Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Final Generation

Here we go again. Hardware launches ra ra ra. Hardware-centric branding pushing a false generation war ra ra. Hardware promises co-opting the language of game developers to sell a nonsense vision (online, super-realism, emotion etc) ra ra.

Here's what the next generations are offering for real. More polys, more pixels, on-line play and a controller that lets you, you know, move stuff about on screen. Whoopdefucking do.

I am so... tired of this nonsense. I am so bored of watching the same little bit of history repeating, with the same cod arguments, the same lies, the same messages and the same complete lack of anything really INTERESTING happening. I'm tired of watching developers prostrate themselves before the temple of marketing and watching formerly perfectly good creative people turn into hollow replicants of their former selves. I'm tired of watching journalists become ever more complicit in the squeeky wheel and grease show, and I'm tired of watching an industry regularly deceive itself, blame external forces and otherwise try and pretend that nothing has ever changed.

And I'm jealous.
I'm very jealous of watching other media move on. I'm watching the new Battlestar Galactica today for the first time (always last to the party, I know) and I'm loving it. Normally I regard any remakes as suspicious (this is something that the games industry teaches you after a while) but in Galactica I'm watching a properly conceived bold attempt to really work with material to make something new. I saw Serenity the other week and had similar feelings. I watch US drama shows all the time (Lost and Rome being current favourites) and again, I am amazed at the way that this medium has moved on. And it makes me very jealous. And wanting to make my own shows - but that's another story.

It's a real Gordian Knot that the whole field of videogaming finds itself in because there are several competing forces at work here, none of which is actually healthy for the games. These forces are what drive the generation cycles. PS4 is already on someone's drawing board, as is XBOX5, DS3 and whatever else. Yet any fool can tell you that the current direction of the industry is ultimately going to lead to the death of everyone bar the hardware makers themselves.

On the one hand, the business forces have absolutely come to depend on hardware sales now and second hand sales to offset the public's increasing weariness. There's the manufacturers, whose dominance struggle is beginning to look desperate on all sides, and who are now launching new hardware seemingly every other month. There's publishers, who are increasingly looking for ways to look sweet enough to be bought because they know full well that the costs problem which killed developers by the thousands over the last three years has come knocking at their door. There's the small developers, who've gotten bought themselves, or sidestepped the main industry to go off into mobile land, casual land or budget land - and are finding the same problems there. There's the indie developers, who's belief is driven by a need to return games to their past, and who focus on making 'true' games. And at the center of all this is the sense that maybe the problem is simply that there isn't enough money to go around.

If history has taught us anything, it's that this sort of pack cannibalism is not something that can exist as a permanent mentality. With virtually everyone in the different corners of the industry now entrenched in their position and playing an extended game of Russian Roulette, the industry won't survive in the same shape in which it currently does. As with any form of media entertainment from wrestling and porn to modern art and cinema, these things have a tendency to balloon, burst and then reinvent themselves in a new form.

Well we need our reinvention, but it isn't going to happen before we balloon and bust first. This new generation, as with other generations, is just another turn of the screw. It's not something that *can* be solved by untangling the strings and everyone being reasonable (as is often expressed in forum discussions on the fate of the industry).

We see the same threads and blog posts again and again talking about the nature of the industry, and if only the industry could be made to see sense, and if only it could be made to do things in a reasonable manner, and if only and if only. It can't.

The parties are too entrenched. Like the first world war, the conflict now seems so insane, and yet the fact that the enemies of every faction are all staring each other down compels them all to fight to a bitter end that may or may never come.

Alexander the Great didn't solve the Gordian Knot. He just cut it in half with his sword. The symbol is obvious. Sometimes messes get so convoluted and mixed up that the only solution is a clean break. There are times when the only sane course of action is an unreasonable one.

So we head into generation six or seven (I forget which it's supposed to be) full of fear. Fear for our hobby, fear for our direction, fear for our jobs and livelihoods. The trench guns are firing, the mad charges have begun. The clarions are ringing around the ramparts, and there we are. You, me, a bunch of other guys, dressed in regulation hoodies and sneakers, with shaved heads, mortgage payments or rent, our thirtieth birthdays whizzing by with maybe a kid or two. We all know that it's madness, but we're going over the top anyway.

See you on the other side.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Label names

I've gottten a lot of interesting feedback on the trade label idea, both in comments forum posts and through private email. It seems about 50/50 in replies. Some people really like the idea, some people thin it's elitism writ large. A lot of people are worried by the idea of who exactly would do the voting, and more than one poster has questioned the sheer validity of the idea at all.

Which is all fair enough.

The simple goals behind the suggested project are to draw the eyes of consumers to games, films, books and whatever that they might find imaginatively interesting. There really are no snootier ambitions to it than that.

So I've been thinking of what the name of the label could be. I wanted to something light-hearted enough that it didn't sound pretentious, something straightforward but slightly witty, but ultimately as easy-to-understand as "Fair Trade".

I like the name "Not Dumb".
What do you think?

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Trade Label

I've had an idea in the back of my mind for a little while which I think I'll share.

One of the things that annoys me about our culture (and especially the media within it) is that there's an increasing dumbing down/juvenalisation of the whole thing. You have increasingly intelligence free music, games and so on taking up more and more of the shelf space, and the consumerism inherent in that sort of culture essentially does what it does in any other market: It makes it harder to find the more interesting, niche stuff.

I for one believe that there is such a thing as Quality in culture, an indescribable sense of creative thought manifest, from Ico to West Wing to whatever, but I think it's getting harder to figure out where the quality is at.

So I thought: In the food industry you see these specific labels now popping up, like 'Organic' and 'Fair Trade' which are intended to draw the concerned consumer's eye and point them toward quality. In the first instance, quality food, and in the second instance to let the consumer know that the food was not procured by bleeding some farmers dry. Both are successful minority initiatives. They haven't dominated the landscape, but they help.

So I'm thinking, why not start a trade label like Fair Trade which tells media-buying consumers "This media actually has some creative brains behind it and will speak to you like an adult". Not a judgement on the content from a political or whatever standpoint, but simply a message label that says "We think this is an honest attempt at art and/or entertainment".

Ordinarily that would be the province of reviews, wouldn't it?
Well in recent years it seems to me that the whole structure of reviews and review journalists has essentially become untrustworthy. There are too many rent-a-reviews floating around now to give any clear indication of anything, and while sites like metacritic provide a summary, they're still poviding a summary of a skewed data set.

So what I'm suggesting is anonymous groups of maybe 30 people over the age of 25 who evaluate pieces of media and vote whether to approve it, according to a set of criteria (there may be a group per subject, or several if it gets popular, though not split by genre). At first its unlikely that such an effort would be taken very seriously, of course, and its recommendations would likely as not just sit on a website for people to browse.

But over time the idea would be to allow the label of this group of people to be used by manufacturers under a free copyright license on approved products only, be they books, films or whatever.


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