While they’re undoubtedly still killing it at the bank, it seems that our favorite game companies just can’t win over hearts and minds these days. From the global chip shortage sapping the available supply of next-generation consoles to the continuing pandemic causing both delays in the development of upcoming titles and a lack of spending money in their fans, this is not the year that Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo or any of their associated publishers predicted. I wouldn’t cry for them – they’re all still making billions upon billions of dollars. But recently, several controversies regarding the perceived missteps of game publishers and console manufacturers have given me pause. Gamers are upset for plenty of reasons – from hopes dashed, promises broken, and nostalgia being tarnished, among others – and taking to the internet to vent. That’s our right as consumers, certainly – but is it justified? When it comes down to it, just what do game companies ‘owe’ us gamers?
Be Like Burger King – Make it Our Way
I was late to the Switch party. Sure, when it came out I was jealous of everyone I knew (and their friends, and their parents… seriously, who *doesn’t* own one of these?!) playing the new adventures of Link and Mario, but I wasn’t swayed to part with my money because of the lack of power in Nintendo’s latest system. Like so many others, I was gearing up for the next generation of gaming and being stuck with lower frame rates and muddier visuals didn’t appeal to me nearly as much at the time as investing in a laptop and more software to feed my ever-hungry Xbox and Playstation.
My interest was piqued, however, when it began to be leaked everywhere that the big N was prepping a “Switch Pro” to come to market in short order. Rumors were flying that this upgraded Switch would see a faster processor, a bigger and better screen and (gasp!) up to 4K visuals when docked to your TV. “Hallelujah!” I thought. Now was the time to jump in! I would just wait until it was officially announced with all those amazing features, and…
…but it wasn’t to be. The rumors were partly true; Nintendo was indeed prepping a new version of the Switch, but it turned out to be the OLED screen-equipped SKU due to hit shelves in October. The screen is bigger and better, to be sure – but there’s no significant change to the processing power or visual output on the new Switch. When all of this was finally made public, the gaming public responded with a resounding ‘meh’. That’s not what we wanted, and many of us made it publicly known. Why couldn’t Nintendo figure it out – ‘if you’re going to make a new Switch, make it the ‘right’ way!’ was a frequent rallying cry. Should the house of Mario, Link and Kong have listened?
Watch What You Say
Gamers have long memories. Long past are the days when the nerdy outcasts who ran the game companies could wax poetic to the nerdy outcasts who ran the game magazines about what their upcoming titles or systems or sequels would soon do to set fire to the industry. Today, games are big business, and gamers are well-informed about their favorite hobby. If a console maker or game publisher makes a public statement about a promised feature, perk or add-on, it’s been logged on a million websites and commented on in a million more YouTube videos.
Which brings us to the recent story about Sony and their latest mea culpa moment involving the upcoming release Horizon: Forbidden West. While in the past Sony had stated that so-called ‘launch window titles’ for the Playstation 5 would include a free upgrade to the best version of said games should consumers purchase the last-gen version, and the new Horizon sequel was included in that initial marketing, situations have obviously changed over the past year. After a delay out of 2021, Horizon: Forbidden West was given a new release date in February 2022, and with it a confusing mess of pre-order versions, none of which allowed for a free upgrade to the next-gen experience.
Gamers were, in a word, disappointed – and after a flurry of online attacks, Sony relented, promising gamers a free upgrade to the PS5 version of Forbidden West with any purchase of the game (although they made sure to avoid such charity in the future with their new $10 upgrade path system going forward). The big company screwed up, the people spoke out, and the fans won. Right? Time will tell. But one thing’s for certain – HR departments at game companies are earning every penny they’re making; gamers are making sure of that!
We Loved the Last One (Now Do It Again)
Halo’s been around for 20 years now. As an old man (in gamer terms), it’s scary for me to imagine that there are several Halo fans out there today who don’t even remember a time before Master Chief was employed as the universe’s head alien dispatch service. Even scarier is the thought that some of them don’t hold near the level of love and admiration in their hearts for the series as some of us Halo lifers because they weren’t there for Chief’s golden years. For many of the youngsters, Halo has sprint and Spartan Locke and convoluted storylines that make little sense – but for us, Halo was something so much more. Something that many make it known it ‘should’ be again.
After the recent Halo Infinite multiplayer technical flight, a schism seemed to appear online between the general public and several Halo ‘purists’. While the majority of those newer to the series who were invited to take part in the preview period had plenty of praise for the upcoming title, much of the criticism, whether constructive or not, was being levied at publisher Microsoft and developer 343 Industries by long-term fans, many of whom would begin their rants by stating “I remember when Halo…” or “Halo has always been about…” before decrying the path it appears the shooter is going. Whether it be the faster speed at which combat flows, the new weapons on offer, the different sound effects or the features of the in-game radar display, there was and remains no shortage of strongly worded opinions.
Following the outpouring of vitriol, 343 Industries announced that they are indeed changing the radar system and looking into altering the sound effects of certain weapons – and much as been made about the multiplayer progression system being tweaked as well. It stands to reason that, given enough fan outrage, other features could very well be similarly scrapped or altered. But is this the right thing to do? Even as a massive Halo fan who has been there from the beginning, Duke controller in hand, I can’t say I’m certain that the customer is always right.
It’s Not All Numbers
The poet Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”. I find that true in most aspects of life, and absolutely so when it comes to our favorite entertainment industry. Gamers are a passionate bunch – it’s one of the best things about us – but I wonder if that passion is always funneled towards a productive or necessary end. While we have every right to call out practices that are not consumer-friendly, unless we are in the planning meetings for new consoles, games and services we also don’t have all of the details that would allow us to know why our favorite game companies make the sometimes bone-headed decisions they’ve made. So what do they owe us gamers?
Games worth playing. Consoles worth playing them on. Respect for our time and money.
…and maybe an actually-better Switch sometime. What do you think?