Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sacrosanct Space

I haven't played Sim City. I haven't played Dead Space 3. I haven't played Aliens: Colonial Marines. I haven't played any videogames except Penny-Arcade's On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, Torchlight 2 and Bejeweled 3 in about a year. Wait. Maybe I've played Jamestown. I've played Diablo 3.

(Pretend I didn't list Jamestown. Shhhhhhhh.)

But I've seen a lot of people talk about DLC or "always-on" experiences and what comes to mind as a player is the idea that my experience of playing a videogame is being interrupted. In the case of always on, it means that I am at the whim of of a developer to make sure their own infrastructure is sound enough to play the experience I have already paid money for.

And that's not a thing that I should have to care about as a player. I've already put down my money. I've already showed, in some cases, sixty examples of good faith, plus tax. When I purchase a book, I don't have to worry about firmware updates to the paper getting between me and the experience.

One could make the same argument for videogame consoles before the current generation. I don't have to worry that my Playstation 2 will decide tomorrow that it needs to connect to the internet before I play a little Dragon Quest 8 before bed. I can play Dragon Quest 8, or maybe you'd prefer Burnout 3, or Persona 4 or whatever game I choose, because the architecture of the system is designed in a way to require the game and the tray and nothing else.

Anything always on changes that. Instead of needing two things, a player/customer now needs three. They need the disc to work. They need the system to work and they need the developers and publishers to be on the ball every day of each year going forward. That's a material change in the relationship between the buyer and the seller. I'm being asked going forward to take on faith that another party will have their ducks in a row.

That isn't a feature.
I would like whatever it is I bought to work when I have or carve out the time in my day to play it. I suspect that's why I read so many books as opposed to movies or videogames these days: I can pick up the book and it works immediately. I don't have to sit through five minutes of commercials for other products or anti-piracy warnings, I can just read the book. Books are also portable and easy to use, I say just a little bit facetiously. I can throw one in my bag and it's ready when I am.

I'm surprised I have to say this, but I'm enjoying the very retro feeling of having no popups appear on screen, whether it's an alert that a friend is playing the same game or the game announcing that "you got an achievement!"

What brings my interest in PS2 games and the aforementioned Steam games together is that at least once I'm playing, my playing experience isn't interrupted for an ad to buy more stuff. They take my time seriously.
I felt like I was in high school when I played Penny-Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness 3. It demanded me until 3 or 4 a.m.. It accomplished this by telling me a story I wanted to know more about, by interacting with me in a way that felt familiar, but had a couple really excellent twists on the concept and least of all, not interrupting itself to sell additional content.

To a lesser extent, I had this experience with Torchlight II and Bejewled 3. These are games that respect the players. You bought the game, and now, you ought to enjoy it. I don't want to say that it's an "old-school" kind of experience, because Journey exists. But: The idea that the best ad for the next game is the one you're playing right now is a powerful one.

The cardinal sin of Dead Space 3 is not that microtransactions exist inside it, but how those are implemented into the experience of playing the game. The team has spent two odd years and thousands of hours to create an environment that scares the player and all that work is destroyed when the offer is made to you that if waiting 10 minutes to get supplies is too long, you can cut the time in half in exchange for more of your local money.

That's an offer that takes me out of the game, first. Second: Had I paid $60, I'd be furious. I just paid sixty dollars for an entertainment experience and there was something built in for the specific purpose of detracting from the meticulously crafted thing I paid sixty dollars for? Get out of town.

I don't mind DLC. Shit, I like DLC. But don't interrupt my play experience, the thing that got you in the door, to hawk me more shit. Maybe this is my recognition that I am no longer the target market for these experiences and on some level that bums me out. I don't think it is, though. I don't mind being offered DLC. But I do mind how the offer is made.

I want to support developers and publishers that view the time I spend playing their game as sacrosanct. That indicates a respect for my time and my attention, which I am happy and excited to repay with cash dollars, which I suspect is all those developers and publishers wanted in the first place.

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