Like a scent of vanilla…

Last September, I was playing the rather naughty Action Neptune U. While the game was quite satisfying on the ecchi side, that was not the case in terms of gameplay. A lot too easy, Compile Heart’s latest title wasn’t worth much as an action game. As I was lamenting the fact that no Neptunia spin-off had been polished enough so far, its developer Tamsoft issued an update to re-balance the game. After a few tries in Budokai mode, it was clear that the normal mode was back to normal and the impossible mode really impossible. «Better late than never», they say. Though I’m happy that Neptune U became better, it remains that I’d been robbed of my experience on my 1st playthrough…

This misfortune lead me to finally ask myself the question : why can we no longer receive games that are finished and complete? Botched launches aren’t exactly rare anymore : Sim City, Atelier Shallie, Assassin’s Creed Parity, Pokemon X/Y, Battlefield 4, Senran Kagura 2, Sonic Boom… Every time, the quality of the game experience diminishes and the reputation of the developer/publisher is badly hurt. This is a lose-lose situation, so why, WHY? I think we are collateral victims of the economic cycles of today’s game industry. The game industry, especially the core gamer side, tends to grow. The bigger companies get, the more ressources and cash they need. There is no such thing as infinite growth, so at some point the need to improve the experience to keep being successful collides with profitability and treasury aspects. Assassin’s Creed or Atelier must have a new entry every year, no matter how much innovation or improvement have to be implemented (which takes time). As Neptunia is niche, Compile Heart has to release Neptunia games regularly to activate the economic leverage. Cash must comes in, revenues must be recorded by the end of the fiscal term, making deadlines increasingly imperative.

Everything is going too fast. The whole industry looks like a hamster running on its wheel and unable to stop without falling down. The funny thing is that I myself tend to clear my games faster as the offer gets richer, so I ironically add steam to this vicious circle. We, developers as well as players, have to SLOW DOWN. We need to re-learn to take our time and appreciate great gaming. I’m telling you that but I don’t know if it’s even possible : world competition is too intense, a small delay can cost millions. In the same time, the unstoppable hype, further accelerated by the internet, drives people into buying day one. Unless a major economic schock happens, there might be no way out of this.

This particular issue has an echo in another trend : the growing number of «plus» versions. It’s pretty common nowdays to see a game re-released with additionnal and more or less relevant content. That trend is quite heavy : Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, Atelier EschaLogy +, Hyperdimension Neptune Rebirth 3, God Eater 2 Rage Burst, Samurai Warriors 4-II, Pokemon Noir&Blanc 2, Tôkiden Kiwami, Yôkai Watch 2.5, Ultra Street Fighter 4, Arcana Heart 3 Love Max… this mainly Japanese habit has become natural before we even could question its legitimacy (please note that I exclude remakes/remasters, which are a different problem). In fact, this practice has legitimacy because it allows the games to be known by people who weren’t aware/motivated at release of the vanilla version, who can buy at better value. However, it very penalising for owners of the original version, for two reasons.

I was talking favorably about DLC earlier this year. If the publisher discard the DLC option to complete the Vanilla version, the buyer has to re-open his wallet at full price to enjoy the new content of its favorite game. Why doesn’t Tecmo, when it releases Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, allow DOA5 owners to download the new characters as DLC? Why should DOA5 players spend 40€ on a new game rather than 4€ on a DLC? Long-term fans and day-one buyers are important and publishers should cherish them. When Sega releases Hatsune Miku Project Diva F on PS3 in March 2013, the company also readies a DLC so that the owners of the Vita version can complete their game. But this honorable example is unfortunately rare and we can sense a rampant blackmail destined to take advantage of the passion of the core fans. And you have a creativity problem too : more +versions means less new and innovating games. KoeiTecmo, absolute champion of the practice and ready for anything when a Nintendo subsidy arrives, virtually hasn’t announced any new game for a year. The trouble is that there’s no stopping this, for th very simple reason it makes shitloads of money : more than 50% of buyers turned up for MH4U or Tôkiden Kiwami, 70% of Mk2 owners bought Neptune Rebirth2, etc. Less costly to develop and still facing large demand, those +versions are a dream-like tool for publishers to post hefty profits.

If only it were be limited to software. But no, because now you also have vanilla hardware! The latest example is 3DS, the «New» model of which, way more refined, instantly makes you regret your old machine. But let’s not blame Nintendo too much here, because Sony and Microsoft made you re-purchase console before that. Failure rate of the Xbox360 is well-known, numerous fat PS3s were YLODed (it was Black Ops that killed mine), the lens in the first PS2 wasn’t designed to last (mine kicked the bucket during an umpteenth FFVIII walkthrouh). While all this looks awfully like planned obsolescence to get twice the console sales, Nintendo’s attitude is especially worrisome because it’s no more technical fiddling but a willingness the control costumer behaviour.

This growing laisser-faire in the game industry creates unease. The very notion of product and service quality is mocked and we don’t seem to be able to do anything. And indeed, despite the disappointment, how much upset we may be, our passion eventually banishes doubts and anger. If Compile Heart announces Action Neptune U2, I know I will shed 100€ in the Japanese LE. Because beyond the hiccups, we forgive more easily than we blame. Such is our passion.

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