The Games Industry Is Its Own Citizen Kane

The Games Industry Is Its Own Citizen Kane

With systemic hubris driving business decisions and an almost palpable condescension toward the people that buy their products, it's clear games may not have a Citizen Kane, but the game industry is Citizen Kane.

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I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...

image

Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.

That was enjoyable. Well played.

Kinitawowi:
I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...

image

Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.

I would vote for this .gif to be copypasta'd in every post...but that's a bit sleazy.

And one other problem with the focus on nostalgia, which is more in focus since Yahtzee's last Extra Punctuation, is that we already know all the good games. We know that there are bad games from our 'golden years', perhaps simply because we choose to ignore them in the attempts to bring those nostalgic feelings back today. But if nostalgia trend is the best positivity this medium has to offer, and all we focus on are the classics, what inspiration is left for the future? Probably something still better than what we have now, but I would still prefer that the industry grows from a fresh slate.

Another good one, Mr. Rath.

Funny coincidence, I finally got around to actually watching this movie last week. And... wow. That was a staggeringly well-made comparison.

Kinitawowi:
I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...

image

Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.

Given that people have been describing it as an excellent film for, what, 70 years? You probably don't need me to tell you that it's a really good movie with a cynical sense of humour that still stands up decades later. But, for what it's worth, it is and you should see it.

Great piece, excellent analysis of Citizen Kane and an interesting comparison/contrast to the games industry.

I just wish a better movie had been picked than Citizen Kane to be the "Citizen Kane" of movies.

Film Critic: "Oh, but it's perfectly made"
Human response: "And there's SOOO many more enjoyable movies out there too."

Is it just that it's old that people revere it so much?

The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.

Johnny Novgorod:
The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.

From that perspective, it's more that the way Citizen Kane impacted video story mechanics already translates into games too. They really aren't that distinct and we haven't found a new media since video that makes sense. So I'd just say that video games are not inherentlly different enough from other media besides the ability of the audience to manipulate the environment according to the given rules and limitations.

The mechanics of how we manipulate that environment are then the "game changers" but any given mechanic will itself can the attention and not necessarily the game itself. For example, the gamechanger for VR will be whichever product makes it viable in the market rather than whatever game/games utilize it first.

You can also have some micro-Citizen Kanes here then as well. For example, X game is the Citizen Kane of Shooters or whatever, but drastic changes to one genre seldom translates into others. Citizen Kane showed up in a time where we had this motion picture technology but no standard way to use it to the full effect.

By the way, it's bull crap that I've spoken with so many film students and not gotten what I believe to be the correct response that you just gave me. Thanks for the free education.

Kinitawowi:
I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...

image

Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.

You should also watch it to get the most out of that Gif... Kane is not clapping because he's just seen a virtuoso performance! (Even so, that's probably my favorite Gif ever, so thanks for posting it.)

But yes, you should watch Citizen Kane as it's an excellent movie and a piece of art history. As an added bonus, it also still holds up in front of a modern audience and I'd argue - apart from Star Wars - it's one of the few films that deals with broad, universal themes while still remaining extremely clever and quotable. The script really, really is a gem.

Azahul:
Funny coincidence, I finally got around to actually watching this movie last week. And... wow. That was a staggeringly well-made comparison.

Thank you. I've actually been working on this post for several weeks and re-watched the movie before writing this, but I was on an Air India flight last week and what was one of the movies they offered? Citizen Kane. Again, universally applicable themes - you're doing it right.

In fact, the movie's universal themes are what allowed me to write this article - I mean you could just as easily turn the comparison around and say that Citizen Kane mirrors the worst aspects of game journalism. ("If the headline's big enough, the news is big enough!)

Johnny Novgorod:
The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.

Except the magic of it is that the movie really does still work for a modern audience due to incredible writing and powerful performances, though there are some things about the melodrama acting style that modern viewers won't totally "get" - though they should if they've ever seen a Tarantino movie, since his actors tend to go to that same I'm-an-icon-not-a-person territory. But yeah, what you're saying is exactly right, Kane innovated in so many corners it's hard to separate it from that legacy. It even breaks boundaries most viewers wouldn't notice - for example, I have sound designer friends that could go on for an hour about all the cool things Welles (who'd worked primarily in radio dramas) did that had never been part of filmmaking before.

And yes, I agree that the entire "Kane of Videogames" thing is silly.

Lightknight:
You can also have some micro-Citizen Kanes here then as well. For example, X game is the Citizen Kane of Shooters or whatever, but drastic changes to one genre seldom translates into others. Citizen Kane showed up in a time where we had this motion picture technology but no standard way to use it to the full effect.

If anything this would be the right way of going about it. I think Mario is the "Citizen Kane of 2D platforming" same as Sands of Time is the "Citizen Kane of 3D platforming" or time manipulation considering that's a stylistically distinct mechanic. But then why not have a Citizen Kane of X whenever a particular piece of work single-handedly equipped an industry with the proper tools for developing? I'm sure I can even think of "the Citizen Kane of underwater levels".

