Games tester – dream job for many of us isn’t it? Paid all day long to sit around drinking from a fountain of Mountain Dew, a controller in each hand with four huge 3DHD screens emitting enough radiation to give a lovely tan and a big fat dose of infertility. The reality I’m sorry to say, is much less glamorous. We’ve all enjoyed the Titanfall beta, marvelling at its grandeur and fresh approach to the FPS shooter, but the fact of the matter is that hundreds and hundreds of test hours will have gone into it before you and I ever got a sniff of it.
Truth be told, I had grown a little worried about South Park and The Stick of Truth. Delays are never a good sign, and then a matter of weeks before release we here that Ubisoft had taken the decision to censor the game themselves, cutting out scenes they thought were a little close to the bone. ‘Oh that’s a shame’ I thought to myself ‘they’ve got cold feet at the last minute, what sort of state is this game going to be in when they eventually release it?’ Boys and girls, there’s no need to worry – it’s fantastic.
Six men sit around a long table made of dark cold ebony. Large candles held to the walls by deer hooves flicker menacingly, as a goat rotates slowly on a spit above the fire. Another man enters and sits at the head of the table upon an overbearing throne made out of skulls. As the scream of someone being tortured drifts through the air from a dungeon far below, he addresses the gathering:
Dr Death – So gentleman, what have you got for me?
Mr Legal – Well, we’ve caught wind of a game called Flappy Birds that was doing quite well, so we’ve had the developer executed and copied it, but we’ve added in app purchases
Dr Death – Marvellous! That’s exactly what we’re looking for here at the Evil Gaming Company; innovation. What about you Jerry? What have you got for me?
Mr Thinktank – Well; since we bought the rights to the Call of Duty franchise, all opinion polls tell us that gamers are crying out for the series todevelop and move forward.
Dr Death – Come on Jerry you know I don’t like people using words like that
Mr Thinktank – I know I know, that’s why I did the numbers on just changing the name.
Dr Death – Changing the name?!
Mr Thinktank – Yes. We’ve done the sums and it will cost us three million pounds to develop a new game, but only four pounds fifty to change the games name.
Dr Death – That’s brilliant. Don’t you think people will notice?
Mr Thinktank – Did you notice that the last three games have been exactly the same?
Dr Death – Seriously?! That’s absolutely brilliant. So what name have we come up with?
Mr Thinktank – Call of Duty and The Phantom Menace
Dr Death – That is fantastic! That’s just the sort of outside the box thinking we’re looking for. And well done on taking tips from Lucas, the man knows how to milk a franchise until it bleeds
They all look up wistfully at a towering oil painting of George Lucas being carried on the shoulders of four Ewoks, whilst in background Jar Jar Binks jumps up and down on the burning embers of the Millennium Falcon
Dr Death – So anyway back to business; where’s Brian? I want to hear what Quality Assurance have got to say for themselves. Our last RPG release had almost no bugs in it whatsoever and I want answers!
Mr HR – We fired him
Dr Death – What?
Mr HR – We got rid of the whole QA department, we realised that we could release a beta of each game and get the public to test it for us for free, so we didn’t need to pay someone to test it for us.
Dr Death – But don’t our test guys clear down all the defects before we release it for beta?
Mr HR – Well you could say that. Another way of looking at it would be that we release the beta in a poor state, and negative public response gives us an excuse to outsource to the lowest bid to fix the bugs. We then pressure them to publish early, and they take all the flak when it all goes wrong.
Dr Death – Love it, love everything about it. Now then, Mike – tell me what we’ve got in the pipe line
Mr Developer – Well, we’ve come up with this new idea that…
Dr Death – For goodness sake Mike how many times do I have to tell you? We don’t do new! New is risky, new is dangerous, stick to what we know!
Mr Developer – Yes you say that, but we think that we’re really on to something here. We’ve combined an RPG with a….
The rest of his sentence is drowned out by the sound of sighs and facepalms from all around the table
Dr Death – Oh come on Mike this is ridiculous! Why are you ‘combining’ things when you could just make two? We’d make more money that way!
Mr Developer – I know but..
Dr Death – No no no not I know but! Seriously you need to get your head in the game. Next you’ll be telling me you’ve not scheduled the expansion pack already!
Mr Developer – …………………..
