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Microsoft And Sony Have Lost The Plot

"They don’t have a culture anymore. They killed their culture"

Arrowhead / Sony

Boy oh boy has it been a rough one for fans of two of the Big Three. Sony kicked things off by nearly fumbling the bag with Helldivers 2, sending a veritable warchest of goodwill down the drain alongside the game’s (now-recovering) Steam review scores. Then Microsoft abruptly shut down several studios, including a pair of revered favorites in Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin. Many fans have found themselves mystified by these decisions, us included. On this week’s episode of Aftermath Hours, we talk about that.

We begin by discussing Microsoft and the grim future that awaits it if it – and the rest of the industry – continue to toss out the baby with the bathwater every time the line doesn’t go up as fast as they want it to. More small games or big franchise hits? Microsoft doesn’t seem to know what it wants. 

Then we check in on Sony, which is having the opposite problem. After landing the biggest breakout hit of the year in Helldivers 2, it caused a full-blown player revolt with a bunch of needless PSN sign-in nonsense. And for what: to assert more control over the player base? To lure people into its ecosystem under false pretenses? 

Lastly, we discuss some things we’re actually enjoying in Hades 2 (it’s so good) and Crow Country (it’s also very good). Oh, and we discuss ideal game length, which is of course 12-15 hours, 20 hours, or 35 hours, depending on who you ask.

You can find this week's episode below and on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you prefer to listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, make sure to leave a review so that we can avoid being sold to Microsoft and sacrificed to The Line just a few years later. 

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Nathan: I think the whole thing is interesting from the standpoint of what Helldivers specifically is. It’s such a community-oriented game, and that’s built into not just the way people talk about it on Reddit and stuff, but the structure of the game itself. It’s structured around so-called “Major Orders,” objectives that the community has to collaborate on to achieve in the game in terms of taking back planets or defending planets or whatever else. And so, what was wild – and Polygon did a good piece on this – was that people used the Major Order structure to review bomb Helldivers 2. They have one on the Helldivers 2 subreddit to leave positive reviews now that Sony has taken back its changes. It’s pretty nutty. 

Chris: They were like “Reverse ship, reverse ship! It’s good! We got it! Go, go, go! Tango, go!” It’s a real Goonswarm thing to do.

Nathan: It’s really EVE Online Goonswarm-like, yeah. 

Chris: If anyone knows the history of Something Awful and EVE Online, yeah.

Nathan: It leaves me asking: What was all of that for? What are we doing here? Because here we are effectively back where we started [although still seemingly with Helldivers 2 unpurchasable in a lot of regions]. The community is as close as they can be to happy, given the circumstances, but now they’re probably infinitely more wary of both Sony and Arrowhead going forward. [Sony and Arrowhead] also seemingly got rid of a community manager who was well liked, which again puts forward this idea that if push comes to shove, community is probably the first thing to go, even though this is what makes the game work. This is what they built the game for. 

And then beyond that, what was Sony hoping to get out of this? What was it willing to trade all of this for? Tricking people into being part of its ecosystem? 

Chris: It’s also important to note that there were people who bought this game in countries where they legally couldn’t have an account. PlayStation doesn’t operate the same way Steam does. It’s an annoying thing to do, it breaks the trust of the company, and it doesn’t even encompass the user base.

I think [Sony] is just also not used to dealing with people on Steam. They don’t understand what those people can do to you. They can fuck your life up. If they review bomb you, you’re fucked, man.

Gita: There’s some weird guys that are really dedicated Steam users. If you’re self-identified as a Steam user, I’m a little bit afraid of you.   

Chris: Guys who stream exclusively over Steam.

Nathan: It’s weird guys all the way down over there. 

I guess I was surprised by this too, though, because we’ve done this so many times. There have been so many instances where a company either had a mandatory sign-in for a client or launched a new client – whether that was Origin, Ubisoft, Blizzard, the Epic Store, or whatever else – and sort of tried to lure people over to it through various means. And then people got there, and they were like “This isn’t very good.” And then the companies in question – not Epic so far, but definitely EA – were like “You know, yeah, I guess you’re kinda right. OK, I guess we’re gonna play nice with Steam.” 

This has happened over and over, and the lesson is that you can’t trick people into joining your ecosystem. You can’t force them to go over there for one thing they like and then hope they will somehow realize “Oh yeah, it’s cool over here. I’m gonna stay.” It doesn’t work unless you offer them something worth their time – something at least as worth their time as full access to their game library and all of their friends, which is Steam’s strength.     

Chris: You have to be older than Steam to pull that off. I guess [Blizzard’s] Battle.net is sort of an example, but even that isn’t a glowing use case. I understand why companies do it: You want a little bit more control over the people who play this game. You want to keep them in a room that doesn’t involve giving Gabe [Newell] money, or even just have them on your turf. But it’s also like, I’m sorry, [Newell] owns the space, man. This is kind of a settled thing, unless you’re doing Itch.io or something like that. He’s on a boat making a sword somewhere and taking your money. You’ve gotta learn to live with that.

Gita: Yep, you’re not gonna disrupt this space. This is how people buy video games.   

Nathan: I think it’s worth tying back to the discussion of Game Pass this week, because you look at Microsoft and to a lesser extent Sony, and it’s clear why they want people in their ecosystems. It’s no longer just a hardware thing; they have these subscription-based streaming initiatives, and for Microsoft I guess until this week, that was gonna be the future. But again, if one of the ways you get people to be part of these things is by sort of tricking them – to access this game that you care about, you’ve got to create a mandatory account for this other thing – it’s just proven to not work. This method has not worked so many times that I can’t believe we’re still doing it. It’s just mind boggling.   

Chris: I also just had a thought, which is that it’s just so funny that Microsoft owns Minecraft. When they say, “We need smaller games,” what they mean isn’t that they need these games that sort of do well but have credibility. What they mean is, they want something that blows up in a really meaningful way. At least, that’s how I interpret it. They want something like Helldivers, the games all people are playing now. 

But they could never make a Minecraft. They would strangle it in the fucking crib. They would never be able to do it! They had to pay $2.5 billion to do it. They made a shitload of money off that investment, but it’s so funny that they had to buy it. They can’t raise a home team. They can’t get a roster with their mindset.   

Nathan: Yeah, I mean you look at their current lineup, and it kind of speaks for itself. What is the big, cool Microsoft game? What is the game we’re all excited about from them or any of their studios?  

Chris: I mean, I feel that way about Sony too, sometimes. I don’t care about these companies right now because they don’t have a culture anymore. They killed their culture. Game Pass, to its credit, was establishing a culture, which was just like “We are going to shovel money at small developers. It will be a more sure thing, and then we’ll be the place where every week there’s something a little new.” That was getting closer to what I respected about [Sony’s] Japan Studio or any of these things. It was a culture they were kind of working on. And then they said, “Ah, fuck it. We don’t need to do that anymore.” 

Nathan: Again, you’ve gotta let ‘em cook. If you don’t let ‘em cook, you get soggy, cold food that nobody wants. 

Gita: Really great metaphor. You did a great job with that one.

Nathan: Thank you so much. I’m a writer.        

(Podcast production by Multitude.)

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