Welcome back to Level Grinding, RPGamer's monthly video game industry editorial column. For the uninitiated, each month news stories are cynically dissected in an attempt to expand on their overall implications and industry relevance. Don't worry though; it's not all wordy analysis jargon.
September has come to a close. It was a month full of semi-interesting articles about cut content from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and pretty much nothing else. In all honesty, I spent most of the month fighting colds. After having walking pneumonia last spring my immune system has been pretty weak, and all I could do to pull through the coughing and hacking was cuddle up on the couch and complete the main quest in A Realm Reborn. That part was actually good. So good that I'm thinking about picking up Heavensward, if only to not waste any more time working on a relic weapon. Enough chatter about me though.
Before we begin, I'd like to highlight a few of my favorite recent videos:
You might not be aware of HyperBitHero, but you probably should be. As far as video game analysis videos go, he's top tier. In this video he breaks down DmC's splificiation of Virgil's character and why the game kinda screws up the execution as well.
Spoony still exists, and he is still hilarious. The inspiration for JonTron and countless other video game YouTubers, this video producer made his claim to fame with a multi-part review of Final Fantasy VIII — in which he agonised over every little detail that didn't make sense. His multi-part Final Fantasy XIII review takes the same format, but is infinitely more entertaining in my opinion.
Alright, shameless self promotion addition. My future wife and I have a YouTube channel where we play games together. We only play each game once, and we only do it for fun. Still, I'd really appreciate it if you checked us out. Oh! And point out any hidden references you find.
Fortune recently had a fairly interesting/confusing interview with GameStop CEO Paul Raines. In it he stated that "disk-based games will be around forever," only to lament the slide of physical media with some less-than-stellar numbers. "The market has seen physical music sales down 50 per cent from its peak and physical movie sales down 60% from its peak, but even in a doomsday scenario, disc-based games will be around for a long time," he said. I don't ascribe to that belief.
In as much as I prefer physical media, the facts just don't suggest that it will be around forever. It may not even be around for another half decade. We live in an age where NDP sales numbers can no longer be trusted because, by NDP's own admission, over 25% of game sales are now digital. In fact, digital game spending in the United States reached $1.2 billion last year according to SuperData Research — up 11% from the previous year. Next gen console platforms also sold on average twelve times more full game downloads from the previous year. Things are changing, and they're changing fast.
The console industry is shifting towards digital game sales. That's pretty clear. But what about the competition the console market is seeing from PC? Steam fundamentally changed the nature of the PC gaming environment — a fact which should be painfully obvious to Paul Raines as his company doesn't stock quite as many PC games anymore. Steam might also have the potential to change our living rooms, and Valve has already expressed interest in our TVs. If personal computers are able to successfully replace our consoles, physical media in gaming will be dead. And GameStop will have to sell a lot of T-shirts, toys, and super hero figurines to stay afloat.
Last week Wii U exclusive Star Fox Zero was pushed from its holiday launch into 2016. This was announced in a statement from senior producer Shigeru Miyamoto in which he apologized for the delay, saying that more time would be needed to polish the level designs, cutscenes, and Wii U GamePad use. Ultimately this delay will likely only amount to a few extra months worth of wait, but that didn't stop the internet from putting on a sad face. Plenty of negative comments/tweets were shot at the company after this announcement. Because game delays are bad, right?
Wrong. Game delays are great. I know the prospect of delaying your gratification doesn't sound amazing, but what has history told us of games that were rushed to release? A recent example of a game being allegedly rushed to market is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Without a doubt, this is a great game as far as gameplay goes. It's really quite spectacular. Still, it's hard to make it to the 80-hour mark without thinking that content was cut. We know based on the bonus disk included with the special edition that mission 51 had been in the production stages and data miners found reference to a whole other chapter called "Peace." Neither of these seem to be in the final release.
My favourite example of a potentially great game that was held back by a rushed launch would have to be last year's Assassin's Creed: Unity. Unity was a festival of faceless NPCs who had a penchant for swapping genders ask you walked past them. There were times when crowds of more than twenty people would consist of the exact same character model and you could even fall into a void of nothingness — where the streets above are the ceiling and you can swim in invisible water. Not great, Ubisoft. Not great.
A few years back Shirgeru Miyamoto had an interview with The Guardian in which he dropped this pearl of wisdom: "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." We can see this demonstrated in both of the above examples as Metal Gear Solid V will likely never have more story content and even after a number of patches Unity still has a number of unsolved glitches. Some are so problematic that they have since been explained in-game to be "problems with the Animus (the story's matrix generator your character has to be plugged into to go back in time)." Think about that for a second.
I'm not upset that Star Fox Zero was delayed. Nor am I bothered by the delays of The Legend of Zelda, Tom Clancy's The Division, or Hitman. As far as I'm concerned, giving these games a few more months in the oven is going to ensure they don't come out half-baked. To that point, I think game delays should be embraced for what they are as opposed to being reviled for what they take away from us in the short term.
