i took some time out of my schedule to hit X09, Microsoft’s annual holiday preview event for the Xbox 360 and related platforms. This is the nth year i’ve attended as a journalist, although truth be told my game journalism days ended when i woke up to the fact that i couldn’t make an honest buck from it. (So, too, ended my volunteer work, my origami hobby, my devotion to fatherhood, and my patriotism … if it wasn’t profitable, i decided to cut it out of my life.)
Sorry, sweetie – you’re not economically viable.
Microsoft usually wears its heart on its sleeve at the X events. You can tell by looking around the room where they’re hedging their bets for the holidays, how they’re hanging their hopes. One quick glance around the room at this year’s events spoke volumes about the company’s holiday strategy: no kids, no families, and no casual gamers: just pure, unbridled core players with a penchant for blood n’ tits. God help us.
Where have i seen this game before? Oh yeah – EVERYWHERE.
In the past, i’ve written for Whoa! Magazine and GamePad, two Corus Entertainment kids’ properties, and The Magazine Not For Adults (formerly Disney Adventure magazine), so my kid-dar is pretty finely honed at this point. i’m pretty adept at sussing out which titles will be M-rated at launch, and which ones will be T-rated but still inappropriate for the audience (realistic war games never made the cut, by my insistence). i strolled down one wall of the This is London night club in Toronto dismissing each game in turn: first-person shooter, first-person shooter, South Park-themed tower defense game, first-person shooter, third person stealth espionage, first-person shooter, first person shooter. And so on.
And sequels! i caught a glimpse of Splinter Cell: Enough Already, and Grand Theft Auto: Repeatedly-Sodomizing-a-Dead-Horse City. And the game landscape was the blandest, most unoriginal i’ve ever seen it.
Variety Doesn’t Sell
In previous years, there had been Xbox Live Community Games (now Indie Games). There had been friendly characters like Spongebob Squarepants and Banjo Kazooie. There had been Scene It! and You’re in the Movies and Viva Piñata. It’s not that any of these more accessible titles were necessarily any good, but at the very least i got a sense that Microsoft was trying to court a broader audience, trying to sell a system that everyone could enjoy.
Viva Piñata: obviously, since it is brightly coloured and features neither blood nor tits, only children are allowed to play it. Or fags – it also appeals to fags.
Well, we now see where that strategy has led them. Whether it’s because Microsoft itself has abandoned all hope, or whether the third party publishers saw abysmal financial returns on their family-oriented products (or indeed, whether the PR company wanted to look cool in front of the members of the gaming public who were invited for the first time this year), Xbox Live is no place for kids, families, or guys like me who don’t go in for blood n’ tits games.
i counted on one hand the number of non-FPS, non-M-rated titles, and i had fingers left over:
- Tony Hawk: Ride, the one with the skateboard peripheral
- DJ Hero, the one with the turntable peripheral
- Rock Band: The Beatles, the one with the guitar and drum peripherals
Aaaaaaaand … that’s about it.
Not into first-person shooters? Good news: we’ve got all this extra crap you can buy.
So to you gamers who are slow to take a chance on innovative new franchises – you who want only more of the same, and who are happy with seeing a bigger number next for your favourite game’s title, you’re in for a real Christmas miracle this year.
You’ll run downstairs and slide on your knees to the foot of that tree, soft naked bottom peeping out of the bum flap on your pyjamas, and gaze with wonder at the gifts upon gifts that Santa left you. You’ll tear open the wrapping on each one in turn, eyes wide and mouth agape, imagining the thrills and unbridled delight each title will offer. And when the shredded paper has all been tossed to one side and the shrink-wrapped cases of your new Xbox 360 games sit glistening in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, you’ll marvel at the spectacle of a dozen or more new games to play for your Xbox 360 video game system.
And they’ll all be exactly the same game.