Absolute Power to the People
Posted on Wednesday, May 21 @ 12:00:00 PST by ryanbates
Last week, Microsoft finally completed the Xbox One-Eighty by saying it would be selling a
Kinect-less version of the Xbox One at $399 starting in June. This reversal comes after the reversal that the Xbox One will have an always-on requirement, the reversal of DRM that would prevent used and borrowed games, and the reversal that the Kinect must be connected to the Xbox One at all times simply to work.
Thunderous applause rolled through the gamersphere, along with the scattered-but-triumphant “told you sos” as many claimed this as not only a victory for the gamer, but the consumer. Consumers spoke with their wallets and their wallets won. They spoke with their Twitters, their Facebooks, their eight or nine other social media networks, and various forums and websites to loudly and boldly protest the inclusions. A cursory glance at people's Twitter feed could tell you if they were in a social circle leaned for or against the Xbox One, if they were #TeamPS4 or #TeamWiiU instead, or if they were going to sit it out and wait or join the “PC master race.”
I recall a conversation I had with an associate of mine prior to E3 last year, right after the Xbox One launch when the backlash had just started. We discussed this newfound “power of the people,” which really wasn't "new" at all, but rediscovered and amplified greatly by the immediacy of social networking. I'm no expert, but if I recall Mr. Hardy's 12th grade economics class, products and businesses succeed when there's a balance between the consumer and the producer. Producers produce a product, and consumers consume it. Consumers give feedback, either verbally or financially, on what they like and what could be improved, and producers try to make that happen as best as possible as they produce the next generation of their good or service. Consumers again consume that product, and the cycle continues.
When the system works, we have long-standing products and businesses like Diet Pepsi, a product that has seen a number of changes in its day, yet has been a staple on store shelves since 1964. When the producers have too much power, the system is off-balance, and we get the initial offering of the Xbox One—it's the proverbial “our way or the highway.”
But if I may hypothesize a third scenario, one where consumers (gamers, in this case) have too much power. With the mass reach and speed today's consumer has, it may be daunting to the point where creativity is being stifled in the game development cycle.
The thought brings to mind an article from earlier this year that was shared to me from TheFederalist.com (yes, this progressive tries to see what the conservative side is saying too) about the death of expertise. The author states that we now live in a society where for anyone to claim they have an expert knowledge base or an expert point of view is to be “elitist” and expresses a desire to be better than the average person, which is not equality (a fallacious thought in itself, but I digress).
Is it possible that the gamersphere has settled into this same mindset? Gamers are quick to take to social media when anything “alienates” the idea that something isn't in it for the game. They'll take to their YouTubes and Twitches to pull off Angry Video Game Nerd-style rants should the smallest thing affront their senses, or worse yet, be non-canon. (Oh God!) And as we've seen, it can work, as it did with every step of the Xbox One-Eighty. But when is enough enough?
Earlier this month there was a kerfuffle about Nintendo not including same-sex relationships in their North American port of Tomodachi Life. What began as ostensibly an oversight blew up to epic proportions when Nintendo glibly dismissed the issue, not realizing that to many it was a big deal. People got upset at Nintendo primarily due to their initial reaction, took the power of the people and stormed their personal outlets—how dare Nintendo? Don't they realize it's 2014? If you want to produce a life simulator, you have to include all walks of life, like The Sims 3 did! That's when Nintendo owned up, apologized, and vowed to increase inclusion in their upcoming titles.
But let's look honestly at this issue: Very few people realized it was an issue until they saw it come up on their Facebook. I would like to find someone to prove me differently here, but the fact of the matter is the numbers of people clamoring for Tomodachi Life in the States were not exactly high, and those people were going to buy it one way or another. So if they didn't include same-sex relationships, well, that's a bummer, and they should include them, but in the scheme of things, it's not a damn big deal. I would much rather see a gay or lesbian lead character in a triple-A title than get married in Tomodachi Life. I think that would do more for equality, personally.
People got upset over Nintendo's response, and that, I believe, is founded. But players can't force in any ol' thing they want. I remember when Call of Duty: Ghosts came out, and the team at Infinity Ward announced that they would be redoubling efforts to make a deeper, richer single-player campaign. There were actually people taking to their FaceTwitterGrams decrying this, saying that it would take away from multiplayer (which is all anyone buys CoD games for, according to these people) and that the series was doomed and they would not be buying the game.
Now people are claiming they will boycott Nintendo for not putting in the same-sex option in Tomodachi Life. Listen, I want equality just as much as the next progressive, open-minded game journalist. But anyone claiming they will boycott Nintendo, I'll be seeing you in the line to pick up your reserve of Mario Kart 8. And anyone I don't see there, I'll see in line for Super Smash Bros. 3DS or Wii U. And when Daisy still can't come out as the fiery lesbian she is (in my head canon), no one will complain or whine because we'll all be playing.
Here's the point: knowing that the smallest addition or oversight could whip the gamersphere into a frenzy, is it stifling creativity? Is this why we don't see more mature titles on Nintendo systems, knowing that every parenting group in America would be after Mario's head? Is this why we have strings of sequels coming out with very little to differentiate between them? Could this be why so many more people are turning to indie games for variety instead of the triple-A titles? At what point do we just let the creators create?
It's just something to think about, really. The synergy of game creator and game player seems to be off-balance, and while sometimes the whole thing smacks of “us versus them,” in reality, it's all “us” in this battle. I mean, that's how I see it, anyway.
But I'm no expert.
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