fuck Nathan) but it was the best choice based on how I personally interpreted the situation. Clearly, those on my friends list didn’t think so, even if they were in the vast minority compared to most players of the game who witnessed the same things.

This chilled me quite a bit. I can’t know the motivations of their choices for sure but having stepped away from that community for the reasons I did and hearing how the tone has continued to be there since, it appears fairly clear to me what they were and that saddens me. It indicates a line of thinking towards certain critical issues that’s based on extreme viewpoints rather than rational ones and a disdain for due process when it involves certain subjects that have become touchier of late. That’s not something I believe in and while we don’t all have to agree, the viciousness some have shown to those who dare to not tow the line has been made all too clear the last while.

This one choice and how out of whack it is with all the others when compared to the rest of the world speaks volumes in a way I never thought possible. On that alone, DONTNOD Entertainment should be highly commended because this is something I didn’t think was possible. It’s a realisation I wasn’t expecting, certainly not in this way but it’s both fascinating how it happened and also depressing as the outcome is not one I was hoping to see. This game is light years above Gone Home for many different reasons but this revelation and how it was communicated is something wholly unique in my 30+ years of gaming. Who would have thought a static screen could tell you so much. Needless to say, I think I’ll be staying away from that community for a little while longer and I can’t wait to play the rest of this series.

Life Is Strange indeed.

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Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Service (With Video)

This post is a little different than most. Normally, the video is my rambling thought process that went into what’s ultimately a more condensed, concise post on the topic but this one’s basically just a big ol’ rant. When I write about a topic, I try to also put in a potential solution along with my complaints but this time, I don’t really have one. The video is long but contains the stories behind what this post is about, stories that would make this an epic wall of text if I repeated them out. If you want to know the stories, watch the video and feel free to relay your own stories in the comments!

A sad reality most of us have come to accept these days is that good customer service is something that’s generally the rule and not the exception. Big companies have learned exactly how bad their service can be before people will go from just complaining to actually taking their money elsewhere (there are people who actually figure this out for a living) and they ride that line with precision. However, if you do your research into who you buy stuff from, you can often find the few diamonds in the rough and proceed to hold on to them for dear life. If you can find a small business instead of a big chain, that used to be almost a sure bet. You may end up paying a bit more but you know you’re dealing with a place that will treat you right and make up for that. Nowadays though, it seems we can’t even count on that and that even when you do your due diligence, you still can’t be guaranteed you won’t be treated like shit.

In the last month and a bit, my girlfriend and I have experienced a near constant string of some of the worst customer service we’ve ever seen (again, watch the video if you want to hear the stories.) Appliances, parts for said appliances, computers, cars, video games, retail, these nightmares cross all kinds of genres. If you look at the video thumbnail, you’ll see many large, familiar names that you might nod your head with but there’s a couple in there you might not know either. Indeed, the kinds of small companies you thought were the bastions of treating customers with respect seem to be just as bad as the big dogs now. When it came to my RetroN 5 experience, I actually would have had an easier time had I purchased it from a big box retailer instead of supporting one of the few Mom N’ Pop video games stores left in this country.

I’ve been on the end of bad customer service most of my adult life. I’m largely steeled to it and and the fact that I should be pleasantly surprised when a company treats me like a valued customer instead of just a profit centre. I have learned to expect when dealing with certain companies that I often need to work up a good mad before I call them because I know a fight will likely ensue. Nothing in my long history in the trenches of this stuff can hold a candle to the last month. It is simply astonishing to me not only how customer service standards have slipped but product quality standards as well. High-end products, in some cases brand new in the box, have had major defects. We’ve dealt with multiple companies that even in this age of hyper-computerised supply chain management, still can’t accurately tell if they have a simple product in stock or not. We’ve had to spend hours trying to find a part for a dryer that’s less than 10 years old. I’ve dealt with a small retailer that actually misrepresented the features of a product before selling it to me, admitted to doing so and yet still expected me to cover the cost of returning the item to them. All of this accompanied problems that were actually not that major and shouldn’t have been hard to get sorted out.

