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Joseph Kaminski

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July 24, 2017

The Establishment Video Game Industry



Disclaimer: this post is one-part tongue-and-cheek sarcasm and one-part statistical data. We’ve decided to talk about how we feel about some of these companies, the establishment of the video game industry, while also presenting legitimate facts. References are provided as links throughout the post.

This was co-written with my close friend Elliot Declet. You can check out his Twitter here and his website (coming soon) here. This was also greatly inspired by the Roundtable Podcast, composed of internet personalities BaerTaffy, RockLeeSmile, MathasGames, and Egg. Be sure to check them out.


Establishment Video Games

Introduction

In modern America, the video game industry makes a whopping $22.41 billion dollars annually. The idea of entertainment, especially at our fingertips, has rapidly expanded into our everyday lives to create new advancements in technology, design, and (of course) corporate profits. With new platforms such as the mobile industry and ever-growing consoles taking control of the aspects of consumer entertainment, video games are becoming more and more prominent in our society. The video game industry has forced itself into our lives.

The publishers of Angry Birds, make video games into movies, books, just about anything that could make a profit in order to expand the overall importance of series.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Indie. Most of our favorite games are indie. But, in days like this, it seems like the world of Indie developers – the geeks and nerds who used to live in their parent’s garages coding 8-bit styled “Rouge-lites” and “walking simulators” – is dwindling in importance comparative to the successful, AAA first-person shooters and open world Western RPGs. And some companies that dominate the market, like EA, have turned into MONEY-HOARDING, ANTI-CONSUMER FASCISTS THAT HAVE YOU BUYING THE SAME FIFA GAME EVERY GOD DAMN YEAR JUST FOR UPDATED PHYSICS.FUCK YOU, EA.

Erm – anyways…

The stereotype of the “modern gaming” (those elitist middle schoolers who know three swear words and just have to prove to everyone online that they know them very well) is beginning to fade away, honestly. We don’t have MLG no-scope 360 headshot Dorito bangers as the mascots of the industry anymore, Kappa. Instead, it’s a battle between consumers and, well, the establishment.

Just like in politics and modern government, the video game industry has created a hierarchy. This caste system of commerce has created a bit of an illusion between players (the consumers) and the publishers [the new elite “class” of this online (or, if you’re a console scrub, whatever the Hell PSN is)] society. If you’re a diehard gamer, then you already know the miscommunication between the players and the publishers. You know of the giants of the industry that don’t listen to your 9,000-word Steam reviews(which eventually give the game a 0/10 even though you put 800+ hours into the game) and just repeat the same game over and over in an attempt to empty your pockets.

But, do you care?

Not at all (if you bought Black Ops 3).

But seriously. Most players really don’t acknowledge it. They create fan bases – obsessively compulsive, meme making, Adderall-swallowing cults that believe Gabe Newell is Jesus and that Half-Life 3 will be the beginning of the Rapture itself. They create Reddit sub-forums dedicated to data mining every secret out of pure, mindless, lifeless bliss. We don’t let pure capitalism take place – where the worst of companies drop off the face of the New York Stock Exchange and only purchase the best games. We buy the same Assassin’s Creed video game every year because it’s in a new location! We buy the same rehashed horse shit because of the fan base we believe we belong in. We buy the god damned $150 pre-pre-order pack because it came with a SOLID SNAKE STATUE that we just HAD TO HAVE.

Erm – anyways…

The video game industry is nothing to ignore. Worth around $22 billion USD, spending $15 billion every year on content alone, the establishment giants of the industry continuously pumps out new iterations to the same big-name franchises they know will sell, regardless of the quality of the product. The fact of the matter is simple: the big name companies like EA, Ubisoft, Activision, and Konami all manage to sell the same things over and over again because, basically, they know three things:

  1. How to advertise
  2. How to milk their diehard fans
  3. How to make a game in less than a year

In short, they get away with it. EA made around $4,500,000,000 in 2015. Ubisoft made $192,000,000. Activision made $990,000,000. Konami made $440,000,000. Outstanding amounts of money for corporations that have rather large staffs to pay and advertising budgets to fulfill. Of course, the ever-present “hype train” allows literally anything to gain the masses’ attention and keep it for months on end until the games are unable to reach expectations. Disappointment entrails, the consumer base is usually upset, 0/10 Steam reviews are written, and the game makes millions of dollars. It’s a fail-safe way of continuing profits in a cycle of madness that happens every year.

And, for the most part, so many people fall for it.

So, now that we’re 800 words into this article and we’ve presented a general understanding of how things work, it’s time to discuss the true Establishment of the Video Game Industry. To do so, we’re going to talk about the four names provided earlier: EA, Ubisoft, Activision, and Konami.

