Yesterday Steerpike wrote a thoroughly enjoyable take on Electronic Arts going back to its evil ways, but in all the fuss and rightful condemnation we shouldn’t be forgetting that there are other players in this game too and that they’d like a minute under the spotlight as well.
Yes, it’s become rather fashionable on Tap-Repeatedly to bash Activision (bash repeatedly!!!), but, frankly, they give us so many opportunities that you feel as if you’re neglecting some kind of duty if you don’t react to it. You can refer to it as call of duty if you like.
Which brings us nicely to Modern Warfare 2, the latest game in the Call of Duty franchise and the first that, amusingly does not feature words like “Call”, “of” or even “Duty” in its title. We’ve talked about this game before, for good reason too, but this time around, Thomas Tippl, some kind of an Activision Blizzard bigwig (what the hell is CFO anyway?) has explained the company’s plans for Modern Warfare 2’s online evolution.
Speaking at BMO Capital Markets Conference, presumably to a bunch of people who are interested in games insofar that they make them obscene amounts of money, Tippl went into great detail explaining ActiBlizz’s plans to rape Modern Warfare 2’s online players, plunder their villages, steal their women and leave their houses in smoldering ruins.
OK, so his exact words were actually (referring to World of Warcraft’s business model) “It’s definitely an aspiration that we see potential in, particularly as we look at different business models to monetize the online gameplay”. Which may not seem all that ominous even when followed by “you should expect us to test and ultimately launch additional online monetization models of some of some of our biggest franchises like Call of Duty.”
Sure, it’s kinda amusing that he is still talking about Call of Duty even as the developer and the publisher agreed to ditch the moniker – after all he is talking to a bunch of suits who think eating third world babies and pissing depleted uranium on their homes is their duty anyway – but what he is really saying is that ActiBlizz is planning to make gamers pay more for less of a service. The real kicker is probably his explanation: “Our gamers are telling us there’s lots of services and innovation they would like to see that they’re not getting yet. From what we see so far, additional content, as well as all the services Blizzard is offering, is that there is demand from the core gamers to pay up for that,”
Oh, really? Is that so, Thomas Tippl? You’ve actually had “core” gamers running to your Internet forums the last couple of days, telling you how much they’d love to give you more money? “Please, Activision!!!! Make us pay!!! We are tired of all the sweet deals you guys have been sending our way all this time!! In fact, shit, all that surplus money we have is becoming a bit of a problem, you know? It’s everywhere: in our fridges and microwave ovens, can you possibly do something about it? Our credit cards are all stiff and throbbing, we need to alleviate the pain, like NOW!!!!”
Of course, anyone with the awesome superpower of six whole months of memories will probably take Tippl’s statements with a grain of salt (a shovelful really, but who’s counting). First, Activision made a lot of people aware of them being evil, moneygrabbing villains when they announced that the recommended retail price for Modern Warfare 2 will be, ahh, what the hell, whole ten dollars than for other games. Now I realize that it’s kind of funny to expect all games to cost the same, and this is a kind of an anomaly right there, but really, Activision, really? In the year of crumbling banks and drowning economies you figure the best way to celebrate the launch of one of your biggest games is to show just how greedy you can get?
And, of course, they can afford to be greedy, as the actual launch certainly broke a lot of records. The game can be actually purchased for less money because various retailers understand what free market actually is about and are taking the hit themselves by selling the game for less than its RRP. But I don’t remember seeing many people on the Internet saying “Modern Warfare 2 will rock!!! Shit!!!! It will rock so fucking hard, it should be more expensive than GTA IV or Final Fantasy XII!!! You know why?? Because we’re OSCAR MIKE, that’s why you pinko commie faggot pussy!!!”
