Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sega Issue: Suggestions and Miscommunication 

These 2 above links don't necessarily belong in the same blog post, do they? Well, I kindly suggest to think again about that because I am going to dedicate this blog post by comparing these 2 linked articles, and I will draw the conclusion (my opinion only) that these 2 stories actually mirror each other in some way.

I generally want to support a company like Sega. I really do. It's not my intention to come up here on my gaming blog and downgrade what Sega does. It's up to the blog reader to decide where I'm going with what I'm implying. I've been very vocal about how I feel Sega has poorly handled their flagship game franchise Sonic the Hedgehog, and if you look deep enough you will know that there is plenty of evidence that supports this feeling of mine. I'm not the only one who feels this way about Sega.

Now Link #1 describes what one former employee of WWE (professional wrestling) felt about his time there. This guy was a ring announcer who would genuinely pick up on what wrestling fans were feeling at the time, and he would try his best to pitch suggestions to the Creative Team of WWE in hopes of getting them to see what the fans were seeing in the wrestling product. Of course, as it turned out for this guy, he was ignored 99% of the time. This article goes on to explain why issues such as this represent a sign of a bigger problem for the WWE as a whole.

Now if you're a pro wrestling fan and you've seen the ups and downs of the term "sports entertainment", you would know where I would be going with this. The WWE is clearly nowhere near the level of relevance it once was when it comes to mainstream appeal. Remember the late 1990's and early 2000's when so many people, who weren't even huge wrestling fans, would be buzzing about something that happened on WWE programming? A big part of the WWE's main problem is a combination of the following;
  • The WWE has become too commercialized and politically correct over the last 10 years.
  • The "creativity" in the WWE's Creative Team is non-existent at this point.
  • The WWE is trying too hard to appeal to everyone while pleasing hardly anyone.
  • The WWE is abusing its advantage as a possible monopoly on the wrestling business.
Keep an imaginary tab on this part as we now go to Link #2.

Link #2 describes the latest marketing strategy that Sega is attempting to implement, as in rebranding itself as "Amazing", and according to recent reports it's likely that "Sega Forever" is actually a real thing on the internet, which is basically an updated version of the old Sega Channel. The article notes that the President of Sega went on record to say that gaming quality is important. The article ultimately draws the conclusion that Sega needs to have a solid lineup of awesome games if it wants to back up its "Amazing" new brand claim.

I find it funny in one sense that the President of Sega said that gaming quality is important because it leads me to wonder how often, if at all, he keeps track of what's going on with franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog. If he doesn't keep good track of Sonic's recent history, then he must allow Sonic Team to have more free reign with the franchise than what we were led on to believe.

Gaming quality is important. That's a claim made by a company official. Will that claim become a reality? Will gaming quality continue to go up for Sega? We don't know that for sure. Many gamers who are still burnt out from what happened to the Phantasy Star Online franchise may beg to differ with this claim, especially the PSO fans located in North America.

Do Sega and Sonic Team listen to their fans?

That's a hard question to answer simply because there are many layers of this issue that you need cut through first.

Are fan requests sometimes misguided?

All fan bases, no matter what video game franchise they devote their time to, are going to have their fair share of bad apples, so to speak. It's bound to happen. The Sonic Fan Base gets a bad wrap in this case. There are so many things going on with the Sonic Fan Base right now that it really gets hard for anyone to keep track of. Perhaps that's where some of the confusion begins when we go back to the first question above.

Do Sega and Sonic Team listen to their fans? Which parts of the Sonic Fan Base? Hearing a lot of noise from so many different parts of the Sonic Fan Base? Why do you think that is? Ever since Sonic 2006 and the disaster that it was, Sega and Sonic Team have been going through a slippery slope of sorts trying to figure out just what were the core problems of Sonic 2006.

As you can probably tell, if you look close enough at what's being released, it's clear that Sonic Team have been playing it safe with the Main Series of Sonic games, going on this experimental phase where they put out gameplay features in hopes that it will lure in the right kind of audience. The longer they experiment, supposedly according to them, the better they believe they'll get in fixing the core problems of Sonic the Hedgehog, both the character and the games.

