As much as my current position on the whole "games industry-press-consumer" triangle (which is with my back to the gamer edge and feeling the ground starting to crumble beneath me feet) allows me half-guess, last Friday’s release of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is one of the most important goings on in the PC gaming canton this whole year.
But not, as one would assume, important in the sense that the PC audience is finally getting to taste the long forbidden fruit in the form of one of the most lauded console games of this (seemingly unending) console generation. No. Rather, as a perfect opportunity for one interested in gaming in general, PC gaming in particular (as well as consumer and press reaction), to draw a bead on things and notice the manifold idiosyncrasies of this love-hate triangle. It's a prime "case study", if you will, of agent, advisor and emptor.
But why? Surely every AAA release these days gets more written about it online than most headline news. Why's this one special, if the quality of the game is secondary? Exactly because the quality of the game seems to be its sole saving grace. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What to look for:
From Software's declaration that they're not pursuing the port unless...; The Fan's overwhelming cry of attention in the form of a quite audible request for a PC version; the Press' thorough support of the Fan's cry; From's inability to ascertain the dos and don'ts of the PC market (the use of GFWL/graphics options/claimed inability to make the game run without frame drops, despite the PC's superior potential (apparently sorted at launch)); From's (at least, implicit) admission that they might not be the right "man" for the job.
Most important of all, though, the launch. One fan's use of a pirated copy and 23 minutes' work (with 1 week's prior work without access to game code) to sort out a major graphical problem the developers couldn't or wouldn't (and that delicious double-irony); general PC gamers' criticism of so shoddy a port contrasted with fans' claims that either "it's not that bad" or that "you should buy it anyway because you asked for it (and if you don't, no other console developer will ever grace the PC with a port that's not planned for)"; the journos' inability to take a stand, as usual, for fear of stepping on someone's toes; and finally, the worst one of all, the ever-recurring argument of "gamer entitlement".
A small comparison between launch DS (left) and Neogaffer Durante's modded version. Click for larger versions.
Now take a step back, and let's run a comparison, they're always good fun. Imagine any other industry-press-customer (unholy) trinity in which the above could, within reason, happen. Not on a regular basis, like in gaming, just the once. For the purposes of this piece, let's choose the auto industry. Imagine Toyota releases a car whose performance is lauded by Asian/European customers and world press, and that they refuse to release it in America. Imagine Americans get together a request and, with the support of the auto press, convince Toyota to release it there. Imagine Toyota saying they're having some problems with it but they'll release the car anyway. Imagine the car's released but its wheels are the wrong way on and it drives sideways. Imagine some random American got his hands on one of them and after a couple of hours and armed only with a spanner, he manages to get the car to drive diagonally- not ideal, but a vast improvement. Imagine that all through this there is not one single Auto journalist that puts his foot down and says: "This is not acceptable". You can't, can you?
-"But, Tofu, comparing cars and games is idiotic, they're worlds apart in function, it's only natural that the industry-press-consumer reactions are going to be vastly different!"
Ok, then, let's compare it to the movies. Imagine a great movie gets released in Betamax and VHS and later ported over (after customer outcry) to DVD. Imagine the DVD is of equal image quality to the Beta and that you can't use the DVD remote and have to get a different one. Imagine it still sells like hotcakes and that the fans/press tell you it's wholly worth the asking price, despite an abundance of other, similarly priced, good films with proper DVD mastering. Imag-
-"Come on, films don't generate nearly the same amount of consumer involvement as games. That's virtue of the games' DIY nature, as opposed to film, music and that sort of media. These comparisons are pointless!"
Oh, fuck you. You're probably right, but fuck you anyway.
