There’s always a mix of both fear & excitement when a new console generation begins. I’ve always been fascinated by the, uh… “dedicated” people who wait outside for midnight launches for the new consoles. It seems like assisted suicide to me, given that these launches are typically in November to get in on the Christmas rush, & here in Kentucky it’s usually already in the 20s by then. Seriously, just pre-order the thing online like sane people.
Nevertheless, it’s been a while since the previous generation got under way. I remember telling my parents to just give me the money they were going to spend on me for my 21st birthday to go towards buying the 360. My mom wanted to buy me a nice pair of diamond earrings, but I knew what I’d get the most use out of. But the point of that story, aside from revealing some interesting psychological facts about myself, is that it’s been a long time. Personally, I think we’ll be seeing more time between generations with companies being able to update their software without having to make new machines from scratch.
But in the lull of launch titles, none of which I’ve been keenly interested in getting (seriously, I think this is the first Christmas since I had an XBox that I haven’t put a game on my list), I wanted to write a bit about some of the trends I’ve noticed in gaming. Or should I say, some bad habits the game industry has picked up. Like all other forms of media, gaming follows trends, as some things become more popular while old models fall out of style. But not all of these trends are in a good direction, & I wanted to do some venting about habits I’ve come to hate in game design. Who knows, maybe a developer will read this one day & think I’m onto something. A woman can always dream…
So here are the trends that, as the title clearly states, I hope die.
- The “broad appeal” games & the subsequent shunning of specialized, niche games. Too often games get bogged down with unnecessary clutter in an attempt to draw in as many customers as possible. But there’s a difference between making your game accessible to everyone & cluttering it with crap. Developers try to mix gaming types too much sometimes. While variety is important, a lot of times this just amounts to taking away features that the core audience wants to give them things they don’t want in an attempt to pull in people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested. This is also known as the “dumbing down” of games. Most often it includes adding pointless multiplayer. Did the new Tomb Raider really need multiplayer? Did anyone buy Tomb Raider for the multiplayer? Another example is how the Mass Effect series slowly took away RPG elements to give a more shooter-esque feel, clearly to draw more people in. And as much as I love the games, explain to me how it makes sense to go from a weapons system that essentially has unlimited ammo to one that has very limited ammo? Often, I attribute this trend to publishers trying to make games as much like the current popular games, primarily Call of Duty. But you don’t compete with Call of Duty. Ever. You’re not going to draw Call of Duty gamers away, so stop trying. In fact, according to Mark Rubin (executive producer at Infinity Ward), Call of Duty fans only buy Call of Duty. I can attest to this fact, because of the four male gamer friends I know in real life, the only game they ever play is Call of Duty. Period. Or maybe Battlefield.
- Bloated AAA game budgets. If your game can sell 3.4 million copies & be considered a financial failure (& figure in that at $60 a copy that means you made $180 million), while another game can sell only 500,000 & be so successful it warrants a sequel, you’re doing something wrong. AAA game budgets are just so bloated it’s ridiculous, & it’s gotten to the point where if games don’t turn a huge profit publishers aren’t going to back them anymore. I think it was Ubisoft that recently said they wouldn’t back any new IPs if they couldn’t turn it into a franchise. Publishers, and therefore developers, don’t want to take risks because they spend so much money on every title they all have to bring this unreasonably huge return. I’m confounded by the fact that, in normal industries, as technology improves the price of producing goods goes down, but the price of producing videogames just seems to keep going up. I think this ties in a lot with the first item listed. How much money could developers save if they stopped putting in useless features that publishers tell them they must have? Of course you want to make the best game possible, but that doesn’t mean sink thousands of dollars into make a new game engine or having super-ultra-uber realistic graphics. If some games can do that, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
- Giving in to the demands of publishers. There once was a time when publishers were a necessary evil because no one company could afford to make & promote a game on their own. But with social media, the internet, online retailers like Steam, Kickstarter, & IndieGoGo, no longer do companies have to put up with publisher demands. They now have the chance to go it alone. I think most publishers are stuck in the old way of thinking about business & can’t keep up with modern advancements. A good example is the recent slew of copyright flags on videogame content on Youtube. I can’t really explain the situation well myself, as I only have a few videos on my Youtube account, but check out Rev3Games’ video Youtuber Controversy. It does a good job of explaining what’s happening from both the Youtuber & industry sides. While Google is equally to blame, I think publishers have been putting the pressure on them because suddenly posting videos of playing games is a lucrative thing — but they’re not in on the cut.
- Motion controls. I still fail to see how flailing around is easier than pushing a button. Motion controls are an interesting experiment, but the recognition technology just isn’t where it needs to be for this to work. Also, I don’t think it’s as immersive as other people say. When you’re really immersed in a game, you don’t think about the controller or what you’re doing, but I think it can take you out of it to have to move your body around. It’d be like pantomiming what I’m reading a book. It’s just distracting.
- Shipping incomplete or broken games. Being able to update software (& subsequently games) over time does have its downsides. I think there’s been a disturbing trend of developers slacking off at bug testing their games because they just assume they can fix any problems later. You could never get away with this in the past. PC games have the worst of it, but at least gamers can make patches when the developer doesn’t. With consoles, you’re kinda stuck. You may have seen in the past I posted several fixes for bugs in Skyrim, but I did come across one that I couldn’t fix & was basically game breaking. I shouldn’t have to download a patch on the first day.
I’m sure I could think of more things if I tried, but these five are the recurring problems that I see time & again. The ones that drive me the most crazy. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in this next cycle.