Shank’s Spiel: The Corrosive Effect of “Entertainment”

There is perhaps no word in the industry I truly hate more than “entertainment”.

Of course, games are a definite form of entertainment. However, in the video game industry, “entertainment” has come to mean “everything else besides games”. I consider it a highly derogatory buzzword cast with wild abandon by detached executives, so far removed from their core base, only serving to further diminish the focus of the industry while simultaneously talking down to us, the core gamers.

I hate this word. I hate it more than I hate motion control gaming because at least the latter is, regrettably, grounded in gaming.

Just why is “entertainment” used so often today? When did this shift happen? Why did Sony and more obviously Microsoft start pushing this word into my beloved past-time?

My cynical answer to these questions is a rather obvious one if most definitely a cop out – money. Pushing TV, music, Netflix, etc into my games console is an attempt to “broaden the appeal” – I hate this phrase – of these machines. It’s an attempt to get that soccer mom to play games with her ten-year-old son who, let’s be honest here, would like nothing less than to play a Kinect sports game with his mom. He’d much rather be playing Call of Duty with his friends online. I know this, because I was ten years old once.

This “broadening the appeal” of these consoles is a truly corrosive thing. It absolutely must stop. Now, to its credit, Sony seems to have understood this. This is why during their PS4 reveal last February, they spoke entirely about the gaming experience. They followed this up with what I consider to be the most memorable E3 presentation in history.

And look what happened. They are comprehensively beating Microsoft in the marketplace.

Conversely, Microsoft decided to reveal their console as an “entertainment” hub. All your music, TV, apps, and more in one box. No need to describe what happened afterward. I think it’s pretty obvious by now.

Fortunately, they changed their deplorable anti-consumer policies, but their focus on “entertainment” lingered on. It’s still there today. On Monday, we learned that Xbox will be producing a new TV show called Humans. It will be made available through Xbox in North America. I can’t begin to tell you how completely angry this makes me.

Producing a TV show does not help the gaming experience. It does not convince those consumers, many of which may have been loyal Xbox fanboys at one point, that your product is worth their money. Things like this only prove that Microsoft genuinely doesn’t get it, that they just don’t understand the problem, and what’s worse, seemingly don’t care about fixing something they genuinely don’t see.

And this is why I love my PS4, but can’t seem to love my Xbox One. I mean, it plays games, sure, but you can clearly tell that gaming is not the focus of the box. The Xbox One is a box that plays music, handles TV, provides streaming services, and oh yeah, plays games too…I guess…

Call me old fashioned, but what exactly is wrong in wanting my video game console to only focus on gaming? You’re right. Nothing. It is a perfectly reasonable request. However, this is not what companies like Microsoft want you to believe.

I understand that the games industry is in a constant state of flux. For example, livestreaming games and sharing gaming videos and screenshots were either rare or impossible only a decade ago. Now, livestreaming and sharing gameplay experiences is a very real and integral part of gaming.

And I’m not here to say, “I don’t want livestreaming and sharing in my console”, because those things very much are central to the industry now. They genuinely enhance the gaming experience.

But that’s the crucial qualifier, these things enhance the gaming experience. Having the ability to watch TV, listen to music, and stream Netflix absolutely does not enhance that gaming experience. It only serves to dilute the focus of your console, downplay the gaming experience, and broaden the appeal, while simultaneously distancing the core gamers who are the very demographic these corporations should focus on, for it is they who will be the early adopters and evangelize the market around your product.

Instead, Microsoft decided to market and push their product as an “entertainment” hub. This is wrong. This completely wrong. I take personal offense to this, and so should you.

Things don’t seem completely doomed, however. Microsoft finally seems to have heard the outcry from their core base and as a result, have chosen a gamer to head up Xbox, Phil Spencer. Speaking with Kotaku, Spencer said, “The entertainment features that we have on Xbox One are important, but those can’t come at a cost for what we do for the core gamer,” [emphasis added by author].

This makes me very happy and, to an extent, renews my faith in Xbox. While their policy change last summer was great, I got the feeling that they changed due to pressure rather than actually understanding the reasons why. Now however, it seems like Microsoft have not only heard the outcry from their core base, but more importantly, seem to have finally understood why they need this change.

And honestly, I really hope this is the beginning of a more games-focused machine from Microsoft. Ideally, I’d want all streaming, music, and TV capabilities completely stripped from my Xbox One, but I know that’s never going to happen. Instead, the best I can hope for is less of a public campaign for those completely useless, distracting, and corrosive features, and more dialogue surrounding a tighter, richer gaming experience.

I still stand by my thoughts from the top of this piece. I truly hate the word “entertainment”. It has only served to completely distract the industry at large while alienating and, to some extent, punishing us core gamers who only want to game. It’s a term that genuinely needs to die, and finally, in an age when social media is a very real and necessary PR vestige between corporations and the public, it seems our voices are finally being heard. Things seem to be changing for the better.

If nothing else, I hope you found this week’s Spiel entertaining.

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