The headlines read “Tomb Raider is a failure.” This was the explanation given by Square Enix after their financial adjustments were released and CEO Yoichi Wada tendered his resignation. This happened about a week after Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello stepped down himself.
What exactly is happening to the video game industry when a $60 game like Tomb Raider ($100 if you count the copies of the collector’s edition) can sell 3.4 million and it is not enough? Who is to blame for an industry once dominated by creativity and new ideas, now reduced to gang warfare between independent developers and enormous publishing houses? Where can we look to pass judgment?
Try the mirror. You did this.
How do you define yourself as a gamer? I ask that because the simple act of labeling yourself as one groups you into a category worlds away from someone who puts a controller in their hands simply to pass the time and solve boredom. Gunning for an achievement or trophy, looking up the actor behind a character’s voice, becoming inspired to work on your own idea for a game…these things take us beyond “casual” and place gamers into a category that should be the pulse by which publishers measure success.
Pay no attention to that.
Fittingly, Braid was one of the first massive success stories of the Xbox Live Arcade, a labor of love from Jonathan Blow that showed everyone how to completely bypass the usual process of making a game. The platformer inspired everyone from Team Meat to Suda51. Blow, never one to be content with success, still lamented everyone’s lack of understanding of the game despite its record-breaking sales and critical acclaim. I assume we can include Soulja Boy in the list of people who didn’t quite grasp the fundamentals of allegory.
Braid was released in August of 2008, eight months after one of the greatest years in the history of video games. 2007 gave us Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, The Orange Box, Jade Empire, God of War II, Guitar Hero III, Rock Band, Persona 3, Metroid Prime 3, Halo 3, Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed, along with the usual assortment of yearly sports titles. None of the above came close to the impact that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had on the industry. By May of 2009, over 13 million copies of the first game in the series to feature military combat outside of a World War II setting had been sold. The business has not been the same since.
In 2001, Square (not Enix) released Final Fantasy X on one system, the PlayStation 2, to what was then an overwhelming success for a company that had just eaten its balls over the summer, thanks to the complete failure of the theatrical release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Twelve years later, the combined sales of Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution and Sleeping Dogs outpaced that of Final Fantasy X while generating $10 more for each copy sold across two different consoles as well as digital versions purchased for each system as well as the PC.
Tough shit, said stockholders. We want Call of Duty money.
So, what does this have to do with the gaming elite? Modern Warfare sold a shitload and started a trend that continues to this day; Black Ops 2 made a billion dollars in a little over two weeks. Who is buying Black Ops 2 and further inflating Activision Blizzard? Sure, there are people who only play Call of Duty and Madden, but they aren’t the only ones contributing to the stunting of creativity among mega publishers. That would be you.
You see, the intelligent and hardcore gamers – often the same ones who publicly smash Call of Duty and secretly camp online with the games until the wee hours of the morning – make the decision to buy the latest entry in the series year in and year out. Disposable income that could have went to something new like Sleeping Dogs, a game saved from the unfair True Crime label that Activision would have insisted on using, instead gets sent to more maps for another goddamned zombie scenario in Black Ops II.
That franchise now has their own fucking headphone label from Turtle Beach, masters of gaming headphones. I have seen people out in public wearing hoodies and hats with the familiar green logo proudly displayed. I would be scared to contact military recruiters and ask how many people walked into their offices having been inspired by what they saw on their screen and experienced through controlling virtual soldiers.
And we are doing nothing to stop it.
I look now on the upper right corner of YouTube and I see an ad for EA’s Battlefield 4. Show me footage of that side-by-side with Modern Warfare and I’ll be damned if I can tell the difference. I can’t be the only person writing about this situation who honestly has zero interest in year after year of firing bullets at things and takes my money elsewhere, but I’m not enough. If this trend continues, the only major productions we will get out of big studios will be ones that are completely fail safe and stick to meandering status quo we have come to expect since the end of 2007.
I hope like hell that Bioshock Infinite sells more than five million copies by the time April finishes. It technically falls into the same genre as any other shooter, but crafting an entire world and telling a compelling story within that fictional realm should be more appealing to somebody who considers themselves “hardcore” than another round of undead Nazis. Ken Levine may work for one of the bigger companies in 2K, but he obviously still has the creative capacity and motivation of somebody who simply wants to make an enjoyable experience. That, to me, is hardcore.
Tomb Raider: Tombraider.com