Can A Brotha Get A Purple Ocean... Please?
A couple of you might be wondering what happened to my earlier in the year recurring segment 'All Loud on the Modding Front'. It's currently on hiatus, because I have reservations and a lack of energy for the regurgitation with commentary of information that is freely available on the forum. Does what I have to say about it matter all that much? Maybe! I do have a column in an internet publication so that has to count for something! But for now you're stuck with this editorial, as I haven't the desire to act as correspondent currently(especially for sections I don't have any interest in, yet where all the reader interest probably lies *cough* Empire *cough* ).
A Total War Player and Modder's Lament
Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking. I look damn sexy in this leotard. And I agree, I do at that. You might also be thinking, what in [insert deity or lack thereof's name here]'s name is a purple ocean? Is that some new drug all the whippersnappers and hooligans are off getting high on? Maybe. I don't know, it could be, it sounds interesting at least. But no, that's not it. A purple ocean is in fact a metaphor, because what happens when you combine a red ocean and a blue ocean?
Why you get a purple ocean of course! Duh. Tough crowd. Moving to slow, being to vague, saynamore saynamore. Any of the readers who are pursuing degrees in the field of Business might have heard of a book by INSEAD called Blue Ocean Strategy
. I won't belabor for you the tenets of the market strategy, to put it simply a 'Blue Ocean' is an untapped market space, perhaps a niche, where a new form of product is created to form a new market rather than competing in an existing market(if you want to know more of the specifics you could always read the wikipedia article
and buy the book
). Pretty simple in principle. The book defines a 'red ocean' as all the industries in existence today, and a 'blue ocean' as those that have yet to transpire.
So what is a purple ocean then? Well it's something I made up. Call it a metaphor's metaphor, or call it stringed cheese, I don't particularly care what you call it, but it stands for a market where competition is developing. The astute metaphorologist(there I go making up words again) will find the concept of a blue ocean when relating to an open market very apt, because just as there is no land in sight, there is no competition in sight. So what does this have to do with anything? Glad you asked, if you hadn't asked I couldn't continue, I'd be stuck on this line perpetually forced to teeter on a cliffhanger.
Why it's the perfect description of the area occupied by Total War games in the current competitive gaming market. This deviates some from the concept of a 'new industry', but the thing with large umbrella industries such as the 'video game industry', is that their genres and sub-genres come to form industries within industries of their own, in that they take a particular production setup and philosophy to achieve. There's no guarantee that a development studio which focuses on FPS games is going to break into the Sports genre and not make a mess of things, quite to the contrary many 'specialized studios' have had failed enterprises trying to expand their coverage. Even our beloved CA has been hit and miss with their ventures beyond Total War, with Spartan, Viking, and Stormrise all receiving mixed reviews.
So we've established that a 'blue ocean' for the purposes of this article is the position the TW series is in currently in the gaming industry, and we've established that a 'red ocean' is a competitive industry like generic RTS, RPG, or FPS might be classified. Why on earth do we need a purple ocean? Because competition breeds improvement, it was as true a million years ago when Ug and Grug set up competing Tiger Clubbing agencies as it is today. Ug clubs your tigers for less, Grug clubs your tigers and skins them, Ug clubs your tigers, skins them, and delivers them to your cavestep, Grug kills Ug and now he has a monopoly... well I'd say business competition has advanced a little bit
in the past million years, but the basic principles remain the same.
I've been a player of TW since its inception. I bought Shogun the day it was released, had a virtual year of bliss, and the cycle repeated with Medieval, and then with Rome. None of them did I ever consider modding, the game was fine to me out of the box. The story from here is pretty obvious. Boy meets RTR, boy plays with RTR, RTR slaps boy, boy apologizes, boy moves out and gets a place with RTR, RTR gets run over by a car, boy cries, boy vows never to love another mod again, boy is a filthy liar... you get the gist of it. Somewhere along the line I became a modder, not a very good one mind you, but a modder no less! Then one day boy learned of Empire: Total War, and boy was happy, but then it came out, and boy was sad. Perhaps boy had become a cynic from his modding experiences, perhaps boy just didn't get turned on by flashy battles and big knocke... features any more, perhaps. Whatever the case may be, boy found himself truly disappointed from a non-modder perspective for the first time.
Where were we? Anyways, it had been apparent for some time, but only truly realized at that juncture, just how badly the hybrid TW sub-genre needs even just a kernel of competition. For the sake of lulz, let's mention in brief the "serious contenders". Imperial Glory, okay, TW-ish, let's look at the Gamespot tag line... oh, ouch, "Total War clone", "unfulfilled potential", that's not good. How about a bit newer game to utilize the concept, XIII Century: Death or Glory? First line of the review, hrm, "Calling [it] a poor man's take on the Total War series may seem condescending[...]". Low blow, that is a low blow, Matt Todd, if that is your real name(two first names? I call extraterrestrial). One might also consider the titles Cossacks and Cossacks II in this list, perhaps the new game East India Company, and to that I say, C'MONNN, CCC'MONNNN, CCCCC'MOOOOONNNNNN.
As far as companies with monopolies in their respective niches go, Creative Assembly does a very respectable job. They could, technically, release a small game every six months with minor changes here and there; others have done it before, others will do it again. To my delight, they haven't shaped their production strategy around milking their isolation, and to this I give them ample credit. However it can't be said that the production strategy is catered to dealing with competition either, except as a preventative measure, but that's because there isn't any! It's also not their fault they lack competition, unlike, for instance, Microsoft(and 'monopoly' is used in the most casual way possible to instance this lack of competition).
Fact: Products in competitive markets improve more rapidly than products in monopolized markets. Games progress because someone does something cool first, consumers like it, other companies catch on and the unadulterated borrowing process rumbles on. What about mini-maps? They didn't just pop out of thin air. Someone thought it would be a good idea to have a little map with a dot on it showing your current location in the 'world'. People caught on, now it's almost scoffed at not to have a mini-map for a character-controlled game. Look at just about anything and you'll find elements that you probably didn't know you needed until you had them, but then couldn't do without. More minds working for the same slice of pie exponentially increases the likelihood of these elements surfacing.
I want my experiences to all be as exciting as that first play of Shogun, that first play of Rome. But for that to happen we need more people working for a slice of that tasty hybrid pie. CA does a fine job plodding along in uncharted waters, but systemic invention of new ideas at a rate acceptable to gamers is a job no one studio should bear. So please... can a brotha get some purple ocean?