This Week in Games
We Never Asked for This

by Heidi Kemps,

Happy new year, everyone! I apologize for my sudden week-off – I got my COVID booster shot the day I was due to turn the column in, and I was just not feeling up to it. So, this week, we'll be catching up on all of the news that's been going on these past couple of weeks, which is… not all that much, really. It's been a bit of a slow start to 2022 in terms of gaming news, but that's okay, because it gives us time to play through all of the gifts we got over the holidays and enjoy Awesome Games Done Quick.

Unfortunately, the first major gaming news of the year isn't exactly encouraging for things to come. I hope you're prepared for a year of companies pushing digital crap you don't want... in the METAVERSE!

SQUARE-ENIX TEASES NFTS, RESULTS IN COPIOUS SOCIAL MEDIA DUNKINGS-ON

My 2022 prediction for the world of gaming is that we are going to hear a lot of corporate-speak about the “metaverse,” “blockchain,” and “NFTs.” None of the higher-ups in suits at game publishers and hardware manufacturers actually understand these concepts – or that the game-playing consumers are skeptical about these things – but they know that they are media buzzwords that garner excitement among investors and financial influencers. (The finance people are the guys trying to hype up these stupid concepts by claiming things like “imagine owning a special gun in one game… and then taking that same gun to another game!” without understanding how things like game development or even basic gameplay work.) And then the corporate overlords are going to ask the developers to somehow implement “metaverse,” “blockchain,” and “NFT” into their games, to predictable and disastrous results.

The first to jump onto the NFT bandwagon was Ubisoft, who launched their “Ubisoft Quartz” program where you could buy special, exclusive cosmetics for Ghost Recon Breakpoint. How has that been going?

Oh. Well, I guess all of that negativity from players surrounding all this blockchain-metaverse stuff isn't just people venting online. It seems like people really don't want this in games!

Unfortunately, it will probably take time (and numerous failures, and lots of criticism) before people in the highest levels of companies get the message. People like Yosuke Matsuda, CEO of Square-Enix, who wrote an unbelievably headassed New Year's letter that seems to show just how out of touch he is with his customers.

The reaction to this letter was swift and profoundly negative – it felt like everyone was dunking on its content for three straight days on social media and various gaming websites. I'm not sure how much I can add to what's already been said by many, many people, but let's at least look at one of the most facepalm-worthy portions of the note.

I realize that some people who “play to have fun” and who currently form the majority of players have voiced their reservations toward these new trends, and understandably so. However, I believe that there will be a certain number of people whose motivation is to “play to contribute,” by which I mean to help make the game more exciting. Traditional gaming has offered no explicit incentive to this latter group of people, who were motivated strictly by such inconsistent personal feelings as goodwill and volunteer spirit… I see this as one reason that there haven't been as many major game-changing content that were user generated as one would expect.

Okay, so… where do we even begin here? The idea that “playing for fun” and “playing to contribute” are somehow separate concepts? Lots of people who make things like skins, mods, characters, and so on are doing it to have fun and to contribute, because being a part of a creative gaming community is inherently fun and rewarding.

There's also the flawed idea that “not being rewarded for contributing” is somehow stopping people from wanting to make user-generated content, when so much of gaming history proves otherwise. Games like Minecraft have built their continued success around massive scenes devoted to people making and sharing creative content for free. Emulation technology keeping old games available is powered primarily by passionate, hobbyist programmers. Entire genres like the MOBA have sprung out of user-created mods to existing games. All of this is “major game-changing content.”

So, how will NFTs solve this completely made-up problem of rewarding people who apparently don't play games for fun but only want to contribute for some sort of reward? Well… Matsuda doesn't really say, instead talking about some bizarre concept he dreamed up called “decentralized gaming.” Don't worry, I'm sure he's already tasked some poor designer with figuring this out for him. Once it flops, I'm sure Matsuda will either walk this all back or pretend he never said it.