In fact, I'm halfway convinced that trying to draw similarities between games and any other sort of product/medium and their makers'/reviewers'/buyers' relations is quite the fools errand, even fully realizing that that's assigning games an importance that they don't deserve, not yet, at any rate. And I apologize in advance, but the one thing it reminds me of the most is politics. And that's a point I won't bother expanding on, however interesting it might've been, because my relationship with games is dwindling as is and I fucking hate politics. So, again, sorry for the bait. Besides, the whole point was the current paradigm of gaming from all people involved and how alienating it sometimes becomes for a regular punter armed with only common sense and a wallet full of spider webs.
Alienating, because, as a company, you don't ask your customers for favours and set them tasks. You publish a product, and when it gets A-graded and people ask for more, you do the maths and find out if it's possible to give people what they want, and you either do it competently, you get someone to do it for you, or you don't do it, for fear of disparaging current and would be customers. And if you fail, you apologize and fix it for much the same reasons above.
Alienating, because, as a consumer, you don't "beg" for a slice of the pie that you're going to pay for, you ASK for it, with the intention of paying for it. You don't pay for that piece of pie if it turns out it's made of shit rather than apple, as you requested. You don't get to be told "You can't complain because you asked for it!", because you PAID for it. You don't get to be told "You're why we can't have nice things!" because you aren't; you're why we don't get crap. And you sure as fuck don't get to be told you're entitled or elitist when you want to use a mouse or you want to change resolutions or that you detest being told to press "Start" on a PC, because you're what's stopping the big industry from being completely shameless, regardless if anyone recognizes it or not.
And it sure is alienating when a journalist in PC Gamer has the balls to tell his audience that Dark Souls: Prepare To Die edition is worth 89/100. It's bad enough that he's perpetuating a childish affectation, that of game scores, but it's much worse when he's that off base. Unless he wants to argue that the port itself shouldn't be judged. That's too bad, because that's exactly what the his audience is going to play.
Yes, that is an astronaut duck. I like ducks, me.
As adamant as I might feel about my convictions above, I can't help but wonder, though- maybe because it seems wise to question one's common sense, as in, when it turns out it's not so common, maybe that's because it no longer makes much sense. Besides, it is (or should be) rather beyond both my reach and M.O. to presume to tell you how to run a business, how to spend your money or who to listen to, and how to DO YOUR DAMN JOB (BA-DUM to the -TISH, anyone?).
To end this, at long last, I'd like to address the discussion that half-spawned this, one between meself and Dacker Denister. It's also a functional disclaimer of sorts, if one's so inclined to vapidly presume my arguments meaningless because of one minute detail. I have not played Dark Souls, in any of its incarnations, nor will I until From re-releases a proper version for my gaming machine of choice, the PC. Although the main reason is purely a monetary one, I'm fairly sure I still wouldn't if I had 10 times as much money to burn as whatever many €s they're asking for it. I still haven't played (nor will I) Half Life 2 because I recognized it as something outrageous, a game underhandedly turned it into a launchpad for an otherwise utterly unwanted DRM scheme/store. Same goes for Diablo 3 (or would go if I found such "Skinner boxes" the least bit amusing), for obvious reasons. Dark Souls won't surely be the last major game I can live without.
Yes, it sounds judgemental, but it's really not. Even though I think there's some merit to argument that playing loose and fast with your wallet is the reason there's so many garbage nowadays in gaming, I believe it has the most impact on how industry fatcats speak of their customers on many a silly interview out there. Heck, I'm not, and would not, hold it to you or anyone else personally, for fear of insulting someone I don't intend to (because, in the end, (and again) I don't think enough of games to warrant getting into fights because of 'em), not to mention I'd sound like a massive hypocrite in presuming to tell people what to do with their money when I wouldn't take orders on what to do with mine if they came from His Holy Duckness. I do reckon, though, that in buying it, you made a poor choice.
-”Well, that all came across as awfully dramatic and overblown as a Michael Bay movie written by a 5 year-old. Surely you exaggerate?”
Well, yeah. As a wise man once said, there's always the indies. Although it's fair to say that if the indies scratched all the itches I have, that fabled middle ground between big industry and independent, this would never have seen the light of my CRT. But I'll save that rant for some other time.