You know when you hear something on the news and the first thought in you head is “Bullshit, I know that’s not true/going to change/too good to be true. It happens when you hear a celebrity is going to rehab to revive their career, or a newly elected politician vows to “Clean up” city hall/this province/this riding/this country. But you know in your head that in three months you’re going to hear about how it all went south and now they’re coming up with excuses as to why it didn’t work.
The video game industry is no different. In an effort to generate hype for a good games, publishers often hype big name release far in advance of their release and bundle this news around the time of one of their lesser known releases. It happened with the Halo 3 multiplayer beta (basically a free preview of the game months before it’s release) it got bundled with a relativity unknown game called Crackdown, which turned out to pretty good.
And there is also the case of the publisher (Think of these guys like record company execs, and the developers like the artists) releasing a launch date for the game that is completely out of the reach of the developers just to keep the game’s name in the news. It’s happened with the third Brothers in Arms game, almost every Splinter Cell game (And Conviction in particular). And inevitably after the excitement of hearing that your favourite game will be coming out in 6 months you hear the news as it gets closer to release day, that no, the developers need more time to polish and it won’t come out until the fall/next year. And then the developers look like the bad guys, the guys who couldn’t make a deadline that was probably unattainable to begin with.
Now, starting with Gears of War, Cliff Bleszinski announced the game would come out on April 5 2011. Now What irks me the most about the delay is not that the excuse is “we need more time to polish” that’s kind of like the “The drugs weren’t mine officer” of the game industry. But does bother me is that I had to sit through 15 minutes of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and I knew, even then, I literally said to my self, there is no way that game is going to come out in April. I mean the fall season has always been Microsoft’s biggest time for game releases and the only publisher that has ever really had success in the spring is Take Two, with the launch of GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption.
So really, the announcement for Gears was really just to create hype during a slow period in the gaming industry, and now has been pushed back to a more sensible release date. But it does piss gamers off when we hear this news. We get jaded, and actually get less excited about game releases when we know we’re just going to be jerked around.
Which brings me to Medal of Honor now if you’ve watched that youtube link, you’re probably as conflicted as I was. I mean I don’t know what surprised me more, how much I agreed with the Mother of a dead soldier or how actually “Fair and Balanced” Fox News’ coverage of the story was. The Gold Star Mom has a reason to be mad, and brings up a good point that WWII games are more removed from current events and people are not still getting killed in that war, but they are dying in Afghanistan and playing as the Taliban is a little insensitive.
But at the same time, EA can stand firmly behind America’s First Amendment and say that they wanted to create a game that was true to the experiences of American Soldiers overseas, and part of that is fighting the Taliban. And that’s the stance they took, until all the controversy died down and now they can come out looking like the sensible good guys and say “we don’t want to offend anyone” so they change “Taliban” to “Opposing Force.” Which really, is not a change, they make it sound like it was just the word “Taliban” that people were upset about and not the fact that you were killing American soldiers.
To me it feels like a real cop out, They didn’t change anyhting really, they even said they made the change yet “maintained the integrity of the game.” SO what does that mean exactly? Wasn’t one of the selling points, how “authentic” your game is? and wasn’t the controversy about Americans playing as the Taliban? Do you really think giving them a new name somehow makes it ok?
It stinks of bullshit because a month ago, EA were champions of First Amendment rights and artistic freedom and with California trying to ban violent video games EA seemed like a company the industry could rally behind to strike the law down. But now, after hearing that the game won’t be sold on army bases in the States and abroad EA has backed down and copped out on an opportunity to make a statement not just about the war in Afghanistan, but about the industry as a whole. They could have been the publisher that didn’t back down amidst controversy in the name of money, they could have been a company that stood by their art. But instead, this announcement quietly slips out into the news as a company changing one word in their art, so as to not offend anyone who probably wouldn’t buy the game to begin with.
So my message to game publisher and developers alike is, stop jerking your audience around, stand by what you say and create something that you can be proud of.