Friday, December 26, 2014

Video Game Industry: 2014 Year In Review

2014: Year In Review

No matter which stories you paid the most attention to, the Video Game Industry has seen its fair share of ups and downs in the year of 2014, and since we're coming to close on this year, I figure that I should review a few of the most important things that occurred involving the Video Game Industry. When you look at these stories I am about to review, it's interesting to note just how they intersect each other as far as what the industry as a whole is going through right now. It's like connecting the dots to form a picture, and to be honest, I think the industry has a painted a picture that gives gamers a myriad of mixed reactions. Some stuff was good, other stuff was bad, and the rest were... well, out there.

Copyright: Do people even know what it means anymore?
The Copyright Infringement Battle That Threatened The Let's Play Community

This is one issue that really boggled my mind. The main issue for me in this episode involved me asking the questions of "Why is this such a gigantic deal now? Why wasn't this a deal a few years ago when Let's Plays were taking off?"  By now we know how the game works on video making websites like YouTube. You can put out content for viewers to enjoy and you can express how you wish to entertain whatever audiences you have. For the Let's Play Community, videos are made of gameplay where a Let's Player will put his or her own spin on how a game is played. Let's Plays have been around on sites like YouTube dating back to 2007, and over the years this genre of entertainment has gained a great amount of popularity, and to the point where we see more Let's Players getting in on the action.

The problem? Apparently according to the fat cat video game companies who were so paranoid about losing money to this kind of entertainment, the principle of a Let's Player making any amount of money off his or her Let's Plays was evil and considered to be "video game blasphemy", whatever that means. Apparently big companies like Nintendo, Naughty Dog and others were so uptight and furious about the idea of a Let's Player even making as little as restaurant food money that they filed massive amounts of copyright claims to YouTube, which led to an ugly battle. Gamers eventually thought about boycotting Nintendo simply because of this action. This began in late 2013 and flowed right into the early parts of 2014.

What I have a problem with any company complaining about Let's Play videos is that the timing is incredibly off to oppose this. It's nonsensical and hypocritical and it only gives gamers the impression that these certain companies are super greedy and pompous. Nintendo, which thankfully has created their own video making website (but only in Japan for now...) that allows their content to be aired, played with fire and they got burned for a short time. It's 2014 and we are in a time now where entertainment has become much more subjective, as in people don't always go to the television to get their entertainment. Companies in general need to wake up and realize that the copyright laws in the United States are outdated and archaic, simply not relating at all to the kind of technology we have today.

If you are going to complain about a Let's Player, let's say he or she is in the poor class in the United States and temporarily depends on "minimal" revenues from YouTube, and intentionally demonize that Let's Player when you know that you make millions of dollars in general sales, then it's hard for me to respect your company. Move on to more serious issues already.

Oculus Rift: A victim of its own hype

The Overhype Machine That Was The Oculus Rift

Now let's get something straight. I don't hate the Oculus Rift. I honestly believe that for what it is the Oculus Rift has a place in the Video Game Industry. I believe Virtual Reality Gaming has a place and it should be recognized. That's not what I'm about to debate here. I believe the concept of Virtual Reality Gaming is interesting and I don't mind video game companies experimenting with this kind of gaming. What I do have a problem with, though, is this wildly developed fantasy that devices like the Oculus Rift are the set-in-stone future of gaming and that Virtual Reality Gaming is the ultimate Golden Goose of game development.

Sorry folks, but I'm not buying that fantasy. I know what the reality is.

History has already told us that Virtual Reality Gaming is not something that we should solely depend on. People are so quick to forget some of the attempts to make Virtual Reality Gaming fun back in the days of arcade gaming, and of course, the Virtual Boy system that Nintendo made in 1995. "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" as one famous person said.

As I have stated before on this blog some time ago, not everyone will be a fan of the Oculus Rift or any other related Virtual Reality Gaming devices. Not everyone can be considering that some gamers have health conditions that could be impacted by devices like these. This year I just found it very silly for the industry to put so much emphasis on the Oculus Rift and glorify it as the next big thing, and then all of a sudden the hype for it went away when Facebook bought it for around $2 Billion. It's funny how hype machines work.