All of this is due to what is known to cold capitalists as “what the market will bare.” In plain English, that means that companies treat people like shit because they know they’ll tolerate it. However, it feels to me like this had reached a new height or more accurately, depth the last while. The vast majority of companies seem to place no value whatsoever on their customer’s business any more. Indeed, they feel they’re entitled to our money and that anything we ask of them after they’ve taken it is a burden that they should try to divest of as soon as possible. In the era of social media and outrage culture we now live in, you think if anything, the ability of people to broadcast their dissatisfaction would have forced an improvement but the opposite has happened. These companies have learned that what people bitch out on Twitter and Facebook doesn’t really matter in the end because like so many other things, it’s all just become noise that no one pays attention to. As long as the company feigns concern, most people won’t see anything past that. When everyone provides shit service, no one has to provide good service and it seems even the small players have gotten wise to that.

Like I said up top, this isn’t a problem I can really offer a solution to. I still don’t tolerate bad service but I’m one person and have no means to make a real difference. The last month has made that abundantly clear. Indeed, it’s much like politics. Everyone bitches about how the government isn’t doing right by them but a lot of us don’t go out and vote, yet think we still have a right to bitch. The fact is, if you don’t fight for the respect you deserve, you kind of don’t deserve it in the first place. If you keep giving your money to companies that disrespect you and don’t demand better from them after you have, why would any of them change? They know they don’t have to and good service costs money so why spend it? People need to step up and demand better but we don’t seem to be. Everything has a tipping point and I’ve said for years now that people are only going to tolerate this crap so much and we will reach a point where various industries will have to step up their game but it hasn’t happened and the goalposts of good quality products and service seems to be moving further and further away each year. We keep putting up with this crap so the companies keep trying to push further and further back and there’s no breaking point in sight.

I’m seriously waiting for the day when some large corporation just decides they’re going to make money by charging like $5 to every credit card and bank account in the world and saying “If you don’t want us doing that, you have to tell us.” They won’t provide any actual product or service, they’ll just take the money and give it back to whoever complains. Hell, some cable companies have already tried what’s known as “negative billing” before, where they add service onto your bill and charge you for it until you tell them to shop. I swear at this point, some company could try that and they not only would get away with it, they’d probably actually make a huge profit on it because a bunch of people either wouldn’t notice the $5 missing or wouldn’t care to jump through the hoops needed to get it back. That’s like the capitalism singularity, when companies can literally charge money for absolutely nothing and I swear, one day someone is going to try it. If people don’t stop putting up with this shit, they’ll get away with it too.

I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know where the line is where people will finally say enough is enough but when we have put up with the kind of shit we have in the last month, I get as mad at the faceless people who don’t stand up to it as those who perpetuate it. When I have to kick up a massive, time wasting fight with some company to get the service I should expect out of the gate, it’s not just them I’m fighting, it’s all the lazy, complacent other people who didn’t mount fights of their own. As someone who strives to provide good service in my own endeavours but also demands it from others, this is immensely frustrating. Consumers are supposed to be the ones with all the power. We’re the ones with the money after all. When did we all stop giving so much of a fuck that we just shrug when a company takes often thousands of dollars from us with one hand and slaps us in the face with the other? We need to snap out of this. I’m sick of fighting for all of you as well as myself. Demand better, we all deserve it.

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Lenovo’s Superfish Is A Superfail for the PC (With Video)

In the PC industry’s latest feat of idiocy, manufacturer Lenovo has been caught red-handed pre-installing what is widely considered to be spyware on machines they sold in the latter half of 2014. It’s an application called Superfish which is designed to help users “discover products visually” (seriously, if you came up with that tag line, punch yourself in the stomach for me) and what it essentially does is inject its own ads into user’s search results and viewed web pages with presumably a piece of that going to Lenovo. That’s scummy as shit in and of itself but worse still, this application installs its own security certificate and in doing so, can theoretically spy on the contents of encrypted communications from your browser to places like your bank and phone that information home to who know’s where. It’s not clear whether it’s designed this way out of malice or just incompetence but the capability is nonetheless there. Several different anti-virus applications consider Superfish to be malware and detect it as such, though conveniently the garbage McAfee software Lenovo’s also been pre-loading the last while doesn’t. Given that McAfee is also owned by Intel, you think they’d have higher standards than that.