Dr Death – Oh for crying out loud
Mr Developer – I just don’t see why if we’ve already done it why we can’t release it as part of the game!
Dr Death – Do you want me to punch you in the head?
Mr Developer – No but…
Dr Death – Do you WANT me to punch you in the head Mike?!
Mr Developer – But we’ve already finished it!
Dr Death – It doesn’t matter! Think about it Mike – supposing there’s no expansion pack; that means your job is done. Shall I sack you?
Mr Developer – No
Dr Death – Do you not like working here?
Mr Developer – No I do but…
Dr Death – Stop saying but! Let’s face facts here, this industry is tired and lacking any genuine innovation, and consumers are too stupid to try anything new. You come up with something different and what do you get? ‘Wah Wah this is slightly different to what I’m used to and I don’t like it!’ So you try a sequel and what happens? ‘Wah Wah it’s not as good as Halo 2!’ On and on it goes – ‘Wah it’s too different!’ ‘Wah it’s the same as the last one!’ ‘Wah it’s too easy!’ ‘Wah it’s too hard!’ Consumers don’t know what they want! So why not invest in the games that are a success with the expansion packs? Why not ask the customer to pay less for a small expansion pack of a game they know they like already instead of an expensive game that might be rubbish?
Mr Developer – But why announce it at launch? Why not give it at least a few months before we bring it out?
Dr Death – Look at it this way; we could give away some crappy shiny weapon skins in the special edition, or we could actually give them something they want. Those who really want the game will buy it as they would buy the expansion pack anyway, meaning they actually save money. Those who were on the fence and bought it on a whim would have been put off paying more for the special edition, only to find they really like it buy the expansion pack later on. And those who buy the game and don’t like it wouldn’t buy the expansion pack anyway, so have saved money not buying the special edition. Everyone is saving money Mike what’s your problem?!
Mr Developer – But none of that makes sense!
Dr Death – Get out
Mr Developer – What?
Dr Death – Get out you’re fired
Mr Developer – But
Dr Death – If I wanted someone to come in and upset the balance I’d have Don Mattrick
Don Mattrick – But you did hire me
Dr Death – Shut up Don no one cares what you think, that’s why you ended up at Zynga. Mike, get out. We’ll see how far your principles get you when your new indie game is being pirated into financial obscurity, let’s see how opposed you are to DRM then.
Mr Developer gets up and leaves, taking one last look at the Evil Gaming Company’s motto hanging above the doorway as he passes out of it for the last time – If you’ll pay once, you’ll pay again
All character’s in this story are fictitious and any similarity to any person living or dead is strictly coincidental. Except Don Mattrick. As unbelievable as it seems, he’s real.
I appear to be the only person in the entire world who completely missed Flappy Birds. That’s probably an exaggeration, there’s probably some 109 year old Tibetan Grandma in a remote village somewhere in…erm…Tibet who missed it as well, but you get the point. Everyday my Facebook feed was filled with people complaining/praising it, and my inner hipster kept telling me ‘don’t download it, you’ll be just like everyone else – and stop listening to The Arctic Monkeys for crying out loud no one will think you’re cool listening to that nonsense’. And then in the flap of a bird it was gone, to be replaced with hundreds of imitation apps with tedious variations on the words ‘flappy’ and ‘bird’. There’s so many I’m half expecting Google Play to be recommending I download ‘Sloppy Turd – the sh*t hot new game all your friends are talking about’ the next time I log in.
Anyway, I’m prattling on. The reason that I missed Flappy Birds completely is because I’d chanced upon a game called Dungeon Highway, and it’s bloody marvellous.
Construction and management simulation games have taught me two very important things about myself. Firstly; in my own minds eye I am a generous God. Raining countenance upon my subjects with a benevolence known only before by stray cats that have wandered into Ned Flanders’ garden. That I am a good person, that my subjects will love me and I will love them, and that when I die thousands of slaves would willingly work themselves to death to build me a pyramid the size of Snowden. The second however, is that in reality I am the most horrendous despot ruler this side of Napoleon’s maths teacher. I shall come crashing down upon my detractors with furious vengeance, levelling smite fire and brimstone against those who dare speak out against me. And after years of searching through smouldering mounds of destroyed rollercoasters and houses with no doors and Sims wetting themselves over and over again, I have finally found the perfect forum – Tropico 4.
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