As games journalists, there are times to attempt some semblance of detached objectivity, to assert a certain amount of professional control that serves to isolate a critical perspective from the swathes of subjective feeling that come with being a part of the world's most interactive cultural industry.
And sometimes, you just have to say f**k that!
An industry with a discerning, intelligent, and pointedly critical consumer audience, gaming focuses too often on the negative aspects, albeit often with good reason. But when someone comes along and does something right, we should shout about it from the virtual treetops and give credit where credit's due.
I refer, of course, to CD Projekt's recent spring conference, wherein they detailed a myriad of consumer-oriented gifts, bonuses, and giveaway. The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition featured heavily - the free upgrade for existing PC owners, the free digital, DRM-free copy for all purchasers, the 1,000-strong giveaway - as did GOG.com, with the 48-hours fallout freebie up for grabs. The response, as one might expect, was extremely favourable, and rightly so.
For so long, CD Projekt have been championing what almost seems like an alien concept in today's games industry: the idea that consumers should be courted rather than terrorised. Okay, so the latter epithet might be a little strong, but the point is valid. Too many publishers simply talk about giving consumers the best experience, without actually putting those words into action.
Though the media are allowed behind closed doors, for brief and clinically prepared moments, the most that people see is the end result. When this amounts to what's perceived as sliced and diced games, supplemented by day one DLC, multiplayer charges, pre-owned punishments, oppressive DRM, it presents a picture of publishers attempting to squeeze every last drop of money out the consumer.
It doesn't really matter if that's not actually the case, this is an industry after all, but a bit of transparency wouldn't go amiss. The point is that consumers feel victimised.
“We believe that games we make deserve support,” said Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, Senior Quest Designer at CD Projekt, earlier this month to Kotaku. “You couldn’t call the extra stuff being added [to The Witcher 2 for the Enhanced Edition] an expansion pack. We are trying to be fair and honest with our customers. We believe that the things we have added, customers should get it for free, because they have already paid for the product.”
What an interesting, wholesome perspective...
GOG.com is a perfect example of a service built upon a practice of discerning what consumers want. Do we want to be fiddling around with DOSBox, or adjusting system files to attempt to run old games? Do we want to have our purchases locked to single accounts, one machine at a time? Do we want a marketplace where the prices and values are pushed up depending on region? No, no, and hell no. Global flat rates, a miniscule, DRM-free download client, customised and patched games, excellent customer support, persistent updates, polls on how to improve the service, and direct feedback...these are the things we want.
Those are the things we get.
In an industry where principles - in terms of development practices, publishing and production practices, retail practices (all of which have had low points in this past year) - seem to have been mislaid, or often forgotten at convenient times, it's nice to see a company sticking to their guns.
It's reflected in their biggest game, too, with The Witcher 2 coming to consoles in a handful of days. It's not a game that panders or patronises. It's not a game that compromises itself to reach a wider audience. CD Projekt RED knew exactly what they wanted to do with that game, who they wanted to target, and what story (not to mention what kind of story) they wanted to tell. And it was all the better for it.
As I said in my preview, they could have simply ported the game over with little thought, for a quick buck. But that's not how CD Projekt operate.
“It’s just the attitude we have to gamers," stated Agnieszka Szostak. "We want to be honest with them.”
“It’s not like we don't make mistakes, because we do. The last mistake I think we made was the controversial thing where we sent letters to people who pirated our game.
“But we listen to gamers. If people make complaints, we try to be honest and say, ‘well, that wasn’t a good decision’ and we try and change things.
“That’s our attitude.”
It's a little bit of a sad indictment of our industry today that championing good business practices, positive reinforcement, and notions such as cultivating loyalty through carrots rather than sticks, seems so anomalous. It's perhaps a little sad when one reflects that us gamers as a collective might actually have our own selves to blame for lapping up punishment in the face of popular franchises, but that's another argument for another time.
For now, it's enough to say thank you to CD Projekt for proving that there's a way for everyone in this industry to have their cake, eat it too, and probably have a DRM-free slice for later as well.