I hang onto my belief that gaming technology shouldn't be advanced so quickly, because if you rush the flow of advancing the technology you might wind up with egg on your face and unhappy customers. I believe that this episode with the Oculus Rift was a clear indicator that some people are just so overanxious to advance all facets of gaming technology to the point where gamers could be locked inside virtual reality bubbles. This mindset is unhealthy and harmful for the Video Game Industry long-term.

Female Gamers: They Make Up Half of All Gamers
The General Influence of Female Gamers

I know what you might be thinking. "Are you going to talk about Gamergate for the first time, Steven?" My answer to that question would be no. I won't talk about Gamergate for the first time, nor at all. Why? It's simply because that any issues related to Gamergate are incredibly toxic to begin with, and even if you state your opinion in a kind and professional manner, you stand a great chance of getting destroyed on the internet. I believe this entire Gamergate fiasco was purely driven by political agendas and unnecessary melodrama that you would normally see being created by mainstream media outlets all the time. I believe that all parties involved should get an equal slice of the Blame Pie because of how poorly and unprofessionally they have conducted themselves.

What is my take on female gamers? I believe they're awesome. That's my short answer but now I'll give a more detailed answer. I believe female gamers are just as productive as male gamers when it comes to voicing their opinions and beliefs on gaming topics. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing the likes of Sande Chen, and I truly value the answers that she gave me for that interview. I am a man who is trying to break into the Video Game Industry and I felt comfortable interviewing a woman who already is in the Video Game Industry, having plenty of experience. It doesn't make me less of a man to ask for Video Game Industry information from a woman.

I believe female gamers can be highly influential in the Video Game Industry and they deserve to have their voices be heard. They should have that right. If a woman is qualified to be the CEO of a game development company, then she should get consideration. In video games themselves there should be main female protagonists as well as main female antagonists. Depending on what kind of game story you want to make, this can be done. For example, I could easily see a future Ratchet & Clank spin-off game being made where Angela Cross, who made her debut as the masked thief in Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando, is the main protagonist. That's not hard to imagine considering that Angela is the same cat-like species as Ratchet. What is the name of that species? Oh yeah! The Lombax!

There are instances where female gamers do overstep their boundaries, but all gamers get emotional, male or female. We all have our "ProtonJon Kaizo Mario" moments when we get real frustrated with a game. Some of the Let's Players I watch on YouTube are female gamers, and I don't watch them because they're female gamers. I watch their videos because they are legitimately entertaining, funny and unique in content presentation.

Female gamers make up about half of all gamers in the world, so they are obviously a great influence on the industry.

The Console Wars? More like The 3 Ring Circus
The New Gaming Consoles: Meh?

As of 2014 we are now in the 8th Generation of video game consoles, and with advancements in gaming technology there are bound to be questions surrounding the new pieces of hardware that made their debuts just a year or two ago. Of course there are gamers out there who still believe that the Console Wars are as strong as they ever were, but in my honest opinion, I have to question the validity of these Console Wars even existing at this point. I mean, what's exactly the point of these Console Wars some gamers keep bringing up? Why does it matter? Do we really think that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are doing everything they can to force each other out of the gaming business? Would that be right for business?

I truly believe that gamers just want there to be this illusion of the Console Wars actually existing, because although we do keep track of the sales of consoles and games, at the end of the day why do we need to make sure who is on top of the gaming business? Gaming should be more subjective than it is right now in this case. It's about preference. It's about what kind of needs you have as a gamer and which console do you feel will cater to your needs the most. There is no need to bash the other consoles simply because you didn't buy them.

In my case I purchased a Sony Playstation 4 earlier this year because I personally felt the most comfortable buying what Sony was selling. Comparing the 3 new consoles with my own analysis, I felt that I could trust the PS4 the most. It just saddens me that the PS4 hasn't come out with games that are really all that appealing to me. I also take into account that I can't afford a new PS4 game right now, so I have a PS4 console just resting in its box most of the time. I know. It's a long story.

Now just because I am in the Sony camp when it comes to this generation doesn't mean that I should intentionally steer people away from the other consoles. If you feel like the Nintendo Wii U is best suited for your needs, then feel free to get a Wii U. If you believe that the Xbox One is your way to game, then so be it. I don't believe gaming journalists should be obligated to be fanboys (or fangirls) of one specific console. The Video Game Industry should be a subjective industry where gamers are allowed to voice their opinions. Whichever cup of tea you like, so to speak, you go with it.