Likewise, when Infinity Ward, the people who actually made Modern Warfare 2 and are, sadly owned by ActiBlizz announced that the PC version of the game will not support dedicated servers, the general reaction on the Internet could be described as exactly the opposite of rapturous applause. Through enforcing playing Modern Warfare 2 via Infinity Ward’s own service, Infinity Ward and Activision have essentially turned our PCs into consoles as far as the online experience goes. Gone are the days of carefully and lovingly maintained dedicated servers with awesome bandwidth, tight communities, custom maps and mods (all that for free to boot). Now Activision and Infinity Ward will be providing you with a matchmaking system and select additional content for a fee!!!
Will it lead to what psychology textbooks once will refer to as “Halo Effect (Gaming)”, namely being called nigga jew racist hacker bitch by fourteen year olds every time you are on the receiving (or giving for that matter) end of a headshot? Sure it will. Gone will be communities who self regulate, gone will be new, free maps and mods. You will be getting whatever ActiBlizz’s QA department thinks is good for you and you will be paying for it.
You know why it is that games like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake and Doom are still played online, all of them being more than a decade old? It’s because they were not made in a way that exploited your love of gaming through monetizing everything while taking stuff that you were getting (or making) for free out of that same love. You know, John Romero may have planned to prison-rape our throats but the man believed in love. Sadly, John Carmack apparently toys with the idea of ditching dedicated server support for the PC version of Rage as well.
But you know what? This is exactly why Quake, Doom and Duke Nukem are staples of gaming culture today and forever and why Modern Warfare 2 is nothing but good business. Companies don’t give a shit about culture, it seems, if they can not make money on it and, you know, once Activision decides that Modern Warfare 2’s tits have stopped giving enough milk – it’s gone. Extinguished. Snuffed. Gone. Sure, you’ll still have your single player game, all five awesome hours of it, but online play? Mods? Maps? Sorry, move along, nothing to see here. Modern Warfare 4 or 5 or whatever will be coming to replace it. You can bet your sweet money maker that this will happen a lot earlier than Modern Warfare 2’s tenth anniversary and all the cash you’ve poured into the game, all those new gun skins and player models, all those maps and mods, all those customized menu themes and other shit you paid for – all of it will be gone. Useless. Dead. I mean, I understand that companies will want you to buy their new games, but now they will have ways to kill their old games and effectively force you into buying new ones. (Sure, you always have the simple option of, you know, not playing, but that’s crazy talk, thank you very much, no more contributions from you.)
And I appreciate that companies have to do business, but they should also appreciate that geeks have the duty to call bullshit where they see it. And the geeks did. The forums were set alight, petitions were signed, Infinity Ward was begged to patch dedicated servers support back into the PC game, all to no avail. This is what has been the main topic of Modern Warfare 2 discussions on most of the Internet forums where gaming enthusiasts gather for the last several weeks. And yet, Thomas Tippl claims it’s the “core” gamers who have been begging to be raped and that they’d love to pay for it. Clearly, evil is strong with this one.
And, just to cover the obvious angle: sure, piracy protection is something everyone can understand and get behind, but, really, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare sold over 13 million pieces and if you think Modern Warfare 2’s record breaking launch is due to ActiBlizz’s awesome anti-piracy measures (signified by cutting the support for dedicated servers on PC) then you’re an idiot and I will thank you not to taint this discussion with your “contributions” any more.
But, lest you think that it’s only in America where evil reigns supreme, let’s turn our bloodshot eyes towards Europe and see what those rascally Ubi boys have been up to, shall we?
After all, they are about to launch Assassin’s Creed 2 these days and are probably applying the final spit ‘n’ polish to it, trying to make up for the hugely underwhelming franchise starter two years back, right? Either that or they are looking for ways to make Prince of Persia not suck so eagerly any more. Oh, no, wait, wait, I got it, they must be hard at work making Splinter Cell Conviction into the best Splinter Cell game evah (I’d actually settle for it having some kind of ending this time around). Right?
Actually… no. They are apparently working on innovative ways to make decent but geeky people piss themselves with rage implement advertising into Splinter Cell Conviction.
