The Pursuit of Prestige

(Before you commit your time and eyesight to reading this, let it be known that this is not an article about Call of Duty multiplayer. I would love the confused page-visits, but my heart can't stand the vitriol I'm sure to find in the comment section. Thank you.)

A lot of talk has come up lately about how above all else, video games are a business. Whether it be Nintendo passing on niche titles for a dying console, or Capcom putting all Inafune raised projects out to pasture, publishers and developers making sure they stay in the black is priority number one.

Although, this isn't always the case.

Oftentimes, a little prestige can do just as much good. While it may not be mindful of the bottom line, earning the esteem of your peers and customers certainly holds its own value.

Capcom let the inmates run the asylum when it opened Clover Studio. While the likes of Atsushi Inaba, Shinji Mikami, and Hideky Kamiya had certainly procuded and created major success stories for Capcom, would it be possible for them for re-create and exceed these heights if they functioned on their own accord? While the idea of Capcom being quite risk adverse has only become worse as of late (see Ghost Trick and Okamiden as contrarian evidence), they still opted to bankroll a development house that would be seen as an arthouse.

Problem is, Capcom still seemed to have high expectations of Clover Studio. It was easy enough for them to count on software that would earn praise for its daringness and artistic integrity, but the sales were still at the forefront of Capcom's mind. Games like Okami and Godhand were welcomed, so long as they met their quota. But they didn't. But Clover didn't fail Capcom, it was the other way around. Clover delivered the titles that Capcom wanted, games that challenged what was expected from the industry, and weren't willing to compromise to compete amongst the GTAs of the world. But Capcom didn't run Clover properly. They didn't set sales numbers lower than what they would expect from a Resident Evil, and they failed to budget accordingly. Capcom got the games that we still fondly talk of, products that stand out within the genre. They received the acclaim they wanted, but the money wasn't coming in. Clover Studio was dissolved, and Capcom gave up on trying to gain the eminense that their stable of franchises and developers normally couldn't create.

Interestingly, Sega has partnered with what Clover Studio became, Platinum Games. It can be argued that Sega sees Platinum as a great way to bolster acclaim for Sega published games. The sales may not be there, but the praise and adulation from fans and the industry comes at a time when Sega needs it most.

 

In hearing Sony and Microsoft tell it, the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network platforms are great successes, allowing large developers to experiment, and smaller independent groups to flourish and make a name for themselves. All this is certainly true, a portion of those that used XBLA and PSN to their advantage have accomplished these goals. However, there are some that have spoken out against these platforms for failing on their end of the bargain. The issues range from royalties to certification, but the message is the same; these platforms need to mature. Once a shining beacon of how to distribute downloadable games, they've become stagnant in their efforts. Both XBLA and PSN have become another revenue stream for larger publishers, and any sort of promotion only falls to those titles which are published by the platforms respective holder.

Standing as a shining example of where these services should be is Valve's Steam. A hotbed of independent content, more and more games are finding great success. In an interview with Gamasutra, Jonathan Blow made it clear that financially Steam and iOS devices are all he needs to survive. Pair this with Zeboyd Games' comments about profiting greater in less than a week's time over a year and a half's worth of sales on Xbox Live Indies, and you're left to question why is the effort made to premiere these titles on Microsoft and Sony's services.

Contrasting these opinions is Twisted Pixel. An independent developer, their titles have remained exclusive to XBLA, and they have had nothing but nice things to say on the matter. While an even wider audience is available to them through Steam and iOS, they remain loyal to the service. And this is where I begin to believe that this sort of business practise stems from the esteem that success on the home console market leads to. The gaming press places he most importance and resources behind the home console demographic, oftentimes PCs are thought of and treated as that mysterious third machine the latest and greatest may or may not be released on. Despite being the birthplace of many of today's most celebrated creators, it's still greeted by the occasional "Is this the end of PC gaming?" editorial. While success on Steam isn't guaranteed, there is evidence that the way it promotes and discounts titles is an important factor in its appeal. Over XBLA and PSN, a game has one week to prove its relevance and earn your dollar. But Steam sales bring titles back to the foreground, and at a discount to boot. Steam has even saved some developers from the near death they suffered from the console services. Introversion was on their way out after Darwinia+'s failure on the Xbox 360, and they were able to live on following a promoted sale on Defcon.

Problem is, Introversion likely never received as much press as they did while they developed for the Xbox 360. The previews for that game got much more attention than their prior low-key PC efforts. Many developers need to get over the idea that true success can only be found on home consoles. While you may not find the coverage you would like on the PC, it's clear that it's a market that is more than able to support these types of games.

It's obvious that the pursuit of prestige is risky and difficult. In fact, it's almost never sought after at all. In many cases, it's stumbled upon. Where many fail is when they set out to achieve it. Capcom obviously wanted others to admire their creativity and artistic integrity, but they failed to handle the process properly. And those that continue to believe that proving your worth is only possible on the highly publicized XBLA and PSN platforms are only limiting themselves. Publishers and developers should just make what they want, and let the audience decide how they want to feel about it.