After spending quite a bit of time recently on various discussion forums on AtariAge and Facebook, it has really struck me more than usual how incredibly demanding our retrogaming community (and gaming community at large) is, and how entitled, as the title of this blog post states, some people come off as. This is of course nothing new, going back to the days in the late 1990s when MAME developers would get criticized or even threatened when someone's favorite game wasn't properly emulated, as if the monumental task of emulating what is now thousands of arcade machines, for free, wasn't stressful enough, or otherwise rewarding for the end user. It was the one game that was the deal breaker among the countless other games and the incredible accomplishment in and of itself.
Of course, this kind of criticism has continued since. In my reviews over the past few years of the Atari Flashbacks 3 and 4, Sega Classic Console, and other similar devices, the negativity around those releases from viewers was often frequent and loud. Whether it wasn't getting the sound quite right in the Sega stuff, or missing a personal favorite game in the Atari stuff, the vitriol flew fast and furious. This included statements like, "No game x? It's a fail," or "The sound isn't quite right so I couldn't possibly use it." That's fine - individually we can dislike things for any reason we so choose - but then going on to state that people are idiots for buying it, or why would anyone want it, etc., and then going on what seems like a personal crusade to criticize said device at every possible opportunity (and, as we know, the Internet provides lots of opportunities) shows a remarkable lack of perspective. Take the examples in this paragraph. You're talking devices with say, 80 built-in games and original style controllers that typically retail for just $40. Can't we consider that maybe it might be OK to accept a few trade offs for something so low cost that offers relatively so much? Not for some, because apparently that one missing game is a personal affront or that tinny sound makes it completely worthless. [Read more]
Of course, it's fine to be critical of something, but there does reach a point where the criticism loses the aforementioned perspective. All I ask is that before we go off on an angry rant, we take a moment to reflect and consider why something might be the way that it is, whether it was realistically avoidable, whether it really is universally a deal breaker, whether it's something really poorly implemented, and whether any of those things truly devalues what's honestly being offered. Even though it's monumentally difficult in this gaming golden age where we have almost unrestricted access in one way or another to over 40 years of content to have proper perspective, it's also important to try not to take things for granted. Wouldn't you have killed 20 years ago to have had software like MAME that gives you unlimited access to thousands of arcade games; a device like the RetroN 5 that lets you play the cartridges from more than half a dozen game consoles using original controllers on a high definition display; or a device like the ColecoVision Flashback, with its 60 built-in games, original style controller, and tiny console that plugs right into your TV? Can't we as a community try to bring that same sense of wonder to these products that we would have had before we became so jaded and needed to nitpick every incompatibility, every missing game, and every little thing that doesn't cater to our personal wishlists?
So I ask my fellow retrogaming community that before we become hypercritical of something that we consider what it takes to bring things to market and what some of the mitigating factors might be (business, logistical, financial, etc.) as to why certain decisions were made. It's probably not because the developer didn't think of it or has a personal vendetta against you and all that you believe in. It's hard enough to bring out such things that target our interests. It becomes even more difficult when each new release is absolutely torn apart by the vocal minority, potentially damaging sales for what amounts to not widely applicable reasons.
My comments on a RetroN 5 forum that spurred my blog post when the thing was being savaged for not supporting flash carts or ROMs, just cartridges:
I don't know what the actual debate is here. Since this product was expressly designed to run original cartridges and utilize original controllers, they have no particular incentive to support ROM dumping/loading, particularly since there's no good argument that it would only be used for playing legal homebrews. It's just not worth the potential hassle of possibly being categorized as a pirating device and getting the company in some type of legal trouble. I mean, we're all adults here. We know how this would get used if it had said functionality. Other products work differently and/or are from companies that either officially license what they need to (meaning the licensors, like Sega, are fine with the concept) or are small enough of a company or located in a region remote enough where there's not as much concern for legal ramifications.
Whether Hyperkin's approach of dumping a cart's contents to memory and running it through emulation is better or worse than trying to replicate the functionality of the original hardware is up to the individual, but, in the end, that's the approach they went with. I think you either want this as a more modern way to play your cartridge collection or you simply use the umpteen other ways to get the exact results you're after. You don't have to agree with or support Hyperkin's approach, but once we realized what they brought to market, the debate pretty much boils down to individual preference at this point. They clearly thought long and hard about what they wanted to bring to market, and, even though it's disappointing to those of us with flash carts or who would prefer to use ROMs on such a handy all-in-one device, the fact of the matter is it doesn't and won't. It's ultimately not that big of a deal.
If you really think about it, it's amazing how jaded and demanding our community is at times. Some people feel entitled or demanding without understanding the realities (business, logistical, financial, etc.) of a situation. Whether it's threatening a MAME developer for not emulating their favorite game properly, hating on a $40 TV games console with 85 games for not perfectly replicating some of the games in its collection, or criticizing a device like the RetroN 5 that we would have killed for just 10 years ago, it's no surprise our community is not listened to more and instead the less discriminating masses are targeted. It seems there's no pleasing the vocal minority. Of course, it's fine to be critical of something, but there reaches a point where the criticism loses all perspective.
As things evolve, so do expectations. I don't exactly consider it fair to equate what we had available in the past with what is possible now. Over time things get better and as a result, so does everyone's expectations. I guess there are reasons they can't or won't incorporate loading roms from an SD card ( and I get that ), but it's a selling point that would make these $40 consoles a lot more attractive. Even at $50. I wouldn't mind owning one of each, but my wallet would disagree with me on purchasing them. :) Maybe at some point, when I have the extra money and I'm in the mood, I'll consider it, as I would like to have them, but once I've ooh'ed and ahh'ed, I have to be realistic and say, maybe later.
Understood, but I also think you can appreciate the target audience for these and wouldn't actively dissuade anyone from buying it just because it's missing the SD card you want. Some people in our community don't take that approach.
By the way, both the ColecoVision and Intellivision Flashbacks may be worth it for you, because even though they only have 60 games each and no SD card slot, they come with limited edition overlays for all of the games and controllers styled after the originals that can be used on the original consoles. That to me is well worth the $40.
Correct....that would just help to make them go away faster. If I suddenly find myself near Toys R Us and got an extra $43 on me, I may possibly pick one up. But I think I would have to get a Coleco and an Intellivision to balance things out. :)
So an extra $85 would be helpful.
When mame and sparcade and others blew onto the scene nearly 20 years ago I was ecstatic! Just that emulators had been "invented" - we were beyond thankful.
I didn't care if the games had the wrong colors, or incorrect sounds, or other bugs. I knew they were eventually gonna get fixed. Over the years new games were added, old ones got fixed, and today we're at version 153. Now that mame has been polished and debugged, our standards for what emulation is have grown.
OTH, I also agree that with other implementations of classic games - while they may not be perfect, we should take them as they are. If you want the real thing, then get the real thing. If you don't mind a few minor detractions then emulation might be for you.
Good article, Bill. Perhaps people would be much less quick to judgment if they realize the people they are criticizing are our friends and colleagues in the community. For example, we all know Curt Vendel created the Atari Flashback. It's one thing to crab about it generally, quite another to go up to Curt and tell him his product sucks because A, B and C. If you actually took time to discuss the project with Curt you would discover that there is a reason for the trade-offs, and that Curt tried his best to make it as true to the original within the parameters he had to work. I'm sure the other retro-efforts on the market would bare a similar story. These projects are down more for love of the hobby than for the money.