[This is a spoiler free opinion piece from an individual contributor. The views in this rant are not necessarily reflected by those of other Player Attack writers. Then again, maybe they are… Maybe they reflect your own views? Maybe my take on this issue completely contradicts yours and you want to discuss it? Whatever the case, get involved in the conversation here in our comments section and lets talk a bit about these issues]
There has never been a better time to be an indie developer. Between Kickstarter, Steam Early Access and other crowdfunding sources, developers can effectively bring a game to release with minimal risk. The same cannot be said for AAA studios however. Over the past two years, we’ve seen several massive game studios disbanded, while several more have been seriously downsized. It speaks volumes about the current state of the industry that its potentially easier to be a small self publisher than a gargantuan corporation.
You see, indie devs will have to answer to their consumers in the event of any slip-ups. Other than that, they can pretty much run their company as they see fit. AAA developers have no such luxury, often reporting to a board of shareholders who may not have a vested interest in the quality of the games themselves but an obsession with the financial standing of their company. In this age where indies are seen as heroes, the AAA developers are often seen as bloated fat-cats whose only desire is to buy a new Lamborghini.
It’s a bit sad really. From my time working in the industry, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet several gaming icons at events like GDC and Tokyo Game Show. I came to learn that many of these “Creatives” don’t really have that much sway in the decisions made by their parent companies. They may end up with absolute creative control of a specific project but that does not mean they get to decide the release, pricing and even marketing strategy of their baby.
I have seen a lot of aggression aimed at Konami‘s Hideo Kojima around the web-ter-nets since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Only a small portion of critics throw the responsibility of Ground Zeroes‘ failings at Kojima Productions‘ parent company, instead choosing the game’s director as the prime target for their (potentially justified) rage. It’s a lot easier for the average consumer to vent at the public face of a company, as opposed to the real decision-makers behind the scenes.
The general consensus is that Hideo Kojima has deceived people and released a mere demo, which costs half the price of a normal retail release. There is truth in this statement but one part sticks out to me. Deceived. I can’t remember Kojima ever ever suggesting that Ground Zeroes was anything more than a brief introduction to the gameplay mechanisms to be found later in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Ok, Ok – putting a V in the title was a bit of a bad move, but realistically this is actually part of the overarching narrative of that title.
Prior to Ground Zeroes‘ release, Kojima made no efforts to hide the brevity of the game. In interviews he described the release as “a tutorial” or “a small sandbox” where players could get more used to the more open-world nature of The Phantom Pain‘s gameplay. For me, I’m glad I got to arse about in Ground Zeroes before entering the seemingly immense environments on offer in the next Metal Gear title. I genuinely feel that Ground Zeroes fits in an important place in the MGS universe, not only as a means to further the narrative but as a device to prepare players for the changes ahead.
Does that mean I believe that the game should have been released as a standalone disc? Or that this “tutorial” should cost half the price of a new release? No. Of course not… but I’m not naive enough to believe that Kojima had much say in either of those decisions. Konami is a company. It has shareholders. When shareholders make an investment in a project, however big or small it might be, they expect to see a return. I would say that Konami has a pretty huge stake in The Phantom Pain, considering it’s touted to have one of the largest videogame budgets of all time (well, barring Shenmue, but we’ll never really know how much that cost…).
It strikes me that Konami made the final decision to release Ground Zeroes. It was obviously a decision made to soften the blow from the exorbitant cost of The Phantom Pain‘s development cycle. In an age where videogame fans will often donate a few hundred dollars to see an indie game brought to release, or the resurgence of a popular franchise, it strikes me as more than fair for Konami to try and recoup some of its investment from the hardcore fans pre-release. Do fans have a right to be irate? Yes. Of course they do… but do they have the right to lambast Hideo Kojima for all of Ground Zeroes‘ failings? I don’t necessarily think so.
Ground Zeroes plays great. Ground Zeroes looks fantastic. Ground Zeroes is a (relatively) important chapter in the overarching saga. These are the duties Kojima had to fulfill as the games creator and he delivered in those areas. Another controversy surrounding the game is the “Dark” and “Gritty” content. I’ve seen some really ridiculous remarks circulating the web in relation to this issue. The comment that most set my blood to boil was “Hideo Kojima is not a good enough writer to tackle such sensitive subjects”. Oh right? So unless someone is the absolute BEST in their field, they shouldn’t be allowed try. “Oh, hey Sex Pistols. Well, because you’re not the BEST musicians, you aren’t allowed try to write an orchestral piece…” Imagine a world like that. No thanks.
Kojima is a creative. He does not necessarily get to make decisions surrounding the release and pricing of his games, but he benefits when the fans support Metal Gear. Does this mean Konami should not be held accountable for releasing a demo in the guise of a game? Of course not, but in this age of internet warfare, targets need to well defined to stop any potential civilian casualties. Should Kojima reign in his writing to appease those online detractors? Or should he, like all creatives, be allowed to tackle any topic free of censorship; free to fail, and try again and potentially fail again?
Ground Zeroes is the AAA equivalent to a Kickstarter pledge or Steam Early Access subscription. You are not necessarily paying for that specific product – although hardcore fans of the series will certainly get their money’s worth. No, you are paying to ensure that the end result will be everything you ever hoped it would be and part of you will know that you contributed in some way.
This trend could catch on with the likes of Ubisoft or EA but the responsibility as always is in the hands of the players.
Support the games you love… if you want to. If not, speak with your wallet.