Soon I will dedicate another blog post to the Sonic game that is going to be released later this year, Sonic Forces. This game will be yet another example of what is hindering true improvement for the Sonic franchise as a whole. Even though Forces will be sure to sell well on the market when it hits, what is the core purpose behind this game's main selling points? Did Sonic Team listen to their fans well enough?

Remember that imaginary tab on Link #1? Bring that tab back out and let's try to break this all down together.

Commercialization and political correctness has impacted so many things in society in recent years, and while I won't go into specifics about this, let me just say this. When you try to restrict a creative endeavor so much to the point where you basically demand that endeavor to fit a narrative that suits your liking, problems are guaranteed to arise.

While creativity is still something that exists in Sega and Sonic Team, it has become clear that their use of creativity has become completely misplaced. The creativity that Sonic Team implements in their Main Series Sonic games leaves a lot to be desired. There have been many accounts of gamers who claim that Sonic Team could afford to push the envelope a little bit more, and it shouldn't hinge on whatever the "professional" video game critics over at IGN, Game Informer, GameSpot, etc. say or believe.

Sonic Team is clearly trying too hard to appeal to everyone in the Gaming Industry while they end up pleasing hardly anyone. Sonic Team has stretched themselves out so much throughout the history of Sonic games that it has become impossible to "unite" the Sonic Fan Base under a single game that they can all enjoy together. Especially with how they promote a game as "something that will revolutionize the Main Series", the game ends up doing almost the exact opposite of that; creating more problems and putting band-aids on existing problems rather than addressing them head on.

In the grand scheme of things, looking at the Sonic Main Series, as a character Sonic the Hedgehog has a monopoly when it comes to playable character priorities. His name is on the games, of course, but that alone shouldn't be the reason why he should be made the only important character of the series. Sonic has a monopoly on his friends, characters who supposedly support his heroic cause. Maybe we should now call it a "duopoly" because Modern Sonic seems to share top playable character priority with Classic Sonic these days. However, that just doesn't solve the core problems of the Main Series.

One sign of the Sonic Fan Base being fragmented beyond recognition today? In the Main Series it has been over 10 years (we're counting 11 years now) since characters like Miles "Tails" Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose, Shadow the Hedgehog and others have been optional playable characters. Does that at all give you pause as to what is really going on with the Sonic games?

What is the conclusion that I personally draw from this?

Playing it safe forever isn't going to work for Sonic Team. While I personally have no problems with Sonic Forces as a whole, and think that it's going to sell well because of its features and gimmicks, when we step back and look at its core, that's what it only provides. Features and gimmicks just for the sake of being features and gimmicks.

Ultimately you can't address a problem head on by taking millions of baby steps and constantly dancing around the problem. That's not how a normally functioning business operates. Sacrificing the long-term solution in favor of getting that short-term fix does more damage to your brand than it provides any benefit. If you know what a problem is, you just fix it. You find what works and don't second guess yourself.

What I see in the actions of Sega and Sonic Team is a ton of second, third and fourth guessing when it comes to deciding on what Sonic the Hedgehog should be as a character and as a series. The result? A Fan Base scattered into 20+ different parts where they all file complaints about different issues, and a company that doesn't even realize that they created this mess to begin with.

It may be unusual to compare Sega to WWE, but it's a crazy enough comparison to appropriately use.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Arms and Splatoon 2 Direct Thoughts

A recent Nintendo Direct was held to show off a couple of new releases that are coming to the Switch console, and I have to say that both of the games that were shown in this Direct have my attention. For a variety of reasons I appreciate creativity when I see it, and I definitely see it in these two games.

Arms and Splatoon 2 are the games I'm talking about, and while some gamers will have their reservations, I believe that these games are going to do just fine selling enough copies on the market. I believe Nintendo has 2 surefire winners in the Video Game Market with these games. When it comes to Arms, yes, it's an unproven commodity. We don't really know what to expect with Arms because no one has been able to play a game even remotely similar to Arms before, but from what I saw in the intro trailer here in Direct, I wouldn't be surprised if this game became a smash hit. (pardon the fighting genre pun)

When I think of Arms right now, I'm thinking about a mixture of the following; Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, Street Fighter and that old Nintendo 64 game BattleTanx. For those of you who played BattleTanx before, you would know why I made that comparison. There are "explosive" elements to Arms considering what the characters will have to use in their arsenal. The Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots comparison is obvious because of the stretching punches and the namesake of the game's title. The fighting environment of Arms gives me the vibe of a Street Fighter game. Combine all that together and you get a good overall vibe.