Pre-loaded crap on computers isn’t anything new. Usually most consumer systems (especially the inexpensive ones) come with an anti-virus trial, some basic games, maybe a photo sharing application and stuff like that. These are usually trial versions and the idea is that if you convert to a paid user, the PC manufacturer gets a commission from that. Most people don’t convert but it’s a similar business idea to scummy free-to-play mobile games in that it only takes a small percentage of conversions to turn a healthy profit. This is how PC manufacturers are making a profit on that $399 laptop you’re buying at Best Buy that by all rights, should cost $700 at least. The margin for most non-Apple computers is razor thin. We’re talking sub-1% in some cases, worse margins that grocery stores. True story: Many years ago, I worked for Geek Squad which is a division of Best Buy. The manager of the computers department told us that the margins on the machines were so thin that if you didn’t sell an extended warranty, accessories or Geek Squad service with it, the store literally lost money on the machine, just paying the salesperson’s paltry hourly wage. That’s how thin we’re talking here.

I’ve been an evangelist for Lenovo computers for a while now. I’ve sold at least a dozen of them to clients in the last couple of years, I bought a highly customised, $1,600 ThinkPad last year to edit video on and my girlfriend just bought a Yoga 2 Pro after a horrendous product and service experience with a Dell Inspiron 13. I’m permanently loyal to no brand and what I recommend changes frequently as quality and service ebb and flow. I’m a fan of Lenovo because their machines are reasonably priced, built very well, their support is better than average and that’s all been pretty consistent for a while. Until now, they also didn’t have a reputation for loading them up with crap software. They usually come with an anti-virus trial and a couple of internally developed maintenance utilities that are actually really good and which I use personally cause they do a great job.

Thankfully none of the models we own or that I’ve sold clients were affected by this,  it seems to have been limited to machines sold in the last 6 months and only lower end and thus, lower margin consumer models. (UPDATE: I was mistaken, my girlfriend’s Yoga 2 Pro did have Superfish on it, I just missed it the first time. The Lenovo auto-removal utility sorted it but still, it was there on a nearly $2,000 machine.) But you know what I still had to deal with? A pile of clients e-mailing me in a panic going “I’m reading that this PC you sold me could be sending my banking information to hackers, what the Hell have you got me using?!” I had to spend a chunk of my day in my own damage control mode, assuring these people who I’ve built up strong trust with that their machine is clean. Due to that trust, they believe me but they’re still leery. That’s one small example of how this stupid, greedy move by Lenovo hasn’t hurt just their business but that of everyone who recommends their products and indeed, the PC platform as whole. I can only imagine some of the IT officers at massive organisations with tens of thousands of Lenovo machines in production and the awkward conversations they’re having with their CEOs.

This pisses me the fuck off. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am a huge fan of the PC platform and a proud anti-Apple fanboy. I think Apple products are overpriced, underpowered, I think OS X is an overdesigned mess to use and that the company is trading on fashion, not practicality and computers are supposed to be function over form. The PC platform offers choice: Choice in hardware, choice in manufacturers, choice to build your own, choice even in operating systems if you want. People keep saying Microsoft is a monopoly, yet you can only run OS X on Apple’s proprietary, largely non-upgradeable hardware (which has been repeatedly shown to be no more reliable or stable than a comparable PC) and Apple has swiftly curbstomped any attempt at competition on their own platform. Despite what Apple’s cult will tell you, I firmly believe modern PCs are cheaper, more diverse, better to use and easily as reliable as Macs, if not more so and I this is easily demonstrated.

However, I guarantee you that this latest foul up by the PC industry (because many see the PC as if they’re all made as a single collective) has given Apple fanboys another reason to dismiss the platform as unsafe and to tell their friends who are looking for a new computer that they should pay 20-40% more for a product that’s no better. How many potential customers has Lenovo just handed Apple on a silver platter? This hurts everyone who evangelises the PC platform and makes it harder and harder to confidently recommend it against a company and fanbase who is masterful at exploiting every slip up to their advantage. Say what you want about Apple and I can say plenty but this kind of shit doesn’t happen on Macs and a lot more people than you think are willing to pay more to not have to worry about it.