Now if only these new consoles started producing consistently good content in their games...

Oh Yeah! Let's Not Forget About The Little Guy!

With the big boy consoles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft still having their way in the industry, what did we get out of the little manufacturers of the Video Game Industry? Well, making its debut in the Summer of 2013, the Ouya has met its fair share of criticism, mainly being hit with complaints about its controllers needing to be battery powered. The Ouya is about what you would expect from an upstart console that's trying to find its way. There have been subtle hits of games that have been made for the Ouya, but there have also been underwhelming clunkers as well. It's either hit or miss, a series of trial and error experiments.

I definitely understand the concept of a new console like the Ouya. I don't think this is the kind of console that you would intentionally market as something similar to the Wii U, the PS4 or the Xbox One because there are no similarities the Ouya shares with those consoles. I think the one mistake that new consoles constantly make is that their companies are so eager to announce that they are just as good as the leading competitors. As they always say "Aim small, miss small".

The Ouya is a console specifically tailored to independent game developing companies, and it's only optional for the big boy companies if they want to pursue making games for it as well. The Ouya is mainly a platform for indie developers to get their hands on whatever technology the Ouya provides, such as editing, programming, coding, designing, etc. and make unique games out of. The selling point of the Ouya should be the fact that it's an open alternative to the big boy consoles, not that the Ouya can be as good as them. Look at how small the Ouya console is to begin with and you would know that it's not big time at all. Having said that, if you're an indie developer or an aspiring game maker and you want to make your own cool, unique games, then you can give the Ouya a try.

There are other lesser known consoles to check out such as the Nexus Player, the Timebox and the Gearbox, whatever those consoles are. It's hard for me to keep up with these new console releases because they tend to spring up on you like a Jack In The Box toy.

I don't know what this is but it looks cool.
PC Gaming: As Strong As Ever

One last thing I want to talk about is the overall strength of PC Gaming. There hasn't been anything real negative to talk about when it comes to this form of gaming, and PC gamers clearly enjoyed themselves in the year of 2014. As the years go by, though, questions have surrounded the overall health of Console Gaming as a whole and whether or not it would make sense to keep making video game consoles as opposed to bulking up the PC Gaming market. As it stands now, PC gamers enjoy a variety of games that they can play without needing to worry about the hassle of console loading times. They already have their computers on and all they need to do is flip the switch to Game Mode to get ready. That's basically the gist of it.

I do have similar questions to ask regarding Console Gaming. I surely hope that it won't become redundant nor obsolete to own a video game console. I hope that consoles can still co-exist with gaming PCs. The amount of flexibility that you receive online, however, cannot be ignored and many game developing companies are taking advantage of this. Online multiplayer action is very popular right now and it has been popular for some time. Having that freedom to interact with more than 3 friends online to play a game is certainly satisfying and it could only add to the general gaming experience.

In Closing: What Was 2014 About?

2014 gave gamers plenty of mixed bag feelings overall. There were some events that should never have happened such as the time in August when Kootra of The Creatures, a Let's Play group, got raided by the SWAT team in Colorado. Kootra was the victim of a random guy making a call to the police that there was a bomb threat, or something like that. Of course the police reacted to this in the way that police officers these days would normally react. They overreacted. I know. That's a big surprise.

On the flip side, though, social media outlets have taken initiative in 2014 to make games that people will enjoy. Angry Birds has obviously taken off like a rocket as well as all the Candy Crush Saga games that King can come up with. Let's not forget about Farmville and how influential those game mechanics have been on casual gamers. I have seen the roots of this years ago on Facebook when I played a mafia role-playing game for a little bit. After a while playing that mafia game just wasn't what I wanted to be doing all the time. Some gamers actually like these new social media games while others find these games tedious and low scale. I believe it is flattering that there would even be games like these existing right now.

It's really hard to tell where the Video Game Industry is going to go from here, and nobody knows what 2015 will bring. We can only speculate about certain things, hope for the best, prepare for the worst and play the games that we would like to play. That's gaming for you.

To Be Continued In 2015...

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