Wednesday, April 1, 2009
An Immodest Proposal
A recent article by Rebecca Carlson on the role game critics play in society today has raised some great points about the evolving nature of our craft. She argues that as capitalist societies increasingly depend on consumerism and information, mediators must be hired to step in and regulate the flow between producer and consumer. She explains, “As they mediate, they perform their expertise at the same time as they work to (in)validate the expertise of others—the producers and fans. Their practices and functions, while not necessarily unique, serve as a useful example of a kind of (commodity) mediation.” Citing the Gerstmann Gate fiasco and N’Gai Croal’s condemnation of the “parasitic dance” that critics and journalists often engage in, the article explains that this relationship is becoming so broken that the only viable option left is for mediators to break away and develop independent sources of revenue. They must, in fact, learn to make money off the consumers instead of pandering for the producers.
She explains the issue succinctly, “Producers and publishers also act on this perceived "marketing" relationship with the enthusiast press with more strong-arm tactics: pulling advertising or withholding a magazine's access to game data (such as stills, descriptions, and code) if the magazine doesn't positively rate or discuss that producer's company or games.” They withhold the previews and coverage, nobody buys the magazine, and the journalist has to go hungry. Citing the crude treatment EGM received by various organizations after their opinionated E3 coverage of demos the article also notes, “The idea that game journalists work positively for the benefit of consumers—to provide them with honest and straightforward opinions without the framework of the market interceding—is largely a myth.”
If, as Carlson argues, knowledge about increasingly large and complex quantities of information is itself becoming a commodity, it seems logical for an aspiring game critic to focus on what they’ve got instead of begging for scraps from the producers. What the game critic controls is then, “new needs and wants"—how to appropriately be a video game fan.” I like the sound of this new role. Since my Inbox isn’t exactly overflowing with requests for me to write game previews, I imagine I can manage without that particular commodity. I’ve also been having a good time carving out a particularly affordable niche for a critic by only writing about old games. Publishers are so obliging about their games eventually becoming cheap that all I have to do is sit and wait if they don’t want to send me a free copy. My articles will always be relevant because the game will always be available online in one form or another and I hardly need someone’s permission to spend ten bucks on a year old game. And it’s not like everyone is itching to spend 60 bucks on a game these days.
If I am indeed to be a mediator between consumer and producer, then perhaps we should try having a “parasitic dance” with the consumer instead of the producer.
A few swapped e-mails with an old college pal who works in PR and we’ve put together a basic plan on how I can start making more money at this gig while remaining independent of any corporate authority. I need to be more profitable, more exciting, caring, and possibly a less pedantic L.B. Jeffries if I’m going to become appealing to a mass audience. Here are a few of the new merchandising and image changes we’ll be introducing from now on here at Banana Pepper Martinis, Inc.
Rene Magritte Action Figures
I’ve always wanted an action figure based on a symbolic representation of myself and apparently so do several slightly drunk test marketing groups. A variety of models will be available, including the hunched over a glowing laptop model, the screaming at traffic figure, and my personal favorite, the “I just drank your last PBR” shrugging figurine. All models will have a karate chop and wide range of wacky hats. We’re also working on a plush doll which will have a string and several recorded lines of dialogue from my own writing. Your youngest can now yank a string and hear such amazing bits of wisdom as:
The question that this brings up is whether or not to penalize a game’s puzzles when you can get to a point where you’ve figured out what you’re supposed to do, but because of the high skill barrier you still can’t do it.
Or how about this amazing gem:
Through clever anime art, sound, and dual-screen pacing, the game told me to feel only one thing at this demon hag. As Ryu raises his sword in this moment, you, the player, are guided into thinking, “Bitch...do you have any idea who you’re talking to?”
Click here to see the store handling this stuff for me.
What better way to circumvent the need for lengthy content from publishers than by putting together some of my own games? I’ve gotten to know several indie developers during my time writing here and they’ve always been happy to send me their games. In exchange for a ridiculous amount of free publicity and wordy arguments supporting their games, a few have agreed to produce a few games according to my own designs. The first is setup a bit like an RTS in that you and a few units are dropped onto a large map. Horses will then randomly fall out of the sky and splatter onto the ground. Your units, which represent your fans, will go to these dead horses and then “beat them”. This generates points that go back to your blog which can be used to buy more fans, upgrade your layout, and eventually take over other people’s blogs. Whoever is first to the dead horse gets the most points, but eventually other critics will start beating on it until it only produces a trickle of resources. Then you all have to scatter around the map and find another dead horse to beat before the aggregate news sites have sucked the blood out of the corpse. The demo will be appearing on Steam shortly but you can see the screen shots here.
I’ll also be releasing an FPS soon. The game is strictly multiplayer and web-based. It has all the team and competitive modes that you would find in a normal game except for one catch. There are only three kinds of guns: rock, paper, and scissors. Much like the game as you know it today, rock can only hurt scissors, scissor is immune to other scissors, and paper can only kill rock. The player picks their weapon after each death and proceeds to run around the map looking for someone carrying the weaker weapon while avoiding whoever has the counter. There is no way to know what a person is carrying until you hit each other. Maps will consist of various famous landmarks such as the Louvre, Central Park, and the Gettsyburg Battlefield just to name a few. Beta testing keys are available at this site.
Comments/Links for Cash
I’ve also decided to become more proactive about commenting by offering a monthly comment service. For a set fee, I will read and comment on every single thing that you write. Pricing varies depending on how many comments you want per post and a special agreement to never disagree with you that can be added on to the original cost. I will also begin posting a weekly roundup of the week’s best stories which will solely consist of articles written by people who have paid me money. For an even larger fee I will post you under the “Blog’s I Read” list that will be going up shortly. For a better understanding of the pricing scheme and what kind of package I can fit you into, please check the options at this Paypal site.
Finally, a lot of therapy and several prescription drugs have helped me get in touch with a calmer, less argumentative, and friendlier L.B. Jeffries. All comments that are anything but gushing praise will be prefaced with “I could be totally wrong but...” or “I may be drunk but I think...”. These will help people feel less threatened when I post some long pedantic ramble on their blogs. I will also now begin sending a monthly set of random e-mails to various game critics telling them that I love their work, how useful stealing their ideas has been for my writing, and that I can’t wait for them to produce more. I’ll be sure to include a handy reminder of my own stuff and links to various articles that may be of interest to them in each of these e-mails before telling them again how much I love their work. As the descendant of a long line of workaholic sociopaths who use sarcasm as an emotional crutch, I can only promise that we’re doing this one touchy-feely day at a time.
T-shirts featuring jokes I’ve made the past week that generated a large hit count, witty posters, and shot glasses will soon follow. Who knows? Maybe in a few years I’ll even have my own gaming convention.