This is yet another example of hyper short term, “the next quarter is all that matters”, public company thinking. By using Superfish, Lenovo is literally making the experience of using their own products worse for the customers in order to pad their short-term profits. They’re not thinking about what the loss of good will is going to do to their brand in the long term or what it will do to the current Lenovo users who will never buy one of their systems against because of this. That’s for then and right now is all that matters. It’s pure, unadulterated disrespect for your customers and it’s an idiotic way to run a business. If Lenovo loses even one large enterprise customer over this, it will cost them more than they ever would have made off the Superfish deal. What good does that do the company or its investors? Even small operations like mine in quantity can hurt if they lose us as customers. I still love Lenovo hardware but for the next year, I guarantee you nearly every potential customer I try to recommend their stuff to is going to go “Isn’t that the brand that spies on you or something?” Despite being some of the best computers out there, I may have to consider switching to another brand that I don’t think as highly of. That doesn’t just hurt Lenovo’s business, it hurts mine and I sure as shit didn’t see a piece of that Superfish revenue.

Apple can teach the PC industry one big thing: People are willing to pay more for a quality product. I certainly am and so is everyone I know. Maybe instead of constantly racing to the bottom and trying to sell your systems on low price alone, why don’t you build top notch machines that you can sell for a higher price, get the good margins and not have to load up with garbage? You don’t have to charge a lot more. Hell, $50 more per machine probably gives you margins that you can only dream of and it still makes your stuff way cheaper than Apple. Why don’t you raise the price a bit, devote more effort to quality and sell them based on that? Take the line “We’re not the cheapest but we’re worth it because our stuff is great.” That’s how I market my Capital Tech Support business and it’s worked out very well for me. Don’t always cater to the bottom, ask for more and tell people why. More will buy in than you realise. Apple has proven this isn’t a hard concept to sell to people and you all have massive marketing teams. If they can’t sell that simple concept, sack their asses because they’re useless.

Given the overblown trouble Microsoft got in a number of years back for abusing manufacturers and other OEMs, this is probably going to sound controversial but bare with me. I honestly think that they need to start using their influence as the maker of the dominant operating system on the planet and start telling OEMs that this kind of bullshit isn’t acceptable. Microsoft and OEMs have a symbiotic relationship. Microsoft needs them to sell the hardware Windows comes on and the OEMs need Windows to make their machines viable to mainstream consumers. I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable for Microsoft to have a term in their agreements that says “You can’t pre-install any software that can be considered malicious or which severely degrades the consumer Windows experience.” I’m not talking about stuff like WildTangent games, OEM utilities or anti-virus trials, I’m talking stuff like Superfish which is considered malware. I think they should absolutely say that’s unacceptable and if OEMs violate that, they can face substantial fines and penalties, up to and including the loss of their right to sell Windows to certain market segments. Every scandal like this hurts the entire PC ecosystem from other OEMs, to resellers to indeed Microsoft themselves. Every potential PC sale that becomes a Mac sale is a lost sale of Windows.

Microsoft is trying to recover from the massive PR disaster of Windows 8. They’ve done the frankly epic mea culpa of offering every Windows 7 and Windows 8 user a free upgrade to Windows 10. They’re pulling out all the stops to keep current PC customers and lure new ones in by listening to what people want. Bullshit like this Superfish scandal is only causing further damage and hampering efforts they are going to great expense to do in order to win back the good will of consumers. I personally see nothing wrong with telling companies like Lenovo that they can’t actively engage in harming their customers if they want to sell Windows. Sure, they can’t go overboard with those restrictions, lest they become like Apple but saying you can’t pre-load spyware isn’t out of line. Who’s going to say no to that? No PC maker can afford to be without Windows and if Apple can control all aspects of both hardware and software on the Mac without being called a monopoly, this certainly can’t be either. Microsoft needs to take a leading role here and stop letting these greedy OEMs tarnish the brand of what I firmly believe is the best consumer operating system available right now.

This kind of this drives me up the wall and it’s emblematic of the level companies will disrespect their customers just to serve the current quarter. If you’re making so little money on even relatively expensive machines that you have to resort to spyware to be profitable, your business model is fucking broken and you need to fix it now. It’s not the job of your customers to fix your inability to command decent margins. Your CEOs are paid millions more per year than the people who actually design and build the computers to figure this out. If you can’t, then get the fuck out and put someone in charge with a sense of respect for customers. If Apple can figure out how to get people to pay more for better stuff, then surely someone in the entire PC industry can do the same. The PC is the best platform available and it’s not hard to convince people of that and make money at the same time.

You’re fucking this up for everyone Lenovo and making it harder and harder to support the PC every day. Get your shit together.