EA, the Baron

There are so many reasons many consumers in the gaming industry dislike EA, the owners of franchises such as…

  • Madden NFL
  • FIFA series
  • Dungeon Keeper series
  • Ultima Online
  • Command & Conquer series
  • SimCity series
  • Medal of Honor series
  • James Bond series
  • The Sims series
  • Battlefield
  • Crysis series
  • Rock Band series
  • Spore series
  • Army of Two series
  • Dead Space
  • Mirror’s Edge series
  • Dragon Age series
  • Mass Effect series
  • Dante’s Inferno
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • Star Wars Battlefront

…you get the idea.

Anyways, EA is the staple of what everyone hates in the video game industry. They’ve gotten criticism on everything an entertainment company could possibly be criticized in – from the quality of their products to the treatments of their employees. In 2012, a poll on The Consumerist named EA the Worst Company in America. They beat the Bank of America, the second place winner, in a landslide.

The biggest problem players have had with EA is the acquisition of studios who own products that they desire. This creates a monopoly, controlling a vast majority of the gaming industry and ruining well-liked products with micro transactions and digital rights management.

For example, Ultima. The Ultima series, regarded as one of the very first Western RPGs, defines the standards for what an RPG should have: a rich world, interesting lore, and noticeable player choices. EA bought the Ultima franchise, along with Origin, in September of 1992. EA brought massive changes to the company, including price-slashing which led to poor development. Terrible glitches, linear gameplay (stripping away the core foundations of Ultima’s original genre), and downgraded graphics were suddenly the new standards for a game of this caliber.

Continuing to expand across markets (acquiring 39 corporations in 32 years), Electronic Arts (EA) has managed to dominate across multiple platforms. This monopoly has limited the amount of success other companies could possibly have in this consumer-based capitalist community. Some developers have taken the hatred literally pouring from EA’s decisions in games, such as their recent additions to the SimCity series, and have created similar additions, attempting to make their own stake in the industry. A good example of this would be City Skylines, a game by Paradox Interactive, which got decent media attention after people who were immensely disappointed in the SimCity series picked it up on Steam for $30.

Then we reach the terrible micro transactions that plague EA’s games. A way to make even more money from the sorry consumers who pick up their base games, micro transactions end up making games more than just one-time purchases. For instance, take a look at the popular FIFA series.

FIFA, a football (or, if you’re in America, Soccer) simulator, is a popular sports franchise that takes the joys of running outside and turns into something that doesn’t require movement at all. Now, we could judge EA for making FIFA a yearly release, but it makes sense for sports games to make yearly additions since rosters and players/team performance oftentimes change.

This used to be necessary in previous generations of gaming, back when consoles and disks were needed. But now, in a digital world, EA has put features in the FIFA series for rosters and player performance that update weekly.

So, why make a yearly release?

For updated physics, basically.

The staple of the FIFA franchise is now a feature known as Football Ultimate Team (FUT). FUT emulates the experience of being a football team manager, allowing consumers to buy, sell, and trade players as if they were overly-priced trading cards. Now, there are two ways to acquire players in this feature. One is with patience, and the other is using real money to obtain an elite in-game currency that can buy you players quick and cheap.

Doesn’t that sound like Clash of Clans? This incredibly popular sports series, FIFA, is using tactics seen in shitty mobile games.

Now, that brings the question. Why should anyone be expected to spend even more money when they’re already expected to pay $60 a year to support their favorite game. With annual releases, it seems like micro transactions are virtually unnecessary.

We see corporations outside the video game industry do similar things. Apple, for example, uses a special port for all their products called the Thunderbolt. This forces consumers to buy even more of their accessories, such as adaptors, just to use other devices. Apple also is known for releasing new products yearly, similar to EA’s FIFA franchise, and overpricing their products in order to maximize profits. We can see similar micro transactions with Apple’s iTunes and Store features.

Ubisoft, the Politician

Ubisoft has made a rather sketchy image for itself in the last few years. Rehashing the same games over and over is fairly common in this company’s history, such as the Assassin’s Creed series. Once a title glorified for attention to detail, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has managed to over-saturate its fan base through yearly and rushed releases that oftentimes cut corners to make deadlines.

Now that games such as the Batman franchise have perfected what the original Assassin’s Creed made popular, Ubisoft’s largest franchise with 9 titles in the main storyline (if that’s what you want to call it) has angered consumers to no avail.

The used car salesman of the establishment within the gaming industry, Ubisoft continues to release games that don’t even receive hype anymore. Cashing out less and less with each addition to the franchise, Ubisoft is still going strong.

However, some of their games — like the aforementioned Assassin’s Creed – do better than others. Some are massive failures that become jokes in the industry for all of eternity.

Watch Dogs.

