State of the Gaming Nation: an interview with Sandro Kreitlow of Rocket Beans TV

[english translation of: Lage der Gaming-Nation: ein Interview mit Sandro Kreitlow von Rocket Beans TV]

Video games have become such an important part of our pop-cultural society that no one can escape their external impact. Their industry has always been an interesting mirror of the world we live in. But even for a young and dedicated follower of the global mass media, it is not always easy to reflect on the status quo. What is actually going on in the gaming scene while the world seems to be just one pixel away from the next crisis? Sandro Kreitlow (ex-Joiz, -Giga) is editor and moderator for the first German Internet television channel Rocket Beans TV. With his many years of experience in entertainment journalism, he knows exactly what the current situation of the globally distributed gaming nation is. I am very pleased to welcome him as a competent interview partner.

Hi Sandro, first things first. Thank you for your time. How are you doing?

Hey Björn, thanks for the nice request! I am fine. The battery is back at 100 percent – thanks to a week’s holiday including mobile abstinence. Incidentally, I can recommend it to anyone – just a week, without permanent overstimulation of information and notification overload!

If we can trust the pessimistic sensational press, we are in the midst of the apocalypse. Does the international uncertainty surrounding Trump, Brexit and the refugee debate actually have a direct, human or economic impact on the video game industry?

Unfortunately I’m on the pessimistic side, but less connected with the sensational press, than with sci-fi works like Black Mirror, Mr. Robot or cyberpunk novels like the Neuromancer trilogy. Especially in the cyberpunk genre you will always find parallels to today’s reality, which is very frightening. As far as the direct influence of content is concerned, video games are still having a hard time, even if there are some fantastic titles like Bury me, my Love. However, I would like to see more developers dare to deal with such topics.

I believe that lack of such titles is related to – and this goes out to human influence – that many consumers of entertainment products like video games just want to be distracting – pure escapism.

Of course, one has to distinguish between the economic influence. To what extent the Trump-America or the refugee debate has an economic impact on the games industry, I can not say. But of course, the Brexit has a huge impact on the video game industry. The British gaming industry, like any other, is an export-focused industry that sells its products worldwide. While this will not change with Brexit, when I think about how international development studios are built, Brexit will make it harder to keep these workers and engage new talented developers from overseas. If Britain is excluded from the EU single market, the UK studios incur huge visa costs for its own employees.

Sandro Kreitlow Rocket Beans TV
Sandro Kreitlow from Rocket Beans TV keeps the community up to date.

The film critic Wolfgang M. Schmitt jr. is a welcome guest in your Cinema formats, such as Kino+ and Film Fights. In his YouTube video for the action horror film The First Purge, he complains that everyone in Hollywood is crying out for cinematic resistance, but no one really has the guts to address the president or the government directly. There are satirical games, such as Wolfenstein 2, that make a futuristic NS time the subject of discussion, or the vaunted Detroit: Become Human, that shows a dystopia in which the androids are enslaved by humanity. One can perhaps call this controversial, but Hitler can no longer complain about his portrayal as a dull tattery. Do you see parallels or do the two industries differ when it becomes socially critical?

I see the parallels in that both industries are struggling to become sociocritical – especially video game makers, as they create more of their own, fictitious worlds where it is harder to become sociocritical or even political. Even if especially independent development studios dare to go in this direction, I see more and more parallels to the discouraging Hollywood in the AAA area. I realize that video games are about fun, escapism and – in the case of competitive titles – competition. But I find it fatal that developers like Massive Entertainment (The Division) and the Ubisoft studios (Far Cry 5) explicitly distance themselves from even becoming a bit political.

CD Projekt Red shows, what this difference can mean. According to the Polish developers Cyberpunk 2077 should be just as political as the template. In my view, this is unavoidable when I think of the genre, but of course it’s just not – see Detroit: Become Human, in which David Cage wants to be socially critical and political, but while doing so he acts like a bull in the china shop. Since The Witcher 3 involved profound themes such as racism and marginalization with enough sensitivity, I am confident that CD Projekt Red will also be more subtle in its upcoming title than Quantic Dream’s colleagues.

Other prime examples would be the Grand Theft Auto series and Wolfenstein 2, which you mentioned earlier, even if both series always overshadow the whole thing. But maybe this is just the right way in the interactive medium, instead of spreading political ideologies with the crowbar. And with the success of GTA 5 we can see that socially critical content is not a deterrent to consumers.

But in my opinion there are still too few such titles. In addition to the escapism factor, I believe that producers simply play a big role. Hard to say how the big publishers in the industry are built right at the top. But I can already imagine that there are some Trump supporters among the investors and producers here and there. And from the Kaepernick protest in the NFL, we can see where the whole thing can lead to: Unfortunately, because in the football league too many Trump supporters are at the top of the franchises, the career of the former 49ers quarterback is sadly over … I know – the comparison lags something here, but what I mean by that is: creative minds are often suppressed in such corporations.

Doom-mongering simply should not part of the daily news for me. However, the increasing brutality and sexualization of our society seem to be two specific issues that need clarification. Are there any recent changes in the gaming scene that are based on these issues?

„The evil computer games“ were so often accused of brutalizing our society. And, of course, there are garbage products, like Hatred, which are completely based on brutalization. But we are already 99.9 percent beyond this point. On the other hand, there are more and more games here and there, which contain just such complex topics. But these are often titles that (wrongly) take place under the radar like Papers Please, Orwell or the successor Orwell: Ignorance is Strength.