It's merely a question of scale: how big a change in the history of (select art form) has a single piece of work made?

By the way, it's bull crap that I've spoken with so many film students and not gotten what I believe to be the correct response that you just gave me. Thanks for the free education.

I think film school baggage is particularly prone to be filtered in weird and strange ways according to each person's ego.

Robert Rath:

Johnny Novgorod:
The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.

Except the magic of it is that the movie really does still work for a modern audience due to incredible writing and powerful performances, though there are some things about the melodrama acting style that modern viewers won't totally "get" - though they should if they've ever seen a Tarantino movie, since his actors tend to go to that same I'm-an-icon-not-a-person territory. But yeah, what you're saying is exactly right, Kane innovated in so many corners it's hard to separate it from that legacy. It even breaks boundaries most viewers wouldn't notice - for example, I have sound designer friends that could go on for an hour about all the cool things Welles (who'd worked primarily in radio dramas) did that had never been part of filmmaking before.

And yes, I agree that the entire "Kane of Videogames" thing is silly.

I like the movie myself, I just rationalize the academic hype behind it. Even if I didn't like it I recognize its impact in subsequent filmmaking.

You can blame developers for all the dreck they spit out, but at the end of the day, they're going to keep making what sells: if they make money on dreck, dreck it is. The best example of it I can think of:

image

Gamers shouted, they demanded, they threatened, they said "OOO NEW THING!" and voted with their wallets.

You seem to be stating that EA owns Valve, but isn't giving them the ol' EA treatment. Did I miss something?

SecondPrize:
You seem to be stating that EA owns Valve, but isn't giving them the ol' EA treatment. Did I miss something?

"and puts greater emphasis on preserving subsidiary and partner studios"

Valve isn't a subsidiary, but they are a partner studio. To my knowledge, EA has handled all physical-copy distribution for Valve starting with HL2:Ep 1.

Such a great article, and a wonderful comparison.

Good article, though I don't share nearly the same level of optimism for some companies as you.

Robert Rath:
Unlike Kane, the game industry can admit when it's wrong. EA is no longer the corporate raider it's been in the past, and puts greater emphasis on preserving subsidiary and partner studios - they have a very good relationship with Valve, for example.

Well, until EA built Origin specifically to get away from Steam.

And though EA is more "domesticated" than before, their corporate raider habits are still alive and kicking.
Instead of buying out developers only to gut them for their IP, they gut the IP directly (Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper spring to mind, along with the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy).

The end-result is similar for the customer: A shitty half-hearted game that nobody wanted.

Microsoft, for all its posturing at E3, did back down on controversial Xbox One features, something that Kane would never have done.

A change they only made after weeks of concerted outrage followed by total embarrassment at E3.
Let us not forget the parable of Adam Orth, and his curiously defensive remarks for online DRM just a month prior to the horrifying and confusing Xbone reveal. I bring him up, because corporate scumbags like him are ruining trust between producers and gamers more and more each year, and they're doing so GLADLY, WILLINGLY, and even more OPENLY than they ever have before.

moosemaimer:
You can blame developers for all the dreck they spit out, but at the end of the day, they're going to keep making what sells: if they make money on dreck, dreck it is. The best example of it I can think of:

image

Gamers shouted, they demanded, they threatened, they said "OOO NEW THING!" and voted with their wallets.

You can't sign a petition and think that you'll win
When you vote with your wallet to pay for their sins.

And this from a guy who can't stomach poetry on just about any level.

Good article, Rath. One of these days I will have to sit down and actually watch that film, but the message translates well enough even without.

Why us the Nintendo Seal of Quality still being brought up in complains against the company? Despite what some people might of thought as kids, it never at any point meant anything other then "the publisher of this game is paying us the standard fee for releases on our console".

Well EA, you've certainly made us cry.

It really is a combination of hubris, greed, and unrealistic goals that will force the industry to change its ways or go out of business.

Time will tell what they choose.

UNHchabo:

SecondPrize:
You seem to be stating that EA owns Valve, but isn't giving them the ol' EA treatment. Did I miss something?

"and puts greater emphasis on preserving subsidiary and partner studios"

Valve isn't a subsidiary, but they are a partner studio. To my knowledge, EA has handled all physical-copy distribution for Valve starting with HL2:Ep 1.

Okay, that makes sense. That's not really much of a thing though. Distributors don't make a habit of fucking the studios they distribute for, do they?

considering how easy it was to construct a web of half truths to appear to resolve issues that people have had with consoles in general, I think it wasn't actually that hard to lie after all, it just actually took more effort

but look where that got us, a console generation where only two machines appear to exist, and both of them as dumb as ever

the confidence people have in these things is about as real as the things that confidence is based on

as for EA and Valve, as much as they can act nice and shit, at the end of the day Origin exists, and is basically a monument that represents an overblown sense of pride that places itself before actual business sense

By far my favorite article I've read on Escapist. Well done.

Is Video Games governor yet?

