Is 38 Studios Living the Underinvestment Problem?

Quite the saga going on in Rhode Island these last few days as video game developer 38 Studios has defaulted on an interest payment for a $75 million loan it received from the state to move from Massachusetts two years ago. One may wonder how in the world the company blew through that sum of money in such a short time, but employing 379 employees at an average salary of $70,000 certainly gets you over halfway there pretty quickly.

A lot of questions have been raised during this mess, especially wondering what RI was thinking handing $75m in taxpayer money over to a retired baseball player who had never made a video game in his life and the decision by the studio to immediately launch into development of a massively-multiplayer (MMO) game, a genre which has seen a series of massive failures over the last few years. Most interesting from a finance perspective, however, is looking at if the government failed to establish sufficient accountability on 38 Studios to prevent them from failing to deliver on their promises.

When the loan was approved it gave 38 Studios a series of checkpoints it needed to hit to receive the funds, including $9.4m in December 2010 after it confirmed its move to Rhode Island and $17.4m in April 2011 after it moved its first batch of employees into the state. The problem with this situation was the company received all of its funding before it ever released a single product, when it was nothing but a bunch of intangible growth opportunities! It is here that the underinvestment problem shows up, since the employees (aka equity holders) had little to no financial stake in the company thanks to the Rhode Island taxpayers having footed the bill for their setup and development. Given their lack of skin in the game, 38 had the ability to do what they please, whether wasting money on dumb props or chasing after genres even one of the most well-regarded developers with the Star Wars license has failed to achieve notable success with.

There was a massive uproar last year after solar panel company Solyndra failed despite receiving $500m in government support, but at least that company had actually shipped product and established a customer base. In 38 Studios’ case they didn’t even have that, and thanks to Rhode Island the company had no reason to commit to delivering a project or financial plan that would ensure they had sufficient cash flow to pay back their required interest payments. The company leadership bet the firm on an MMO dream (or just blew it on nothing, I suppose we don’t actually know yet) and it is further evidence of why loans made to organizations need to have suitable bonding activities in place before being approved, and why it is dangerous to give politicians the ability to lend out money under conditions any rational banker never would.

Unsurprisingly, Rhode Island amended their economic development loan program to be a maximum of $10 million in April 2011. Unfortunately for the state it was too late to save its taxpayers from this mess.

3 Comments

Hits & Misses of the Week: E3 2010 Edition

 



 
 
 
 
 

Nintendo 3DS


Not even considering the fact that the 3D aspect of the handheld is actually viable, the E3 demonstration was a success for Nintendo simply because it is a more powerful version of the DS and will reignite the momentum that had been waning since the introduction of smartphones into the gaming market. With a massive list of high profile titles already in development from both first and third parties, the 3DS is by far the new piece of hardware most likely to succeed.

Harmonix


Rock Band 3's pro mode is the biggest step so far towards making the music genre a virtual representation of the real thing, and as a result I can't help but applaud Harmonix's efforts. While some may claim the faux nature of music games is exactly the reason for their popularity, Rock Band 3 is going to give players the option to play the game however they choose and represents a bold step towards revitalizing a genre which many people had spent the last year writing off as dead. Harmonix simultaneously unleashed Dance Central, a game which may single-handedly sell the Kinect when it launches later this year and unleash a massive community of closet dancing enthusiasts shimmying the night away in their living rooms.

Games!


Regardless of which console you own or which franchises you support, there was absolutely something for everyone at this year's E3. Nintendo took the headlines by unleashing a veritable who's who of upcoming installments for all of their biggest franchises sans StarFox, but Microsoft and Sony were no slouch either. 2010 and 2011 promise to be great years for gamers.



 
 
 
 
 

Microsoft Kinect


The mega-hyped Dance Central notwithstanding, the jury is still out on whether or not Kinect will be a success for Microsoft. It is clear that the device will be great for dance and fitness titles, but it remains to be seen if the controller-free concept can be fun in other genres as well. They also need to figure out that whole sit/stand issue before I'm over my skepticism of the Kinect becoming more than just a glorified version of the EyeToy.

Guitar Hero


Where Rock Band was a big winner at E3, it's competitor came up depressingly short. There's nothing wrong with Warriors of Rock, but the whole package simply feels way too familiar when compared with what Harmonix is planning for their next game. I'm sure the game will be technically sound in every way, but unless you exclusively favor hard rock over all other genres (and all your friends do as well), I don't see any reason to pick this up over Rock Band 3.

