He compares the vast difference between the boardgaming markets in the U.S. and Germany today and how videogaming in the States is on its way to the same situation. Pretty obvious now that he mentions it.
With original games being harder and harder to come by, the audience is going to think the crap that is being shoveled to us it the best gaming can produce.
If the audience has no aesthetic, no basis on which to judge the intrinsic worth of a work, on what basis do they make purchasing decisions? There are only two ways to reach them, in fact. One is by marketing “old favorites,” games with brand recognition because of their long history and exposure to the market. The other is by exploiting a licensed brand.
He also compares it to the mobile phone gaming market, which I have briefly looked into and came to the same conclusion he does even though it would seem there is a lot more potential.
Many gamers who have explored mobile games have come away with the opinion that they all suck. With rare exceptions, this is true. The market has no aesthetic of gameplay; branding is all that matters; why should the publishers of mobile games care?
I believe gaming is d0med until at some point writers/artists/directors recognise gaming as a viable medium to express their ideas in. We’re still in amateur land in those areas, until storytelling in games moves up a level all we will see are licensed multiplayer FPS clones and little else.
Don’t be so sad. Even without reading it I can tell you that Costikyan is off is friggin’ rocker.
The iPhone alone is proof that you don’t need old favorites or a licensed brand to be successful, and blows up his mobile theory completely. I’d argue the iPhone has some of the best games of the year, period.
The guy seems like a miserable curmudgeon who simply can’t figure out how to make videogames that will actually pay his bills. Let’s not forget he’s the figurehead for a failed indie games site that peddled a whole lot of crap.
The man needs to climb down off his high horse and play some games again. There are a pile of great ones out there, many from big publishers that don’t have licenses or “old favorites” tied to them.
Of course, if he did that, he couldn’t be the fear monger anymore…
Costikyan has seemingly made a career out of saying that everything sucks these days, and it’s all downhill since he was young. Why, just look at how much his bones creak in the morning!
His view of boardgaming is ridiculously off the mark, considering that Hasbro has hired real game designers to make-over the rules of classic games like Risk to make them playable, and that relentlessly designed and analyzed games like Magic are (if not entirely mainstream) far more popular than “a couple of thousand copies.”
Plus of course, he’s romanticizing other media. Yeah, movies have a critical vocabulary and there are all sorts of cinephiles – but it’s Michael Bay and Transformers 2 that’s this summer’s big movie.
That’s why I’m pretty hopeful with SWTORO. Bioware almost single-handedly resuscitated the CRPG market with Baldur’s Gate, maybe they can do it again with MMORPGs with SWTORO.
Yep, story is where it’s at. Unless you have that magic that only someone with a talent for storytelling can weave, all you are doing is nudging an avatar around on the screen, pavlovianly pushing up a progress bar.
It’s funny, because in the early days of gaming, the amateurish but passionate kinds of “story” you’d get in games like Doom, made by geeks for geeks, were quite charming. But as the graphics have gotten better, I think our expectations have gotten higher, and as you say, the quality of setting and storytelling (and consistency of world-building) needs to move up a notch to match.
I think Costikyan often makes some good points (as he does in this editorial), but he is prone to hyperbole. I’d agree that it is interesting to see how German boardgaming culture has elevated standards of quality, but at the same time, American boardgaming is hardly the wasteland that he suggests. Even the American hobby boardgaming market is arguably healthier than its ever been, and I’ll pit the work of American designers like Alan Moon (a multiple-times Spiel des Jahres winner, BTW) against Reiner Knizia any day of the week.
Thanks guys, I feel better. I am always pissier in the morning. I will make a note to save XXXX is d0med articles until after lunch.
Not having an IPhone means that none of those games factored into my assessment of that segment of gaming. Stuff for my 3G Black Jack II seems to suck ass.
Part of this may also be my own negative perception as I have trouble recently getting into anything outside of quick, time-sink-y games. I may simply share his cranky, aging gamer outlook where nothing will ever measure up to those early years when I was just discovering original games and new genres.
Furthermore, the avalanche of casual games I perceive as a threat to indie games. But, that is probably wrong, too, as the same people that have made indie games can continue to make them and distribute them via the internet. It is not like the internet is going to run out of shelf space. It just may a bit harder to wade through the casual crap.
What Costikyan’s describing is the norm for cultural media, not an exception. Think about it - Britney Spears sells millions of albums while avante garde artists sell only a fraction of that; Twilight is exponentially more popular than any recent novel of serious artistic merit; I could go on and on.
It seems that the majority of consumers have little taste and will buy anything that’s well marketed to them. That sounds elitist, but the numbers bear it out. So what? The Backstreet Boys didn’t wipe out jazz. Why should we expect anything different in the games market?
Greg plays a lot of the same old songs: the market is drowning in licensed crap, there’s not enough appreciation for originality, hobbyist vs mass-market, storm the Bastille, blah blah blah.
I’m actually kinda grateful that folks like Greg are out there tilting at windmills. How much blander would gaming be without its Cranky Old Geezers ranting? But honestly, the only thing I learned from that piece is Twiggy was pretty cute back in her heyday. So, thanks, Greg.
Also, to be fair, board game “afficianados” are some of the most horrible people on the planet. And I am a board game afficiando (but mostly American stuff).
Edit: Having read the article, ole’ Greg is full of shit. There is a huge amount of critical thought and discussion going on about Board Games right now, but it’s not making the mainstream. Which is pretty much EXACTLY like every other entertainment product.
I think the point where the comparison fails is that if you go into a medium or large size music store, then if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find at least tens and possible hundreds of interesting and eclectic CDs from a range of artists working in different genres and doing different and interesting things. Of course, Britney and JT will be in some big display up the front with posters everywhere pushing them, but poke around for five minutes and you’ll find something by Benny Goodman or Randy Newman or Pete Townshend or Biz Markie or Tracy Chapman, and while you may like or dislike the actual stuff, there’s no question that the music was made out of a kind of love of the medium, and whatever failings it might have it at least is not exclusively a cynical effort to mine the wallets of the credulous.
If you go into a brick-and-mortar game store, though, you’ll see evidence that Sturgeon’s law is sometimes too conservative. Row upon row of games where the comparison to the Twiggy boardgame is absolutely apt. Dig around looking for the equivalents of the eclectic minor delights that are hidden in the corners of a record store and you are pretty much guaranteed to come up empty.
Costikyan might come across to some of you as a cranky old man but I think the thing he’s saying about needing an aesthetic of games and a vocabulary to discuss it in rings completely true. It’s not that “games are d0med” or any such nonsense; it’s that if nobody is discussing games in a more intelligent way than “PS3 suxxors, man” (or the 1000th “are games art?” thread on some discussion board) then we can expect to stay in the same cultural cul-de-sac we’re in now.
The key difference between board games and video games is that, in general, good board games sell well over long periods of time. Video and PC games don’t.
I found an really interesting article on Wired about Klaus Teuber, who created Settlers of Cataan. Now, Settlers is unique (few board games find that level of success), but even if you sell 100,000 copies a year, as Days of Wonder likely does with their Ticket to Ride games, you’re making pretty serious money.
I’m not sure what conclusion I’m trying to draw here, except that trying to see parallels between board and video gaming is flawed. Many early video and computer games had roots in board gaming and paper gaming, but I think that’s far less true today, and the two forms of entertainment have diverged pretty widely.