What makes sell something better than advertisements? And what better advertisement in the game industry than Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), one of the largest press conference events for the gaming industry? And boy, do companies go out for E3. Microsoft, for example, brings in fucking cars for their signature racing franchise. How do you top that?

Well, in Summer 2012, Ubisoft revealed a cinematic trailer for a new name called Watch Dogs. It seemed like a glimpse of originality in the studio, seeming to have surreal graphics. It carried the company’s signature great narrative (immediately sparking interest in the hordes of consumers present at the event), with a topic that seemed relevant in the digital world today: hacking and online privacy.

Watch Dogs, even months after 2012’s E3, remained a hot topic in the gaming world. The hype train continued. Its release date, scheduled for winter of that year, was extended for about six months. Ubisoft promised that it was because they wanted to make it reach expectations, ironically. When the game was released, the masses engulfed their local Game Stops for the game they had been glorifying for over a year.

What happened?

Well, to begin with, PC gamers were greeted with a broken, glitch digital rights management system that prevented them to enjoy the game they just spent $60 on. Once they finally got into the game, they saw graphics that were sub-par compared to what they were promised. And yet, the graphics were so poorly optimized that players with the highest-end hardware were having frame rate issues.

As far as gameplay goes, the concept of hacking gave players access to every inch of the virtual city of Chicago. This instantly deprived the player of one of the core elements of gaming: discovery. There was no need to explore the virtual city at all. There was simply no motivation to explore a city that players had complete access to at their fingertips. It offered no narrative whatsoever, further disappointing the hyped players.

As far as the video game franchise, Ubisoft is a pathological liar. Just like corporate, establishment politicians in governments around the world. We see candidates caught up in controversies where they promise everything and come up short once elected to office. Ubisoft, in short, gave one of the greatest speeches at the debate in E3. But when inauguration day came, their product of Watch Dogs fell short of promises.

Activision Blizzard, the Banker

While Activision has made it as one of the best companies to work for, the company continues to hold the balls of the gaming industry. Suffering through legal issues left and right, Activision manages to bail itself out of predicaments with massive amounts of money.

Although they’ve lost in the past, specifically to Valve over the acquisition of DOTA, the company still manages to completely absorb companies in less than a few meetings.

Activision Blizzard, the parent company of Activision and Blizzard, has enough money to spend $5.9 BILLION dollars as if it were pocket change. In 2015, Activision Blizzard spent $5.9 billion on King, the developers behind the mobile game sensation of Candy Crush. While companies like EA have absorbed companies, we don’t believe they’ve ever spent that much money as if it was nothing to acquire a mobile game.

Now, we can easily see some controversy here. As explained by the Roundtable Podcast, a podcast which discusses in-depth news in the gaming industry composed of internet personalities BaerTaffy,RockLeeSmile, MathasGames, and Egg, there is a chance Activision Blizzard did not purchase Candy Crush for the thought of profit. King, the developers purchased, has been in business since 2003.

This means there is reliable user data that has been stored by the company for over a decade. Perhaps almost $6 billion dollars is worth having that much data.

Activision Blizzard has been in the spotlight for multiple privacy issues. On July 6th, 2010, Blizzard – a subdivision of Activision Blizzard – announced that they were changing the way their forum worked to make it so users had to use their real names. The reaction from the community ended up being incredibly negative. An ethical fail, the company lost thousands of users and dealt with backlash.

After a Blizzard employee gave their full name to “prove” that nothing bad could happen if the Internet knew personal details, users responded with a rather large DOX. The Blizzard employee’s name, age, phone number, and home address was leaked on the forums. This opened users of Blizzard services to real life endangers, such as stalking. Of course, with billions of dollars to spare, the parent company Activision Blizzard has nothing to worry about.

The controversies were brushed off, and the ID system is (for the most part) still in place.

When it comes to controversies within banks, they seem to be too big to fail. In Wall Street, banking corporations that crashed the economy managed to escape federal charges. Backlash seemed to be ignored, and the banks continued freely. Activision Blizzard is too big to fail, just like the banks at Wall Street.

And unlike the banks at Wall Street, it seems nothing could ever break Activision Blizzard up.

Konami, the Launderer

Konami started off as a jukebox rental and repair company in 1969. Worth over $70,000 in 1974, the company has continued to expand their profits ever since. In January 1979, however, Konami began exporting their goods – now video games – to the United States. In a year after, Konami doubled their net worth. Thus, the birth of a true establishment member of society.

Konami has been the main image of corruption in the gaming industry. The whole controversy with Hideo Kojima has managed to cross large portions of Konami’s consumers. Hideo Kojima, once Vice President of Konami Digital Entertainment, was the creator of the famous Metal Gear franchise. The Metal Gear franchised pioneered the stealth gaming genre. The first was seen as an innovative take in which players avoided conflict instead of being presented with it.