3D Gaming


While I am impressed Sony and Nintendo are working hard to bring 3D gaming to players everywhere, I still have yet to discover the reason why we all need to shell out the big bucks for a 3D television and a sweet pair of glasses to make this concept come to life.

Big, Brown, & Bloody



 
Remember when we had a dozen Sonic or GTA clones? Yeah, it's like that. We're firmly in the age of military FPS so enjoy it while it lasts, folks.

Ubisoft


For the second consecutive year, Ubisoft laid an egg at their E3 press conference. While this year's version didn't feature James Cameron lecturing us for forty five minutes, it did have equally incomprehensible highlights such as laser tag, Innergy, and a Michael Jackson dance routine only barely tied to an actual game announcement.  Oh, and WHERE'S BEYOND GOOD & EVIL 2?
2 Comments

Predictions for Gaming Post-E3 2010

 

Welcome, to the world of tomorrow! With E3 right around the corner, everyone's brains are spinning with visions of the future. Where can one even begin to speculate what and how we'll be playing our favorite games in the years to come? Here are the concepts that I think will have a huge part to play in the upcoming years.

The Expansion and Domination of Digital Distribution


The shift has already begun on the PC, and will make the move to consoles over the next few years as the console makers continue to expand their marketplace networks. Steam has been nothing short of a revolution for game distribution in that it benefits both the developer and consumer of the products of the video game industry. I would not be surprised if at least one of the next generation's consoles consists entirely of digital software. While consumer response to the vision of the PSP Go has been a disaster, this problem is due more to an extremely high cost of entry relative to the traditional PSP which Sony is simultaneously supporting.

Gamers will go where the games they want to play are, no matter how these games are distributed, so the decision to switch to digital distribution lies entirely in the hands of the industry. Removing the need to physically develop and distribute product to consumers is a tantalizing offer for the industry and is going to happen sooner than later. This will also lead to the downfall of the physical retail space since people won't be leaving their homes to buy games. Dedicated game retailers like Gamestop will be forced to change their business model or close shop in much the same way Blockbuster was forced to this decade due to overwhelming competition from Netflix. Most gamers, myself included, may prefer to have the physical game sitting on their shelf, but I will never boycott a game I want to play if I'm not given the option. The questions that are up in the air regarding digital distribution's dominance are how quickly this massive shift happens and if retail outlets will figure out what to do to compensate before inevitability runs them out of town.

Cloud Computing and the Death of the Console


Of course, it is entirely possible that in the coming years developers won't actually be distributing product at all, but instead only the rights to their product via online streams. OnLive is certainly not the first attempt to do this in the industry, but it has the unique characteristic of competing against the console manufacturers rather than working with them as an add-on like was done for previous attempts such as GameLine and Sega Channel. On-demand video games, where players rent the rights to play for a few hours or days at a time may or may not represent greater profit opportunities, but it would mean the death of consoles since all the hardware will be stored in giant computer banks outside the player's homes. A low cost of entry for the consumer and flexible purchasing options might be hard to resist, but who in the corporate space is actually going to go for it? OnLive has a lot of hurdles to overcome both with the technology and creating a more attractive pricing model, but it might be the start the industry needs to get moving towards hardware consolidation. With the growth in popularity of smartphones as gaming platforms, I foresee the big breakthrough coming when a company provides the consumer with a unified gaming experience, allowing them access to their games at home and on the go through a single service.

Expansion of Motion Controls and Next Steps for Interaction

We're still a ways off from fully-realized virtual reality, but the next step will be using technology to get us as close to the experience as possible, done through simulation and a little trickery. There are a lot of companies that have their R&D teams hard at work trying to figure out what consumers will fall head over heels for in the future, with the 3DS, Move, and Natal all ready to make their presence known over the next few days. How far into reality do we actually want to take our gaming experiences? The Wii was a revolutionary first step, but do gamers really want an entire platform based around the fact that the controller for every single game they own is their body? The classic controller/mouse and keyboard will never completely go away, and developers will need to tread a fine line to prevent over saturating the market with motion-based games, lest they repeat the boom and bust cycle currently going on in the music genre.
 
3D gaming is a whole other issue. Currently a resurrected fad of the film industry, 3D gaming is in the nascent stages and the future importance of it is heavily dependent on other factors. Until a considerable portion of the gaming public purchases 3D televisions, the concept will never catch on in homes enough to be relevant, but should the 3DS successfully integrate gaming and 3D in an engaging way, and the concept not fizzle and die in our movie theaters, the public may desire an expansion of the concept in other ways provided game developers do not simply utilize it as a gimmick or attention grabber.

