Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, this year was a busy week in terms of gaming news, and I’d be remiss if I didn't comment on some of it. So today I’m going to break down the exciting and positive things we can take out of Gamescom, and also discuss some of the not so flattering things that came out. Hopefully you enjoy the read, and as always we’re always interested to hear what you have to say about any of these topics.

Lara Croft Getting Her Respect

Rise of the Tomb Raider unfortunately ends up on both the positive and negative side of this article, but hey gaming news is just funny that way. Now all the hoopla around Rise of the Tomb Raider has focused on its exclusivity or lack thereof, but I felt an important aspect of this announcement has been overlooked. In the last few years we have had constant articles, debates, videos, editorials, features, and seminars that talk about moving gaming forward in terms of equality.

It’s a great movement, and one I completely support as the medium should only improve with a diverse set of opinions and works of fiction. What I’m not always a fan of is how often equality becomes a battle cry for constant negativity and criticism, which gets grating to me. Criticism is important for the growth of an entertainment industry, but positive energy is also an important factor for an industry's community. If all you do is write negative articles about this type of stuff, you create hateful people who are infuriated by the constant pessimism.

Basically what I’m trying to get at is that somewhere along the way, we forgot the positive that Tomb Raider, a franchise with a leading lady, is getting paraded around as a top of the line franchise. Which is in its own weird way a huge boon for those who want more quality female characters in gaming. Publishers can’t look at games like Remember Me and say, oh female characters can’t sell games, because Tomb Raider is proof that you can be successful with a female lead.

Now of course the caveat is that Tomb Raider is a franchise that has been around since the 90s, but I’d rather treat this moment of “exclusivity” purchasing from Microsoft as a symbol for the potential that is there for video games with female leads. If the game is good and if an audience shows an admiration for the character, the game will sell, and the first party publishers will pony up to show their “respect”, if you will, to a franchise. That all of this happened to be for a series that went from an overly sexualized character to one being presented in a more humanized light (regardless of my opinion on the execution) is just icing on the cake.

Put it another way: it’s a win for those of us who want a more diverse entertainment medium.

Video Game Teaser Done Right

When it comes to judging video games I am very straight forward: if you suck at the interactive aspects of a game, you suck. I can live with a video game with a poor story, poor graphics, poor audio, and dare I say, sub-HD resolutions (some of you must be in awe of this mindset), but poor gameplay or poor interactions in an interactive medium? What’s the point of you even being a video game?

So by that same notion I get annoyed when games get announced in teasers, in CGI videos that aren’t indicative of the game, in cutscenes meant to show the graphics engine, in screenshots, or in a developer diary that only hints at what the developer is trying to accomplish with their games. Demos and on stage presentations are more my thing, because there is less bullshit in that process. Not that a vertical slice isn’t also a flawed representation of a game, but it’s far more indicative of what I’ll be playing than a damn cutscene. So one of my favorite things to come out of Gamescom is the “Playable Teaser” for Silent Hills, the next installment of the Silent Hill franchise being created by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro.

It may not be what the actual game will be, but it’s up front about that aspect from the get go. It tells you this is only a concept and a vision for what they want to execute, and not indicative of the final product. It’s also why it is successful not only for its PR language (translation: it’s not lying to me), but also because I’m interacting with the game.

I am finding out as a player what this game will feel like when I play it personally, and that’s missing from modern game demonstrations. PT is an example of how to gain your audience's interest in your project, because it shows the audience that the developer gets it. I have long since given up on Silent Hill returning to its former glory, but PT gives the impression that the people making this game understand how to pace a horror experience.

Now this format wouldn’t always work for most games, because so many of them would get exposed for being shallow, predictable, creatively deprived Triple A retail tripe that isn’t worthy of your spit, much less your money. But, for the more daring games, for games flying under the radar, and for any studio trying to reboot a classic franchise: this is your way of creating a positive buzz by showing that you’re creating something special. PT does that, and is the perfect example of how a video game should be teased. Trailers are for movies, demos are for video games. So correct that video game industry.