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GODUS Dammit Peter Molyneux (with Video)

Populous, Syndicate, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, Fable. For many long-time gamers, these names are synonymous with incredible experiences which many would consider the best of all-time. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with anyone who thinks that. These are also all games helmed by industry legend Peter Molyneux. However, when one thinks of him, one also tends to think of a career littered with the ashes of broken promises. He’s a genuine guy who despite his status, always comes across as humble and who can captivate a crowd with his ideas, ones he clearly believes, yet almost always fail to live up to his own hype in the finished products. His games are always good but he is legendary for making them sound like they’ll be so much better before they come out. It’s a clear case of letting your mouth get out in front of your brain. Some people love this about him, some hate it but it always leads to interesting debate and even a popular parody Twitter account.

The latest instance of this is different however because it involves something fans made a reality. Molyneux Kickstarted the game GODUS some time ago. In short, the game is way over budget and past deadline, many of its promised features are missing, tons of microtransactions and skinner box mechanics were added, rumours are both the staff and scope of the game’s PC version have been gutted (while the free-to-play mobile version still goes strong) and the winner of a contest involving Curiosity (Molyneux’s last “game”) that was supposed to lead to him having a position of influence and financial benefit from Godus haven’t happened. All this while they’re still taking money for the PC game on Early Access. This type of behaviour certainly isn’t unique among game developers but it’s different this time, especially for Molyneux as it’s consumers who funded this project, not a publisher who traditionally has much more control over the purse strings and uses that to wield influence. The contest situation in particular has resulted in a new wave of consumer frustration this past week, one I can certainly appreciate.

Peter Molyneux’s charisma and the games press’ general lack of willingness to ask anyone of note tough questions has meant that his tendency to grossly overpromise and underdeliver has largely gone unchecked and treated as something that’s almost cute and funny instead of irresponsible. Rock, Paper, Shotgun decided to buck that trend by conducting a very hostile interview with him. I think the term “hit piece” is overused these days and often is used by people who can’t take criticism as a way to attack something that didn’t agree with them. In this case, I think it’s a perfectly apt descriptor. RPS in general tends to alternate between being kooky British and being just smug douchebags and this is the latter without question. I’m all for asking tough questions and it’s great that Molyneux finally got asked some but when the first thing you ask is “Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?”, your agenda is clear from the get go and makes you sound like a forum troll at best. It was unnecessary and clearly designed to drive clicks through controversy, something RPS and many of its defenders claim they’re above. Molyneux wasn’t the subject of this interview, he was a target. Funny that industry darling Tim Schafer, who is guilty of many of the same things including screwing paying customers, but has staunchly defended the unethical journalists who attacked their audiences, has not been given the same level of scrutiny.

To be fair to John Walker, a lot of the interview consisted of him calling out actual things Molyneux has said before and asking him to explain them. The response to most of these was attempts at deflection or him claiming that he meant something different than what he actually said, as if we’re all supposed to be mind readers. While I think the tone was overly and intentionally hostile and trying to trap Molyneux into saying something Walker could point to and go “Gotcha’!”, he also didn’t do himself any favours and rarely admitted to his mistakes, claiming instead he was misinterpreted or that he meant it at the time, as if that justifies the failure to deliver. He then tries to turn the tone back on Walker, claiming he just hates him, wants to see him driven from the industry and claiming he’s going to just stop talking to the press because of this (though he’s already done it multiple times since.) Neither person comes up smelling of roses here.

Walker repeatedly chastises Molyneux for still seemingly being unable to manage a project properly, despite being in the industry for more than 30 years. To a certain degree, I can sympathise with any creative person who is trying to make the best art they can. Business and art are oil and water in many ways and I can imagine that even for an experienced creative like him, trying to make anything that isn’t based on a well-trodden formula must be like trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. If you’re trying something new, it by definition something that you’re not experienced at. You can rely on past project planning experience but no matter your skill in that, it can only take you so far. I think saying that Molyneux is lying to people might be going to far because a lie requires an intention to deceive. I don’t think the many unfulfilled promises in Molyneux’s past projects were put out there with the intent to deceive people into being hyped for the game or pre-ordering or whatever. I think he truly believed what he said, he just wasn’t sure of its viability before he said it and that’s a very different thing.