Our Second Lives Become More Important Than Our First


This one scares me the most but I feel is just as realistic as the other items above. World of Warcraft took the MMO genre out of a niche and into the mainstream, and while it's success has stagnated the genre since then, the next ten years will probably be a different story. I know very few gamers with access to a decent PC who have not logged at least a couple months in Azeroth, and I myself spent an upwards of four years raiding Blizzard's dungeons with 39 or 24 of my closest online buddies on a nightly basis, so I know very well the grasp such a title can have on a person's life.

MMO games as they are designed are generally not a casual experience, as players invest hundreds of hours on their avatar and become genuinely attached to their in-game successes and failures. Initially I loved playing WoW because it forced my gaming time to incorporate other people into my activities, but I came to the realization that while I was spending time with other people, the total time I spent on gaming far exceeded anything I had done in the prior fifteen or so years I had been playing games. Yes, I played with people a lot, was a guild and raid leader, but I also spent a lot of time leveling, farming, and standing around afk in Ironforge or Orgrimmar by myself.

I worry that if MMO games become more popular, real life as we know it will become less important. People won't go out for their entertainment when it is much cheaper and enjoyable to sit at home spending time in their virtual worlds every night, not to mention much easier to make new friends. The market for virtual goods and properties grows every year, heck someone bought a piece of digital property for $330,000, so if demand is growing I can only imagine more people are getting interested in inhabiting these virtual spaces. Gaming is a healthy and enjoyable hobby, but I wouldn't wish it on the world for all of us to be MMO addicts at the same time.

Summary

So the net result of my predictions for E3 and the years to follow? Video games will continue to expand their influence and player base over the coming years. In the next five to ten years we'll be firmly at a point where there is something for everyone and the options for accessing these games will come in many different shapes and sizes. The first big hurdle to climb is the expansion of persistent broadband connections, and once that is accomplished the world of gaming can quickly be provided to anyone who wants it. I don't think traditional gaming as we know it will die out any less than it already has, as the growth of one side of the market does not necessarily contribute to the decline of the other.

What I am most unsure about is whether or not one or two companies will emerge as the dominant players. I strongly believe that we are heading towards a future of universally uniform hardware, either through online streaming or a physical console, but what remains to be seen is how that will affect the development and distribution of games. Should one corporation pull off a Google-sized coup of the console market through OnLive or similar product that creates a mainstream sensation, we could be looking at a stymieing of development and distribution of titles that is the stuff of our worst EA monopoly nightmares. On the other hand, should multiple companies emerge as players and compromise on a universal platform we could have a very open marketplace where indie developers are able to freely step up and actively distribute their product to a waiting public. I suppose on that case we'll just have to wait and hope for the best, and remember that we the consumers will vote with our wallets which vision of the future we truly want.

5 Comments

Saint's Row 2 and the Fascination With Playing in the Sandbox

Picking up Saint's Row 2 during one of Steam's mega sales a few months ago, I finally got around to playing it. Critically acclaimed on the consoles, yet maligned on PC as the victim of yet another bad port job, the game actually is playable thanks to the patches that were released quickly after the game's release and it doesn't deserve the overwhelming negative stigma the pc version has. Granted I know where people are coming from because just for kicks I played version 1.0 prior to patching, and did indeed find the game to be nearly completely unplayable.

I'm quite late to the party on playing this title so anything I say is retreading the million other comments available on the title, but after spending a few days powering through the storyline I was left with an enjoyable experience. I love game designers who have a very clear idea of what they're aiming for in a title and hit it perfectly, which is something Saint's Row 2 does. It doesn't try to be serious, and as a result benefits because you never have to worry about reality setting in. The only point of the game is to have fun, and indeed fun can be had living out the ultimate gangster fantasy in the comfort of your living room.

Unfortunately once I finished the main storyline, I found it impossible to boot up Saint's Row 2 to do any of the additional side missions past those that I was required to do to get to the ending, and I had to ask myself why I had no desire to continue playing past the sub-60% completion rate I had so far achieved.

I came to the conclusion that I simply had no motivation to continue playing the game. The big baddie was toast; I had destroyed the rival gangs, and anything else I did simply felt like licking the plate after a delicious meal. Sure, it might have been somewhat enjoyable but it also disrupted my memory of the delicious meal I had just consumed.