There are certain watershed games like Wolfenstein 3D , Civilization, and Defender but nothing that changed the creative output of the entire industry like Citizen Kane and there never will be. Games are still feeling the influence of Kane.

I enjoyed the article, thank you.

It is not hard to recognize the failures of the video game industry, when it comes to values, good work and heart, but the sad truth is that you only need to appeal as broadly as possible to achieve success.

As much as I deeply loathe analogies, especially car analogies, I'll make this one exception...

This video is a comparison between a Ferrari F40 and F50, driven by an enthusiast.
To sum up the verdict, the F40 is a barebone performance machine that delivers an exceptional experience to the person who wants to drive a phenomenal supercar. It has no amenities and no safety features such as airbags, ABS or traction control.

The F50 is only slightly more technologically advanced but gives, according to the driver, a diluted experience. However that's irrelevant to my point.

The relatively young driver in that show recognized the F40 for what it was and as he stated he was in love with it, a car from 1987. That's how I feel when I sometimes pick up a game I didn't play back in the 90's, because you can feel the intentions behind the game and be captured by twenty year old graphics in a way that no new game can ever hope to emulate.

In terms of sheer performance, Unreal Tournament and Quake 1 & 2 worked flawlessly. Anyone who's ever been in "the zone", know how you could attune yourself to the flow of the game and become an unstoppable force that could predict events a second before they happened. I've never had that experience in Battlefield or any other new shooter that tried to simulate realism, vehicles and a ton of other gimmicks. I don't attribute it to nostalgia or a loss of reflexes either, since I experienced this in a game of UT barely a year ago (and as I'm almost 30, my reflexes have dwindled).

As for quality and heart, the infinity engine games speak for themselves and Planescape: Torment might well be the greatest achievement of what choice in games means and how it sets gaming apart from any other entertainment medium out there.

Like that enthusiast in the F40, I grin with absolute joy when I replay some of my older games, such as when I played Total Annihilation a few weeks back. It is my wholehearted belief that this is why some indie games are so massively popular, because they carry a certain excellence and pure gaming experience instead of ridiculous amounts of effects, graphics and crushing requirements that leave your PC smoking.

So just like cars are made today, all looking the same with similar equipment, features and safety precautions, games are mass-pleasing, streamlined and mediocre experiences that are soon forgotten and won't leave a lasting impression on anyone.

Games are unlike anything else we have, so I really detest these analogies, but I couldn't explain myself better...

Great stuff, Mr. Rath. Always appreciate your insight.

Atmos Duality:
Good article, though I don't share nearly the same level of optimism for some companies as you.

Same here. Didn't EA say they wanted to be voted the best company? Something they haven't been doing too well, especially with the whole Dungeon Keeper fiasco.

Very well presented view point. I agree with everything you said, pretty much.
My only difference is while I'm cautiously hopeful that we've turned a corner and we're looking a new "golden age" of video games I'm afraid I've been once, no actually about thirty seven times bitten, and much more than twice shy. PR spin is still PR spin and only long term track record really speaks for any corporation. Much more than any current "see we're changing, we're not so bad" does.
With that said, currently I'm pretty sure EA is a lost cause. So my money is staying in my wallet no matter what they do. At least till I see that EA really does want to move back to when they weren't the big blundering monster company of video gaming and IP rape. And this won't be a do a couple of things and we're square thing. No, they'll have a lot of work and a long time before I trust them, they've just been too oily in the past to give in easily this time.

As someone who's dropped a full size tower case on his foot I can attest to the fact that a computer can indeed make you cry... and swear... and hop about in an agonised frenzy.

Robert Rath:
EA is no longer the corporate raider it's been in the past,

Wait, seriously?

They won Worst Company Ever two years in a row, publicly promised to do better, and then kicked gamers squarely in the nuts with Dungeon Keeper.

If this is the "better" EA, just what the hell were they up to back when they *sucked!?*

Great article, thank you for posting it : )

The comparison is a great one on so many different levels. Yes, people need to seen the film to understand "why" he was slow clapping.

Currently, I do not believe that these companies will turn out for the better unless they are forced, dragged down the hall kicking and screaming. We have to vote with our wallets as money is the only thing they care about. Oh and yes it is "ok" for companies to make a profit but not at the "obscene" expectations and profits levels they are currently demanding every quarter.

Unfortunately how the public is currently I do not think most are willing or even care what an actual boycott is. I love the steam screenshot in an earlier post showing the protesters and how they are logged in playing the game on day one. Caught red handed, when this happens - a false boycott, it undermines even speaking up in the forums as it will just be waved off as bluster and hot air.

Ultima Online and ID games all over again? The indy scene, greenlight, kickstarter, more direct path to the gaming community. Less overhead, newer development tools available, more willing to take risks on new game designs, really overall trying new things in general. Smaller more agile groups of developers passionate about games, this is a great thing and I look forward to seeing how it grows.

So looking back and then to present, it is a good day to be a gamer. We have many choices available to us thankfully and I feel that is important as it allows us to keep voting for what we enjoy.

 

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