The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for going for a swim with the family and then hoping to check out a Christmas market. But we can squeeze in some reading of the week’s best games writing in between.

Natalie Lawhead wrote about Day of the Devs, and why exhibition spaces need to do more to create a context for unusual games to be played and understood rather than just ridiculed and branded weird.

My point is that wow Streamers and Youtubers have created a steadily growing culture where it’s kosher and a fun pastime to laugh at these types of games. We should be aware that this is a problem (more than maybe we thought). I don’t know what to do about that. I really would like to encourage some constructive criticism toward Streamers and how they talk about these games. Just because some famous guy with whatever million followers plays it, this isn’t an “honor” or necessarily a good thing. It doesn’t really help sales, or exposure. The last time one did that I got a SLEW of hateful comments and email. It kind of hit me hard because this is also a personal game, and people will cater their attacks based on what they know I’ve been through.

In response, Matheson Marcault wrote a post covering things they learned about exhibiting difficult games from co-running events such as Now Play This at Somerset House. There’s lots of useful tips in there about what works and what doesn’t.

Of course it’s not possible to try out all these different techniques at once, and in fact some of them are mutually exclusive. But they all boil down to: providing the right context for a game. For us, at its simplest this might just be a placard explaining what’s exciting about a game and how it relates to other work around it – even if people don’t read the placard, the fact that it’s there helps to establish that the games have been selected for a purpose, that we believe they repay effort and attention. But beyond that, the more time and developmental focus we’ve been able to give to the physical setup of a game, the more it’s been possible to help players to approach it in a way where they will have a good experience of the game and we can communicate what we want to about it.

Second Life still has 600,000 regular users, which is a surprise. Leslie Jamison writes about the game as “the digital ruins of a forgotten future” for The Atlantic.

In truth, in the years since its peak in the mid‑2000s, Second Life has become something more like a magnet for mockery. When I told friends that I was working on a story about it, their faces almost always followed the same trajectory of reactions: a blank expression, a brief flash of recognition, and then a mildly bemused look. Is that still around? Second Life is no longer the thing you joke about; it’s the thing you haven’t bothered to joke about for years.

It’s been a while since I linked anything by Jeff Vogel, and now seems like a good time since last week he set out to settle all videogame arguments once and for all. First up: game reviews.

Why Are You Authorized to Settle This Argument Forever?

Because I am old, and that makes me wise. Also, once PC Gamer gave one of my most popular and enduring games a 17% review, literally said it was worse than choking to death on your own vomit, and provided a helpful sidebar with a list of rock stars who choked to death on their own vomit.

Related.

PC Gamer spoke to some developers about the case for and against loot boxes. There’s nothing staggering in there but it’s good to hear more perspectives.

“Halo 1 was developed I think by 35-50 people. That’s tiny. Paying those people, making sure development is paid, is a lot easier than paying 300 people. That’s eight, 10 times the cost. That’s a big deal, that’s a big change for a company. When you put something out and the world looks at it and the internet is filled with vitriol, if it’s not good, you just took an enormous bet, and you just failed. And people end up losing their jobs.”

I keep hearing about HQ, a trivia mobile app with a live game show host in which players can win real money for playing. It sounds fun, though the CEO of the company who makes the game sounds very unfun.

Yusupov’s objections began with the line, “Scott said that despite the attention, he’s still able to walk down the street and order his favorite salad from Sweetgreen without being accosted.”

“He cannot say that!” Yusupov shouted. “We do not have a brand deal with Sweetgreen! Under no circumstances can he say that.”

Which might make you despair for the tech industry and the future in general, so read this to perk yourself back up again. CoderDojo seems great.

Music this week is the track Soldiers from the Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. I liked the second series as much as I liked the first, which is to say that I liked it and that’s all.

35 Comments

  1. Spacewalk says:

    Loot boxes should be good. Hey, you open it and you get a thing, maybe even multiple things. But no, loot boxes are bad, very bad because you don’t want just any old thing you want a very specific thing and the chance of getting is probably going to be so low that it’s criminal. How many fucking times am I supposed to grind these shitty enemies for a stack of these fucking boxes that might or might not contain what I’ve spent the last three fucking hours hoping for? It’s maddening. And no, I am not going to pay you money to increase my chances of getting exactly what I want you’ve got enough of that out of me already.

  2. Wednesday says:

    Did the Penny Arcade guys do something lately? I feel like I needed some context for that article ragging on them.