Alas, it seems major publisher NFT nonsense is only just getting started. Those of you hoping for something exciting for the 35th anniversary of the Castlevania series were no doubt disappointed to see that Konami chose to sell extremely low-effort NFTs to commemorate the series’ legacy. But if you ever wanted to launder your illicit money through “Bloody Tears,” are you ever in luck!

(I do find it amusing that none of the art being sold is Ayami Kojima's work, however. I like to imagine Konami asked her about selling NFTs and she told them to piss off.)

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the metaverse/blockchain/NFT news we'll be hearing all throughout 2022. Buckle up, folks, because it's going to get worse.

E3 IS GOING ONLINE AGAIN, TO THE SURPRISE OF EXACTLY NO ONE

The early summer announcement season might be several months away still, but right now we've got a surge of COVID cases thanks to the Omicron variant. Will it subside soon? Nobody knows for sure, but right now it's not a great time to be holding any sort of large-scale event. At least, that's the excuse the Entertainment Software Association (the game industry lobby organization that runs E3, among other things) is making for deciding not to hold another in-person E3 this June. Instead, E3 2022 will once again be online-only. If it happens at all.

Yes, the ESA is playing it safe. They're not waiting to see if COVID cases calm down by summer and taking the pre-emptive cautionary step of making E3 an offline event for the third year in a row. At least, that's the spin they're putting on it. In reality, though, it's been increasingly obvious that offline E3 was never going to return, and rumors swirling around add veracity to that conclusion.

The writing's been on the wall for a while for the in-person event. Big companies like Electronic Arts and Sony (along with numerous smaller exhibitors) have been pulling out of E3 altogether in recent years in favor of holding their own announcement and showcase events. And without these big spenders paying for ginormous booths, an in-person E3 has started to become a financial burden for the ESA.

For publishers, dropping E3 has become an appealing option. Why spend a huge chunk of cash competing for attention at a big trade show when you could hold your own event (on- or offline) another day and dominate the discourse for a while? I know some folks really love getting a huge smorgasbord of game and hardware announcements all at once, but from a marketing perspective, not having the full rapt attention of your audience is less than ideal.

So yes, I think it's safe to say farewell to the bombastic, megaton E3s of years past and embrace the future of streaming announcements and digital events going forward. Personally, I'm glad that the entire industry will no longer travel to LA, pay exorbitant hotel fees, and be tired/hungover/miserable for 3-5 days straight while having our ears and eyeballs assaulted with over-the-top marketing stunts each year. (And let's not forget the numerous E3 parties with free booze where all kinds of awful things have happened!)

Goodbye, in-person E3. Some folks will miss you. I sure won't!

ASSORTED NEWSBITS

  • CAPCOM Cup, the February Street Fighter V tournament event that caps off a year of the CAPCOM Pro Tour esports series, has been officially cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. In-person fighting game events had begun to return, but with Omicron causing lots of problems the championship, as well as the conclusion to the Street Fighter League team event, will once again be played online. Not an ideal situation, given Street Fighter V's wonky netcode, but what else can you do?
  • Meanwhile, as the release date for King of Fighters XV inches ever closer, the final few base characters are being revealed. Here's Kula, who has joined forces with Krohnen and Angel for mysterious reasons. Also: she's got snowman okizeme.
  • Atsushi Inaba, longtime producer at Platinumgames, is officially taking over as the company's president. Not much to say here except that I think he's a swell guy for the job and 2022 should be a very interesting year for the company.
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land is launching much sooner than we all expected on March 25th. Rather surprising, given how little we've seen of it so far. I'm very much looking forward to playing it, but I have a gut feeling that this is going to be the most divisive Kirby game among hardcore and casual puffball fans alike.

Well! That should wrap things up for our first column of 2022. How has your new year been going so far? What do you think was the cringiest part of Matsuda's new year letter? Have you made peace with the likely death of live event E3? Talk about these questions and more in our much-cooler-than-the-metaverse forums below. Stay warm, stay safe, and keep on gaming, everyone!


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