Consumer power spoke in similarly powerful ways in the games industry recently, but with very different effects.
In the red corner, PC gamers across the world visibly spat out the triple-A, superhero hype for the summer’s blockbuster release, Batman: Arkham Knight, after it was released to PC gamers broken.
In the blue corner, a small European development studio was forced to close after commercial failure, but high critical success for Sunset, a role-playing game that took on themes of war from a hauntingly normal-human perspective.
The Internet, naturally, went totally berserk for both.
Rocksteady Studios are behind the expertise applied to the Warner Brothers/DC franchise. They’re developing in the free world like their Rockstar Games cousins, known as an incredible studio outfit in well known and loved in across the world; they excel at console development and are renowned worldwide for it… but maybe not so much for computer gaming.
When it emerged that the PC port was done externally, the surprise at this was (for more than a few) itself surprising, but no less completely irritating to the hardcore masses who spend serious time, money and dedication to home PC rigs.
It seemed even worse when against the well-documented cynicism within the PC Gaming world towards pre-ordering a game, Batman: Arkham Knight was the one title this year that was going to buck the trend. The opportune timing with a refreshed refund policy within the world’s biggest PC game store, Steam, has instead proved the most useful outcome for people who want to look after their wallets. Take this Steam review, posted up weeks after release:
1.8 hrs on recordPosted: 9 JulyYeah Sorry. I cannot recommend this game to anybody.
8GB DDR3 RAM
EVGA 980GTX Classified Edition
When I found out I can’t crank everything up to high…I turned everything to the lowest settings, these are the results The game randomly dips into 45-20 FPS during regular walking or exploration. Game jumps down to about…ONE Frame a second to the point where you’d think it has frozen when you hop into the Lagmobile Deep down I can tell there is a great game in here, somewhere there is a GREAT experience…But in it’s current state? Hell no, it’s like trying to find a small diamond in sixteen pounds of dog ♥♥♥♥. And even when the diamond is found, it’ll still stink and wont shine as well as it should.Avoid. Buy it when the patches come out, maybe, but for now avoid it like it has Hepatitis C.”
But with the backing of a major media conglomerate, the outrage and fixes can occur with all the resources needed to un-break Batman, and re-sell his adventures to the world. It will be a challenge, but as a collective, they are more than capable.
This isn’t something that Tale of Tales, the Belgian studio behind Sunset, can look forward to just yet. Heartbreakingly, their original Kickstarter for the project smashed it and showed an optimism around their ‘art game’. Since closing the studio and turning away from commercial audiences; they’ve actually secured the passion, albeit sometimes wrong kind, of community interest that would have been fantastic to help support the studio for at least a few extra months.
Yet it would be easy to pin it down to a hostile audience. June’s post-E3 drama should help the industry conclude that people who buy PC games are as choosy as they need to be, when they are so heavily advertised at.
Especially as they also enjoy one of the biggest and most artful product selections within entertainment as a whole, perhaps even more so than film.
There’s a lyric that sums it all up perfectly: “There’s a fine line between fool and hardy”.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a band familiar to official game soundtracks, but the sentiment is applicable to a dilemma best answered by values that are more important to gamers. Do studios stick to the launch dates announced to ensure their stake on the year is cemented, or do they wait and spend a little more for full quality control and locked beta testing?
With independent studios barking ever-loudly for the same fistful of dollars as the bigger studios, customer autonomy really is as important as player agency.
Now, and more pertinently – this autonomy must be respected.
Gamers and studios are at one of the most exciting points in their shared histories; with VR promising so much as it slowly delivers innovative research experiences and incredible bounties for those that dare to develop how we’ll all be spending our leisure time by the end of the decade.
Calls for a solution to foster an industry and audience that supports both art and mainstream success are warranted, but it’s easy to forget simply how difficult it would be to even consider raising a financial commitment for a game like Sunset this time 15 years ago. The level of progress is mostly fast, and encouraging. Social media abuse from developers doesn’t help.
Being artful and successful can work together – just as long as the games have had a chance to breathe first.
And aren’t broken to start with.