Blogging on the ‘Bus: Why We Stopped the Weekly Wrap-Ups

For awhile now, we’ve been doing weekly wrap-ups of some sort. When we first started them, they were the Virtual Console Wrap-Up; we would talk about whatever was coming out for the VC that week based on past experience. When Nintendo started adding WiiWare and eventually DSiWare downloads to the equation, we would incorporate them in as best we could. At the beginning of the year, we started doing other wrap-ups; I handled the PSN Wrap-Up, and for awhile, DJ Tatsujin did the Xbox Live Wrap-Up, until he had to drop it, at which point, I pulled triple duty until I dropped the Nintendo download to Aileen on account of going nuts doing three wraps a week, as well as some other reasons that I will get into.

Despite Alex telling me that it wasn’t necessary, I took pride in the work that I did. For those that read the articles but didn’t know, for each piece I did, I made sure to download any demos possible, and if a demo wasn’t possible, to at least do some research into the game, watch some video, and maybe even a Metacritic score or two to at least inform readers if the game they were looking at buying on an impulse purchase was worth the money or not. This was easiest for the Microsoft pieces because all of their XBLA games require demos, whereas the Sony pieces usually made me do some work; as some of you know, the more work I had to do, the crankier my updates. As for the Nintendo piece, I dropped it because I was sick of getting no demos, no support, and the fact that they had virtually abandoned the Virtual Console. In short, I felt that in terms of PSN and XBLA wrap-ups, my work stood up to anyone else’s on the internet. For those that think “who cares, we know what we want”, remember that the people that would fire off feedback to one of us, or comment on our articles, are the minority. We have a lot of clicks coming in from Google News, Google itself, link aggregators, Alex’s Pokemon stuff, or even simple word-of-mouth, and most of those people are what we’d call “casual” gamers, especially the Pokemon crowd. These people are the majority, and it’s them that I want to help. If someone wants to either agree with me or spark a reasonable debate, that’s a bonus.

Someone reading the title, however, can tell off the bat what this is: an explanation as to why we’re not doing them anymore. At least I’m not doing them anymore, but considering I know the person that does the Nintendo pieces well (I.E.: I sleep with her), I’m confident they’re dead, too. Let’s go into detail as to why these weekly columns – which all hit reasonably well – are being scuttled:

Nintendo/Virtual Console Wrap-Up – Aileen’s killing the Nintendo piece for the same reason I dropped it: why do we bother writing it? The only things we can ever talk about are the WiiWare and DSiWare games, which Nintendo made a very big point of NOT providing demos for. They provided them as a test, and then shuttered the plans, despite the fact that consumers and press were both high on the move. The only things to really talk about, then, were the Virtual Console games, but Nintendo is releasing them at a month-a-clip pace nowadays. They’ve done such a great job of abandoning the service that Capcom and Sunsoft had to specifically announce that they had games coming out for it. “Don’t bail on us yet, guys! We’re releasing an obscure platformer that only Europe saw in ’91!”. Really, all we’re doing is judging books on their covers because Nintendo simply refuses to supply demos with any of their games – even games that have demos for the Xbox – and that gets old after awhile. These facts wore on Aileen as much as me, and if Nintendo doesn’t care… why should we?

Plus, there’s my personal opinion on Nintendo and their service: the WiiWare, the DSiWare, and even the Virtual Console suck. I supported the Virtual Console because I wanted to see more obscure Japanese games get translations, as well as support for systems such as the Commodore that Americans don’t get to see much of. What we got were a few good games, a bunch of mediocre ones, a few that were literally the same as other games on the service (Wonder Boy 3 vs. Adventure Island), and a complete lack of features – multiple savestates, online play – that PC based, illegal emulators have supported for years before the VC came about. Once they started going to the DSiWare and WiiWare, they stopped paying attention to the VC despite the fact that many games still have not seen the light of day. As for WiiWare, it’s not that much worse than the Microsoft and Playstation equivalents, though the lack of demos and low quality of most of the games get to me. The DSiWare, however, was my last straw. Not only is this a blatant ripoff of Apple’s App Store – with games combining with “applications” – it’s not a good one. Most items, I noticed, cost much more on the DSi than they do on the iPhone or even the PSN via the minis service, and even worse, if you download them and decide to move them to another system, you can’t; you have to download all of your games/apps again, without even so much as a “sorry, here’s why” from Nintendo. They don’t even have a place to load all of your downloads like iTunes or Media Go, and all of this is extremely problematic for a company that tries to sell us a different style of DS a week. “Hey guys, remember when we tried to make our handhelds smaller? We’re trying to make them bigger now! Shut up and buy it, you whore! And ignore the whole 3DS announcement!”

Nintendo is the Apple of videogame publishers. They get by on a reputation for user friendliness that is unearned, and by being less evil than Sony and Microsoft. But after I learned about the DSi, saw what they were doing to the VC, and noticed that they had no intention of giving anything to the consumer because they simply didn’t have to, I decided that I couldn’t really give the service the attention I put into my work. Aileen eventually decided the same thing, which led to the longest running column on our site dying.