Indie Love 

This one is straight forward, I like indie games, and am excited that indie games are showing up more and more at press conferences. Do they sell me, a primarily PC gamer, on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? No, but I’m a fan of creative and unique games getting to share stage time with the creatively deprived likes of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

Games like Rime and Ori and The Blind Forest not only look astonishing on a visual level, but also look competent from a game design standpoint. What’s even better is getting to see a talented creator like Michel Ancel show off a smaller indie project with a game like Wild, and hopefully more creative developers like him take advantage of the indie space.  

Some Great Footage of Triple A Games

Finally, it’s great to see more footage of games that look genuinely terrific in the triple A space. There is even more footage of games coming out later this year as well as games coming out next year that should be a lot of fun to play. By the end of Gamescom I ended up even more sold on how terrific Metal Gear Solid 5 could be, and genuinely excited for Shadow of Mordor.

Sometimes it’s all about the simple things like just getting more information on games that interest you.

Video Game PR Is Awful

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s exclusivity has no effect on my personal happiness whatsoever, so it’s natural that it doesn’t generate a powerful reaction for me. I own all the current gaming systems, and would like all of them to get games that keep me entertained. That said, what does annoy me is video game PR that still treats us consumers like we’re morons. I understand that Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix are trying to sell a video game, but there is no value lost in being up front about your game. Timed exclusivity is nothing spectacular, and nor do I look at it as this ultimately damaging thing. Timed exclusivity for DLC never hurt Grand Theft Auto 4 and it hasn’t had a negative effect on Call of Duty. You get your big pay check from the first party publisher desperate for games, and then you tell your consumer base that some of them have to be patient.

Instead we get a song and dance where they can’t be clear about the details of the deal. We have to dance around the exclusivity versus timed exclusivity deal, and the media asking questions are hamstrung by it as well, legally bound to just reiterate PR jargon. It would be great if video game companies stopped doing this, because the only thing gained through this process is frustration from your consumers.

Microsoft Still Doesn’t Spend Enough On First Party

It’s simple at this point, Microsoft will spend money on deals for a NFL fantasy football app, DLC exclusivity, and timed exclusivity on a video game the system was going to get to begin with. The fact they continue to spend less on in-house projects, and more on purchasing a release window for games like Tomb Raider, doesn't actually provide any value to their console. This is completely different from Nintendo bringing Bayonetta 2 to the Wii U, a game that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. This is completely different from Microsoft partnering with Epic to create Gears of War, or Bioware to create Mass Effect in 2007, or Mistwalker to create Lost Odyssey, this is Microsoft buying the rights to a release window.

For the average consumer who doesn’t do much research on video games, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a selling point, but for the enthusiast? Patience is a virtue. In contrast Quantom Break is an actual selling point and a great use of Microsoft’s check book. It’s an investment in a talented studio in Remedy, a relatively different take on third person shooting, and a unique game that only exists because Microsoft is funding it.

We are almost 13 years into the Xbox brand’s existence, and Microsoft barely has an identity from a first party standpoint. It’s time Microsoft began investing in a more robust and varied lineup of first party content, and less on content meant to take advantage of people who don’t have any patience. 

Finishing Up

That’s about it for Gamescom. For the most part it was a fun show. There were tons of terrific interviews with some developers, such as Hideo Kojima being interviewed by Geoff Keighly, as well as footage of some genuinely great looking games. A little too much of the spot light was spent on that whole Tomb Raider thing, but console war stuff usually gets blown out of proportion.

Otherwise what were some of your positives from Gamescom? What were some of your negatives to come out of Gamescom? Did you end up feeling better about gaming going forward or more pessimistic? 

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#1 Willy 2014-08-16 20:43
"Trailers are for movies, demos are for video games. So correct that video game industry."

"Now this format wouldn’t always work for most games, because so many of them would get exposed for being shallow, predictable, creatively deprived Triple A retail tripe that isn’t worthy of your spit, much less your money."

All true, which is why we need more of it. If gamers expect more teasers like PT for games instead of putting up with the usual ads; gaming could become simply better.

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