Most blogs and outlets tend to eulogize the past year for plainly two reasons: it’s easy to write because the information is readily available, and it’s an excuse to produce more content. But instead of bombarding you guys, the readers, with loads of content (which I hardly do anyway), I thought I would shorten things into one post.
I’m excited it’s the first end-year commentary here on Holygrenade, because it gives us the opportunity to look back on 2012. Which amounted to an impossibly complicated year involving many novelties — the rise of Kickstarter, sexism awareness, and free-to-play as a dependable pricing alternative.
Kickstartin’ projects into the new year
Before this year, Kickstarter was a relatively unknown service. Utter the name today and you’ll grab a mixed response. This year infinitely changed publisher dominance over a game’s development, as Kickstarter arose as a viable alternative to publisher funding. Instead of asking EA, why not make a game the fans want?
It started in February with Double Fine, who rose over $3 million in a month, even tripling their $400,000 goal in less than 24 hours. The fans spoke. They wanted a point-and-click adventure, a genre famously paraded by Tim Schafer collaborating on Monkey Island when he worked at Lucasarts.
The studio wanted full creative freedom for Double Fine Adventure and to not be held down by publisher interests. A noble cause, to explore the true potential of games when money is no object, but what came next translated to a dangerous trend for game development.
After Double Fine’s success, others took to the service as a means to bypass the need for external funding. Among them: Wasteland 2 raising just shy of $3 million; the Ouya project raising $9 million; and the Oculus Rift which managed $2.4 million. And with these weighty numbers comes immense press coverage, interviews, and a boatload of skeptics waiting for satisfaction.
However, everything has two sides. Kickstarter is inherently a good thing, allowing for fans to fund projects they want to see. But therein lies a major problem: the opportunity to take advantage of fan generosity.
Peter Molyneux, fresh off creating a new studio and mobile title, wants to reinvent the god genre, one he invented. He launched Project Godus, a Kickstarter fund, as a way to bring back god games. As of this writing, that fund has collected only £215,000 with two weeks left.
It is perfectly fine to use Kickstarter, but not so if you’re a known name pitching a project that could easily receive publisher funding. To have a genre’s creator resurface in that genre after many years would receive tons of buzz. From the media, from fans, and from the developing community. And I believe publishers are kicking themselves to grab hold of Molyneux’s newest. Who wouldn’t?
Abusing the system demonizes the process twofold: it diverts attention from other promising projects, and Molyneux uses his name to steal donations from those who genuinely need funding.
As Kickstarter exists, especially heading into 2013, more stories will pop up and more press will complain about incessant Kickstarter requests. The rise of crowd-sourcing scares the publishers too, I believe, but it won’t have the valiant impact some have professed. The industry needs publishers to survive, and publishers need projects.
Women are in this industry too
It only says one thing about the gaming industry that 2012 brought so many brouhahas over gender equality. That we’re pathetic and we’re all to blame. Women, of course, have a place in all artistic mediums and should not feel vilified or objectified just because they are female. And this year has certainly reminded us of that time after time.
The epitome of female identity in games came to light in May with a tiny but formidable Kickstarter fund: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Started by Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, a feminist advocate site, her Kickstarter declared she intended to make a series of educational videos detailing how women are subjected in games.
Almost instantly, she received threats of death, rape, and other unspeakable crimes, all seemingly from sexist and irrefutably vile people. And again, the majority of gamers (decent, honest and not misogynistic) got negative press from a small but vocal collective.
The Tropes affair was far from the only reminder of gender equality. From the infamous “girlfriend mode” in Borderlands 2 to comments about wanting to “protect” Lara Croft, 2012 came to be an interesting (and hyperbolic) year for a lot of people. But mostly the press, especially Kotaku who posted the articles which started both of the aforementioned controversies.
Perhaps the most depressing was #1ReasonWhy, a twitter hashtag asking for women in the industry to share stories of sexism. The hashtag’s popularity quickly spurred another conversation in press circles, but this time was different. Women identified the sexism and not men, and some vocalized disheartening tales of blatant acts. And most importantly, they weren’t afraid.
As a male, I will never deal with gender-based objectification. It’s something most of the industry will never experience. Next year presents a challenge as the conversation grows broader: do we want to isolate ourselves from the true potential of games, and continue to insist video games are a male rite of passage? Truthfully, I hope not.
If anything, not just to bring wisdom and insight to breathe new life to games, but to show games prioritize togetherness. And I sincerely hope 2013 will be a step in the right direction.
The freedom of play
The spectacular collapse of BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic showed that World of Warcraft is invincible, and that free-to-play is more than just for smartphones. It was a different discussion in 2012–taken seriously as a financial alternative instead of having players pay a base fee. Profits accumulated through in-game store purchases and extra content.
Far more than other genres, the popularity of free-to-play sparked an identity crisis in MMOs. Blizzard brought in a free trial for WoW; EA’s most expensive project tanked and BioWare resorted to free-to-play with Republic; and Guild Wars 2 received a heaping of publicity for only including a base fee and no monthly subs, rare for an MMO.
Ed Fries, co-creator of Xbox and advisor on the Ouya project, spoke recently to GameInformer about the relevancy of free-to-play. He said: “Likewise they have to respond to the free-to-play game model, the world is changing, people want this free-to-play experience, game developers want to build free-to-play experiences and the console ecosystem has to adapt to that. It can’t just be $50 product in a box all the time.”
The momentous rise of free-to-play was inevitable as mobile has slowly crept up as the distant cousin of modern big-budget games. Right now, the two industries are entirely separate, but gradually we’ll see a melding of popularity. More console players will find their way to mobile and vice versa. 2013 should be where free-to-play begins to flourish for the whole industry, to attract a wider player base and a better chance at profits.
Thanks for reading! I may do a part two if I can find more trends, and I’m sure there are some. Get ready for a busy day here on Holygrenade.
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