Wherein I discuss the completion of a duo of long-standing tasks, the unlife of live services, and how the games industry is full of abuse and other terrible things.
At the start of 2021, I released a big, wet, sloppy stream of announcements regarding my plans for Nigma Box in 2021. And while I have not made good on my schedule and do not plan on following through with some of my goals, I did recently fulfill one of them. My short story series, Randoms, has been rebranded as the far more descriptive TSF Series. Many installments received a second editing pass, I remade the earlier header images, and I modified the formatting on all installments to be more uniform.
This was a fun little project that involved a lot of basic editing, but this was not the only project I recently undertook this past month, as I also started publishing my 2015 novel, Verde’s Doohickey, onto Scribble Hub. This was something I omitted from my January 2021 announcement post, and something I have been thinking of for nearly a year.
I, quite simply, do not think I am a good writer. I am an okay writer at best. As such, my novels are not actually good either. They are clunky, have a lot of oversights and issues, and are not finely tuned works of fiction. Because of this, I was apprehensive of the idea of ever taking them off of Nigma Box and hosting them elsewhere, as I thought they would not be good enough.
However, this past month I was contacted by Clavietika, who you might remember from my reviews of the Student Transfer Scenarios Into the Janeverse and In Praise of Being. She asked me to read over her novel, Crownbound! After reading through all 25,000-ish words and leaving hundreds of suggestions, I realized that this story did surprisingly well on Scribble Hub, and decided to test how well some of my novels would do on the platform.
Thus far, Verde’s Doohickey has garnered over 2,000 views and 30 readers which, while not amazing by any stretch, is FAR better than the numbers it pulled in on Nigma Box. Because of this, I plan on bringing all my novels, and TSF Series, over to Scribble Hub in the upcoming months, releasing one chapter, or installment, every day. Nigma Box will still be the primary platform for all of my writing, and all my stories will debut here first (even if it is just for a few hours), but Scribble Hub will function as an alternative.
I am open to moving my stories to even more platforms, feel free to tell me where else I should post my stuff. However, Scribble Hub has the sense to recognize Gender Bender as a genre, which it is, so it feels right for me.
While I think the modern era of gaming is truly lovely due to how widely accessible older titles are (through both legal and illegal means) and the overwhelming volume of games that are released each day, there is one thing about the modern climate that I just loathe. Live services. While I see a lot of value in live service games, I have two major problems with them.
Live services are designed around keeping players engaged for long periods of time, often to a detrimental degree. And they depend on a central server in order to be played. The latter does not need to be a problem, but the games industry does not believe in end-of-life plans for their software. So when the central servers are shut down, then that game dies, and it will only live on in captured memories.
I really do not care for this approach, and it very much does not need to be this way. While it requires a good deal of work for developers to turn their online-only games into offline titles, they can definitely do it to allow the game to live on in some sort of playable state. Sure, the game’s design and gameplay loop might be compromised, and the game might require the use of modding to get to a truly enjoyable state, but so long as it can be played offline, then that would be a MASSIVE help to anybody who wants to archive this game for future generations, or the existing playerbase, to enjoy well after the servers are shut off.
This is also far more respectful to the developers, who routinely put years or work into these titles, both with the initial development and the continued support. I know that if I spent three years of my life designing, updating, and taking pride in a game, I would be livid seeing the publisher shut it down because it stopped being profitable, when they could have penned an end-of-life plan and implemented it when the game’s closure was determined, allowing the developers’ hard work to be preserved.
Anyway, I bring this up because Nintendo announced that Dr. Mario World will shut down on November 1st, 27 months after the title initially launched in July 2019. This struck me as rather surprising as, beyond the social game Miitomo, Nintendo has yet to shut down any of their mobile endeavors so far. But when one stops and looks over the math, the reasoning for this shut down seems obvious.
Based on a report by Pocket Gamer, Dr. Mario World saw 13 million installs over its life, but the title only saw about $13.9 million in revenue. While $13.9 million is not bad for a lower budget puzzle game, Nintendo likely looked at these figures and thought that the game should be doing better and the developers could be working on more profitable projects.
While this is upsetting, I cannot fault the logic from a business perspective, especially when compared to other projects, such as Mario Kart Tour. A title that, within roughly the same stretch of time, saw 208.9 million downloads and $222.3 million in revenue. Or Fire Emblem Heroes, a game that has amassed $891.5 million since its launch in February 2017.
