Well, apparently our Gamasutra interview is controversial. Probably we should do what all the professionals have advised us to do, and just stop reading comments — it is the internet after all. But let’s instead take one last stab at dialogue.
First of all, everyone we’ve worked with at Microsoft have been terrific — smart, helpful, bright, and passionate. Obviously we haven’t met everyone working there, but those who were involved in N+ were great to work with. We’re sorry if our criticism of the service hurts them, because we know they’re doing their best. The “most games suck” problem really seems to be a pervasive institutional issue rather than the fault of this or that person.. more on that later.
Secondly: the interview was done before N+ came out.. hence we’re not complaining about our sales. We are surprised and thrilled by our sales — we’re just happy that people are trying N+, and that some of them are enjoying it.
Third: the interview happened about an hour after we found out that the royalty rates for XBLA have been “adjusted” to the point where our whole business plan moving forward was totally shafted.. hence the bitterness.
So: what the hell were we thinking?
We didn’t intend to provoke outrage, we simply spoke candidly. Actually saying what you think rather than being fake in an interview situation is apparently just not done, but don’t shoot the messenger — it’s not our fault that the vast majority of XBLA games suck! Literally every single person we’ve ever spoken with is in agreement on this, and yet it’s apparently shocking for gamers in general to hear (assuming that’s who reads joystiq/kotaku).
If you think back to when these downloadable channels (XBLA/PSN) were announced, they were supposed to be the “anti-retail”: good royalties for all involved, smaller/less “epic” games (quirky ideas which would never have been approved by a publisher), basically a mecca for small teams. In hindsight we were perhaps naive to buy into what was apparently empty marketing speak, however we really believed that something worthwhile and interesting was happening.
Fast forward to now: royalties (allegedly) suck, casual games outnumber proper video games (this will have to wait for a future post for further discussion), the vast majority of titles are “disappointing” (this is perhaps a more politic choice of words than “utter crap”), and small teams are being actively funneled through publishers.
As gamers it was unbelievably depressing for us to try literally 80 games and enjoy less than 8 of them. As we mentioned in the article we no longer bother to try XBLA demos because of this.. we just wait until we hear something good about any given game. So, we’re back in retail-land!
The fact that the channel is glutted with crap IS a real problem that shouldn’t be dismissed. The “diamonds will always stand out” argument doesn’t work when gamers have ceased to pay attention to XBLA due to how badly the last 10 demos they tried sucked.
As developers it was incredibly frustrating to see Nick pitch his game — which is really awesome, but a secret for now — only to be told that “genre X is oversaturated”. It’s only oversaturated because, for example, a piece of crap like Street Trace somehow got in early and is now preventing actually good games from being made. Before you call us arrogant for bad-mouthing another XBLA game, note that in this case it was a direct quote from X360 Magazine UK (“A piece of crap.” [Issue 26, p.118]).
Those who point out that retail has the exact same problem as XBLA are correct — but that doesn’t somehow diffuse our argument, if anything it just reinforces it since XBLA was meant to correct the problems endemic to retail games and that whole shebang. If my soup tastes like garbage, I would hope that the waiter’s explanation isn’t “yes, but most of the food we serve here tastes like garbage”!
This ties in to the larger rant of “why do the majority of games TOTALLY SUCK ASS?”, which is a very complex topic. Certainly everyone is to blame — gamers, developers, publishers, press. Hopefully someone will figure it out before consumers become totally jaded and it’s music-industry-style meltdown time.
We don’t expect everyone to be perfect. We’ve made some crap games ourselves. Making a game that sucks shouldn’t be a big deal — it happens, you learn from it. What is inexcuseable is when you make an utterly crap game, and then RELEASE IT ANYWAY.
What’s even worse is when your job is to decide which games to release, and which games to cancel, and you choose to release, for example, some lightweight neon bunny match-3 and then cancel something interesting like, say, a physics-puzzle-based Thrust-like game.
Also, we should mention that any developers whose games we singled out shouldn’t feel too bad, since we also think that “The New Super Mario Bros” pretty much sucked (especially when compared to SMB3 or SMW), and we didn’t like Halo or Halo2 (haven’t tried 3 yet). So.. take it with a grain of salt? You’re in good company at least. And, be cognizant of the fact that this is all our (very?) subjective opinion — N+ receives it’s share of poor reviews, too — it’s impossible for any game to resonate with every single person who plays it.
Hopefully we’ll have something good to write about next post — heh.
p.s – we’re not “fanboys” as some have accused.. we just can’t afford a PS3 yet! SSD:HD is pretty crap though, so it looks like Sony aren’t immune either.