by Joe Deeney
In a moved deemed “sage” by swathes of the gaming press, Nintendo’s industry colossus Shigeru Miyamoto recently warned the video game industry against being too greedy as it could damage gaming’s “unique customer base”. His words targeted the free-to-play models being adopted at an alarmingly increasing rate throughout gaming.
He went on to ask game developers to remember the mistakes made by the music industry at the turn of the century, when customers turned to illegal file sharing sites for their content. The music industry’s handling of this was costly and only since the rise of streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music has it been able to recover. This, for me, took some gall as Ninentendo continue to make the exact same mistakes. This summer, Nintendo has filed a lawsuit against gaming’s equivalent: ROM sites that offer illegally adapted old titles on other platforms for free. Some of these games are unavailable anywhere else, and let’s face it, Nintendo’s asking price for their catalogue is ridiculous for those (at the time of writing, 1986’s The Legend of Zelda for the NES on the Virtual Console is £4.49. I have owned this game in one form or another around five times already). I understand this is intellectual property, but can the word “intellectual” really be applied here? People want accessible products at a reasonable price. That is the Spotify model.
Now, this is not a hatchet job on Mr. Miyamoto himself, he seems like a decent chap and his contribution to the pastime is unsurpassed. It is, however, a broadside on the gaming industry’s greed culture. My emphasis here being his use of “too” greedy. Apparently, in Shigeru’s eyes, video game publishers are crossing an arbitrary line, risking profit for all. It’s not really “too” greedy, it’s “dumb” greedy.
Probably more than any other form of entertainment, gamers are transparently subject to the market. Every five years, the next generation of consoles appear and require us to replenish our library. Again. I consider myself an avid reader and yet I don’t have to throw away the books on my shelf twice a decade and I have no idea at all of what goes on in the publishing world. Film and music are more closely linked to the technology market: we went from vinyl to CD to mp3 (via minidisc). But where now? You can’t get more convenient than anywhere, you can’t get more clarity that crystal clear. Although the leaps of technology gaming has made in recent years has been vast, it’s still a long way to go before it achieves the same.
It’s argued that without the free market, there wouldn’t be a video game industry. That’s true… probably. I don’t know enough about economics or the economics of technology to offer an informed opinion here. I do know enough, however, to say that the current financial model within the industry stinks, as it gravitates around those most vulnerable, a demographic the industry has conveniently rebranded “whales”. Everyone likes whales, right? They’re huge, magnificent beasts, probably really smart, sing for ages, might have had some trauma in their lives, live with their mums, are dogmatic in their brand loyalty maybe due to some serious social problems just aching to be exploited. The problem with Mr. Miyamoto’s comments is the horse has already bolted. The “invisible hand” of the market is pinning many gamers against a wall and calling it “player choice”.
And like the publishers would listen anyway. The unfortunate mantra of this rotten system is, of course, “greed is good”. That’s what motivates the shareholders, it’s a concept in which the only satisfaction is monopoly, and it’s driving the infrastructure of the market. So the creator of Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong can say what he likes, the market never lies. All that matters are those sweet, sweet numbers.
Perhaps this is cynical of me, actually, scrap that, this is cynical of me, but Mr. Miyamoto’s words weren’t directed at the gaming industry. They were for us. “Look at the state of what everyone else is doing. Nintendo won’t do that. Just don’t try to download a thirty year old game that will never be released because of legal issues or we’ll take you to the cleaners. Oh and any footage used from Nintendo on a YouTube video will have all its earnings stripped because we really don’t want to hurt the trust and profit of our consumer base.”
Why don’t I stick to reading?