This has just been on my mind recently, and I guess I'll just leave my musings here for you all to laugh at.
There's been a big brouhaha over "Kickstarter" - a crowd-funding initiative for video games and the like. On one hand, it's a new avenue for game development; it can give people what they really want. On the other hand, people are dumbasses. What? They are.
Traditional gaming companies have warned against getting too excited about Kickstarter, and interestingly, people have lashed out at them for it.
Granted, I see why they're defensive. "Oh, traditional gaming company just doesn't want to try this new business model! They think it's a threat to their hegemony!" Not to mention the casual layperson's propensity for getting offended whenever someone says something bad about them, no matter how valid.
Companies like Free Radical, a representative of which recently cautioning people about this over-enthusiasm, have a deep understanding of the industry itself, and believe they know how much things will cost, and what level of cooperation is necessary to create a decent game.
Now, it might just be my cynicism, but: both sides are complete dickbags.
So, again, on one hand: The layperson has zero clue what they're talking about. Just because you like games doesn't mean you can design a game that you would like, believe it or not, or that you can judge the merit of a game in its design phase. There are subtle elements and design protocols that go into making games that a typical person is simply not clued into - and the foibles of marketing is another matter too.
See, if "Kickstarter" is going to give us the games that gamers want, then it would stand to reason that these would be the exact same games that would succeed commercially. The truth is, what people want is more Modern Warfare and Halo clones, and anything else is a commercial risk.
This sounds counter-intuitive to some people, but you can see the issue manifest everywhere from fanfiction to home movies to community content for games - though there are some folks who obviously have the skills and talent necessary (after all, where do the professionals come from?), most people are fans, and wouldn't do very well as producers. Just because you love the masterful film-making of Alfred Hitchcock doesn't mean you can turn your admiration in on yourself and become the next Hitchcock; you have to really go to school on the matter.
So what "sounds really cool" and will garner serious amounts of dough on Kickstarter won't necessarily be the next-generation Deus Ex, or the video game to showcase our generation's emotional depth and explore the very nature of interactive media - no, it will be "Oh cool man, they're making a zombie mod for a military tactical shooter, because that makes sense and zombies aren't a tired idea at all! Let's toss them our money!" Why? Because people are dickholes; five minutes on YouTube, where Fred's squeaky inanity still sits high on the most viewed channel-list, will prove this unequivocally.
On that other hand, though, video games have gone from the realm of a few passionate programmers with senses of humor (I still love you, 3D Realms) to million-dollar businesses concerned more with keeping a steady cashflow and less with creativity.
What started as unique, cool ideas, such as Halo or even Uncharted, have become running gags, as their developers refuse to try anything new in formula or even in name. "Of course!" they insist. "Do you have any idea how much it costs to make a game like this? The Omni-Zeta Blaster Squintogulonium Engine requires six doctoral degrees to program for, and we need to pay a million dollars per every rivulet of sweat rolling down our sassy stereotypical female support character's unrealistically massive boobs!"
Well, the answer is simple, you cretins: we've proven many times that we, the consumers, aren't that concerned with all this shit. It's YOU. It's YOU GUYS, you developers are in a pissing match with one another! Stop it! When I was a child, we used to ooh-and-aah over graphics and "eye candy" and one of the biggest factors that determined if we liked a game was how realistic and impressive the graphics were.
But even when I was ten years old, I had a discussion with my best friend at the time, just after we'd finished playing Spyro The Dragon, about how we didn't want graphics to become super-realistic. How that wasn't what was important.
Much time has passed since then, and I no longer believe I'm an avid gamer. I'm simply not. But when I do play a game, I don't complain over the graphics of World of Wacraft, or Sanctum, and the realism of CS:GO strikes me as irritatingly conceited.
Clearly, many major video game companies have lost their creative compass and artistic integrity. Could Kickstarter provide the means to prod these companies in the right direction? Will it provide the impetus for a retro-rebirth of gaming companies like 3D Realms/Apogee, where small teams of dedicated creative people could make projects without having to wet themselves with worry over whether or not their large corporate sponsors would "approve" of their products? Gaming has become soulless, conservative and aside from a few really cool exceptions, the shift has been obvious as fuck.
Something needs to be done to move companies away from Skinnerian "addiction" methods like achievements and back into the realm of fun cheat codes - remember when Modern Warfare had a cheat that let you bleed tyres and throw cluster-grenades? Away from chewing old formulas over and over and into new and experimental areas, where creative control is given over to the creative people, not the bureaucracy of stockholders and pencil-pushing dipshits. In short, video games have no business becoming the film industry.
