There have been three things that have been playing on my mind this week, and I was struggling to decide which to do today’s piece on. In the end, I decided to do a little bit on all of them rather than dwell on one for too long.
First was the news that Shopto.net are boycotting Activision’s future lineup based on the publisher’s policy regarding the dispatch of their games to consumers in time for launch day, particularly Call of Duty. Activision have had the policy, which states that online retailers are to ship certain games the day before release, in place for a number of years, and ShopTo have adhered to it. ShopTo (among other online stores) have a reputation for getting games to folks the day before release with pre-orders, and it’s this reputation that has presumably prompted Activision to enforce tighter restrictions with their sales contracts.
I am fully behind ShopTo with their decision. Over the past few years, they have become my primary choice for purchasing games and they have always provided the utmost in customer service and delivery times. I believe ShopTo’s boss when he says that the annual Call of Duty release isn’t a very profitable venture for them due to the excess costs in having a Tuesday launch, and they obviously need to make a profit to continue as a business. Hopefully there will be other online retailers that will stand up to the strong-arming tactics of publishers who will ultimately sell a phenomenal amount of copies irrespective of one retailer’s figures. Copies will always be played early, thanks to piracy, independent game stores who sell stuff ‘under the counter’ and ‘friends of friends’ who get people games, and to push these sorts of restrictions will hurt online retailers, whilst supermarkets will continue to sell the game at their cost price (or with a very small margin) to get people into the store at midnight. Whilst Activision will no doubt have no problem in selling millions of copies of Call of Duty: Ghosts this November, but they will be doing so without the help of ShopTo.
The second point was more of an “I hope games don’t go down this route” thought. In the past week, I’ve seen two films (Iron Man 3 and End of Watch) that have had key plot points towards the final third of the movie explicitly revealed in the trailer. In the case of End of Watch, the trailer makes the movie out to hinge on one particularly dramatic event that doesn’t even happen until the final ten minutes. With Iron Man, there’s an incredibly cool shot in the trailer that’s part of the final battle. It also happened before with the Avengers (the “Hulk catches Iron Man” bit would’ve been infinitely cooler if we didn’t all know about it beforehand). As I came away from the cinema on Wednesday, I was left thinking “I’m really glad that I’m phasing game trailers out for things I’m excited about”.
Announcement trailers are an altogether different beast, and I’m not going to lie, I still have the Metal Gear Solid V ‘series’ of trailers on my computer to watch whenever I want. I’ve decided to wean myself off trailers past the initial announcements of games because I don’t want the experiences spoiled. The release trailers for Metal Gear Rising featured one that listed every single one of the bosses that appeared in the game. Hell, even the trailer for Final Fantasy VII featured Aeris’ death. And no, that’s not a spoiler, it’s a 16 year old game, the statute of limitations has passed. Coming back to the modern day, Tomb Raider’s trailers featured hefty snippets of late-game action, including the somewhat supernatural twist that the game takes.
I certainly hope that games publishers don’t go down the route of showing final-third gameplay and scenarios, or indeed things that could be perceived as spoilers. I don’t want to be playing the game and thinking “Hmm, that bit’s not happened yet, I wonder when that’s happening”. Trailers need to showcase a reason to play the game, but that doesn’t mean they need to put the game’s biggest moments in there to do so.
The final point is a bit more personal, and it’s to do with Kickstarter. Anyone who follows me on Twitter would have seen attempts last week to get a kickstarter that I’m heavily involved in funded. Vague attempts at trying to coerce celebrities into retweeting the message in the hope that it might garner an extra few quid all fell by the wayside. It was funded with around 15 hours to go, and we just scraped over the line with it. However, the news broke this week that the guys over at Penny Arcade are raising money via Kickstarter to do some podcasts.
I’ll reiterate that. Penny Arcade, one of the best renowned gaming sites on the internet, were starting up a Kickstarter to record and distribute podcasts. They set their goal at $10, meaning that it would obviously be funded and fly past the target. At the time of writing, it stands at almost $60,000. This is in addition to their previous Kickstarter where they raised over half a million dollars to remove advertising from the site. They’re not the only ones to draw attention on Kickstarter this week either, with Zach Braff launching a hugely successful campaign to create a new independent film. Ken Levine posted a blog in response to this in which he put his concerns much more eloquently than I could hope to, and I strongly suggest you go and have a read. Kevin Smith also weighed in and stated that Kickstarter was an option for his new film, but he opted to leave that to find the “new Kev Smith”, and using his contacts to fund the venture instead. Braff posted an interesting video which sort of got me round to his way of thinking on Thursday, but I have to say I’ll struggle to see anything that justifies the Penny Arcade effort to me.
Making a movie is bloody expensive. Podcasting is cheap. Penny Arcade have a site that attracts hundreds of thousands of viewers on a regular basis. They host two gaming conventions a year in the USA, and one in Australia, and they’re asking for money to record podcasts? I’m not buying it. The fact that they were setting the goal so low says “We were doing this anyway, we just want your money”. If that’s the case, why not introduce a membership system like the one at Giant Bomb? (Full disclosure, I’m a premium member over there, I think the content’s worth it). Kickstarter should be used for people who would struggle to get funding elsewhere to achieve their goals. From a personal point of view, I understand how stressful it is to have a project almost not make it, and watch as someone with an established fan base earn 30 times your target in under 24 hours to sit in front of a microphone and talk.