    And please, no long history of their terrible misdemeanours past.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      That specific piece has art from a recent strip taking shots at Polygon because… I don’t know, “olololo, y u gotta be political,” or something along those lines. They do have a history of snide jabs at the gaming media which have always struck me as some of their weakest material – like, I can understand what the point of their offensive strips were, I can even laugh uneasily at some of them, I just shake my head wearily at how misguided they were. Their “Games journalists, am I right? Don’t worry, we tell it like it is” stuff just baffles me. Always has done. They touch on politics/social issues etc. when it suits them, so presumably it’s only bad when they don’t want to discuss these things?

      • Wednesday says:

        Yes, they do plenty of politics themselves, it was why I was a little confused.

        • zabieru says:

          The connection runs the other direction, actually: it’s related because it’s an article about Penny Arcade’s commentary on the Jeff Vogel piece. (It’s referenced and linked from the newspost to that strip.)

          For my taste, I wasn’t impressed with PA on this one. Okay, so you read this Jeff Vogel rant, and your response was… to regurgitate the central idea (know your critics’ biases and pick your media accordingly) in a less-funny form? Good job, kids, really knocked that one out of the park.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            I think Penny Arcade’s (well, Holkins’) commentary was pretty sharp, really. In particular:

            “If I see a review I don’t agree with, it’s my assumption generally that I’m an idiot and there’s something I’ve missed. That’s not my problem with the review I read yesterday. It’s that I don’t recognize the piece of media that’s being discussed anywhere in the review. I don’t even think the review is about the piece of media.”

          • malkav11 says:

            I have definitely run into some reviews like that. E.g. SU&SD’s review of Sentinels of the Multiverse. And I mostly really enjoy their reviews! But that one…they just really didn’t seem to have played the game that I did.

            (Please don’t reply to tell me how you also don’t like Sentinels – I know people like that exist, and it’s fine. Just thankfully, not at my gaming table.)

        • Blastaz says:

          link to penny-arcade.com

          Here is the piece “taking shots at Polygon”

    • PancakeWizard says:

      PA were commenting on Polygon being one of very few sites being negative of the new Punisher Netflix show (which is generally critically seen as good), and citing ‘current political climate’ for why the show sucked.

      PA are, fairly I think, treating that as a bullshit reason to say a show is bad.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        I read the review. I will concede Polygon do sometimes take their Serious Coverage For Serious People schtick a little too far, plus I haven’t seen the show (I do not have Netflix)… but nothing in there suggested they were trying to score cheap shots. I’ve seen other people level much the same criticisms at the idea of the show, at least, and none of it seemed totally unfounded (i.e. even without seeing the show I can at least read the review and think well, sure, it’s perfectly possible I might agree with that?). Penny Arcade’s “response”, in contrast, was pretty obviously just shut up I like it everyone else likes it only dumb people don’t like it you’re dumb.

        • KidWithKnife says:

          Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of PA’s attitude toward political content in gaming media, either. That said, the Polygon review of Punisher is some pretty poor work. I get a strong sense from it that the reviewer had some particular assumptions in mind about what it was going to be before watching it and was disappointed that it wasn’t the kind of show they expected; that actually might be fine if they stated that outright, but they don’t. It left me wondering whether the reviewer frequently misses the point of shows and films; did this person pan Shakespeare in Love because Ben Affleck didn’t deliver enough dick and fart jokes? Were they disappointed in It Follows for not sticking a hockey mask on it’s villain and having it hack up some coeds with a machete?

        • PancakeWizard says:

          “Penny Arcade’s “response”, in contrast, was pretty obviously just shut up I like it everyone else likes it only dumb people don’t like it you’re dumb.”

          You are aware, I take it, that PA’s comics always have an accompanying blog post that gives the blunt humour some context? Because I found their reasoning a lot more nuanced than what you’re suggesting.

      • Mikefoo says:

        Why is that a bullshit reason to say something is bad? If you find something morally repugnant, to the point where it doesn’t matter how technically well-made it is, then is it not the responsible thing to just say so in your review of it?

        “Oh, the acting and script were all top-notch. I mean, the premise made me sick to my stomach and goes against everything I believe in, but still 9/10 would recommend”

  3. Vurogj says:

    I have to admit defeat, I for once genuinely can’t decide if the Daily Beast piece about HQ is satire or not.

  4. Ghostbird says:

    The subtext of the loot box contriversy, like the micropayment and DLC controversies before it, is that it’s not possible to make blockbuster games at a price people are willing to pay. I’m OK with that, I think. The constant need to have more graphics and more ‘content’ than the last blockbuster doesn’t just make for dull games – it encourages lazy criticism and the mindset that mistakes lazy criticism for objectivity. We’d all – developers not least – be better off with more smaller studios making smaller games.