This is my issue with sandbox games, and why I've never seemed to take a great liking to them despite their popularity since GTA3 burst onto the scene what now seems like ages ago. In these titles you have two options: do the main story quest, or get diverted into countless side quests which lead to rewards like more cash and items that can help you with the main quest, but in the end are rarely necessary. Saint's Row 2 required you to do some of these side quests due to the respect system, but it was lax enough that all I had to do was power through the two sets of easy Fight Club missions in an hour or so to build up enough respect to get me through nearly the entire campaign without any further diversions.

The remaining diversions like racing, poop spraying, and carjacking simply didn't interest me in the same way the story missions did. If I wanted to race, I'd much rather load up a game in which the sole focus is racing, and as a result get a much better experience. Why settle for squirrely physics and limited car options when I can get much better street racing from Burnout or Need for Speed? Why should I play Zombie Uprising when I can play one of the countless better action titles in this world? Why choose to compromise your gaming experience with a less impressive experience simply because the game designer threw it in there? Is the racing in Saint's Row 2 really more fun or at the very least comparable to that of Burnout: Paradise?

I understand the completionist argument, those who don't just beat their games but instead pound them mercilessly, who explore every dark corner, and who get every single achievement point, but in my long experience of playing games those people are in the minority. I've fallen victim to this times before but it was in a situation where I think the sandbox argument is valid: MMO's. In a MMO you're playing in a continuously evolving world, where what you do today can help you be better in the future. As a result, doing side quests and the same dungeons over and over has a purpose to them, even though they may be boring and monotonous.

The name of the game is freedom, and it looks to me like game designers have this crazy idea that everybody craves it above all other aspects of a game. On another gaming website that shall-not-be-named, I wrote a long time ago during the dark age of the silent protagonist, when Half-Life, FEAR, and it's countless knockoffs spawned an unending stream of boring player characters, either because game designers were too lazy to actually give these individuals a personality, or the far more defendable argument that they didn't want to restrict how two different players experienced a game. I was infinitely relieved to see Saint's Row 2 have full voice over for the protagonist, and even though it was a pretty stale protagonist there was at least some semblance of life in the person you made, which is a lot more than some games can say.

Maybe I'm just getting old and my imagination doesn't work as well as it used to, but when I play a game I want to be entertained, not forced to always fill in the missing pieces to complete my experience. Give me an exciting protagonist (or even better, an exciting cast), wonderful story, and ten hours of gameplay that can't be beat any day over forty hours of aimless wandering through another sandbox city.

2 Comments

Dragon Age: Origins Review Supplemental

 

Taken on its own, Dragon Age is an enjoyable RPG experience. It combines a solid storyline, memorable characters, and readily accessible game play mechanics. It is impossible, however, to not compare Dragon Age to the legacy of fantasy RPGs that have preceded it, notably the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series upon which Dragon Age draws so much inspiration. In many ways I look at Dragon Age as a natural progression from these previous titles. It makes some improvements, some concessions, and delivers an overall wonderful and accessible experience.

The rules behind the game are perhaps the most streamlined ever in a Bioware RPG. Skill points are replaced by a small group of skills each having four ranks, attributes are scaled up much higher, and ability trees are handled as they were in KOTOR. It's hard to imagine how long Bioware has gone without the D&D license thanks to Atari's ownership of it, but I wonder if they would even want to use it given how well they're developing their games without it. Yes, it lacks the depth that the full D&D suite offers, but the accessibility of the system makes up for it as players generally aren't hamstrung into specific paths based on their initial class selection. You don't need a given class to complete the game, but it certainly helps to have a rogue in the group for locks and traps, have a mage serve as the healer (which only requires them to spend one skill point to do), and make a fighter or arcane warrior act as the group tank.

The biggest discrepancy in Dragon Age comes from the stark differences in quality of the storyline and characters that accompany on your journey. If there's one glaring weakness in the game it is that the storyline offers nothing new or exciting to the genre, but rather a retread perpetrated countless times before by authors far less prestigious than Bioware. The sides of good and evil are established immediately and most of the major plot twists are taken care of soon thereafter. The core storyline acts as little more than an impetus for the quests to come, something I would more likely see in an action RPG or a MMO. The ultimate evil in the game, the Archdemon, is something only spoken about in whispers until the very end, offers nothing for the player to identify with other than sending hordes of minions at you, and as a result is grossly overshadowed by the other main antagonist of the game, Logaihn, who himself isn't very special. Everything elsewhere in the game is mostly self-contained within each dungeon hub, with bosses given little introduction before opening themselves up for your killing pleasure. I felt more like a medieval exterminator rather than a conquering hero, cleaning up everyone's mess so they'd like me enough to charge into battle against the great evil at the end. The course taken by many of these self-contained plotlines are good, such as the Anvil of the Void and the Werewolf curse, but as a whole the game is not on as high a level as KOTOR, nor does it have an antagonist as great as in BG2. The blight was never a factor anywhere except the beginning and end of the game, and for me that caused overall game to suffer.

