Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Gaming Legacy of Jason "Jace" Hall

Additional: After this blog was posted Jace Hall responded on Twitter with "#ThisIsBadlyMisinformed #YouAreAskingToBePwnd." I responded "So educate me." No response as of yet from Mr. Hall on that one but I'm more than happy listen and be educated so I can correct myself, if that's the case.

I'm positive I read about this particular issue in Computer Gaming World (though it might have been PC Gamer) but Wikipedia has the information quoted from the Wall Street Journal (2004), Jason "Jace" Hall began to make a high Metacritic score a contractual obligation:

"If a product does not receive specific scores or better from aggregator sites like Metacritic, some deals require game publishers to pay higher royalties to Warner Bros."

In my mind, Hall's decision here is the source of a lot of angst in the gaming world. (But he's not alone when it comes to execs that could also share in the blame.)

First off, any royalties and "gain sharing" should be based on sales. Full stop.

If a game sells a bazillion copies intergalacticaly, then the developer and publisher should reap the rewards. In the "Hall Method" the game could sell more than a bazillion copies, score poorly with critics -- whatever broad definition of "critics" you want to use -- and the publisher is the sole beneficiary. The main problem with this method is that critically acclaimed games can be duds about the same percentage of the time that multi-million sellers can be critically panned.

There's a clip of John Carmack putting Jace Hall in a sleeper hold on Hall's "The Jace Hall Show" -- Carmack actually knocks Hall out (jump to 1:04). If you watch the clip, his whole body suddenly goes limp. And there was a small part of me that said, "Good."

(And also, "Carmack is a fluffy cat away from being a Bond villain.")

To this day, there are still developers and publishers signing deals like this. (No, I'm not basing this on any concrete proof.) Tying arbitrary and completely subjective scores to whether a game developer gets a bonus is the same as pulling a lever on a slot machine. Why do it? Is it just because "that's the way things are"?

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