A few days ago, while working on a rough draft of this adorable video game industry column, I wrote an article on how cheap the $80 (CND) PS4 release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 was looking. Sadly, recent events have led me to scrap all of it. I had assumed that the game may not live up to early franchise standards after seeing videos with oversaturated graphics, floaty physics, and ho-hum gameplay features. I was correct, but the fallout of Tony Hawk's latest outing basically made that whole write-up obsolete.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 isn't just a bad game. It is broken. It is cynical. It is shameless. And you shouldn't play it.
The first problem with Pro Skater 5 isn't anything the game did, actually. Activision decided to not provide any review copies of the game to media outlets before release, meaning that most of you wouldn't have had any clear indication of how bad the experience was going to be. There are few reviews of Pro Skater 5 floating around the internet, mostly by smaller games media sites, but it will be a few days before the "how could something this bad have been released" train really gets rolling. Sorry, pre-order holders.
Pro Skater 5 is not only broken, but it almost seems to set a new standard for how incomplete a game can be. Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit are full of videos and gifs of insane glitches, broken elements, and impossible physics. Which sounds insane for a game that credits QA testers, but things start to add up when you find out that the game's size is 4.6GB while the day-one patch is 7.7GB. It's like they forgot to include more than half the game.
So, how did this happen? How could a numbered game in a once-revered franchise be handled so ineptly by its developer and so shamelessly by its publisher? The answer to that question might be found in a licensing deal Activision signed with the Birdman in 2002. To quote, "Activision, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) announced today that the company has extended its successful partnership with world-renowned skateboarder Tony Hawk through an exclusive multi-year video game licensing agreement that expires in 2015."
That's right. Pro Skater 5 was crapped out this year to get another cash out before the deal runs out. Activision even went so far as to make this the first numbered title in thirteen years to try and reel in a few more old fans before they lost control. I think it's fair to assume that this is it for the franchise. Disregarding the licensing agreement, Pro Skater 5's cynical and disingenuous effort has put the final nail in the coffin. It's dead.
I'm not sure Yu Suzuki knows how to budget a modern title. Or at least that's what his recent history in game design seems to suggest. Sure, Shenmue was a trendsetter as far as open world, nonlinear games go, but it also was hyper focused on presentation — leading to suggested development costs of over $70 million ($94.4 million adjusted for 2015). Shenmue II was completed for "a much more reasonable sum," likely due to the engine being the same, but the Dreamcast version only sold 100,000 copies as of 2003. It's safe to say that release would have been costly for Sega. The final nail in the surprisingly expensive coffin would have to be the development of Shenmue Online — a game that was never made it past the Beta stage but still cost Sega and JCEntertainment almost $26 million. In short, Yu Suzuki knows how to make an expensive game, and I question whether he understands the concept of budgetary restraint.
I understand why the man is so revered, and I respect him for his accomplishments. Both arcades and Sega's AM2 studio wouldn't have been nearly as awesome in the late 80s and 90s were it not for his visionary work. However, just because you respect someone as an artist and innovator doesn't mean you have to be blind to their shortfalls. He has a history of throwing money at the envelope to push it forward, and that history resurfaced with Shenmue 3.
It wasn't that long ago when Yu Suzuki took to the PlayStation stage and revealed a Kickstarter for the highly anticipated sequel to Shenmue II. The campaign asked for a measly $2 million, and it was revealed that there were other funding partners at the table (Shibuya Productions and Sony). Shenmue 3 hit that goal almost instantly. In fact, the campaign went on to raise over $6 million. Yu Suzuki should have been happy with that, right?
In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Suzuki said that $6.3 million isn't enough. "The game itself doesn't have to be gorgeous visually — a lot of the money these days goes into the graphics. If we perhaps compromise on the graphics and put more into the story, we can make a good game." With that sentiment in mind, he has put in place an additional PayPal funding campaign. You can find it at Kickstarter's Shemue 3 page.
If any other creator had received significantly more money that he/she had originally asked for and made this statement, I would have shaken my head and told them to make a bigger Kickstarter next time. This isn't any creator though. This is a man who has a proven track record of using more money than is ever budgeted to get the best product. I love high quality games, don't get me wrong, but there should be reasonable compromises in the development process if this industry is to remain sustainable.
At this point, I'd like to thank my Editor-in-Chief, Michael Cunningham, for his continual support, our beloved readers for taking the time to indulge my abrasive opinions, and of course all of the commenters in RPGamer's forums for engaging in the conversation. I'll now ask that you do the same.
If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:
Will physical media be around forever?
What do you think of game delays?
Does the Pro Skater franchise have a chance at surviving?
Are you concerned about Shenmue 3?
I'll see you next month. In the meantime, stay tuned to RPGamer for all of the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.