    • draglikepull says:

      Relatedly, I don’t think publishers *must* make blockbuster games that are so expensive. I’m playing Assassin’s Creed Origins now, and it’s clearly a game made by very talented people, and there’s nothing in it that suggests to me that Ubisoft wasn’t trying to make a good game. But there is *so much stuff* and most of it just isn’t necessary. It’s an ENORMOUS game, both in terms of the size of the landmass and in terms of the number of things to do, but it doesn’t really need to be. It’s trying to be every kind of game to every kind of gamer rather than trying to be a specific kind of game that executes on a clear vision.

      Why is there a crafting system that adds so little to the game? Why are there experience points and enemy level scaling? Why does it have the same dumb colour-coded loot system that every game has had since WoW? Why does it have so many vast regions that it shuffles you through without the chance to even see most of it? The amount of unique art in the game is astonishing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if literally hundreds of artists were on payroll, but . . . why?

      Assassin’s Creed 2 is one of my favourite games of the past decade, and it was a fraction of the size of AC Origins. It succeeded because it had a clear vision and executed on it. There’s just no need for Origins to be so big and cost so much.

      • gpown says:

        It’s all digital cocaine.

        Loot system: a shot of dopamine because oooh something shiny.
        Leveling: a shot of dopamine because look at me, I’m better now!
        Crafting: hoarding feels rewarding for some people.
        It all revolves around those two keywords from the terrible EA Battlefront Reddit reply: “pride an accomplishment”. It’s hard to make game mechanics that remain *interesting* for a long time, but it’s really, really easy to have a ton of half-generated, half-handmade #content and some hamster wheel systems that remain *rewarding* for the average couch potato.

        Every generation in the modern times has had and is going to have something to fuel their little inner narcissist. First it was tabloids, then Big Brother and thousands of other shows where you watch dumb people do dumb things for dumb rewards, then Candy Crush, then AAA games with mechanics that reward you with pride and accomplishment instead of being fun.

      • welverin says:

        f all the people who not only expect that much content, but demand it. Such people are rather violently opposed to ‘short games.’

  5. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    That Second Life article was a really good read, cheers.

    • notponies says:

      I always find Second Life commentary a bit weird myself since there’s always these select undercurrents:

      The question of how “authentic” is virtual life versus real life (or “offline life”). Usually with the assumption that virtual life is unauthentic and meaningless (the Atlantic article somewhat follows this perspective). Which might have been true in the 1990s but is increasingly false. Everyone’s online now. Even the freakin’ President of the United States is on Twitter no matter how much I don’t want him to be.

      Also, treating online life as this completely ephemeral thing that doesn’t matter to anything led to a certain kind nihilism among certain Internet groups in the 2000s that inspired some bad behaviour that only got worse into the 2010s.

      There’s also how some Internet subcultures found a home on Second Life which others found mockworthy because they hate fun. :P Which ties with my previous point.

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    Re: the art game article, the author points out that youtubers and streamers have created a culture hostile to experimental games, so the audience’s default reaction is unreflexive mockery. But this makes me think about the general reaction to ‘modern art’ -there is a lot of depreciation, ‘anyone could have made that’ kind of reactions from the general public. And there is no equivalent for streaming or Youtube punditry for art in general. So I think this close mindedness has to do with how people relate and what they expect from art in general (to conform to rules) and can’t be specifically blamed on a culture fostered by the ‘content creators’. There is a lot of misguided bitterness on the part of niche game makers towards various ‘tastemakers’ and ‘influencers’ which makes them look immature. Reminds me of ‘Phil Fish vs Totabiscuit’ kind of flamewars which are in general very unproductive.

    • notponies says:

      While I won’t deny getting a chuckle out of modern art while not having in-depth knowledge of modern art myself,

      It’s true a lot of people are dismissive of experimental games and indie games in general. See the “walking sim” controversy (did we ever come up with a better name for those?). Or the rogue-lite controversy. Or the pixel art controversy. I don’t think this is specifically caused by YouTubers though as much as YouTubers are just popular for this perspective.

      At the same time, I do encounter artists and writers that imply that all gaming should be walking sims and Twine games in order to be a legitimate art form.

      Things get a bit strange when you add Triple-A games into the debate. The “pro-indie” crowd are naturally reacting to the excesses of Triple-A games. Meanwhile, significant parts of the “anti-indie” crown hate Triple-A games too; they want “Double-A” games reminiscent of the 90s classics. Sometimes these groups conflates the other with the dreaded Triple-A games; “pro-indie” people assuming all “anti-indie” people are Call of Duty bros, while “anti-indie” people assume the “pro-indie” people have the same mindset that led to Call of Duty overusing cutscenes.

      More than anything this makes me feel for the average game developer that hangs out in something like /r/gamedev. Those who aren’t specifically trying to do art or make a statement but don’t have the resources to give an impeccably polished experience either, but just want to make a cool thing in Unity or GameMaker.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      “I shared a really personal piece of art and people brutally made fun of it” is a terrible thing to happen, sure. But it’s also something that’s been happening to poets, authors, songwriters and painters for centuries.
      We have moved into a new era where the entire world can join in making fun of people’s emotionally-close works. Things are going to be harder on artists than ever.
      I don’t really have a conclusion here, I think it sucks but I don’t know what can be done about it.

  7. MajorLag says:

    > My point is that wow Streamers and Youtubers have created a steadily growing culture where it’s kosher and a fun pastime to laugh at these types of games.

    I think the problem isn’t so much that they’ve fostered all this negativity towards experimental games as it is that they’ve fostered negativity towards literally everything. Doesn’t matter how good something is, someone will get a lot of views ranting about it. I don’t know if there is some broader reason for it, or if it is just a cultural feedback loop inadvertently started by James Rolfe, but something should probably be done to try and counteract it at this point.

    • KidWithKnife says:

      That is a problem that goes way beyond gaming videos and streaming and into pretty much all pop culture in general; saying that something sucks, no matter how childish, beside the point or generally irrelevant one’s reasoning is, gets hits and gets shares/retweets/etc. A lot of people LOVE shitting on something that someone else created. Aside from being generally obnoxious and obviously bad for creators and people who want to enjoy creative work, it’s also bad for criticism because it makes it easy for otherwise reasonable people to dismiss any criticism as just “hating”. Unfortunately I have no idea how to solve this problem.

  8. April March says:

    I have something to offer today: Lindsay Ellis’ video on Pirates of the Caribbean. Which is excellent (her stuff always is) but I’m posting here because it contains a very smart and interesting discussion on the relationship between investors, publishers and creative types – one that I’ve found very relevant for our dear favourite artform.

  9. notponies says:

    Always love to see a link to Jeff Vogel. That is all.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      He makes a good point how you should find YOUR reviewers whose opinions you can depend on due to similar taste. I found that RPS recently delegates the WITs to unknown newcomers. Nice of them to give them a chance to be published, but I’d really prefer to hear the opinion of John, Alec et al.

      • juan_h says:

        I agree that, all else being equal, a review from a familiar reviewer is more useful than one from an unfamiliar reviewer. However, you can still obtain useful information from an unfamiliar reviewer. It all depends on the text of the review. I don’t believe that the many, many words (hundreds? thousands?) in a Wot I Think are wasted just because I don’t recognize the byline.

      • notponies says:

        More than anything I relate to Vogel’s part at the beginning about seeing the same arguments brought up and rehashed again and again by new generations. Especially since Vogel is the longest surviving indie dev I know of.

        And it’s true about finding reviewers that match your tastes. Or failing that just look up raw gameplay footage on YouTube.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          When I’m looking for reviews or criticism what I really want is at least a degree of analysis and informed interpretation. Raw footage can be useful or curious but it doesn’t serve the same purpose.

  10. Enko says:

    I think reviewer culture in general is losing its credibility. A lot of things are done for shock value.

    I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read a scathing review of a game, or even a review that gave a mediocre score – then saw it on twitch, bought it and had a blast for weeks.

    Recently – Ruiner. Previously Mad Max. I still occasionally launch it and find a caravan to take down. Or a site to clear.

    Same with movies, except its almost in reverse – usually a 90%+ on review sites means movie is trash. Its been very consistent.

    30-80 range usually means someone tried something new and egomaniac with a WordPress wasn’t entirely comfortable with it while trying to churn through his daily quota of media to review.

    • Mikefoo says:

      What does “credibility” mean to you? Judging from your comment, it appears to mean “agrees with my opinion about something”. A major point of the linked article is that it’s perfectly fine to just disagree with someone’s review of a thing, without implying that it discredits the practice of reviewing things in general. Reviews aren’t there to validate you, nor should they be.

      And I think it’s great that you’ve found the “90%+ score = trash” shortcut. Though movies from every genre receive high scores, so I think you’ll be missing out on a lot if you stick to that rule rigidly.

  11. Cederic says:

    “people end up losing their jobs”

    Wait, am I meant to show empathy here?

    If you’re part of a 300 person team that can’t fund its existence without brutally exploiting young people then GOOD if you lose your job.

    There is plenty of sustainable employment out there, particularly for computer programmers. Get a real job that does good things.

    • fuggles says:

      I would say yes you are – I read that as a manager who cares for the employment status of their team.

      I’m not sure why people get so hostile towards a small company who has to rapidly learn how to upscale. People were thrilled to get a sequel to halo but now in retrospect they are bad because they took a gamble on a new IP and succeeded?

      Seems harsh.