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One game to rule the year

17 February on Blogs, Editorial  

2012 has come to an end and again we are flooded with an avalanche of Game of the Year award. I have already spoken about my distaste for excessive marketing spending, and it's not an exaggeration to say that some of these awards fall squarely in that category - the Video Game Awards (VGA) are probably the first to come to mind. I am sincerely feel shame for those involved when watching what amounts to a love song to videogame advertisers, with a bunch of celebrities being paid top dollar to "legitimize" games as a respectful industry. Not that I am against any policy that will bring respect to a young industry that still has a hard time being taken seriously... but I could not stomach the whole show with constant chills of insincerity. The VGAs are a grotesque show of doom for an industry that was way too much more money than interest in evolving its medium - the profane curse inherited from Hollywood.

Geoff surrounded by the brands that are constantly equated with gaming

My displeasure with this behavior became clear with the recent award that two games shared among the top choices for Game of the Year in 2012: Telltale's The Walking Dead and thatgamecompany's Journey. Both are incredible games that I have recommended to several people, and eager to escape from the industry's standards of the "success formula"... but possibly more important, both are made by small studios, one independent, the other supported by Sony but perceived by the public as "indie". In theory, This should be a great sign. Yet, I fear for more something a bit more sinister: a carefully coup to try to bring more credibility to an industry hit hard by scandal... the year of the "Doritosgate".

I am not a big fan of poster-child cases that abuse of icons to generate cheap feelings, but Rab Florence's case, illustrated by Geoff Keighley's picture captured that so well that it truly has achieved iconic status for what I am describing. I won't go over the details of this case, but the short version is: the gaming press was constantly accused in 2012 of catering to publisher's demands or even just pleasing them for self-gain. I have certainly lived through the abuse of the star power of certain North American journalists treating me like trash because I wasn't as "important" as them, while they were escorted like true celebrities in marketing events. And I won't lie, I have been on the other side of the equation - but it always makes me feel a little dirty and self-aware. My problem isn't with the relationship among these two (trust between them is invaluable), but their mutual interest in pleasing each other, which not only compromises objectivity, but also results in a bizarre mimetism: journalists start to write and think each time more like advertisers, excited with hyperbolic adjectives and a lack of motivation for true criticism (on a sidenote, I went over the importance of metascores for the marketing team on my article about Mass Effect, that's worth a read if you aren't aware of it). Curiously, lately we have been seeing a lot of major videogame publications criticizing the consumer for his opinion, labeling them with the dreaded "Entitled" sign due to their complaints over games like Mass Effect 3 and Devil May Cry's reboot DmC.

Telltale's The Walking Dead, borrows its look from the comic instead of the TV show

But let's get back to the award, most specifically, the "Game of the Year". In a year that was heavy in press criticism, it's a bit weird that so many major publications awarded The Walking Dead, including Spike and OXM among 80 others, and the more traditional ones like IGN and Gamespot went with Journey. Looking back to all previous years we find a list composed completely of titles of huge publishers composed almost exclusively of titles made under "guaranteed success formulas" - and heavy marketing budgets (which, as I mentioned before, sometimes even eclipses the cost of development). Call me grumpy, call me paranoid, but it's very hard to me to imagine that this was anything but a peace offering to try to prove how unbiased they are. I certainly appreciate Journey as a fine example that videogames can be art... but why such disparity with all patterns of choice of previous year, displayed by almost ALL publications at once? It's not like we didn't have another Borderlands, Call of Duty or Halo this year - all games that had their fair share of GOTYs before.

And frankly, I have to vent about this: awarding a "Game of the Year" makes absolutely no sense. It's no coincidence that other media like TV splits the categories - like the Golden Globes having separate Drama and Comedy awards. The parameters to compare certain games is almost impossible. How can I pit Journey against XCOM against New Super Mario Bros. 2? Each is an excellent example in their respective genre, and while one could praise Journey for its creativity and emotional engagement... if that was the defining factor, most other awards and pick from other years make absolutely no sense. In fact, I believe the institution of these awards is more geared towards pleasing publishers than readers.

The role of the press is NOT to please publishers. The role of the publishers is NOT to stroke the ego of the press. The role of the consumer/reader is NOT to accept everything that is told to them. But it would be a lot healthier if everyone left their comfort zone behind and demanded more: press needs to be bolder and more creative, publishers need to worry less about metascores and outrageously expensive campaigns and more with the future of the medium (more on this on my next post), and consumers/readers need to demand to be treated like adults, not sheep that chew everything that is passed along to them.

E.T. and Pac-Man for the Atari VCS almost single-handedly killed the industry.

I see a dark shadow on the horizon, a crisis for the videogame industry - one that is being ignored much like the emperor's nudity, but could be as serious as the Videogame Crash in the 80s. Each year more is spent on multimillion dollar campaigns and more expensive consoles, but right now the market is undergoing a strange teenagehood in which it is not really sure of its own identity and can't comprehend the metamorphosis that it is undergoing. Social games have exploded and imploded with staggering speed, and the ecosystem of mobile games is tantamount to witchcraft to major players. But instead of reevaluating models, the most relied on strategy is to throw more money on the problem - something Square Enix and Capcom found isn't exactly always a good policy with titles like Final Fantasy XIII and Resident Evil 6. The funniest thing is that even Nintendo, which pioneered in breaking this paradigm and expanding the market - seems to have forgotten this very lesson from the DS and Wii when planning the Wii U.

There is nothing I want to see more than this industry reaching its deserved maturity. But right now all I see are antiquated tendencies that survive due to childish stubborn behavior - something being spewed from the top, from publishers to consumers. Without these much needed changes, I can really see this industry going under as something real... and potentially immediate.

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

Author, freelance videogame journalist, cinematography major and a little insane.