Jared's 10 Parlor Questions for the Gaming Industry
1. What in the world is Nintendo cooking up?
There is a farming technique that has been used for centuries called the 'slash-and-burn' method of agriculture, and it involves...you guessed it, slashing and burning down fields to grow crops. Is this what has been Nintendo forced to do, after the recent spurt of nasty rumors that have popped up about their NX development kits, another potential Star Fox delay, and the passing away of President Iwata? Is the next Zelda game going to be a Wii U/NX hybrid like Twilight Princess? Would that hold water nowadays? Would people be okay with that? Would they feel gypped out of a failure of a console like the Wii U?
And is Nintendo going to jeopardize the (relatively short and fruitless) lives of the Wii U and the 3DS for the future? Would people be upset at not getting great 3DS and Wii U games for the greater purpose of a strong NX launch? Is that thing even coming out this year? Is it going to be as weak as an Xbox One out of the gate? Can that even be a long term, viable option for Nintendo, who have been so starved of 3rd party they could wither away and die at any moment?
We don't have answers here, just questions. Lots of questions.
2. What in the world is happening to E3 exhibitors?
Two of the biggest game publishers in the world are skipping out on E3...well, the show floor. As we reported on already, Activision is doing what EA decided to do, and are not pulling out the stops to give the masses at E3 vertical slice demos. Which is fine for 99% of us, because we aren't going to be at E3 to play those demos anyways. But with Nintendo and EA not doing official/traditional E3 press conferences, and now Activision getting cold feet about their games (which would sell well regardless), is this a trend more companies are going to take with E3 from now on? Disney Interactive and War Gaming both split, who is to say more people don't jump ship as well?
Konami ceases to be a game publisher, Nintendo only does Directs on Twitch, and high profiles developers like Rockstar and Valve never cared about E3 anyways. It seems like more and more, prominent members of the gaming industry are either looking to avoid E3 altogether, or just simply go another route with their marketing and PR campaigns. It's one thing to not want to be a quiet voice, rendered silent by the loud riot that is E3 week, but it's another to directly deliver your message to fans, at your convenience, to your liking, with no added hype or pressure by virtue of being in the fold of E3.
The times, they are a-changin'.
3. What in the world is up with business models these days?
It seems as though AAA publishers want to have their cake and eat it too. In this era of gaming, there is no price, platform, or model that is one size fits all, and it's becoming incredibly hard to nail down, both for consumers and for the developers/publishers of the world. Both gigantic AAA games and small, tiny indie titles on phones can be free. Season passes and DLC have become the de facto replacement for raising boxed copies of games from $60.
No Man's Sky, a nebulous and ambitious new entry, made headlines for being full price, even though it's from an indie dev and looked like a downloadable game in previews when it first got announced. Forza Apex is a free-to-play entry in the franchise, on PC; it's essentially a stripped down version of a Forza game from the Xbox One. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 has a multiplayer only version on Steam for $15. Battlefront, Evolve, Rainbow Six: Siege, and Titanfall all had no campaigns, but remained full price. What is the template for pricing these days? And what about games that launch broken? Can we get refunds on missing features and faulty servers for Street Fighter V and Batman: Arkham Knight?
And as microtransactions continue to fill in the gaps for games to increase profits, we are left wondering what the future has in store for us. It's never been a better time for gamers to buy games on the cheap, but it's never been more expensive to make games before for AAA games. What breaks first? Do we go kickstarter-backed projects only from now on? Do game companies utilize Netflix like streaming for their catalogues? When will this madness end?
4. Why do games keep getting pushed back so easily, like pucks on an air hockey table?
And speaking of which, has anyone else noticed that there is an absolutely insane number of delays for AAA games in the past few months? With the rise of early access games, games in perpetual alpha and beta states, it's like coming out on a set release day is pointless. Games leak early, they break street date, they can be played a few days early with EA Access, and it's not like marketing campaigns really push the date of a game's release (unlike movies). What is the point to hitting deadlines? Who cares? Games come out on top of each other all the time, not like release windows matter!
I don't know anymore guys; on the one hand, I want people to take as long as they need to make sure everything is perfect and done. On the other, these delays are killers because they hurt consumers and it's not like they end up doing much of anything, because most games still come out broken. What was the point of the delay if you can't fix what is clearly not working?
