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Archive for July, 2009

r u thereLate last week,  the Entertainment Consumers Association’s Facebook friends and members received a note from the ECA asking them to personalize and send this form letter to President Obama, outlining the merits of our hobby and urging him to stop saying “parents need to put away the videogames” anytime he addresses moderation for America’s youth:

We’re asking you to speak out now and put a positive face on our community. Make sure to let the President know what we experience every day. Take a moment and make your voice heard.

Brett Schenker, Online Advocacy Manager
Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA)

I’m glad to see the ECA take the advocacy reigns on this issue, even though their timing leaves a little bit to be desired.  Plenty of qualified voices (along with, um, me) raised this PR-cum-political issue during the election, so a grassroots push may have had more resonance with mainstream media when it was in the national spotlight then.

obama comicAs I said in my post around the election, Obama’s really not going after the industry in a mean or vindictive way.  He’s calling attention to a parenting issue.  And as both a soon-to-be-parent and passionate gamer, the concept of a balanced media diet is not only valid, it’s critical to me.  He’s just using (and continues to reuse) an unfortunate shorthand when talking about it.

I try to keep the political commentary to a minimum around here, at least until Politico violates the deal and starts publishing non-sequitor pictures of El Caminos and semi-weepy thought pieces about first person shooters.  But if you’re reading this, you probably care about videogames.  Take a minute to send in the letter, once, so you can at least say you did what you could to protect our favorite pastime.

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Last week, LucasArts announced they’d blow the dust off their venerable adventure games catalog, offering an ongoing selection of hits via Steam.  Of course, gamers everywhere rejoiced, and the immediate questions were all positive: ‘what other platfroms will these be available on?’ and ‘what other classics will they release next?’

The announcement came on top of Major Nelson’s release of this summer’s Xbox LIVE Arcade schedule.  They’re mining some classics as well, with remakes of LucasArts’ own Secret of Monkey Island and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time as well as a re-release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

These announcements, and the fanfare surrounding them, show what a compelling revenue stream a publisher’s back catalog can make.  And it makes very good sense.  It takes a much smaller team and significantly less expense to prep an old, critically acclaimed gem for re-rerelease on a new system, even in the case of a full refresh like this week’s stellar Secret of Monkey Island remake.  Gamers that might just be discovering that IP through Telltale’s new episodic Tales of Monkey Island series can go back to the original and see what made these characters and the whole SCUMM system so endearing.  

Publishers don’t need to put any expense or energy into packaging these titles and bringing them to retail.  When the games are strong enough, as is the case with LucasArts’ catalog, they don’t even really need to market them very much.  The enthusiast community will do it for them.  Essentially, a rerelease of a true masterpiece is a pure profit play for a publisher that put in all the years of hard work building a great library.

As long as publishers don’t turn the valve too far and just start releasing every piece of crap title they’ve ever produced, I hope to see a lot more classics coming down the pipe.  In this still very sequel-heavy business, re-releasing the early gems from a series a few months ahead of a new installment could be a very wise marketing spend.  For instance, Ico  and Shadow of the Colossus should hit the PSN store a few weeks before The Last Guardian hits the shelves.

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I’ve been meaning to write a reaction to last week’s sale of id Software to ZeniMax, but it’s honestly taken me this long to figure out how I felt about it, exactly.  For anyone that was an avid gamer in the mid 90’s, id (and particularly the DOOM series) represented a very specific division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

If you were a teenage nerd in the mid 90's, you recognize this poster

If you were a teenage nerd in the mid 90's, you recognize this poster

They were unapologetically hardcore in their approach to game design: their subject material was edgy at the time, and their games always required top-of-the-line hardware to run really well.  You either dug DOOM’s horror/sci-fi storyline, complete with impaled space marines and hooved demons, or it turned you off.  You either had the patience to manually configure a mulitplayer session, or you didn’t go near it.  Id’s developers even appealed to a very specific audience, with cars and attitude more befitting the founders of Image Comics than the code monkeys of the day.

In its heydey, DOOM was tremendously popular, but only among the specific audience of hardcore gamers.  This planing away of less-than-hardcore gamers was not only a ballsy move by the id guys, it helped light the way for a lot of nerds avid gamers to figure out who their friends were, and where they fit in.

On the one hand, ZeniMax seems like the perfect place for a shop like id.  As pointed out in last week’s superb “Listen Up” podcast, id’s strengths complement ZeniMax’s own Bethesda studio’s weaknesses perfectly, and vice versa.  Guys like John Carmack can continue to work on bulletproof code and not have to worry about moving up the food chain and staffing up as a publisher just to maintain their IP.

But a part of me is a little… not sad… nostalgic for the loss of id as its own entity.  While they stood in one place and cranked out shooters seemingly fueled by Red Bull and teen angst, this industry changed around them. 

World of Warcraft came along and showed PC gamers that they could play with each other online in scenarios that weren’t always framed by the barrel of a gun.  Microsoft’s entry into the console game brought a “shooter box” into the market that had fixed specs and a user base too large to ignore, so id’s constant pushing of the hardware envolope had to be roped in for their games (not to mention their more profitable engine licensing business) to be a success.  Like a former chart topper turned lounge act, DOOM‘s shock value wore off with age and Grand Theft Auto, then our Wiis and casual gaming friends, wives, and mothers showed us that you could hold a controller and smile at the same time, in a non-ironic way.

The DOOM movie: too late to be awesome, too crappy to by funny

The DOOM movie: too late to be awesome, too crappy to be funny

Meanwhile, Race to Witch Mountain’s The Rock starred in the long awaited big screen adaptation of DOOM.

In reaction to the sale, estranged co-founder John Romero tweeted “i guess i was shocked and sad to see the id Software of old changed forever today. it’s a new day and a new id.”

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