Very British Gamer: LittleBig First Edition

Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet

Spike’s 2008 Video Game Awards have come and gone. According to the vocal forumites, whose opinion we depend on for guidance, we don’t have our Oscars equivalent just yet. Some call them foul-mouthed, narrow-minded haters (not me of course), but I agree with their verdict this time. Admittedly that’s based on what little I actually got to watch. The show began at 2am my time, which meant my lasting power was already pretty minimal. However, what little I would’ve watched was cut down mercilessly thanks to Spike themselves. The only way those dastardly enough to live outside the US could tune in was through the Spike website’s live feed, and somehow that managed to completely screw up my PC’s audio codecs. Since I only fixed that at the ungodly hour of 4am, I have unashamedly thrown my hat into the ring of the 2008 VGA haters. Go away Spike, and leave my audio drivers in peace, you fiends.

One of the good things to come out of this nefarious excuse to watch Jack Black make a willing prat out of himself was the highly agreeable choice to award Best Studio to England’s own Media Molecule. Of course if they were Scottish, like Rockstar North, I’d call them Britain’s own Media Molecule. Being able to claim stuff that isn’t actually ours is why the British Empire was invented. In any case, let’s raise our flags, sing songs about ol’ Queenie, slap our bottoms, and down straight five cups of scolding Earl Grey in celebration of Sackboy’s glorious triumph (this is how the traditional British victory is celebrated).

Still, it’s not all Sunday roasted crumpets and bottles of Irish tea for Media Molecule. Unfortunately, the boys and girls from Guildford have not seen the sales a quality title like LittleBigPlanet merits. So far it’s approaching 500k in the US, whilst here in the UK it’s nearer the 200k mark. It’s an inauspicious start for Sackboy considering the heavy expectations burdening his burlap shoulders. Of course, it’s almost certainly a slow burner with bucket loads of potential future commercial success, but nonetheless it is a little worrying right now. The good news is that the excellent create-a-planet themed ads have finally hit British TV, most notably during the much desired X Factor Final’s ad break*. It seems more than a coincidence that Sackboy’s back in the top ten of this week’s UK sales chart.

*I read that somewhere, honest. I also read Alexandra won, and I also read that I’m glad she did.

Bullfrog Productions

Shouldn’t LittleBigPlanet be pwning in its homeland, though? I seem to remember a time when the British public blindly supported all their industries like they do their football teams (proper meaning). Maybe it’s just because back in the 90s, when I was but a rosy-cheeked urchin, there were plenty more British games developers and publishers, and they were doing pretty well for themselves, too. Bullfrog Games, whose co-founder was one Peter Molyneux, did particularly well in the UK with classics like Theme Park. Now we’re in a position where the UK could slip from 3rd to 6th place worldwide in the most flourishing of the entertainment industries, but does the public care like it cares about its ailing music and film industries? Does it show the same patriotic love for its game makers as it does for its home-grown bands and film studios? Of course not. Maybe it’s because games like Lemmings and Theme Hospital had a British feel to them, especially in their sense of humour. LittleBigPlanet, minus the soothing tones of Stephen Fry, could come from anywhere really. I think Joe Average would be surprised to know it came from England, or that it was actually pretty damned amazing.

Then again Fable II, made by English-based Lionhead Studios and that man Molyneux, enjoyed excellent sales in the UK. That obviously had a very British feel to it, what with it being set in a world full of British stereotypes, such as the drunken Irish gargoyle who’s a ringer for the one I walk past every night on my way back from the pub, except nicer. Is Fable II’s success in the UK market really related to its Britishness? No sir, it’s related to it being on Xbox 360 and not on PlayStation 3.

When it comes to videogames, the UK public like to take a political stance and just blindly follow whatever’s going on across the ocean, much unlike the rest of Europe, which Sony have in their back pocket. As if to prove a point, when my completely unreliable ISP** turned up to install the cable TV earlier this month, the engineer offered to privately install new phone sockets for me and left his gamertag as contact information. No one cares about LittleBigPlanet over here because nobody can afford to play it. So, I’m stuck playing Gears of War 2 with my friendly phone dude, waiting for him to propose sorting out my wireless network when I lag out again thanks to his employer’s general awfulness. That’s fine, but I wish a few more of my mates had Sackboys I could slap about a bit.

**They took a month to transfer my Internet access from my old house to my new one. I told an American friend about it, and he said that in the US that’s just not normal. I explained that it’s not in the UK either, but that this particular company were a bunch of sadists who enjoyed denying people Internet whilst they feasted on the souls of diminutive pets – allegedly.

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