"Hey, congratulations! You da boss now. Come in! This is your office! Take a seat in that executive leather chair. Spin around and look at the view! What do you think? Beautiful, isn't it? You da boss now! It's all gravy from here on in, baby! Enjoy!"
It started with Kickstarter, didn't it? Suddenly you were in a position to decide what stuff you wanted, and you could help other people make that stuff for you. You handed over some of your own hard-earned money to strangers, and said, "Yes, go make that thing. I want it." Sometimes you even said, "Here, take even more of my money, because I want you to put a picture of me in your thing too, and send me a video message, and take me for dinner. Because I am quite, quite mad." It was like being a boss. A creepy boss. It felt like power, almost, but it was actually a trick.
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: I have the finest snake oil in the land!
YOU: What is snake oil, anyway?
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: That's not relevant! All that is relevant is that this is Zombie Snake Oil! In a comic-book styled bottle! And it's the BEST!
YOU: Then I will have some! I love zombies and comics. And snake oil, I suppose.
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: Ah, but I can't sell you any. It doesn't exist!
YOU: What? You're selling me something that doesn't exist? What are you, a priest?!
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: But it will exist, after you pay me! If you pay me now, I will return with my horse and wagon in six months, and hand you a bottle!
YOU: In six months? I dunno... Your last few bottles of snake oil were average at best, and total commercial disasters.
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: But this isn't about me! It's about YOU! A powerful man like you shouldn't be stopped from buying something he wants just because it doesn't exist. You have the power to MAKE it exist! It's almost like you are some kind of boss!
YOU: When you put it like that... Take my money!
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: But wait. Did you know that if one lucky boss pays an enormous sum of money, he will be able to buy not only his bottle of snake oil, but also a meet-and-greet with myself and my horse!
YOU: But I've met you already. And I've met Dave, your horse.
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: But did we sign your Zombie Snake Oil when we met?
YOU: No, because Zombie Snake Oil doesn't exist.
SNAKE OIL SALESMAN: It doesn't exist YET!
And that's the game that Kickstarter continues to play. It makes you feel like you're some kind of power player, but actually you're just playing the same role you always did, with an extra frosting of financial risk.
(Just before I filed this column, Penny Arcade announced their Kickstarter drive. They've asked their fans to hand over a quarter of a million dollars to stop any ads appearing on the site. And they'll be doing it every year. It seems obscene, and it is obscene, but it's the natural next step for Kickstarter. There are too many people now trying to benefit from the goodwill of their fans. In fact, I think it is abuse of that goodwill. Back when we made Consolevania, people constantly suggested that we start trying to monetise it somehow. I felt that if we needed paid, we should look for a broadcaster to pay us, not the people who made us relevant in the first place. And if you do decide to wring cash out of your fans, don't use Kickstarter. Don't kick even more dirt at Kickstarter. "The reality is that we can continue working for advertisers but if we can, we'd rather work for you." Gee, thanks a bunch. Penny Arcade should be ashamed.)
Still, behind all of that, something good was going on. Niche weird stuff that might never have seen the light of day had a chance of finding both funding and that weirdo audience in the same handy place.
Then, on Monday this week, Steam announced their Steam Greenlight thing. And shit got real. This wasn't to be a place where people found funding for a project. This was a place where the intended audience could express a desire to see the project exist on the platform they have access to. Here's what it says on the Steam Greenlight webpage - "The community should be deciding what gets released. After all, it's the community that will ultimately be the ones deciding which release they spend their money on." And that, for me, is a beautiful thing. That sounds like heaven.
Why? Because I work in TV. And for those of us in the TV industry, a concept like this is like hearing a jet fly overhead as we finger-paint the Live Final of The Voice UK on the walls of our cave.
I am going to tell you how soul-destroying it can be to work in the TV industry, and hopefully highlight how we're being left behind by developments in other media. Let me give you an example, from reality.
I live and work in Scotland. I write comedy, and most of the ideas I have are for TV comedy shows. Sitcoms, sketch shows, that kind of thing. However, if you're experienced in the TV industry, you are aware that there are a lot of "gatekeepers" out there. Your work will have to jump through countless hoops, and many of those hoops will struggle to even understand your accent. If I take an idea to BBC Scotland, before it can be commissioned by the bosses there, it has to be approved by bosses in London. I'm not even sure how many bosses my projects have to go through, but it seems like a lot. I will rarely even meet any of the bosses who will decide on my projects, so I constantly have to guess what those bosses might hate this month.
In fact, it would help if you viewed these TV bosses as Final Bosses from video games. They are as frustrating to deal with, and as difficult to reach.
With experience, you start to learn these bosses' attack patterns. One might have a weakness for studio sitcoms, one might have an easily exploited "Gervais-style Glances At Camera" glitch. You tailor your project to chip away at each boss's health, praying that there are no secret attacks you haven't heard about. (I was once on the receiving end of a PERFECT KO when a boss told me that a comedy sketch he'd personally requested to be filmed was too controversial to broadcast.)
The thing is, if and when you do win, it often feels like your thing is not your own anymore. Your project gets compromised. It's like leaving your Minecraft server unprotected and finding that griefers have left your beautiful paradise looking like the arse end of Dundee. And when that project pops out of the other end of the machine, on its last sliver of health after a late-game Boss Rush, it's almost a miracle if the audience enjoys it.
The process of TV distances you from your audience. It's heartbreaking. The drudgery of having to play politics with so many individuals just crushes you. And it's why, sad to say, so many writers and directors I know in TV land are seriously considering moving into other areas. Anywhere where things are a bit more progressive.
Steam's Greenlight is beautiful, because it allows an audience to find the stuff they want and lets them tell like-minded people about it. Then, if there's enough of those people, they have a way of telling Steam that they want to see that game on their service. This demand will make it easy for creators to find funding (and I mean proper funding, not Kickstarter's thing of passing risk onto the consumer) and will guarantee, I promise you, some amazing new game experiences down the line.
It almost hurts to see it. Forgive me for this TV interlude on a games website, but I feel that it's the best way to illustrate how fortunate gamers and game creators are at this moment in time. TV broadcasters need to start looking into following this model. Can you imagine what it would be like if Channel 4 (who are constantly looking to innovate in new media) announced something similar to Steam's Greenlight? A place where you could look for TV projects that you want to watch, by creators that interest you, and where you have a voice that could make that TV a reality?
That would be a dream come true for me, and people like me. It's a dream that came true for games developers on Monday. And you know, that dream is you.
"Man, I am so happy to be working for you! You got smarts. You're on my wavelength. I am so glad the old management have cleared on out of here! I love it! Let me get you a coffee. You da boss, baby! Enjoy!"
The Weekly Mini-Reviews
How many games have I been sent to review? NONE. I put it down to fear.
Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise - Wubbadubadub, is that true? Yes, it is true. This is a contender for my game of the year. I know it's only July, but shut up. I could be dead in August. Why can't all games be like this? Just fun. Just fun from start to finish. It's like someone said, "Let's try to make something that makes people smile." And then they recruited a team of the nicest people in the world to make it. And there were probably office love affairs and cool nights out. Every day they'd sit down at their game-making machines, and think to themselves - "Hmm, I think people might enjoy high-fiving tiny monkeys that live inside a watch. I think that might stop them thinking about death for a while." If you don't buy this joyful game, you're the gaming equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Independent Charles Show
Hey, I got sent this in the post. It was on a DVD. Strangely, the postmark was dated 1765. I've no idea what it is.