Press Released: The Sampler Platter


This week, so full am I of opinion and the need to share, that I offer a topic smorgasbord, an hors d’oeuvre tray from which you can sample delicately. Try the crab puffs, they’re delicious!

World of Warhammer

This week, was among the many news organizations that sat down with Blizzard big wigs to talk shop with one of the most successful developers in gaming history. Among the more interesting topics, the apparently temporary migration from World of WarCraft of players who wanted to experiment with a new partner, only to discover that their one night stand was a temporary tryst.

Says Blizzard COO, Paul Sams, “The good news is that we’ve seen a significant number of people, well over half, that cited Warhammer as their reason for leaving – they’ve already returned.” This comes, for all intents and purposes, before the recent and massive patch that paves the way for Wrath of the Lich King.

Let me say this about Blizzard: yes, it knows how to make a quality product, but perhaps its greatest strength is its ability to maintain position as a leader. For most MMOG products, after the first weeks of retail, retention is the Holy Grail. Just look at Age of Conan and now, apparently to some degree, Warhammer Online. But, not Blizzard and World of WarCraft. Years after release, it is not just retaining, not just growing new users as evidenced by virtually every PC NPD sales chart in two years, but continuously compelling lost customers.

I’ve spoken with Mythic’s Mark Jacobs before, and he’s very realistic about the market. He knows that there is an 800 pound gorilla in the room, and for now everyone is just playing for the #2 spot – not that he wouldn’t like to be a surprise dark horse that steals the crown. Frankly, Mythic is the antithesis study to FunCom’s abysmal self-destructive post-launch shenanigans. No one is better positioned to siphon from and retain Blizzard’s customer base, but even its unique and compelling game will likely play a distant second fiddle to WoW.

I know that after two weeks of Warhammer, during which I was constantly amazed at how clever a game had been created, I have been lured back by Blizzard’s pre-expansion ramp up. Blizzard is a master of adaptability and on par with Valve at getting to the top and staying there.

Getting Real

I will play Dead Space with the lights on.

This is pretty much the same way that I’ve played horror games dating back at least to Doom III, which I played with the lights off simply so I could see the damn game. And, while the creep factor of Dead Space‘s multi-limbed abominations is a compelling, if grotesque thing, I increasingly wish that game developers would dial down the photo realism, particularly in violent games.

I did not like Grand Theft Auto IV, and I’ve been on the record from day one that among my primary complaints is exactly that element that seemed most laudable to others – its gritty realism.

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I grew up on ultra-violent games, which I played unapologetically. I am even now working my way back through Fallout 2, and the first thing I did was take the Bloody Mess trait, so I’m not some sheltered hot-house flower.

That said, violence to me is only entertaining when it is clearly divested from reality. Maybe I’m just getting old, and this is the videogame equivalent of listening to 70s’on 8-track with the volume cranked all the way to 4, but the more realistic violent games become, the less I like them. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the chaos and havoc, but that I have always relished the detachment of video games from the nightly news.

Give me Crackdown over GTA any day. Give me worlds with super heroes and abstract approximations of the world over the broken bodies of pedestrians that look like my uncle. Give me the videogame nirvana of stylistic Team Fortress 2 over even Call of Duty 4, which while excellent, reminds me far too much of CNN.

Painting With Broad Strokes

It began when a friend of mine complained that Rock Band 2 was likely to get a pass with its release of an AC/DC track pack. After months of lobbing rhetorical bombs over the walls at Activision for signing exclusivity agreements and releasing Guitar Hero products with very little substance, no one seemed particularly concerned that Harmonix was in many ways doing to same thing, and even partnering exclusively with Wal Mart in the process.

Why? Because Activision has become the bad guy, and Harmonix the plucky lover of all things fun.

It’s not particularly difficult to list out the understood and unwritten facts gamers take for granted. Electronic Arts is a house of evil. Quick-time events are bad. PC gaming is dead. The holiday season is when all the good games come out. Blizzard and Valve make great games.

These aren’t just the assumptions that gamers make, but the assumptions that editorializing itself works from. It is the foundation of shared understanding that games and developers either stifle under or occasionally rise above. They are impressionist paintings of the gaming industry, lacking distinction, accuracy and failing under close inspection.

It seems true to me to say that Harmonix is not being held to the same standards, for example, that Activision would be. I imagine a much larger and more organized outcry if this AC/DC pack were being sold exclusively to one developer at one particular retail outlet had it been the Guitar Hero brand instead of the Rock Band brand on the cover.

I understand why we paint in broad strokes, so that we can have a shared dialogue that allows the industry to make sense, but frankly I liked quick-time events in God of War 2, I think EA is among the better and smarter publishers on the market, I still play on my PC more than my console and I thought WarCraft III was a mediocre game at best.

Whether in these kinds of editorial spaces, or the frontiers of forum communities, the further we can get from painting the world in broad strokes, the better I think we’ll be.

Sean Sands is a freelance writer, co-founder of and addicted to those miniature hot dogs that get wrapped in tiny croissants. Delicious!

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