We were briefly shown Splatoon 2, but even with the little that we got from this game's intro trailer, it's obvious that gamers are going to flock to this game and play the heck out of it. The original Splatoon had immense replay value because of the online multiplayer feature, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Splatoon 2's online multiplayer gets the same kind of traction, if not better traction. There are new maps to play in Splatoon 2 (or maybe Spla2oon?), and there are new features in customizing your character. If you happen to like Splatoon's Story Mode, which honestly I don't really care about, then you will get a new wrinkle or two in that part of the Splatoon experience too.

If there's one thing about Nintendo games that I have always come to respect would be their marketing strategies. How they get their products out there for the demo reveal is most of the time enough to convince gamers to buy the games, and the reason for this is because these trailer videos, such as the ones I just mentioned, have a way of luring you into what they're trying to sell. Over the last few decades Nintendo has obviously gotten good in this department.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Game Ideas: To Share or Not To Share?

Perhaps this can be used as a continuation of the blog post I just made on the subject of sharing game ideas, which can be seen in this link. ( The topic here describes how there can be negative effects to sharing your game ideas, and that there's a possibility that you, the idea guy, won't be able to follow through with the idea you just pitched.

As the author of the article at the very top link describes, there are drawbacks to willingly sharing whatever is on your mind as a game dev. If you freely share an idea, it gives off a vibe of you actually intending to act on said idea. People who listen to your ideas, whether brilliant or ridiculous, are going to assume that one day you're going to carry out on what you pitch, and some of them will really expect you to make some progress on this front.

Inadvertently, sharing ideas becomes a "de-motivator" of sorts for the game dev. Once you put something out there for other people to wonder about, something tends to go the other way, as in you won't do what you say, even if you wanted to. That's basically what I got out of the article above. It is a legitimate enough warning for people who don't know exactly what they're getting themselves into when it comes to the game dev process. The author here does make some valid points.

Most notably the main part of the author's article I strongly agree with would be this basic message; don't just be so willing to share your game-related ideas. If you do that you will accidentally put pressure on yourself to actually do something regarding those ideas. If you do that you're basically letting out a secret that should or should not have gotten out in the first place. You can give out hints about what you're thinking of doing, but don't go the whole 9 yards and spell everything out about your ideas.

I guess we can slip in the term "Poker Face" when it comes to this topic because that's one of the first things that popped into my mind when I read this article. Sometimes you gotta put on your best Poker Face when discussing something that might relate to a bold new idea you may have for game development. Keeping things close to the vest is a safe play, but it can also be the smartest play you can make. It may not be what you want to do because you are so eager to discuss everything you're doing with other people, but it may be the thing you need to do, for your own sake.

I believe everyone is different when it comes to distributing and sharing game ideas. Not all of us will have the same result as the author when it comes to tossing out ideas for others to listen to. I wouldn't expect the same result to keep occurring, in my opinion. However, the tone of the above article is basically this; please be careful if you want to make sure that you will actually do what you say. Take precautionary measures.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ideas and Execution in Game Development

Comment By Christopher Robin
*shrug* I tend to be the "idea guy" in the groups I work in, Maybe I handle it better than other idea guys, but it's not at all like how you guys describe. I typically handle the design, I'll focus more on systems and let the artists/writers focus on world and narrative. I will handle the production side of things typically because most other people don't seem to enjoy that aspect (I really like lists). I don't find other people to work on projects with me because I am lazy. I can code a bit, or learn to code/piece together what I need. I grew up artistic, and I can draw and paint. The problem is, I also work FT and want to transition from QA to Design. They tell you the easiest way to make that transition is to make games. Getting friends together to work on a jam, or an indie project is a good way for each of us to work on and display our skills. (I usually work with friends in QA that also want to transition)

Anyways, the vitriol I see in these comments is really disheartening. I grew up hearing that getting into games was a waste of time. It wasn't until I was about 25ish that I said screw the haters, left my sales job and started working at Nintendo. At Nintendo, I organized a group of people to work on an indie project, and we all learned a crap ton. I was more of an idea guy then, because I understood the development process less. If I had instead received this sort of response, the first project might not have happened - you know how I learned about the process and got better at it? By doing it. None of you are forced to help an idea guy, designer, whatever with his project.. but who the heck are you to question other people for getting excited with him.

