Archive for the ‘dumb’ Category

Indie, Indie, Indie (Games)

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

We live in a weird time for video games. They’re becoming (and some might say, have already become) mainstream entertainment, and as they grow and mature, and grow, and then grow some more, we start to see some interesting things happen. The barriers to enter the video game market are as low as they’ve ever been, anyone with a computer, programming reference materials, time and passion, can make a game and get it to market, but budgets for so-called “AAA” games are bigger than they’ve ever been, and are getting bigger all the time. Bigger budgets mean that there’s more of a needs to recoup any costs, and doing that means playing it safe. Do what worked in the past, tweak it a little bit, increment the version counter, and then sell it again.

The downside to this is that there is less risk-taking, less variety, and more homogenization. This is good, if you like the current blockbustery flavor-of-the-month game, which I usually don’t. If you’re anything like me, and I’m starting to think that very few of you are, then you want something new once in a while. Something with new characters, new settings, new gameplay ideas, and new concepts.

This is where ‘indie’ games have started to step up their game. Apparently, the only real qualification to be an idie game is that it is developed without backing from a publisher. In the traditional model, a game company would either have an idea, get it to a prototype stage, and search for a publisher to fund the remaining development of the game, or they would be approached by a publisher about making something and then they would get funding to make it. This is weird, since a big-name developer can develop a game and technically it would still be ‘indie’, even though the idea of ‘indie’ seems to be a small team slaving away in a tiny studio somewhere, that’s not always the case.

*I feel like I should note at this point that indie game developers have been around since removable media was invented. You might remember something called ‘shareware‘.

So, what all this means is that, if you want to look for them, there are lots of games being released outside the traditional channels. They won’t necessarily show up in stores or on your favorite video game “news” site. But they’re out there. In fact, there are so many indie games out in the wild now that it’s quickly becoming impossible to even attempt to play them all. And, if you want to develop and release something into the Indie World(tm) you’re going to almost immediately get lost in the shuffle. Unless, of course, you generate buzz.

How do you generate buzz? Word of mouth works, if your game is truly amazing, and you can get a critical mass of people playing about it in the first place, and those people actually tell other people about it, and those people actually download the game and like it, and then continue the cycle (which is much harder than it sounds). Or you can try to get some coverage on one of the millions of game blogs out there. Or you can try to get your game into one of the dozens of ‘indie bundles‘ floating around the internet. Or, etc., etc. All while combating piracy, providing technical support, and maybe trying to work on whatever’s next, all while trying to put food on the table and make sure bills are getting paid.

This means that for every Minecraft or World of Goo or <insert_favorite_indie_game_here> there are dozens of games like Kairo, Goat Simulator, or Dungeon Hearts that just aren’t very good (if you liked them, fine, I’m not here to start an argument), and finding the gems in the firehose of mediocrity is extremely difficult.

So, where does all of this leave us? On one hand, we have formulaic games coming out at a rapid clip with high production values, high cost, and high marketing budgets, and on the other we have games that come out and absolutely insane pace, have production values all over the place, cost a bit less (usually), and have marketing budgets so small that you couldn’t use it to buy a Big Mac. The signal to noise ratio is about the same, but “news” about blockbuster games falls into my lap, and I have to work to find an indie game I might like.

I don’t really know what the solution to all of this is. Maybe there is none. But I do know that the video game landscape is changing faster than the media covering it has been. Weren’t blogs supposed to be faster, and more agile than print media, without the physical limitations? Weren’t they supposed to be able to react and adapt to change, while still covering what’s important?

I’ll tackle that can of worms next time.


Monday, December 17th, 2012

I want to take you on a mental voyage. Back to the winter of 2001. December 17. A time where you couldn’t go for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Lady Marmalade”. A time where I was a student in college.

Fresh from a solar eclipse, I was finishing up another semester when I had an idle computer and an idle thought: “I should probably buy a domain name before they’re all gone, and then people will have an easy way to find all of my amazing articles about video games and video game culture”. And, since most of the short, memorable domain names were taken, I looked around my environment for inspiration. I settled on ‘Crummy Socks’ because that’s what I was wearing that day (I was a poor college student, what can I say?). So I bought the name, and immediately sat on it for a few weeks while I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

I had aspirations of being one of those professional bloggers that you used to hear a lot about, but don’t really hear anything about these days. Someone who works out of their home or office, writing every day about something that they love, while throngs of devoted fans visit every day and I would make enough money somehow to pay my bills and sustain my hobby, but that never seemed to materialize. I also tried my hand at news-reporting for a while. Each time, though, for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to work out. I even spun off a few sister sites where I wanted to try out some of my big ideas, but those, too, met with little success. It’s kind of telling that my biggest brush with anything resembling a spotlight was the time I managed to troll several high-profile blogs.

Somewhere else along the way, I also managed to get myself, at least temporarily, hired in to the video game industry, where I worked on a few titles, and got to see things from the other side of the fence. I realized my childhood dream of helping to make some video games (even though one of them wasn’t particularly well-received). Still, it was an amazing experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

But, as time goes on, I find that I am writing about video games less and less. I find that I’m visiting video game blogs more infrequently as time goes on. But that I still love to play video games, and I still like to write on occasion. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling discouraged, disenfranchised, or burned out. After a lot of soul-searching and introspection, I think I finally have a handle on it, and, well, it’s complicated.