Where I do have a big problem is when Molyneux says straight up that they purposefully lowballed the amount they said they needed for the project on Kickstarter because they were scared that if they asked for what they actually needed, they probably wouldn’t hit the target and since Kickstarter pays nothing if you don’t fund, they had to hit the target. This is a project that was pitched as being funded by the fans for the fans and wouldn’t have investor or publisher interference (though the mobile versions of GODUS did indeed end up with a publisher.) If that’s the case, then you can’t say you need less money than you do because you’re scared you won’t get it. Ask for the right amount or scale back, you can’t have it both ways. Saying you need less than you know you do sounds straight up fraudulent to me and the kind of thing that a real investor could sue over.

Combine that with rumours that most of the GODUS team is now working on the next project, which Molyneux has announced despite this furore and this looks like something that many would have called and out and out scam if it was someone less known. The new Lead Designer of the game (who started out as a backer with no industry experience and worked unpaid for a year) has also stated publicly that a lot of the promised features just aren’t realistic, including possibly the ones that would allow the fulfilment of the obligations to the Curiosity winner. Molyneux claims he’s learned a lesson from all this and may not use Kickstarter again as a result but that’s cold comfort to the people who paid for what is at best a prototype, well after the game was supposed to be finished.

I’ve long said that one of the biggest problems with this industry is the over reliance on PR speak. The message, especially with big games, is controlled so tightly that everyone who speaks about it ends up sounding like a corporate robot who has no real passion for or investment in the thing they’re promoting. I like creators who are honest, who speak to people like human beings and want to make you as passionate about their ideas as they are. Gaming wouldn’t have evolved past Pong without those people. It’s also important to me that they are willing to admit where they fucked up. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes they’re big ones. What’s important is what you take away from those and how you apply it to your future work. Peter Molyneux’s problem is that many years into his career, he has learned how to own his fuck ups and say what he’s learned from them but then he just keeps making the same fuck ups over and over again. Rightly or wrongly, his historical cachet has cushioned him through a lot of that but I think this time is different because it’s not some publisher who has to weight the financial consequences of this, it’s his customers directly and I would say they’re far less forgiving.

There seems to be no middle ground any more when it comes to the balance of creativity and business in gaming. On one side, we have the extremely creative people like Molyneux, Schafer and even people like Phil Fish, who make amazing games but seem to have no concept of the business needs of development and treating fans respectfully. On the other side, there’s the extreme business end of things where you have the Ubisofts, EAs and Activisions, that are cranking out manufactured, risk averse, endless sequels that are iterative at best and creatively bankrupt at worst. There has to be a way to balance these two extremes in a way that allows expansion of this medium as an art form with the investment to make those experiences amazing and successful so that we get more of them. Right now, things seem to be very polarised and consumers are left in the middle of it, demanding new things but getting increasingly burned when they try to back them.

The press’ role can’t be understated here either. As we all know, there’s been a large pushback lately on the press and the often too friendly relationship they have with developers. I think it speaks volumes that while too hostile and rude, the RPS interview is one of the only ones where Molyneux has truly been called out on his broken promises. I think the lack of such treatment Tim Schafer (who is very friendly with large swaths of the gaming press) has gotten over Broken Age and Space Base DF-9 speaks volumes to the lack of critical distance many journalists have from their subjects. Ultimately, the press is supposed to protect consumers and well, they’ve been failing miserably at that for a long time now. I think John Walker and Rock, Paper, Shotgun came across as petty and purposefully spiteful in their interview but I also applaud them for willing to ask the tough questions no one else was.

Ultimately, I still think we need more people like Peter Molyneux in game development. They’re visionaries with the ideas that will drive the next big trends and they’re willing to experiment and push against convention and that’s ultimately a good thing. They just also need to temper their expectations and realise that like it or not, this is also a business and you need to work within the constraints that presents. Some of the best games ever made were ones that purposefully kept a narrow focus and scope and did a few things well instead of a lot of things poorly. Molyneux strikes me as a man with big ideas but one that also needs walls and constraints to keep him focused and he’s rarely had that. For as much of a disaster as GODUS is and as much blame can fall at his feet for it, I hope that having to address his customers directly in response to it does provide the lessons he needs to control his impulses and redeem himself going forward. I don’t want to see him leave the industry, indeed this industry needs more people like him. But I would so like him to exceed my expectations instead of merely meeting reduced ones.

In spite of all this, I still believe in you Peter but I’m done believing the hype. Please deliver something awesome.

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