On Modern Gaming

I am a gamer. I’ve always been a gamer; from the Amstrad CPC 464 I had when I was five, through the Master System, Mega Drive, N64, Dreamcast, Wii and 360 with various PCs all along the way. It’s pretty safe to say that I love gaming, but in recent months I’ve found myself becoming less enthused about most of the new games that have been coming out, and it’s starting to worry me.

I think I know why this is happening though, and it’s because I’m stuck in my ways; I like my games pure and unsullied by the evil hand of populism, with depth, complexity and a sense of value, and this no longer seems to be the primary focus in new games.

Like it or not, gaming these days is a massive commercial enterprise and so, inevitably, the games designers and publishers are going to choose – or be required – to work within that framework to maximise profits and, in turn, their chances of making another game. The problem that seems to have developed is that many games are now being released on a regular schedule (usually annually) with anything too deep or complex that could potentially “scare off” new players being stripped out, and with an insanely-complex series of pre-order bonuses and special editions. Now, before I start sounding like some kind of anti-capitalist revolutionary, I’m not advocating some kind of glorious workers’ paradise where all games are free of corporate influence and handed out to the people gratis; my concerns are for content, quality, and accessibility.

First problem: Regular Releases. There have almost always been annual games franchises, mostly in the sports arena where it makes sense to keep all the teams and stats up to date in addition to the game engine along with feature updates and where, until fairly recently, not enough people had a decent internet connection with which to patch these things in. However, games such as the Call of Duty series and, seemingly, the Assassin’s Creed franchise have now also slipped into the yearly release cycle and it introduces serious constraints on the amount of content you can put into a game, as well as the quality. I’m not sure if the ever-decreasing length of games is a symptom of this or not, but there’s certainly a correlation there. Five or six hours of content is very rarely worth £50 to me, especially where there are games with just as well-conceived storytelling, quality content and engaging gameplay that have tens or even hundreds of hours of content for the same price. By all means, have deadlines and fixed release dates – nobody wants another Duke Nukem Forever – but please don’t feel that you’re being forced to release a new game every year because a) the quality will suffer, no matter how hard you try and b) players will get bored of your games at a much faster rate than they would otherwise.

Second problem: Simplicity. I love deep and complex games. By complex, I mean detailed and satisfying to engage with, not impenetrably and frustratingly complicated for no discernible reason. I don’t necessarily care about fancy graphics, celebrity voice actors, flashy set-pieces or even epic story as long as a game has engaging mechanics that reward my efforts. Games like UFO: Enemy Unknown (which I still play), Uplink, the original Deus Ex, Football Manager, The Elder Scrolls games, even games such as Bayonetta or Pacman Championship Edition DX all have systems in place that reward you for investing time in understanding them and feature more than just a series of waist-high walls to hide behind with a gun.

Now, simplifying can be a good thing; sometimes games are too complex or have features that don’t really serve any gameplay purpose other than to annoy you, and I’ve nothing against games with straightforward mechanics (case in point, I loved the original Serious Sam games), but when you start simplifying everything down to a lowest common denominator because you don’t want to risk confusing new players (that’s what manuals are for, by the way – my Sim City 2000 one is heavy enough to bludgeon someone to death with and sometimes that’s a good thing) you end up removing part of what makes games so much better than TV shows or movies, and eventually you’re producing things like Asura’s Wrath, which may as well just be sold as a film for all its interactive content. This is, at least in part, a result of the massive success of consoles and a desire to appeal to the less hardcore gaming demographic, not to mention the necessity of making games playable on a controller with a low resolution display (1080p is not a particularly high resolution, no matter what the TV marketing people tell you); successful consoles are not a bad thing, but they can be a really bad influence.