And as far as sexualization is concerned, the gaming industry has been making progress for years, I think. Sadly, this is still a bit creeping when I look at Assassin’s Creed introducing a female protagonist as a playable character only in the eleventh year since the series’s existence. On the other hand there are great written female characters like Senua (Hellblade), Aloy (Horizon: Zero Dawn), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) or Max (Life is Strange). This is definitely going in the right direction, unlike Hollywood, sadly …

Let’s talk about something nice. Your team from RBTV really rocked this year’s gamescom in Cologne with a strong array of presentations and live events, and you even were allowed to produce the event´s television channel. I watched it live on your stream. What was the most important news you took from the event?

Rocket Beans TV Logo Raketenbohne
The mascot: The original Rocket Bean ©

It was really a very special experience with this wild, creative bunch and with the nice fans on site to celebrate the video game culture together. I’m also very grateful to be able to witness this. The most important news I took with me was directly my first appointment at the CD Project Red show and their Cyberpunk 2077, even though the nearly one-hour behind-the-doors demo was released a few days after the show.
Finally, to see how much of a variety of ideas and attention to detail this game is designed with was fantastic. In addition, there was a lot of new things, but those were barely visible. Many things felt like recycled or remainder of the E3. In addition, also The Dark Pictures Anthology, Desperados 3 and Die Siedler were announced, but not much more. We were so fortunate that the developers came to us with their games. We could at go deeper into the matter and meet our journalistic demands. Colleague Ilyass did just that with Pete Hines in the Budi Office. Personally, I got a lot of news from my appointments to Darksiders 3, Hitman 2 and the great Indie Arena Booth.

How did you like the audience? Has anything happened with the preferences or demands of the annual mass of visitors?

I have the feeling that gamescom is increasingly becoming a community fair, which is not a bad thing per se. But if this brings the games into the background, that’s a pity. Sure – for many gamescom is still the chance to lay hands on the new, not yet published titles for the first time. However, as I’ve noticed, more and more visitors are realizing that it’s hardly worth paying for a video presentation or a 20-minute demo. Instead, they hang out together away from the usual publisher booths just to have a good time with friends. Because gamescom offers more than that. gamescom simply celebrates pop culture around video and computer games. Above all, the Indie Arena Booth would be highly recommended as a relaxed location away from the hustle and bustle – here creative hobby developers and smaller studios from all over the world will unveil their concepts and demos, which you can allude to without queuing. Eating and drinking is also free – all in all it´s still a great atmosphere!

The most awaited games at the moment, as far as I know, come from abroad. There would be e.g. the Mammut project Cyberpunk 2077 you mentioned from the Polish developer Studio CD Projekt and Red Dead Redemption 2 from the North American Rockstar Games. What do you currently think of our German home base, the developers and publishers? Do we have a good position on the international stage?

The German video game landscape is unfortunately far removed from titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2. However, this is not because we have no capable developers in Germany, but among other things, that the funding – compared to the film industry – is not great over here. With the Crysis series, it was close to reaching such a level. But Crytek does not have much to offer except for the CryEngine and the two VR titles since then. At least I do not expect much from Hunt: Showdown …

Again and again I meet German developers who have come to international studios and therefore live abroad. If you look directly to the neighbors to France (Ubisoft, Dontnod, BigBen, Focus Home Interactive, Ivory Tower, Quantic Dream), we are lagging behind in this country extremely. Although Daedelic Entertainment are developing great games, they are more likely to serve a niche. The largest studios include Blue Byte, InnoGames and Bigpoint, but they focus on mobile and browser games serving their own markets. And as much as you like Piranha Bytes, they’ve been developing the same game in other settings with 25 people since Gothic 1, so they have not evolved much. It seems to be really difficult to set up a profitable games company in Germany.

But I have the hope that Ubisoft, who are now also in Dusseldorf, Mainz AND Berlin, in this country will put some things on their feet. However, the German game development has a lot to catch up now.

As a gamer, I sometimes wonder where this will lead. Will we get sucked into the game console in 100 years, as a strung-out Elon Musk would put it? What is your vision for the future of gaming, referring to a sociological background?

I used to be a big Elon Musk fan and admire his career and everything he has created. But now I can not understand everything he’s saying. He has already stated several times that he believes in simulation theory, though. That means, he sees tremendous potential in virtual reality to simulate human life and nature, indistinguishable from real life. The development process that we are currently experiencing through video games could, in his opinion, have already expired in the past, so that we are now living in a universe simulated by billions. The explanations sound plausible, but are a little too far-fetched.

My vision for the future of gaming is different. I believe that Augmented Reality will change the world as much as the Internet or the launch of the smartphone did. To be honest, I also thought that Virtual Reality has tremendous potential at this level. It does, too, and conceivable is a kind of second virtual life like in Ready Player One. But the mix of real and virtual worlds is more accessible – Pokémon Go is only the beginning! I suspect that both Microsoft (HoloLens) and Apple are already making big plans.

Please tell us what is in the making at Rocket Beans TV. Can you make us excited about breaking news or new projects?

I would like to tell you upcoming projects, but my hands are a little bit tied. What I can tell you is that our show Neue Deutsche Abendunterhaltung is finally back, including some interesting guests. In addition, following the successful broadcasts on „Firewall: Zero Hour“, there are more VR projects to look forward to. We are aware that VR is not always nice to look at as a viewer, but we are working on it and will support these games with posts and other content. In addition, we continue to make efforts to analyze current games in Game Talk and to discuss news and trailers with a changing cast. And of course, we are always looking out for new members to be part of our community. You are welcome!

Sandro, thank you for your comments. I wish you guys a lot of success!

Thank you for the interest and the great questions. Bye for now!

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© featured image: Rocket Beans Entertainment GmbH

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