Modern Media Mixed Messages

I am currently getting back into StarCraft 2 and while I install the game I kinda keep thinking about modern media in general – games, comics, movies, music – and why times today are sucking more than ever and yet are better than ever at the same time.

Consoles are dead. In fact, dedicate gaming devices are dead if you want to believe some people. A ludacris statement for sure, but I can see where they are coming from. You see, just a few years ago consoles and dedicated handhelds were the only way to get great, on the fly gaming experiences in high quality. Smart devices generally lacked the power to output great visuals and pc gaming was expensive, unreliable and complicated. But those days are behind us.

Back in the day, if you wanted to play a game on your PC you had to buy the overpriced bugged version from a retail store, install it, put in some CD keys or whatever, search the slow internet for an update patch, install it, install comunity patches, get a new graphics card, a different controler if you wanted to play with one, make sure you had enough disk space and then sit in front of your tiny desk like a dog in his doghouse. Meanwhile, if you had a console all you needed was a TV, and everybody had one of these. You bought the game, a much better experience than the PC version mind you, put it in and played. That’s it. It was ultra simple and it looked and sounded way better than what most PCs could do. Sure, a few high end systems could replicate it but still, it was expensive and complicated.

Not anymore. In the last few years PC gaming and smart device gaming has grown so fast that owning a console nowadays is a joke. If you want a game for PC or smart device nowadays, just click the app icon and start playing. The game will install itself, install all updates, you can buy via phone, paypal or whatever method you chose, your account is permanently tied to the game, which means you can download and play it on any system you might replace your current one with, it is fast, flexible and usually cheaper thana console game. Sure, there are still some very bad PC ports but if you don’t buy the game at launch those are mostly fixed within a few months or, if you need it at launch, most games have community patches very soon. You can play with any control method you want and modern displays or graphcis card can be linked to your TV; surround system or beamer from the comfort of your modern gaming chair or couch.

if you look at that, it is quite obvious why many people think console gaming is dead. But as stated earlier, that is a dumb argument. True, just buying a console for a few exclusives may not be everybodies favorite idea but there is more to it – it’s just that only one console creator realized that.

Thing is, Microsoft screwed up the X-Box One big time. They backtracked on every single thing they promised for the future. As it is now, it is just a weaker gaming PC for your TV, but for a higher entry fee than a mid-range gaming PC. The PS4 may sell good so far but in the end it is nothing more than an X-Box with a bit better specs, still overpriced compared to what a PC can do. The only difference for the systems at the moment are those two or three exclusives they have. And then there is the Wii U of course, the new Nintendo console nobody even knows exists. But the thing is, Nintendo is the only company that got it, and that is a sad thing. You see, I like Nintendo. But they have screwed up the last four years in almost every category. However tehy changed their tune and now are, to me, the only contender to my PC.

The Wii U is a great system for a great price. For 300 bucks you get the console and AT LEAST one game for it. Most consoles that are newer than a few months already have the latest firmware pre-installed and thank baby Jesus for that, as the original install is shit. But nowadays you get the system ready to play – just hook it up to your TV and start playing, like in the good old days. For the price you pay you get visuals that are outdated, though. That is of course until you realize that the games still look better than on a low end PC, which is all you would get for 300 bucks. Furthermore, you only play Nintendo exclusives on the system anyway, and those look brilliant and not outdated at all. And here lies the catch of the Wii U – the games. You see, as stated above it would be dumb to spend 400 bcuks for two or three exclusive games. But it is not that dumb to spend 300 bucks for at least 15-20 excluives with more to come – and great games at that I might add! It is pretty much the same strategy that already worked with the 3DS, a system that was made to die in its early days and now prints money for Nintendo. Because only on that system will you get certain incredible exclusives. And that is a good thing, contrary to pupular belief. And I’ll explain why.

Modern media is usually an all in one thing. You can enjoy games, movies, music, comics and TV on one system. And as nice as tht is, it also sucks hard. You are forced to buy into the latest hype, spend tons of money for things you effectively not own (as you may use it but not re-sell it for example) and if your system breaks or your connection sucks, you are screwed. In the end it is better to have a few dedicated systems instad of one multi tool. Of course it is best to have both, but not everybody can afford this. I know I can’t. Furthermore, physical medai is always better than digital media, simply because I own it myself, I can hold it in my own hands and put it on a shelf to display it. I can read a book without any power whatsoever by sitting in the sun. Ever tried reading on a kindle without power in the sun? Same goes for comics and movies and of course games. Dedicated gaming devices have a right to exist. The profit margin will become smaller, yes but that does not mean they will go away.  Books did not go away, print became a smaller medium but it will never go away. Becaus epeople like to own things, they like to toch things and use things to decorate their appartments with. Of course you can just download a movie. Or you buy a Bluray. I presonally prefer the Bluray in my shelf.  It does not take away and HDD space anywhere and I can bring it to a friend to watch it while the internet is down. I can even lend or sell him the film if I want to. No such freedom with a digital file.

That does not mean that digital files are a bad thing. Sometimes they are fantastic, even. Collectors are having a blast with digital media. If you buy a phsical comic book you usually get the digital version for free. That means you can store your mint comic forever while still reading it. Great for collector and I hope gaming goes that route as well, especially Nintendo. Buy Zelda in retail and get the digital version for free. You can store the mint game and still play it – however there is a drawback. I could re-sell my game or return it to the store if I get the digital version for free. So it is unlikely that will ever happen. Unless of course somebody thinks of a new way to do this, like for example DRM, something Microsoft wanted to do with the X-Box One and a lot of people thought to be a dumb idea. It was a dumb idea but only because Microsoft failed at understanding the issue.

Take comic books. Nobody stops you from going into a comic store, buying the book, activate it digitally on your system, selling the comic to the guy next to you – bam you got a free comic and the guy next to you was screwed, bthat is if he even cares about the digital purchase. That is why PC games include game keys – you can resell your game all you want, it is useless since that particular key is already used. And here is where we can learn something.

Give gamers the option to buy a DRM free copy of a game or to buy a DRM enabled copy of the game. If they take the DRM copy, they’ll get the digital version for free, enabling them to store their mint game for their collection while still playing it. Combine that with a crossbuy system for your multiple systems and you have a winner here. THe keyword here is choice – don’t force your customer to use DRM – make DRM an incentive for them.

Personally, I would gladly buy the DRM copies of games if it means I get the digital version for free. I don’t resell my games anyway, I collect them after all so for me, this would be a great thing. And for everybody else they can still buy the DRM free copy and have a nice day. However I am sure some companies *cough*EA*cough*Ubisoft*cough* would find a way to screw that up, probably with more expensive DRM versions and DRM exclusive DLC or shit like that.

This system, by the way, already works with movies and comics. Usually when you buy a Bluray or a comic you get the digital version for free, and the digital version has DRM but you can still re-sell the physical product. Most people don’t re-sell by the way but that just goes to show you how wrong gaming has become. So all in all, times for media consumers have gotten much worse and at the same time much better – depending on which side of the argument you are on 🙂

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