Xbox Live Wrap-Up – I took this over for DJ, and kept it going. I thought I did a good job, despite my on-record hatred for everything about LIVE Gold. Microsoft took something that should be standard with every online game, sucked it in, made it a paid service, and tied anything and everything extra that could possibly come with a game into a permissions issue. There are games such as Team Fortress 2 that are completely and totally useless – moreso than normal, considering how borked the 360 version of that game is compared to the PC game – without having Gold. It goes beyond online service; sales, updates, and anything that would possibly be beneficial to gamers is specifically held back by Microsoft – sometimes against the wishes of developers and publishers, as Jonathan Blow and Square Enix found out – for Gold members, turning something that would be a premium into something that is necessary, and is also something that isn’t communicated to people that are already dropping hundreds on a system, not knowing they’re getting broken functionality.

I found out recently just how prevalent Gold was in my play experience when I let it lapse at the beginning of this month. I knew I wouldn’t be able to play online, but that was OK to me; I don’t play much online as it is, and all of the games I’m getting for review are coming in for the PS3, as I start navigating away from the 360. Then I tried updating my rosters in 2010 FIFA World Cup so they would be up to the minute, and was told that I couldn’t because I was Silver. Of course, that eliminated the ability to use the scenarios, because I required accurate rosters. In short, being Silver broke my $60, purchased game. But that wasn’t the end of it. What finally did it for me was when I went to download the demo for Blacklight: Tango Down for a wrap-up I was writing. I went to play the (online only) demo, and learned that I couldn’t because I was Silver. In other words, I couldn’t even TRY a game because I didn’t pay Microsoft ransom money.

I don’t have much problem paying for things I review, but I refuse to pay money so that I can play DEMOS. This is where I am on Gold, since I am trying to get away from everything else about it. In order to be able to do the wrap-ups properly, I’d have to pay a $50 a year subscription fee. I figure to hell with it, if Microsoft doesn’t rate us highly enough to get us onto PartnerNet, then I don’t rate them highly enough to put in the effort necessary for their wraps.

Playstation Network – Unlike the previous two pieces, this has always been my baby; I’m the only one that’s done one of these since I started the column, and not only did I develop my style with them, I made their style decidedly mine. It was a lot of work, and though I was frustrated by some weak updates from time to time, I did – and still do, for now – rate Sony’s online service the best of the lot.

My feelings changed with the addition of Playstation Plus. When it first came out, I was pretty high on the service; I gave it a fairly positive write up when it debuted, or at least a more positive one than Lucard gave it. I didn’t like that they advertised “free” games when they really weren’t, but felt that if every week kept up at least a good part of the first week’s pace, that the service would be well worth the $50.

They didn’t keep up the pace. The second and third weeks started to confirm my fears that Sony used the first week to sucker people in, and the fourth week – this past Tuesday – confirmed everything to me when they dropped the demo for the new Kane & Lynch game for Plus subscribers only. Once again, we’re stuck with paying money for demos, as if they were a commodity to be bought and not a marketing tool in and of themselves. This meant that once again, I had to pay $50 in order to do my job, and frankly, I decided it was no longer worth the hours I was putting into it. Furthermore, I feel a sense of resentment that demos are becoming commodities, because it seems to be working. Qore was sold mainly as a place to get early demos, and one of the reasons people subscribe to Gold is that select demos come out weeks early on that service. Look, if someone that reads my work is stupid enough to spend money on a demo, then they’re too stupid for me to care about. Why waste my time and money on someone that doesn’t understand how the consumer affects market forces, how they’re going to keep being told to bend until they break, and who blindly follows and support large, multinational, publicly traded corporations who are only concerned about their share prices, all like a little lemming? Just to have that person call me a faggot at the end of it?

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I don’t say this with any back-patting intended: I worked very hard, weekly, on the wrap-ups that I did. They took hours of research, demo playing and fact checking, sometimes leaving me writing until the wee hours of the morning. When you put that much work into something, you start to raise your own standards. My feeling was that I could no longer put in an honest effort – without sounding like a nagging bitch every week – to justify things, and Aileen got to that point herself quickly, though she’s much classier than I am and would never say that publicly. I figure if anyone really wants to know what is available for download each week, PK regurgitates the press releases over at IP Games. I won’t resort myself to cutting and pasting, which is why I’m changing things up.

How will I use the time that I used to use on wrap-ups? Who knows. Maybe I’ll post more commentary. Maybe I’ll start a retro column. Maybe I’ll just throw some shit at the wall and see what sticks. That’s the great thing about being in an industry like this; not everything’s going to work, but hell, might as well give it a shot.

The only thing I know is that I take what I do seriously. I just wish the companies I wrote about did the same.

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