I'm not qualified enough to question Bioware's design choices, but I thought a great addition would have been to make Duncan the reason behind your betrayal in the Origins storyline rather than just the end result. Coming to the realization that he would go to such lengths as orchestrate the murder of your family in order to force you into the service of the Grey Wardens would have made the situation far more intense.

The game succeeds, however, because it has one of the strongest supporting casts I have ever seen in a RPG. Each character has a developed back story, a unique personality, and contributes to the enjoyment of the game in some way. You can tell Bioware spent a great deal of time on the miscellaneous interactions between each character, whether directly with the player or between each other while traveling about the landscape. Dragon Age is a hilarious game thanks to the constant bickering and joking amongst the party. Whether it is Morrigan being mocked for her coldness, Alistair teased about his ignorance, or Shale's perpetual fear of pigeons, everyone has a reason to laugh and be laughed at, and it gives Dragon Age a much welcomed dose of comic relief that closely mimics the style of Peter Jackson's Gimli and Legolas. There have been a lot of RPGs which memorable characters, but rarely are they given this much attention and personality.

In the end, Dragon Age to me feels like a celebration of the fantasy RPG genre, inspired by great adventures of the past cleaned up to appeal to a wider audience. No, it doesn't have the depth of Baldur's Gate or the story of Planescape: Torment, but it sill takes enough of what made games like those great and combines it with some modern sensibilities to make a title that a much wider audience can appreciate. I don't see myself playing through this title again and again like I did with Baldur's or KOTOR, but I can still enjoy it along with millions of others.

The quick rundown:

Likes:

-Great western RPG. Everything you need and expect to have in such a game is here.

-Characters and their interactions are unmatched by any RPG in recent memory. Your party members can emotionally grow and change throughout the course of the story.

-Choices abound. Most situations have multiple solutions that don't just boil down to good, evil, or neutral results.

Dislikes:

-Overall storyline is unoriginal and screams "generic fantasy world."

-Most dungeons were repetitive and dragged on about 25-33% too long.

-The protagonist is a mute. After Mass Effect proved you don't have to play a mute I feel entirely spoiled.

-Advertising DLC within the game. For shame.

2 Comments

On Awards: Maybe Video Games Shouldn't Copy Everything Film Does

A consistently important discussion going on these days is about how the line between video games and movies continues to blur. Stunners like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Uncharted 2 combine big budget presentations with entertaining game play to push the limits of what we have come to expect from our games, creating an experience that rivals the greatest of the Hollywood blockbusters.

I wonder though, what is the possibility of games taking on another characteristic of the film industry? Today's movies almost always have a clear divide between critical darlings and box office blockbusters, in which the movies heralded as the best of the year are not the same movies which appear on the list of the highest grossing movies of the year. How does this compare to the current state of the video game industry? Let's look at some charts:

Ten Ten Rated Movies of 2009 (Metacritic)

94 - The Hurt Locker
91 - 35 Shots of Rum
89 - Still Walking
89 - Goodbye Solo
88 - Tulpan
88 - Up
87 - Gomorrah
86 - The Beaches of Agnes
86 - Ponyo
85 - An Education

Top Ten Grossing Movies of 2009 (IMDB)

1 - Avatar
2 - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
3 - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
4 - Up
5 - The Twilight Saga: New Moon
6 - The Hangover
7 - Star Trek
8 - The Blind Side
9 - Monsters vs. Aliens
10 - Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Between these two lists we have one movie lucky enough to appear on both, that being Pixar's Up. The closest any of the other top ten grossing movies came to appearing on the critic list was Avatar at 16. As you can probably assume, the rest of the Metacritic list isn't anywhere near the top of the sales charts.

Now let's take a comparative look at the video game industry in 2009. The number in parenthesis is the game's score if it appeared on the other list.