Now, I don’t have a particular grudge against Ubi. I have purchased many a game of theirs in the past. Hell, when it comes to games like, say, first three Splinter Cells or Beyond Good and Evil I have bought multiple copies for multiple systems and that’s fine. But I have one simple rule when it comes to advertising in my cultural goods: if it features unskippable, immersion breaking advertising, it’s not worth buying. I am not saying I won’t be buying it ever, but it will severely lower the chances of me buying whatever it is that features intrusive advertising.
Because, as I said before, games may not be art but they sure as hell are culture. And if you don’t treat that culture with respect then it becomes a culture not worth respecting. No, Ulysses did not feature any advertising, or product placement for that matter. Neither did Lolita. Nor did The old man and the sea. See where I’m going with this? Tell me that one day you want to hear games discussed in the same breath as these books and I’ll tell you not to buy games featuring in-game advertising then.
Now, sure, I understand, in some games product placement fits. All those racing games look more realistic with all those advertising billboards splashed all over the landscape, sure. But Splinter Cell?? Come on, tell me you didn’t feel your eyes retreating into the back of your skull in sheer primal panic during that moment in Splinter Cell Chaos Theory when Sam Fisher was getting ready to ruin some villains’ shit by breaking out his favorite brand of chewing gum.
I mean, it tells you something about a creative medium when god damned product placement makes it into games before political ideas and ideologies do. How many people understood what the hell objectivism was all about after playing BioShock? And how many people had that chewing gum logo burned into their retinas after playing Chaos Theory? I rest my case.
So, product placement generally cheapens the experience. I think we can all agree on this, at least if we all already agree that gaming is not a cheap experience to start with. Some of us want to argue that playing is a cultural activity and that it has spiritual value. Some of us then want to stab our eyes out when people who make those things insist on treating it like commodity and replacing spiritual content with product placement.
According to Ubi’s Jeffrey Dickstein (seriously, I didn’t want to comment on Tippl’s name, feeling it would be childish to do so, but this guy practically leaves me no choice. Dickstein??? His last name means “Penis stone” and I should just pretend I am not noticing it??), the company is looking to be really slick with their advertising.
Like “Ubisoft will identify popular routes through each level and then use that information to sell high and low profile space to advertisers”. So, how long until Ubisoft starts forcing players to use certain routes through levels to make them more popular so they can increase advertising space prices?? I mean, it’s not like it will pay to create several ways to go through a level if everyone is going to be using only one and the rest of the ad space will be left sad and unused, right?
Elsewhere, the man with the awesome dick made of stone says that “it would even be possible to advertise during the bits where Sam Fisher – on the tail of his daughter’s killers – beats information out of people by smashing their heads in.” I mean, nothing like smashing someone’s head into a billboard advertising the latest in the long line of energy drinks, is there? Sure, we’ve been complaining for years now how in modern games the camera is programmed to give you cool cinematic angles rather than to let you play the motherfucking game properly, but with this development Ubisoft might just be taking it to a whole new level. After all, can they afford you to look the other way just as the face of your daughter’s kidnapper gets introduced to an expensive pizza ad? I see more cutscenes, more quick time events and more stupid camera angles coming our way friends and we should be getting our torches and pitchforks ready.
But, Meho, I hear you say, didn’t you just say that it’s such an economic climate that companies have to fight tooth and claw for every penny? Can’t you cut some slack to Ubi on that account? Yes, you say “culture”, but they say “business” and aren’t they within their rights to do so?
Wait!!! I just remembered!!! I can treat my purchase of Splinter Cell Conviction as business transaction too, no? I mean, I am giving them money, aren’t I? We are – in a way – partners in business, right? And, since they will have a totally independent income line coming from all that sweet advertising, it’s natural to expect Ubi to pass the buck and sell me game for less money, right? After all, it is my viewing of their in-game ads that will grant the advertising revenue, isn’t it? So, Splinter Cell Conviction will cost less than other games, right? Right?
What, no?? Oh well, I suppose I can always buy the game and then never play it, thus screwing Ubi out of all their ads traffic revenue. I know, I know, it makes no sense, but then again, paying more for less does neither and as long as we put up with it, they will continue doing it.