“When did we stop distrusting the ad men? It has apparently been deeply ingrained in me from the earliest age possible: ‘Be sceptical of the street salesmen’, my subconscious tells me, ‘the estate agents, the people who want your money’. But it seems there are still plenty of people who will happily throw their hard-earned cash away at the promise of magic beans.”
I wrote that opening paragraph way back in June during E3 2015, but never did I expect that five months down the line – as the big Christmas releases fight for a place in little Timmy’s stocking – I would be in an even greater state of rage and despair regarding the attitude of the buying public than I was back then.
So this is my attempt to encourage a little more critical, rational and independent thinking within the consumer hivemind, in the same vein as King Cnut trying to hold back the bloody tides.
For something that’s meant to be a hobby, and something that I spend hours of my life indulging in and writing about, gaming seems to depress me an awful lot. Being an amateur games journalist does often make me feel like I have an obligation to keep myself abreast of current gaming culture and industry, but honestly I couldn’t face going to any local conventions or expos even if you paid me. No, if I wanted to go to a place with a bunch of laughably suggestible people to be subjected to endless propaganda that makes me want to kill myself, I’d just rejoin that cult I was in once. But like an abused spouse, I could never bring myself to give up on gaming, instead trying to convince myself it might change its ways. But obviously it never does, and neither do we.
The case of Fallout 4 is the most depressing I’ve seen in recent years (aha, click-bait headline successful!). I don’t think anyone will be surprised by Bethesda’s recently released sales figures, I’ve been checking regularly and I don’t think Fallout 4 ever left the Steam “Top Sellers” page since its announcement at E3 in June – that’s five whole months before its release. Am I the only one who sees just how mental that is? Every penny spent on pre-orders was used only to buy a promise. A promise made by advertisers, publishers and developers who want nothing more than to coerce you out of your money. Everyone who pre-ordered Fallout 4 is wilfully sending the message to publishers that to get your cash, they don’t need a good game, they just need a good marketing strategy.
Watch_Dogs was another game that had a massive, relentless hype campaign, and claimed to be “the most pre-ordered new IP ever” (or some other self-bestowed bullshit accolade); but that game was released to a “meh” so loud it caused landslides in Afghanistan. A few days after release, it quickly acquired a new title: “the most over-hyped pile of crap since time began”.
But nobody seems to have learned a single thing, and we’re just letting these publishers get away with playing us like rusty trombones. The current AAA game model of “higher prices for breathtaking visuals but reduced content” has become so unsustainable that the only way they can continue to make a profit is to convince everyone that the new generation is universally bigger and better than all gaming that came before it, when this is evidently not the case. Only a day after Fallout 4‘s release and its Steam rating had already fallen to “Mostly Positive” reviews, despite all the excitement. Who’d have thought that if you anticipate the gaming equivalent of the second coming of Christ, it might not fully live up to your expectations?
In all honesty though, it’s not even about whether the game’s good or not; it’s about our what our buying habits tell those people who value profit over putting out a decent product. Just to be clear, I haven’t bought Fallout 4, and I haven’t even played it. I really liked Fallout 3 and New Vegas so I was really hoping the following instalment would be good; it’s still on my radar, but judging by the responses and opinions of people who do not directly benefit from me buying the game, it seems like the sort of thing that I can wait and get for half price next year. That’s how people with brains do things. We do not just immediately and over-optimistically buy into the shtick of ad-men and con-artists.
Anyway, I’d better stop writing now because I’m expecting a phone call from the prince of Nigeria regarding my lottery winnings.