Third problem: Pre-Order Roulette: Almost everyone is guilty of doing this these days, but EA stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Take Mass Effect 3; getting all the pre-order bonuses, collectors editions, DLC (thus far) and other extras will set you back over £500, which is insane. When you have to publish a bloody guide book to help people work out all the pre-order bonus combinations, you’re doing it wrong and tying bonuses to hardware purchases is verging on pure evil. I’m not against DLC when it’s used to provide additional content (they used to be called patches and expansion packs, history fans), but I am against it when the core, day-one, just-released game has things missing unless you purchased the DLC or bought the collectors edition – that’s not a bonus, it’s a punishment. In the case of ME3, I actually decided that I couldn’t be bothered with any of it and just bought the standard edition from the cheapest vendor (Amazon) without any pre-order bonuses. It might sound old fashioned, but I’d really like to be able to buy a version of a game at release that comes with the whole game in it (and waiting six or more months for a GOTY edition that may contain some, none, or all of the previously released DLC and bonuses doesn’t count).

After all of that ranting, it must seem like I’ve given up on games altogether; thankfully that isn’t the case, as I still love gaming, but more and more I find myself playing old games, indie games and less mainstream games (I’ve never really got into gaming on my phone) in an attempt to avoid the things that the majority of “AAA” titles are doing. I wouldn’t say that I want the games industry to revert back to the pre-360/PS3 days of relative obscurity, because the current popularity of games is a Good Thing™ overall, but I can’t help but feel that the need to give every big budget title “mass appeal” is harming gaming as a medium to the point that the £50, annually released, five-hour-long, run-cover-shoot-repeat, pre-order disaster is becoming the norm rather than the exception and, as a gamer, that makes me sad.




Last five articles by Adam B

  

7 Comments

  1. Ste says:

    Totally agree with this, but unfortunately I think that until people stop buying this games and a huge commercial failure happens somewhere then the likes of EA and co are going to continue to do it. I dare even say that things could get worse in time. In ten years time we might be looking back on these days with fondness as we insert our nintendo wiibrain connector up our nostrils and into our front lobes. Hmmm Call of Duty Modern-Future-Time War 5

  2. Chris-Toffer says:

    Good first article dude. I do agree with what your saying. However much like Ste, I doubt the big companies are going to change while they’re making so much money.

  3. MarkuzR says:

    I can totally relate to pretty much everything you’ve said here. For a start, I’m always complaining that Nintendo keep flogging that same horse (why won’t it die?!) with Mario and, to a lesser extent, Zelda rather than coming up with some brand new innovative IP like they did with Pikmin. I hate that the norm these days is essentially to attack the promo artwork of a previous title with an ink eraser and then go at it with a Rolf Harris marker pen to change “2″ to “3″ or “99pissingmillion” as is going to end up being the case with some franchises.

    The dumbing down… I suppose I’ve only really experienced this as a spectator, watching Lorna playing through Fable 3 and wondering where the hell all the decent gameplay went. I can’t think whether or not any of my typical games have fallen foul of it but I don’t think so.

    Touching on what you’d said about UFO: Enemy Unknown, I too still play it and was devastated by one of the earlier nuggets from Game Informer where they’d talked about stripping the new X-COM: Enemy Unknown down to make it less about micromanagement and more about playing the game. For me, the game IS all about the micromanagement. Thankfully, by the time I got around to writing the full look ahead article, my mind had been put at rest.

    The pre-order bonuses. Well… I had no idea that ME3 had gone to town with it until I read this article, and I’m more shocked than I expected to be. Sure, we know that EA will generally try to whore as much out of the gamer’s wallet as possible, but I didn’t think they’d go to such lengths as to have so many different bonuses from so many different outlets or products. It’s disgusting, actually.

    As much as the state of the industry pains me, there are still some incredible diamonds in the overbearing rough, and that’s what keeps me going. That and the older games that never lose their appeal.

  4. Russ says:

    Don’t agree with all of this but do think that he DLC and preorder goodies is going too far. Its okay to have different packaging from one place to the next if its an exclusive but just code snippets is a ripoff. first game I remember it with was Red Dead Redeption and I ended up buying the vanilla version.