Maybe I am misinterpreting what an idea guy is, but it seems to me like you guys are just crapping on hopefuls that haven't been as privileged as you are.

Steven's Response

Receiving the label of "idea guy" is not pleasant when it comes to the Gaming Industry. When you get called an "idea guy" it's usually not a compliment. If you consider the article linked above you will find out that according to some game devs --not all of them but some-- the "idea guy" is not really welcomed by the game dev team. Now let's talk about this label in detail. What is the "idea guy" label?

When you're called the "idea guy", you're basically viewed as the guy who hovers over the other game devs and give them your input without putting in a great amount of technical work yourself.  Recent history would tell you that people who are college educated and are qualified to handle all the super technical details of computer programming. If you have a college degree with flying colors in fields relating to computer programming, then chances are you're getting a free road to game development. 

If you happen to relate to the label of "idea guy" in any way whatsoever, then chances are you're going to have a much more difficult road to game development. That's the way this "game" is set up for devs. You either have enough skills to contribute to a game project or you don't, and if you don't you're encouraged to go to college and get a degree...

I'm not afraid to say that I present ideas to game devs. I don't think it's something for me to be ashamed about either because I'm letting people know what a consumer of video games is thinking. Ideas can be taken or left by game devs. Ideas are not set in stone. Ideas are always subject to change.

What I don't appreciate is that if I ever receive the label of "idea guy", then I will be looked at as someone who doesn't have what it takes to regularly contribute to a game dev project simply because I don't have technical computer skills that are up to par with everyone else on the dev team. I don't want to be viewed as someone who "doesn't get it" when it comes to the game development process. No, I do understand the dev process. I have constantly read about and studied the dev process. The problem is the ability to receive opportunities to work on a game project. 

You see, that's the problem with labeling in the Gaming Industry today. If you don't have the absolute best computer programming or designing skills then you will get kicked to the curb in favor of people who have such skills in spades. People wonder why it's so hard to enter the Gaming Industry today? Well...

I will circle this topic back to this point. Not everyone's situation is the same. You can't expect every single aspiring game dev you meet to have such a Grade A college education, and such a sparkling shiny resume that he or she will absolutely wow you the moment you start making a game. Your expectations need to be realistic. Of course it would be great if you were very talented in a certain computer field, but don't go the route of "labeling" when it comes to game development.

Some people are simply more privileged than others when it comes to available resources. For most of my life I have had to deal without the latest upgrades to hardware and software. I have been dealt with not so favored hands on this Poker table, so to speak. I have learned how to work with whatever it is that I had available to me. Sometimes that's really helpful because you can understand what it's like to not have everything available to you, and you're forced to make something work out of basically nothing.

I believe some aspiring game devs get intentionally lost in the shuffle in favor of those people who have the most appealing work resumes. Yes, reward those who have accomplished things. However, don't just shove aside those who have had their work cut out for them since Day 1. I believe there is great miscommunication in the game development scene today. "If you're not one of us college grads, then you can't hang with us." That's the mentality.

Why do you think that at least 90% of video game companies require you to have a college education when applying for certain job positions? That's because the people at the very top have been conditioned to accept that way of progression. That's how the people at the very top got to where they're at right now. They got their college degree and that's their badge of honor. When they use that college degree, they feel empowered to make the rules in the video game companies they run. The rules of applying for such companies are what they are. I'm not saying that's fair, because it's not fair if you ask me, but that's how the "game" is set up.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Business Monopolies: Why Gamers Should Care

Monopoly = Own everything... and then what?
I'm not a fan of the New York Times for obvious reasons regarding the legitimacy of news reports. However, once in a while even the NYT can provide a small nugget of truth in an article that highlights a great problem in today's society. The above link would happen to be one of those articles.

