Standing Upon A Burning SpanShawn Drotar

Posted on July 6th, 2010 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Back in 1990, The Hunt for Red October established actor Alec Baldwin as an up-and-coming star; his good looks, charm and dynamic portrayal of government agent Jack Ryan convinced many in Hollywood that Baldwin was the ever-elusive “Next Big Thing”.

But something happened on the way to Red October’s inevitable sequel, Patriot Games, in 1992. Baldwin was replaced as Ryan by Harrison Ford, even though the veteran actor was even more expensive to cast and Baldwin’s portrayal of Ryan was almost universally acclaimed.

Why? Simply put, hubris. Baldwin thought he was untouchable; on top of the world. And then he started to make bad decisions - burning bridges within his own industry as he went.

In a 1991 interview with Entertainment Weekly following the flop The Marrying Man, a film Baldwin made for Disney based on a Neil Simon screenplay, Baldwin unleashed his anger at those he saw responsible for the film’s failure, including the Disney studios: “totally evil, greedy pigs”; playwright Simon: “about as deep as a bottle cap”; and Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg: “He’s the eighth dwarf - Greedy”.

Unsurprisingly, given the influence of the people that Baldwin went out of his way to insult, his star quickly faded and while his career indeed continued, his fame has only now reached its previous level, as a co-star in NBC’s 30 Rock, almost 20 years later.

The parallels between Baldwin’s situation and the video-game world only seem tangential, but as similarities between the film and gaming industries continue to grow, with ever-expanding budgets, carefully researched release dates and bombastic opening weekends becoming the norm, it’s only a matter of time before someone of note cuts off his nose to spite his face.

Take the bitter - and patently juvenile - rivalry between 2K Sports and EA Sports in the basketball arena, for example. Over the last few years, 2K Sports has had the superior product, putting the gaming Goliath at Electronic Arts on its heels. In both sales and quality, 2K Sports has had EA Sports scrambling, constantly re-shuffling its developers, its game design, and now, even its very title - from the long-running NBA Live to NBA Elite - in a desperate effort to keep pace with 2K Sports on the last remaining sports battlefield in the gaming industry.

But 2K Sports can’t seem to resist reveling in the fact that they’re winning this battle. I attended an NBA Elite event in New York City shortly before the NBA Draft; an small get-together of media, community and NBA athletes, joined with game developers to showcase what was essentially a tech demo of the forthcoming basketball title. It could hardly be described as a “game” as that point; merely a one-on-one battle that served as an opportunity to try out the new control scheme. Taking video of the event was strictly forbidden, I was told.

Nevertheless, video footage of the demo (which was in “alpha” - or early development form) turned up online. The video itself, which was posted on YouTube by someone who thought their “scoop”, such as it was, was more important than their professionalism, is now listed as “private”. Judging a game on a alpha-build demo is completely unfair, something that I’d imagine most developers would agree with… including those at 2K Sports.

But that didn’t stop 2K Sports representative Ronnie Singh, who was responsible for some of the inter-corporate nonsense last year, from responding to this bit of, um, prose on Twitter (”LMAO this sux it cant even compete with 2k9… (Elite 11) this really bad“) thusly: “Wow that looks awful. And you were worried.”

In other words, here we go again.

For Singh, and for anyone else who speaks, types or Tweets before they think, they’d do well to remember the lessons of Alec Baldwin. In an industry where everyone works with everyone, and personnel turn over like waffles in a breakfast buffet, you never know who your next boss will be. Notable developer and basketball guru Mike Wang, for example, now works on NBA 2K11 after working on NBA Live 10 only a year ago. The next person you offend with thoughtless comments might be the next person you need to hire you.

The most effective comment, after all, is quality work, and it speaks volumes without having to say a single word. Maybe that’s worth a try this time around, but I wouldn’t count on it - not when the purpose of a “community manager” is simply to stoke the fanboy flames.

Watch where you step.

2 Responses to 'Standing Upon A Burning Span'

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  1. Andrew said,

    on July 6th, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Well said Shawn, I couldn’t agree more. Even as an NBA Live/Elite afficionado, I have no issues giving credit where credit is due when it comes to NBA 2K but in general I’d say the fanboyism is out of controls on both sides and the last thing the companies should be doing is pandering to it. It just comes off as childish, unprofessional and unbearably smug; in fact, I’d liken it to some of those “I’m a Mac” ads that Apple produced. Even though there’s merit in what they’re saying about their own product, the jabs at the competition come off as petty and fanboyish. It’s one thing to talk up your own product, that’s expected, but as you said quality work speaks for itself. To me, smugness and snobbery are very unappealing forms of advertising.

    I’m sure developers love the fanboy comments as they stroke the ego, but for the sake of getting constructive consumer feedback they need to be stamped out. A couple of the comments that have been posted on NBA Live 10 videos I’ve uploaded to the NLSC’s YouTube channel have been sarcastic jabs at the graphics, likening them to PS2 and even Super Nintendo quality and deeming them “cartoonish” and “horrible” which to me is absurd hyperbole. Words like “cartoonish” and “lazy” have become, in my opinion, irritating buzzwords amongst armchair critics who are - ironically - too lazy to provide thoughtful or constructive feedback about their likes and dislikes. There’s no way anyone could or should take fanboy trolling “critique” seriously and developers really shouldn’t encourage it. Smirk to yourself privately if need be, but don’t reward the fanboys for inane chatter.

    It’s disrespectful to consumers, it’s disrespectful to your peers and as you note, potentially disrespectful to people who will become your colleagues or perhaps even your bosses one day. I’ve seen people defend Ronnie’s comments with “He’s right, Live sucks, 2K is the better game” and of course everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but it’s not even about which game is better or whether he or anyone who shares his sentiments is right or not. It’s about professionalism, maturity and dignity. Take the high road, especially if you are the party on top.

  2. DaveDQ said,

    on July 14th, 2010 at 8:02 am

    I agree that these comments, especially the tweets, need to go. It becomes far too personal and counterproductive.

    I’m sure competition between game companies has always been there. The internet, like it does with everything else, presents so much saturation and leaves so many open doors to allow people to act juvenile. Last year presented silly “tweets” between the Live and 2K team and it seems Ronnie hasn’t learned his lesson.

    Sometimes insecurity manifests itself in odd ways. I think this is the case here. Let your development of the game speak for itself.

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