Regardless of the justification, this certainly sucks for fans of Dr. Mario World, and it makes me worried about what standards Nintendo is holding its other titles to. Namely, its second worst performing title, Dragalia Lost.
Dragalia Lost is my anime gacha live service of choice. I play it every day, and while my thoughts on the game are complicated, I am ultimately glad that I decided to play it and stick with it for so long. However, the title is not a money-maker, and based on this report, and a prior report by Pocket Gamer back in October 2020, Dragalia Lost only made about $10 million within these past 9 months. Which is not good for a game that is skirting along the higher end of mobile game budgets, being a 3D action title with a constant stream of new characters, story, art, music, voice acting, events, and endgame content.
Now, I have made peace with the fact that Dragalia Lost could end at any time, and I am happy with how much value the game has provided. However… I will be pissed if it suffers the same fate as Dr. Mario World. Because Dragalia Lost is throbbing with quality and if it dies out, then all that will live on are the incomplete remnants kept alive by the community. Which I think is a shame, as there is so much time, effort, skill, and money put into this title that it deserves to be preserved properly.
I mean, the game easily has over a million words of story text in it, hundreds of characters, dozens of storylines, and a bunch of quality action game boss encounters. Sure, the soundtrack will live on just fine, because they printed that on a CD, but everything else is in limbo, and that just sucks.
Hell, I would even accept the game being unplayable so long as the developers uploaded all story content onto YouTube. It does not seem that hard. You just need to have an intern capture all footage and mechanically upload it to a channel. Thankfully, the channel Hunters Lodge is pretty much doing that, and thank goodness for people like them, ensuring that Dragalia will live even when Dragalia is dead.
Beyond this, there was relatively little that I was grabbed by in the gaming news cycle this past week. In fact, the only thing I picked up on were follow-up stories to the lawsuit filed last week against Activision Blizzard. A piece of legal documentation that described the company as a truly vile place where men reigned over women, women were treated as lessers while held up to higher standards, and one woman was abused so terribly that she took her own life during a business trip.
It is a truly reprehensible discovery, and one that really makes it hard for me to not look at any major western game studio without thinking that it too is a den of misogyny and abuse. Unfortunately, things only got worse as more information about the terrible working conditions at Activision Blizzard were revealed.
From disgusting stories like how an IT worker filmed his colleagues in the office restrooms. To elaborate pieces like IGN’s coverage of the situation, which corroborated upon claims from the lawsuit and provided more details. Like how the breastfeeding room could not be locked, allowing men to walk in on women as they fed their children. Which they did, staring at the women until they screamed at the men to leave.
This is all so inexcusable, horrible, and gross that I struggle to believe that no meaningful efforts were made to correct this culture, and that it has perpetuated for so long. All because of inter-company politics where those who make money, those with higher positions and seniority, are left more or less immune to all consequences or reprimands, allowing them to continue bad behaviors unimpeded.
I would allow a glimmer of hope to shine, as hundreds of Activision Blizzard staff staged a walkout this past week to protest the company’s toxic culture. But I doubt this will change much and I’m guessing many people in said walkout were similarly disillusioned with the idea that Activision Blizzard will try to correct its many deficiencies. If change comes, it will come slowly and with reluctance. Or, possibly, not at all. And I am inclined to believe that it is going to be the latter.
Last year, Ubisoft fell in boiling water for allegations of sexist misconduct, promoting and protecting known abusers, and more. Ubisoft responded to this by removing several executives (while letting them keep their stock) and claiming that they would correct things. However, based on a Eurogamer report on the situation, which cites several open letters between Ubisoft staff and Ubisoft management, Ubisoft has only made performative changes. After a year of supposed changes, Ubisoft still continues to be a company where employees are treated poorly, abusers are promoted, and morale is dwindling rapidly as they are threatening to force employees back into the office, despite the ongoing pandemic across much of the world.
Stories like this make me glad that I more or less gave up on the western AAA games industry all those years ago, as if these cultural issues persist within Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard, then they simply must be emblematic across the entire industry, and I shudder to think about how many more horror stories are waiting to be told, and just how much terrible crap these executives have let slide over the years and decades.