Google controls 88% of search advertising? Isn't that a shame? Just 10+ years ago one would get the feeling that he or she could go anywhere to get their reliable internet searches. Today that feeling is drastically different as the first platform that pops into anyone's mind is Google. Need a question answered? Just Google it. Need tips on how to do something professionally? Just Google it. Need to look up new information on your favorite celebrity? Just Google it.

Search advertising is where money is made, and of course Google (and by extension its parent company Alphabet) have perfected this art, so much so that they intentionally shove every other competitor out of the way and gobble up online search resources. That sounds like a friendly and welcoming company, right?

Facebook, which also owns Instragram, WhatsApp and Messenger, controls 77% of social traffic? Social media... The platform you use to communicate with other people. Just go to Facebook. Everyone in the world appears to be there, so you join up with us! Need to contact your best friend or lost family relative? Join Facebook!

Good ol' Mark Zuckerberg (sarcastic intro), who plans on running for President of the United States one day (that alone is a scary thought), not too long ago bought the VR company that makes the Occulus Rift for $2 Billion. That's billion with a B. Social interaction takes on more than just social media, but also in this case, Virtual Reality programs, whether they take on the forms of video games or not. It's not hard to figure out what the long-term play from Zuckerberg and company is, right?

Revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent? Not surprising by any means since the newspaper publishing business has become, in many ways, obsolete since we have the internet to look up on the latest news and developments of our society. The music business is pretty much in the same boat as consumers don't necessarily need to buy the hard copies of music albums anymore, but rather download those albums and soundtracks off the internet.

I'm sure you, the reader, are noticing a trend as I run down these notes.

 ^ The above link is the result of a little test I took that measured where I supposedly stand politically, and no, I don't 100% agree with these results. I am more about a single nation and I am more about liberty than the opposite, so I know this test got those parts about me wrong. Apparently this test says I'm basically a Centrist, neither Left nor Right Wing. I'll shrug my shoulders and say that I really don't care. I've never been big into politics anyway.

Reader's Question: How does this relate to video games?

Here's how I tie the above article to the Video Game Industry. Business monopolies, at its core, are not good for the long-term health and sustainability of industries. Wouldn't you generally agree? If you disagree, then you might want to imagine this "Doom and Gloom" scenario where the Video Game Industry only has 1 big company making home consoles for gamers. Take your pick of either Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft right now. One of these companies are only allowed to make consoles for gamers and the gamers just have to deal with it, even if they don't like most of the games they receive.

That's what a monopoly basically is without explaining it thoroughly.

Business monopolies clearly fly in the face of the general principles of entrepreneurship, a practice that promotes the idea of you, aspiring to make a splash in the business world, entering the industry of your choice with your own company and your own fascinating ideas. Business monopolies squash competitors. They always do. It doesn't matter how they plan on squashing your company. If they have an opening they are going to do it. You had better be prepared to fight for your company and your business dreams because otherwise the leading corporate giant company will come in and stomp all over your dreams. That's business for you.

So for those of you who hope to see Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft pull out of the console-making business, I warn you of these business monopolies because this is NOT the road you want to go down as a consumer, and definitely not long-term.

Independent video game development combats the big boys of AAA game development because this serves as one way to avoid a monopoly in the game-making world. I highly doubt we will see the day where Indie devs have to team up with AAA companies just to survive, because otherwise the Video Game Industry wouldn't nearly be as strong as it says it is.

If you apply an equivalent to Google or Facebook to the Video Game Industry, should that corporate giant company be broken up? My answer is absolutely, positively YES. I'm not a believer in the saying "We're never too big to fail." That's where so many companies begin their fall from supremacy. Arrogance. Pride. Greed. The basic need to be everything for everybody when that isn't realistic for the market.

In this sense equality is desperately needed in business because without it the territory to have creativity and imagination will be limited, and game devs will suffer long-term. No one company stands above all. Today's society needs to better understand that.