Videogames: Loving the Art, Hating the Business
(This is another edition of , a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
The more time I spend writing and talking about the videogame industry, the more bitter I grow, and the more focused that bitterness becomes. Over the past year or so, I’ve felt more and more like a consumer advocate, less willing to defend the business practices of major publishers and more willing to criticize the many sleazy, questionable, and outright anti-customer practices undertaken by the executives holding the purse strings. The advent of the online pass is what caused me to become more aware of the consumer issues surrounding videogames, while the Electronic Software Association’s hypocritical abandonment of gamers during the SOPA/PIPA debacle destroyed any illusion that the industry might ever be on the side of the people who willingly give it money.
With an increased focus on the scummier side of the game industry, a recurring question is tossed my way: why are you writing about videogames if they piss you off so much?
In many ways, it’s a fair question to ask. If you see someone spending so much time complaining about videogames, it could look to the untrained eye like that person hates them. I have been asked outright if I hate videogames, and while my default answer is no, that’s only one half of a response. In truth, I hate videogames as much as I love them, because games are two very different things. Oone element deserves admiration, the other deserves scorn and disgust. I love videogames as a form of art, but I absolutely despise videogames as a business.
I’ve long held the belief that we have some of the very best games ever made, tied to some of the very worst business practices in history. Dead Space, for example, is one of my favorite franchises of all time. I love its commitment to atmosphere, the purity of its combat, and the way influential movies like Aliens and Event Horizon have been used to create something very recognizable, yet surprisingly original. Visceral, as a developer, is one of the best in town, and Dead Space is a beautiful blend of horror and action. However, it’s also published by Electronic Arts, one of the most detestable publishers I could imagine, with the jury out on whether it’s done far more harm than good in this business. It’s killed talented studios. It’s popularized anti-consumer measures such as DRM and online passes. It’s had a nasty influence that has helped breed the sense that publishers are less attempting to appeal to consumers, and more attempting to do battle with them. Dead Space is a game I adore as a piece of interactive art, but I utterly loathe the business it’s attached to, complete with its ludicrous amount of day-one DLC, unnecessary multiplayer additions, and weak justifications for online passes.
Dead Space is but one example, with many more available through all the major publishers. I love the Saints Row series, but I hate how Saints Row: The Third seemed like a step back from its predecessor, all seemingly in order to sell the real content throughout the year as downloadable extras. I love Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but I hate how Namco Bandai put zero faith into it and released it at a stupid time of year, because of the self-fulfilling prophecy that single-player games don’t sell, hence they shouldn’t be promoted properly. Because that’s logical. I love videogames, way more than a real human being should, and it’s because of that love that I hate them so much at the same time.