You've got to take the rough with the smooth – but these past few days have been more rugged than Vin Diesel's right-angled jaw. It's not been a vintage week for the games industry, with Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima seemingly being pushed out of Konami, first-party developer Evolution Studios struck by a round of redundancies, and even indie developer Jeff Minter blocked from releasing TxK on the PlayStation 4. But has this just been a bad week, a catalogue of catastrophes all occurring within the same small timeframe – or is this more a sign of the times?
It's becoming clearer to me that gaming is in a transitional period right now, and I'm not sure that it's going to land on its feet for a while. Sales of the PlayStation 4 – now at an impressive 20.2 million units – show that console gaming is alive and well, but I am starting to wonder whether this staggering statistic is covering up some real unrest under the surface. It occurs to me that very few people are happy at the minute: creators are curbed, publishers risk-averse – and you only need to glance at our Facebook page to see that some consumers are seriously unsatisfied.
These people are the vocal minority, of course, and not everyone has a gripe to bear – but it feels like we're in a pressure cooker at the minute, and at any point it's going to burst. We've certainly seen a few cracks begin to emerge over the past few days, with the occurrences at Konami. I'm not on the inside, so I don't know anything for sure, but it strikes me that the situation with Kojima comes down to a disagreement over the future of Metal Gear – presumably with the publisher wanting to make more. Heck, it announced this morning that it's already recruiting for the next entry, despite Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain still being some six months away.
I can certainly see boardroom executives taking issue with the rockstar status of the series creator, but let's be realistic here: Konami owns a best-selling brand, and it wants to exploit it – regardless of whether one of its employees commands a ridiculous amount of media and consumer sway. But this isn't an issue that's specific to Metal Gear – it's happening all over the globe. Activision, for example, is doubling down on Destiny and Call of Duty, while EA focuses on its litany of sports games and Star Wars. Where are the Dead Spaces of the PS4? They don't exist.
Even the new brands like Watch Dogs and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor feel fundamentally familiar, subscribing to a gameplay structure that we've seen time and time before. Last year, I was forced to capture strongholds in vapid open world maps in no less than five different games – and I haven't even played Far Cry 4 yet. And that's because as budgets increase, risks are being reduced – and innovation (as much as I hate that word) is being thrown out of the window. The blockbuster games space is turning into a production line – no wonder so much talent is abandoning ship.
There is refuge, much to the dismay of many, in the indie games space – but even this segment of the industry has become toxic. While simultaneously complaining about the homogenisation of the aforementioned tentpole titles, consumers are also taking potshots at the smaller games – be it because their production values can't compete with The Order: 1886 or because they don't have infinite replay value like Assassin's Creed Unity. It really feels like no one can win right now: expectations are at an all-time high, and very, very few can actually afford to meet them.
And it's why, in my opinion, we're ending up with situations like DriveClub, where developers overpromise in order to standout – but ultimately under deliver. Don't get me wrong, I hold Evolution Studios fully responsible for the issues that occurred with the PlayStation 4 exclusive racer, but would it have had to stretch itself so thin, building such complicated social and graphical features, if consumers and critics didn't expect so much? The irony is that, even if the release had worked, the game apparently wasn't good enough anyway; read the reviews and you'll realise that most demanded an open world. Clearly it would have been better with radio towers to capture.
I'm not letting the Runcorn first-party off the hook – it absolutely should have delivered, and on time to boot. But the layoffs that occurred at the studio this week almost seemed inevitable – it feels like you get one shot these days; there's no time for a second chance. As such, I doubt that we'll see an Uncharted: Drake's Fortune to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves type transition this generation, because if something doesn't hit straight away in the AAA space, then all resources will be invested back into the tried and tested.
It just feels like everyone's in a scrap right now to me: publishers are sparring with creators who are doing battle with consumers – and so on. This week was summed up by Atari's attempts to remove TxK from the PlayStation Store, a game that's probably sold a few thousand copies at most on the PlayStation Vita. While it seems like it had the option to work with Jeff Minter in order to resurrect the Tempest brand, it instead decided to trade legal blows with Llamasoft just to protect an intellectual property that it's never going to use.
And, as is so often the case, the issue at the very core of all of this drama is money. Consumers want more and more, publishers want to spend less, and creators – caught between risk-averse companies and indie detractors – can't seem to catch a break. This is very much a war of attrition, and I don't think that anyone's going to win. Sure, strong sales of the PS4 may be keeping consoles alive – but if the industry's going to continue like this, it won't be too long before I start to ponder whether they'd be better off dead.
Do you think that Sammy's being overly cynical with his view of the industry, or does he have a point? Was this simply a case of a collective bad week, or are we starting to see signs that the industry's under serious strain? Try not to get too depressed in the comments section below.