This site never really found much of an audience. For a while, I had friends and family who would visit (and several of them still do. Thanks, guys!), but articles don’t really propagate more than that, with rare exceptions. As of this writing, my statistics show that I had 12 visits to this site yesterday. Several of which were me, since my own site is my homepage (if you have a website and it’s not your own homepage, I wonder how seriously you take it). But some time ago I reached a point where I unconsciously decided that since I couldn’t seem to get any traction with an audience, that there wasn’t a point in trying to update regularly, if at all. I saw lots of other websites that started up at the same time or after this one, with writing that was at least the equal to or perhaps a little worse than what you find here, and they seemed to take off essentially immediately. And that kind of boiled over into jealousy, resentment, and maybe a little depression. “If these other jokers can at least get an audience of regular readers in a few months, why can’t I do it in a few years? Why don’t people tell their friends about this site or come back? I must be doing something wrong.”

A partial explanation is something that I call “Nerd Attitude”. It’s kind of hard to quantify, but I think it boils down to an arrogance that lots of members of the video game community seem to have, or, at least seem to want to have. When I was growing up, and immersed in any kind of video game-related thing I could find, in some ways, it was very exclusionary. But I could find others that had similar interests, and we formed a fairly close-knit group of peers. The group never really got very big, but we had a lot of fun hitting the local arcades, playing the newest game we could get our hands on, and discussing the tips and strategies in the current issue of our gaming magazine.

But then the Internet and the World Wide Web started gaining popularity.

Once that happened, it was a lot easier to find groups of like-minded folks to share in whatever passion you have.

Which is a good thing.

But, at the same time, video games and computers were starting to become more mainstream. Eventually, playing video games into the wee hours of the night wasn’t that weird, and hopping on a computer to spend hours chatting with people around the world, or making a website for whatever wacko idea you have, is less bizarre. And all that means is that now you have a group of people, who have grown up with video games and the Internet at parts of their daily lives, who self-identify as nerds. People who like video games, who like the Internet, who maybe even are passionate about those things, but who aren’t really nerds.

From the linked Wikipedia article:

However, those simply adopting the characteristics of nerds are not actually nerds by definition. One cannot be an authentic nerd by imitation alone; a nerd is an outsider and someone who is unable or unwilling to follow trends. Popular culture is borrowing the concept and image of nerds in order to stand out as individuals. Some commentators consider that the word is devalued when applied to people who adopt a sub-cultural pattern of [behavior], rather than being reserved for people with a marked ability.

Which leads to a whole lot more people interested in video games, and that, in turn, will ensure that there are almost always new and exciting games being released practically every day (which is kind of a problem in itself). But it also leads to two main issues:

  • If you spend much time at a website that talks primarily about video games, you’ll end up talking to more people who like video games, but who aren’t nerdy about video games. That’s actually mostly okay, since you get exposed to other points of view, including those you don’t like. But it also means that:
  • There are many people who aren’t nerds pursuing a previously-nerdy hobby.

Which is also fine (heck, you can never have too many ham radio operators, right?). But when the editor-in-chief of a certain high-profile video game website has a video game collection that fits on one shelf (now three shelves), when I have collections for single systems that won’t even fit on one entire bookshelf (I haven’t traded in a game since 2002). I have to wonder if he’s really a nerd. I’m sure he enjoys video games, but I wonder, does he like them as much as I do? It’s like someone who writes about music, but has a collection made up solely of a couple-dozen best-of collections. And, if that’s the chief, it’s no wonder that the site (and many, many other sites on the Internet) no longer speaks to me.

Now, I don’t want to imply that I hate what these guys are doing. I think that it’s great that we live in a time where you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed that you like video games. It’s great that you can walk into a gas station and find video games for sale, and nobody thinks that’s weird (okay, maybe I think that’s a little weird).

But those kinds of sites do speak to a huge number of people. People who aren’t really nerds. People who have decided that knowing a lot or being passionate about something makes one a nerd (it doesn’t), that being labeled a nerd is awesome (it’s not, usually).

And it’s mostly those people that I haven’t been able to reach in the last 11 years.

People who visit websites that tell you how awesome they are because they’re not like the other guys (when they’re pretty much identical to the other guys, down to posting essentially the same stories as everyone else, with a few comments added). People who want some snark mixed in with their reporting (or, perhaps, more accurately, a little reporting mixed in with their snark)

So we have a combination of people who like video games, but aren’t nerds, telling other people who like video games, but who also aren’t nerds, that their websites are awesome because they can update 20-50 times a day. And that they, themselves, are also awesome. They must be, because they can update their sites 20-50 times a day. Which creates a situation that feeds on itself, and a niche that is so overcrowded with people reporting on every facet of a part of culture that I love, and telling me how awesome everything is, and how great they are for being gutsy enough to tell me all about it. That’s what video games and video game news is now: a barely edited, pandering stream of consciousness spewed out with such force and intensity, that it’s hard to find much that I can relate to or are interested in.

Which is why this humble site never quite took off like I wanted. It’s a one-man shop of a guy who actually is a bit of a video game nerd, talking about whatever I think is interesting, not necessarily what is popular, or even timely.

And that’s alright. Even though I’ve been close to throwing in the towel on more than one occasion, I’m actually happy with what I’ve built here and elsewhere. This site is not going away any time soon. It will continue to be available for as long as I’m able to keep it going. Which, if I have anything to say about it, will be for a long time yet.

The Doritos Game

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Got an idea about a simple game? One that would be perfect for Xbox Live!? One that involves Doritos? (Yes, Doritos) The you may be the person that they’re looking for to get your game developed by a real developer and distributed for everyone to see your greatness.

Though I didn’t see it in the article, please make the game better than Cool Spot or Yo! Noid.

Link! (obnoxious site warning!) (via Eurogamer)