What I find interesting here is the parallel between games developed through a community or with crowd-source funding, and free-and-open software in general.
See, my cynicism aside, I've recently been looking at the world of open source software, and there's an important distinction between this and things like Kickstarter or YouTube (or any award that is "voted" by people to a video game). Anything "democratic" - "by" the people, not just "for" the people.
Wikipedia stands in proud defiance of what I'm about to say, I know, but most of these things are not related to the altruism of free software.
Linux is probably the symbol of free/open software. What IS Linux and related projects? Where did it come from? Consider "Ubuntu" Linux - what's that mean? Why did the millionaire charitably throwing his weight behind this distribution of Linux choose that word? "Ubuntu" is an African humanist philosophy - and that's what open-source software is in a nutshell. Humanist. Developed altruistically, to a code of ethics, for the furtherance of mankind. This code of ethics was formed and adhered to by some of the visionaries and geniuses that gave birth to information technology as we know it.
Many open-source software projects have been set up to provide impoverished areas with programs to educate their children, improve productivity, and circumvent greedy corporations and their licenses. Consider the "hacker" ethic: all humans should have the right to partake in the technological revolution. Information should always be free. There should be no price on human progress. It was a set of beliefs born of a specific time, a specific place, and it's possibly the largest "charity" in existence. There's probably nothing like it in terms of scale or nature elsewhere.
Thus, there are teams of devoted and qualified experts, backed by passionate communities with their own expertise and monetary support, who work on these projects and make every Linux distro, every BSD release, every OpenOffice version, every Mozilla Firefox update compete with and often utterly destroy the products made by money-grubbing corporations with too much money. For the furtherance of their beliefs and mankind as a whole. Children in Sri Lankan schools have fully functional educational suites and operating systems on their computers because of these people.
What's the difference between that and the typical pool of people deciding what video game should get funding? The difference is that those people are entitled fucks who don't know anything, and confuse ethics of free software with justification for piracy. They'd vote "Fred" as the number one YouTube channel, vote against gay marriage because they're morons with less respect for liberty and equality than for their pastor, forswear mild sexism because they've been told it's uncool, but laud human rights abuses against pedophiles because that's cool... and they're ignorant.
Basically, people are fucking stupid. They elect Bush twice and think zombie games are "like, epic, man!" And "the problem with democracy is that every silly bugger gets a vote." - Arnold Rimmer.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not without some faith in my fellow man (or woman, whatever, shut up). It's just that I'm equally dubious about leaving the future of gaming in the grubby paws of the masses ("Think of how stupid the average person is; then remember half of them are stupider than that!" - George Carlin) as I am about leaving it up to bureaucratically-paralyzed corporations, bankrupt in creativity but rolling in cash.
Remember, they GOT to where they were, rolling in cash and terrified to try anything new, because of the market out there. Not piracy, that's a facile argument - piracy doesn't equate to sales. No, it's just that this is what people "want." They want iron-sight, morally unambiguous Cold War fantasy shooters.
They want poorly written chainsaw-gun alien murderfests. They want zombies - so much they'll even buy a full game that isn't zombie-related so they can play a zombie mod for it.
So yeah, call me elitist, but maybe neither should have total say over the matter. You know what? Maybe we need both. The "casual" gaming market seems to be making the big boy corporations crap their pants, and Kickstarter and indie games released through platforms like Steam are making tsunami-sized waves.
Maybe that IS the way to the future. A future where it's creativity, passion and effort that's rewarded.
... Yeeaaah, that'd still require people to form educated opinions and view products through the lens of informed judgment, instead of going to watch Transformers 2 three times because "haha, yeah, 'stop lubricating the man', Bumblebee! OH COOL EXPLOSIONS. This reminds me of Fred's last video!!" I am doubtful.
Excuse me, I'm gonna go jam razorblades into my nose.
(PS: just a rant, don't take me too seriously. Most people know I'm far more light-hearted than this journal is going to make me seem, and I have a lot more faith in humanity than this. Just not when it comes to video games and politics. Ahem).
(PPS: Oh yeah. Tai's Story "missing scene": 12,000/16,000~ Soulflower pt3: 6,000/12,000~ Astray pt7: can't tell you because the file is corrupted for some reason here... uh oh. Will keep everyone posted.)