    I like when a new version of a good game comes out though like Assassins Creed 3. If its good then I think its okay to do follow ups instead of us having to keep playing the same game for years. Some games are best left alone though and sequels just ruin them.

  5. simonjk says:

    I totally agree and I’ve been playing games since all I had to do was press the space bar to drop bombs on buildings in the first game I played called Blitz on the Commadore Vic 20. I had grown to love gaming over the decades and consider it my main form of relaxation and entertainment. Yes, it has now been dragged out of the shadows of the geek only zone and into big business and with it comes all the usual attention of money making and media notice.

    I guess that is probably the source of all my problems, I think the question of how the gamer enjoys the game is now far lower down on the developers question list compared to how much money can be made and how we can drag more gamers to buy our quick play product. Myself as a fairly skint RPG fanatic who likes a 100+ hours game that is complex and hates the ‘run and gun at 50 rounds a second’ FPS reality game or sports I find it harder to find anything I which to play on the consoles few and far between and freqently resort to scrapping a little cash together and buying a game from the ‘maybe’ pile only to regret it later. As far as the DLC front goes, at least you PC player aren’t as restricted as the console owners and often can grab user created mods for some game to extend there play life, whilst the poor console owners wait ages for decisions to be made and patches to be done.
    As far as the edition problem goes, I think it is well out of hand as far as content goes and even more when you consider the markup price of a UK edition compared to a US one!

  6. Leon says:

    I agree with the mostpart of what’s been said – games are rushed and created to “templates” more nowadays, and new IPs seem to be more of a risk than a venture – seeing how regonised game titles are so popular nowadays. I’m sure many, many more people have heard of Assassin’s Creed 3 than Anarchy Reigns, for instance.

    I must admit, I bought the Day 1 DLC for Mass Effect 3, and had none of the pre-order bonuses. But while it’s a popular series, it’s also one I love and genuinely think it was worth the extra bucks rather than going without. Not sure if I agree with the actual idea of Day 1 DLC, but I do think it’s tougher for games producers to budget nowadays.

    While I often feel very strongly that advances in graphical power have recently lead to smaller, simpler titles (as it’s much slower to create photorealistic 3D vistas than 2D sprites), there’s no doubt that games cost more to manufacture than they used to. And considering inflation, I’m not convinced we’re spending that much more than we did in the old days on an individual title – and the size of the production teams has grown exponentially in a lot of cases – all of those wages need to be paid. So if buying the odd bit of DLC here and there helps them keep financed, I’m not too offended.

    However, I do hate the fact that games are created to such tight time constraints nowadays. While I loved Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, by the time Revelations came around I wasn’t ready for a new AC title. And without having beaten that, I’m certainly not ready for Assassin’s Creed III. It just makes me wonder how much better AC3 could be had they instead spent the resources for ACB and ACR developing the next numbered title instead. But as I said before, I’m sure boils down to money again – they can’t sell a 3-year developed AC3 for £120, but they can sell 3 annual titles for £40 each – so the latter makes much more business sense.

    It’s a shame really, it seems with the rise in gaming popularity and demand for better and better technology, it’s become more about running a business than about innovation. No-one’s necessarily to blame – it’s just how things have evolved.

    Sadly, indie games rarely meet my needs. My favourite era was that of PS1 and PS2 – the days of the best Final Fantasies (imo), Devil May Cry, and scary Resident Evil games. It’s a shame that the more accustomed to better graphics I become, the more tattered and aged my old favourites seem to become.

  7. Edward says:

    You sir! I like the way you think :D Specifically, I don’t think you’ve put a foot wrong here. It’s brilliantly written, makes some points that are way more true than I feel comfortable thinking about for too long, and makes a great point.
    Just don’t let the modern tropes stop you enjoying what is still the best medium of entertainment out there :D

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