Why Not “Imagine” Non-stereotypical Games Instead?

Member of the FragDolls and Ubisoft employee Valkyrie posted a rant on her blog regarding the reception of the company’s Imagine series of games, which are aimed at young girls. What follows are my comments on the matter that I posted as a part of the discussion happening over there.

And lets not forget that before these games are even produced the companies set up focus groups to find out exactly what their target audience wants in a game. So it’s not like these companies are pushing these games on girls; they’re creating a game based off the little girls wants, feedback/suggestions.

A few of these games are localized versions of games that have already come out elsewhere. And also, one point that this argument doesn’t address, is one brought up by Alice Taylor over at Wonderland Blog:

Research is a funny thing. If you say to someone, what’s your favourite food, they’ll list three things they love. If you then say, you didn’t list chocolate cake, don’t you like chocolate cake? They’ll say, oh SURE! I love chocolate cake! I just didn’t realise you were asking about chocolate cake.

I’m curious just what these focus groups are like. Are they suggestive, or do they let girls just name what they like? I used to say things like lawyer, pediatrician, and president when I was little and asked about careers. Where’s Imagine:President?

As a woman who got into gaming very early (around 3-4) and loves playing to this very day, it’s almost a slap in the face to even try with these games. They’re so stereotypical. Where’s our Imagine:Science Teacher? Imagine:Archaeologist? Imagine:Lawyer? And whatever happened to just making good games, games that will appeal to those who are interested in the genre they represent, games with good stories, strong characters, or just overall well-made games? Why should there even be an artificially created “need” to plum this niche other than pure $$$? Telling people to blame society is a cop out. Sure, these stereotypes are a product of society, but there’s no need to reinforce them. It’s the same whether it’s Imagine: Babyz or the toy mop and vacuum set that my cousin received as a gift.

The problem is with society, but we are free to speak out on the things we feel might be contributing to the problem. Why artificially separate and  [i]other[/i] young girls by basically saying these games are for you and by doing so, sending the implicit message that ‘these other games are not’?

After all, we did just fine finding our love for gaming without everything being cherry-picked and separated out.

The Alice Taylor blog I was referring to is located here.

As the FragDolls are Ubisoft employees, I don’t think it’s really allowed for them to speak badly of their company’s games, so I doubt that a truly honest discussion can take place over these Imagine titles they had to shill at GameX.

But I’m willing to be proven wrong. While I don’t doubt that playing a game that caters to a girl’s interests (or a boy’s, for that matter) can be a segue into gaming for life, but the question is how do these Imagine games reflect those interests? Is it a checklist, are they suggested to the girls in the groups, is it the matter of the neglected chocolate cake? And if they do such a good job as they claim, why are the subjects they cover so narrow and stereotypical in scope?

All this said, I don’t think that games aimed at girls or boys specifically are necessarily bad. However, being well-made and progressive, without falling into the pit of stereotypes would help. HerInteractive tends to do a good job. I also fully understand that video games are a product, and that they need to sell. And in a world where so many are safe bets and sequels, I know it’s a lot to ask, but I believe good games that don’t stereotype and appeal to young kids are possible.


Farewell to The Matrix Online

The game was released buggy, like many MMOs. Yet at the same time, the devs tended to be receptive to feedback. Regardless, the game underperformed in the end, despite the love that went into The Matrix Online. Sales numbers were not as predicted or hoped for, and the number of retained subscribers  dipped very low.

The game had a ton of faults, and a lot of missed potential, but when it comes to who dropped the ball, I would have to place more blame on Monolith/WBIE for selling the property off to SOE. Now that said, SOE put effort into the game but it was never treated as a star property. One might say, with good reason, noting the underperforming history as above. They had to keep profitable.

But MxO was Monolith’s baby and the devs and designers there worked hard on it. They had a good launch strategy, and the first four or five months after release were truly great stuff. Live Events were plentiful, characters would drop in and greet you outside mission areas, the story was immersive and included the players in the action. There were three factions fighting for control, as well as splinter groups. Updates were pretty frequent and robust at first: full cinematics voiced by the original film actors. The events that they held and the LET appearances really helped tie the community together. One really felt like a part of something. But of course, back to those numbers again — it just wasn’t financially sustainable.

The sale to SOE gave the game a longer life, but also a slow death. Fully rendered cinematics gave way to comic book format animation and, finally, to some drawn, barely animated storyboards that were hard to make out. Major characters were killed off or otherwise removed (likely as a way to save money), and there were few development updates.  There were some new spawns and gear, but items from past events or storylines, such as a helicpoter dropping propaganda papers, were left in the game long after the missions for that chapter were over. For the most part, the game just hung on as something for Station Pass holders to jump into now and then.

I doubt there will be another like it for some time — urban, smart, featuring an abundance of modern clothing options and styles, and filled with a mix of philosophy, supernatural elements, lots of places to enter and secrets to uncover, and a very unique playerbase full of extremely dedicated individuals. And in the beginning, the Live Events team played it well, and created the most memorable MMORPG experience I have had so far. It was fun, but sadly, the game did not realize its potential at all.