Top Ten Rated Video Games of 2009 (Metacritic)

96 - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (13)
94 - Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (1)
93 - Street Fighter IV (11)
93 - GTA: Chinatown Wars (>30)
92 - Batman Arkham Asylum (12)
92 - Forza Motorsport 3 (20)
91 - Dragon Age: Origins (~22)
91 - Assassin's Creed II (5)
91 - Killzone 2 (21)
90 - Mario & Luigi : Bowser's Inside Story (24)

Top Ten Selling Games of 2009 (VGChartz)

1 - Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (94)
2 - Wii Sports Resort (80)
3 - New Super Mario Bros. Wii (87)
4 - Wii Fit Plus (80)
5 - Assassin's Creed II (91)
6 - FIFA Soccer 10 (90)
7 - Halo 3: ODST (83)
8 - Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (NA)
9 - Pokemon Heart Gold / Soul Silver (NA)
10 - Resident Evil 5 (86)

Two games, Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin's Creed II, appear on both lists. While this may appear surprising at first, taking a glance just a bit further down the sales lists reveals the fact that Uncharted, Batman, and SFIV make up a group that just barely missed the top of the sales charts, certainly much closer to the top than their critically-acclaimed movie counterparts.

So what's the reason for this discrepancy? Why do big-budget blockbusters like Transformers not receive critical acclaim while their game counterparts like Modern Warfare 2 do? While there could be multiple explanations, I believe the most important reason is the difference in maturity between the two mediums.

The film industry has been around now for over a century, and while video games have been around for about half a century, they haven't really existed on a comparative level with movies since the Atari 2600 launched in 1977. Today both industries are relatively equal in terms of sales numbers and volume of annual releases, but there is no question which industry is regarded as more of an art form by the general and critical populations.

Half a century ago the divide between critical and commercial success didn't exist nearly as strongly in the movie industry as it does today. The highest grossing films of 1959 such as Ben-Hur, North by Northwest, and Some Like It Hot were the same movies receiving most of the Academy Award nominations. Granted this isn't a perfect comparison given the fact the video game industry has expanded much faster than the movie industry did, but looking back through the twentieth century we see a much stronger connection between box office and critical success than we do today. Is it possible that video games could also lose their relationship between commercial and critical success?

Already today there is evidence that the tide may be turning towards critical darlings in video games. So-called indie games like Braid, Shadow Complex, and Flower are three well-reviewed titles released in the past couple of years, and have a lot in common with their critically-acclaimed film industry counterparts. These aren't flashy, heavily marketed, high budget affairs, but critics fawn over them nonetheless, with Braid holding an amazing Metacritic rating of 94, Shadow Complex at 88, and Flower sitting at a still-admirable 87. Are titles like these a sign of things to come? Movies like The Hurt Locker barely appear in movie theatres, but they do appear somewhere on a movie screen and therefore are worthy of review by a large number of film critics. Without the advent of digital distribution games like Flower would have previously never been seen on a console, but now they too are able to appear in the reviews of just about every gaming publication. What makes a game like Braid so appealing to critics? Let them answer in their own words:

Eurogamer: "Still wondering if games can be art? Here's your answer."
1UP: "A monumentally relevant game that speaks highly of its creators and their potential audience's tolerance for new ideas."
IGN: "This strange, wondrous, puzzle/platformer hybrid isn't for everyone. Just the people who like to flex their brain power while holding a controller."
Gamespot: "Braid's deep and mesmerizing tale is evergreen: it is outside of and beyond time. It will never get old."

Those are some awfully artistically-inclined statements are they not? Here we have one of the most highly reviewed games ever; celebrated as such for showing off something we don't usually see in video games. Looking through many of the critical reviews, a consistent message from the critics is yes, it's short and not for everyone, but for the group of people it does appeal to it is absolutely sublime. Now look at this reasoning in the context of the movie ratings: Small-time movies appeal to a narrow audience, but because they appeal to that audience so well it makes them worthy of being labeled the best movies of the year even though a majority of moviegoers have not seen them nor have any interest in doing so.

For now, I am very proud to say that in today's media there is room at the top for both Braid and Uncharted 2 to be celebrated as some of the greatest experiences video games have to offer. Both of these games receive well-earned critical acclaim even though only one of them is lighting up the sales charts. While I think video games have no limit as to where they can go in the coming decades in terms of popularity and becoming the world's favorite form of entertainment, I also think it is not out of the question that fifty years from now we'll be looking at a growing number of the gaming equivalents of The English Patient, titles that truly nobody played but the critics still loved.

2 Comments