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The Commercialization of Neo
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on November 21, 2005   |   Episode 83 (Show Archive)  


They've already done the Art of the Matrix, so should we be surprised that now it's the Commercialization of the Matrix?
Despite having earned over $500 Million at the box office, the Matrix franchise is in a heap of trouble. This once-hot series seemed perfect for video games; after all, it was certainly influenced by modern games and was full of things that gamers want to do - shoot stuff in slow motion, perform acrobatics while fighting dozens of people at once, and jacking in to all kinds of cool new worlds. But to all those people that thought that a Matrix game would be the perfect centerpiece to the series, you couldn't have been more wrong.

Although David Perry and company have made good games before (including Earthworm Jim), it's their terrible Matrix games that most people are reminded of when they hear the name Shiny Entertainment. Enter the Matrix can best be described as an unoriginal experience full of broken game play and their new game, the Path of Neo, is getting similar mediocre marks from game critics around the world. But despite what you think of these games, they weren't the titles that held the most promise. The Matrix Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, seemed like the best fit for what the Wachowski brothers had envisioned.

What better fit for the Matrix, if anything the Matrix universe is perfect for such an online experience? Not only is there plenty of team-based action outside of the Matrix, but when you jack in it seems like an ideal location for thousands of gamers to work together to defeat a common enemy. Warner Brothers hyped the idea of fighting along side familiar characters, each with their own recognizable voices behind them. But the Matrix Online didn't quite live up to expectations, and instead of seeing a world rich with real characters, Sony Online Entertainment has had to take some drastic measures to bring in the money. This is all well and good, but there is no doubt in my mind that they have simply gone too far this time.

I bet you don't have to put up with Pepsi ads in World of Warcraft!
Like all MMO's, the Matrix Online requires you to not only buy the game, but also pay a monthly fee in order to access it. Companies have justified this by claiming that it takes a lot of money to make sure everything runs smoothly, to fix the bugs, and generally keep track of what is going on. To the faithful, $15 a month is well worth it to have free run of a never ending world full of adventures and friends. I've often heard fans of the genre suggest that this monthly price saves them money, since they are too busy playing this one game to buy any other titles. But apparently $15 a month isn't enough money, and now Sony has decided to go one step further ... advertising!

SSX On Tour is full of advertising, but then again the game is cheaper than normal so who's complaining?
The Matrix Online has always had advertising, but for the most part it's been large banners for other Sony Online Entertainment products. But all this is about to change now that they've partnered with Massive Inc., a company that specializes in matching games and advertisements. Chances are you've seen their work before, they've managed to get advertisements for real-world products in games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and SWAT 4. Be it commercials for upcoming movies, various soft drinks, or fast food, Massive Inc. is responsible for turning your games into giant commercials.

But doing it in the Matrix Online is a whole different beast, it's the first time we've seen such a push for advertising in a game people are paying a monthly fee to play. Sure, there is also advertising in Anarchy Online, but that MMO is free and is looking for funding anyway it can get it. The Matrix Online is still going to be the same monthly price, nothing will be changing when it comes to the financial part of things, but now you're paying for lots of advertising.

When it comes to Zelda I have a hunch most people want it to remain advert free!
Imagine if this were TV; there are plenty of channels that have advertising, but the ones you pay extra for (such as HBO, Showtime, or Cinemax) don't make you sit through an ad break every ten minutes. The same goes with the satellite radio. Across the board, if you pay for something extra then you have an expectation of no advertising, it's just the way it should be. If I had to sit through commercial breaks in Rome or the Sopranos I would probably never watch it, and I have a hunch that goes for a lot of other people who pay extra every month for HBO.

Despite how I make it sound, I am not against advertising in video games. Companies have been doing it for years and as far as I'm concerned it adds to a level of authenticity. Of course, that's not true across the board; I certainly don't want to see

Perhaps the problem is that the Matrix Online is even worse than the Matrix Revolutions!
Pepsi adverts in the Legend of Zelda or car commercials in Ninja Gaiden. But there are plenty of games where the advertising isn't as big of a deal, games like SSX On Tour, Gran Turismo 4, and even Jet Moto. I don't mind seeing commercials for cars, deopardent, and TV channels when I'm skiing down the slopes, perhaps because I've become so accustomed to seeing that in real life. When you see real companies hawking their goods in Forza Motorsport I barely notice, because in that game these commercials make sense. But none of these games require me to pay a monthly fee to play them, and when you pay $15 a month you don't expect to be bombarded by obtrusive advertising.

Had Sony dropped the price of the Matrix Online's monthly fee I would have less of a problem; after all, if they had done that it could be argued that this plan really was intended to help the customer out. A drop in the monthly price may even help get more games into the hands of the gamers, which in turn brings more money to this MMO. But that's not the route they went, so now gamers are expected to not only pay to play, but pay to watch commercials. What do they think this is, the Gizmondo?


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