However, despite being a huge role in making Konami millions, Hideo Kojima was not safe from the Launderer’s cutthroat policies. Kojima was removed from his position at Konami Digital Entertainment in 2015 after an unknown conflict between him and the company itself.

We see Konami leaving behind what people know it best for, moving on to mobile games and expanding even further in the gambling industry with their trademarked pachinko machines. With money to spare and money to spend, the corrupt corporation has managed to completely dominate markets without lifting a finger.

How can an elite corporation do something like this? Diehard fans. With pre-orders outrageously priced, obvious interior problems within the company, and desperate pleas to leave the AAA industry, Konami has continuously attempted to distance itself away from its core base – what made its fortune to begin with – in search for easier markets.

The cancellation of Silent Hills further angered fans of Konami’s franchising. A beta game which hyped horror fans and caused mass media attention, it was cancelled about a month later. Although Konami initially declined to comment on the matter, the speculation surrounding the title was put to rest when the corporation confirmed that plans to fully develop the game had been terminated.

This massive uproar occurred only weeks after Hideo Kojima – a director of the project – left Konami. So, perhaps the cancellation was a byproduct of this mysterious power struggle between Kojima and Konami.

But that’s not enough, apparently. 2015 was a big, scandalous year for the multi-million-dollar laundering establishment within the video game industry. Konami’s horrendous micro transactions in the form of insurance policies have managed to further dent public relations between consumer and corporation. Yet again, the Metal Gear franchise has been completely milked by capitalist intentions in order to make every dime possible off of fans that want to either show their support or wish to see the final “ending” of the game.

Metal Gear Solid V started with outrageously overpriced pre-orders – multiple different packages that contained different (seemingly random) items at different high end costs.

Diehard fans were meant to feel like they had to purchase all the packages in order to be a “true fan” of the franchise.

They were solid, separately, at different big box stores and website, further allowing Konami to make money off contracts and sales.

Then the game comes with a solid $50 – $60 price tag (depending on where you buy it).

After all of this, their insurance policies – which supposedly adds base insurance in the virtual game – can be purchased with MB coins (their weird, virtual currency) which can be purchased with real moneyor earned in-game. So, like EA, it comes down to patience or cash in the digital world of instant satisfaction. MB coins are sold in bundles that range from $0.99 to $49.99. The average one-day cost of insurance costs 50 coins, three days’ worth cost 100, and two weeks’ costs 300 coins.

And to top it all off? The insurance doesn’t cover the loss of several in-game items, including staff/items, wounded materials, and nuclear weapons – a major role in the game. Now, that’s fine and all, but the idea of insurance is to protect your base. Two things protect your base: nuclear weapons, or insurance.

The controversial hidden ending, which requires all servers to be emptied of nuclear weapons, seems to be a massive money-grab. Without nuclear weapons, you need the insurance. If you happen to be robbed while having nuclear weapons, the insurance does not replace the loss of them. So, in short, the insurance further attempts to drain nuclear resources in a way.

Perhaps Konami does this, their additions of what the insurance doesn’t cover, just because they desire more insurance to be purchased to start with. No nuclear weapons in the virtual bases mean the only other way to protect yourself is through, in short, the insurance. And it seems to be biased in favor of the insurance, which costs money, rather than the virtual protection that is a dynamic part of gameplay.

This literal insurance problem, taking place in a virtual world with virtual currency that is paid for with literal money, is one of the biggest “crimes” an establishment like Konami can make.

Conclusion

In short, the video game industry has dominated the entertainment business. We see video games on all platforms, creating PC elitists, console “scrubs”, and mobile game enthusiasts (also known as middle schoolers who have access to their mother’s phones).

If a company, like King (the developers of Candy Crush and around thirty Candy Crush rip-offs), can be valued at somewhere around $6 billion dollars because of either data or whatever little gameplay and content their game holds, then the industry has managed to set itself as a staple for global entertainment.

So, if companies like King and games like Candy Crush can make a solid $2.2 billion dollars a year (around 4% of the entire industry) just by creating the same game over and over and reskinning it, then it’s no shock that the massive establishment pillars of this virtual society is rehashing the same games every year.

No wonder we get a new FIFA game every year (complete with nothing new!).

No wonder we get a new (shitty and broken) Assassin’s Creed game every year.

No wonder DLCs take away and reinstall the same things time and time again for additional money.

No wonder we see massive corporations buying each other out, having stock with each other, and committing crime against the consumer.

The Establishment of the Video Game industry has managed to find a fail-safe way of making money: by repeating the same thing over and over again without changing a formula. But, they’re on deadlines, so corners have to be cut. The consumers – the players, the streamers, and yourself – will still buy the game. It’ll get bad reviews and still make millions. You shouldn’t “fix” what isn’t “broken”.

So why would they do anything different?

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