Towards a New Equilibrium

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This is a response to Shamus’ post here, this was originally meant to be a comment but it kind of grew and I felt guilty at neglecting this place when I actually wrote something fairly substantive.

It’s pretty undeniable that there’s significant market forces at work in [causing game developers to minimize investment in the PC]. But I think the bigger factor is just the structure of the studios / game market as a whole.

The console/games market these days seems to be in a trend towards monopolization. You just can’t create big budget titles and play with the big boys without being one of them. At the same time, the gamer demographic these games are all going after is the same, so there can only be so many “winners” even in the remote chance that all games in a given set are good. It really is a winner-takes-all kind of situation because games just take up a lot of time and those of us with jobs and families only have so much time to spare.

I’ve been saying this for years now, but the trend towards making every game into a movie-like cinematographic experience is really contrary to games-as-games. The games that I still play 10 or 15 years after their release don’t need to feel like a movie, they just need good, solid gameplay. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite jive with the lowest-common denominator games-as-junk-food mentality we see taking hold in an industry that needs to encourage gamers-as-gluttons in order to be able to sustain its own massive bloat.

When I first started noticing and complaining about games turning into longer, poorly written and acted direct-to-video movies I felt like I was out on a limb. Yet every year the new game releases get less and less actual gameplay and more and more like a semi-passive movie experience.* With Halo “ODST” or COD6 the singleplayer is going to last you four hours — That’s about the length of Return of the King extended cut.

*Ironically, we are also seeing movies now moving closer to videogames as well. Can anyone deny that Transformers series is hilarious mess whose entire terrible existence is predicated on the acceptance of cringe-inducing filmmaking by the videogame-addicted teen/twenteen boy segment of the population?

And, not to put too fine a point on it, how much work does multiplayer take when most are just recycling mechanics from SP/previous games? Sure, it’s not trivial, but I am surely not impressed when Halo releases a new game with the same set of weapons with maybe tweaks and new bling mapping on the SPNKR’s rocket tubes. And don’t get me started on all of these WW2 or modern combat games that endlessly recycle the same set of bullet-spraying weapons whose only significant differences are in rate of fire and spread. Do we really need another AK-47 or M-16 in a game in order to feel fulfilled?

I really feel like this trend is unsustainable. There really aren’t any huge graphics jumps on the horizon, yet graphics is what has been driving the last couple generations of games. For a long time now, there hasn’t been anyone making the games I really want to play. And I think that is going to get worse before it gets better, because the bigger the game studios get, the more and more they will focus-group their games into targeting the subhuman pleasure centers of the average consumer drone. Those of us who are not content to mindlessly buy whatever has the biggest explosions will be underserved for quite some time — Unless the indie games market can reach us.

Fortunately, with all the distribution platforms these days … