Blogged Out: 'The Wasteland'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of developer blogging, with a new critical voice on game length and game business, and some familiar faces on WarioWare and banning violent games.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: poking the industry with a magical blogging stick, and some serious issues. The Wasteland There’s a new developer blog on the block, and I like the cut of its skeptical jib. Magical Wasteland by “Matthew”, an otherwise anonymous developer blogger, is an outspoken and critical survey of issues across the games industry. Take, for example, his treatment of the problem of people not finishing games, a phenomenon which was so dramatically illustrated when Valve revealed that only about 20% of people who bought Half-Life Episode One actually finished it. Matthew thinks this is a big problem, and proposes an angle on the crisis: “What if games were only as long as it took to get across their main ideas, about game design or the world around us? It would be a dramatic change, one that would challenge a lot of what we assume consumers are paying for when they buy a game. But at the very least, the critics would be forced to complete game before writing their reviews.” It’s not that radical an idea: book publishers consistently trim down their tomes. Shorter books are more approachable, cost less to make and tend to shift more units. Could games benefit from the same kind of approach? More recently Magical Wasteland took some time to lay waste to this GameDailyBiz article, which aims to give some insight into the business of game investing, and ultimately gets a little tongue tied along the way. One of its biggest mistakes, it seems, was to choose Psychonauts as its example of a game that didn’t do too well on the shelves. Matthew responds in simple terms. “I propose another reason why Psychonauts was not a success, one that seems to escape the author’s attention: it cost more to create than it made back. It sounds obvious, but our game business consulting guru has not even mentioned this fact.” It’s funny, that’s the second time I’ve heard a game developer say “just make more money than you spend” this week. Missing Rituals Ian Bogost has been doing some more serious discussion of games, this time focusing on ‘exergaming’, or those games that make you stand up and waggle around. His article suggests that the most important, and largely ignored, aspect of exergaming is making these games make sense in a social context. They need to have an understanding of the gaming rituals that are going to make then soulful and popular. Bogost focuses a critical eye on the Wii’s Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, and goes on to say: “Compare this experience with another popular videogame that also requires physical input: Guitar Hero. To be sure, the amount of physical exertion expended when strumming a plastic guitar is assuredly lower than that used when jumping and flailing with a wii remote — but just getting players up off the couch counts as one of the title’s major accomplishments. Much of Guitar Hero’s success comes from its successful simulation of the jam session, the garage band act, and rock superstar performance. Add a friend and you can compete or you can collaborate. By simulating a ritual activity like the jam session, Guitar Hero also becomes an abstract instance of that ritual itself.” Burned Books Someone else who has been playing Guitar Hero recently is the Danish gaming academic Jesper Juul (whose book I read recently - it’s an illuminating and beautifully formatted piece of pulped tree). Juul points out that Germany is considering banning violent games. Censorship, as he points out, doesn’t tend to end well: “If history teaches us anything, it is that censorship is not a good path to go down. It has been put more succinctly: Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen. Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings. Know your history.” Although perhaps it would push developers in new directions. The German market is already heavily skewed towards strategy and resource management gaming, perhaps a complete ban on violent games would exacerbate that and end up creating an even more interesting gaming culture. On the other hand creating new taboos tends to make any problem a little worse, and violent games would likely become the currency of a piratical subculture, with all the problems that such illegality entails. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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