5. Will VR crush our meager expectations this year?
Playstation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, the list goes on and on. This is the introduction to Virtual Reality for the mainstream, and the welcome party includes a lot of high profile (and expensive) releases sprinkled throughout the year. Much like 3D TVs, and surround sound, and HD DVD players, and smart watches, it'll be slow going for the beginning....or will it?
It seems like there will be less than 500,000 combined sales in the first year as a whole for VR, but our collective expectations and educated guesses could be in store for an earth-shattering record breaking debut for these headsets. I've tried them all, and I'm very excited about the future of VR and AR products, and if the gaming industry can give these a good push now, imagine when the rest of the world catches on and starts developing content and software and apps for these things. The world will never be the same.
So can VR break through the stratosphere and shoot for the moon? Or will their efforts crash land back on Earth? It's a reality check for virtual reality....I'm sorry, I had to. Had to make the pun, it was too easy.
6. Will Sony finally release some games for their console this year? That, you know, is intended for playing games?
Uncharted 4 has been delayed more times than I can count. Horizon looks like a game that could be pushed out of 2016 as well. Last Guardian is on its tenth year of development (we think, could be longer). We still don't know what Sucker Punch or Santa Monica are doing. There isn't any word on a Crash Bandicoot reboot. So what the hell are we playing later this year on PS4? Last year was a desert of exclusives, and this year is also looking like a dirth. Indies and Rise of the Tomb Raider are great and all, but it's hard to know what we are getting until E3.
7. Is Microsoft caught between a rock and a hard place?
It seems like Microsoft is caught in this purgatory of sorts. A moral, financial, philosophical quagmire where nothing they do matters, but everything they say does. They clearly cannot "win the console generation", as if that's a real thing that exists. But with Sony and the PS4 dominating the sales charts, and more importantly, the headlines, playing second fiddle is not ideal for Microsoft and Phil Spencer. Not to mention their major announcements of late have gone over, well...poorly.
Trying to make their Xbox an all-in-one home media center? Didn't take off. Their return to promising the world to hardcore gamers and fans? Like trying to woo back a scorned lover. Talk of bringing their biggest exclusives to PC? "Why the hell did we all buy Xbox Ones then?" Wanting to incorporate Windows 10 into their future plans? That just pissed everyone right off, and inspired the masses (and the head of Epic Games) to denounce them.
What the hell did Microsoft do to deserve all of this? The hatred and backlash coming their way is somewhat understandable and yet also ridiculous, which is why recently Phil Spencer has begun discussing openly to the media the idea that consoles are obsolete, the Xbox name is a brand and not necessarily an actual device, and that upgrading your console is going to become another form of PC gaming. Yeesh.
I get the want by MS to dive into the future and leave everyone behind; they almost did it with the original vision of the Xbox One (always online, no discs, DRM, etc.) and they were forced not to. But that left little room for innovation (unless you call watching TV innovation), and now they might be vying to go at it again and leave everyone in the dust with HoloLens and quitting console manufacturing altogether. Imagine if they had bought in on VR way before it was cool, they would have been sitting on Secretariat this whole time!
What is Microsoft to do now? Release Quantum Break and suffer the same sad story of poor sales like Rise of the Tomb Raider? Watch their flagship title Halo wither away in cultural significance? Wait for Gears of War or backwards compatibility to try and turn around the ship? Let more indie games fall through their fingertips without XBLA or Summer of Arcade? And it's not even as though they're doing poorly like Nintendo; relatively speaking, they're doing quite well for themselves. But in comparison to mobile, and Sony, and free-to-play games, it's a different world now. It just seems like they are doomed to stagnate until irrelevancy, or risk everything by shooting for the moon.
8. Will Valve remain a company dedicated only to VR and cashing DOTA 2 checks, or will they get off their lazy asses and return to, you know, actually making games, like they were known for, once upon a time?
9. Will having no Assassin's Creed this year piss off Ubisoft's shareholders, or does Watch Dogs 2 hit the spot for their corporate overlords?
It seems like Watch Dogs 2 will kill it somehow, yet again, and we could use the AC break anyways. So yeah, I'm all for this.
10. Will these games finally see the light of day in 2016?
Whatever happened to these games: Tekken x Street Fighter, Cyber Punk 2077, Rime, Abzu, Inside, Battlecry, Deep Down, Phantom Dust, Let It Die, the new game from Criterion, the new Star Wars game from EA, Beyond Good and Evil 2, Prey 2, Left 4 Dead 3, Half-Life 3, and whatever Retro Studios is working on?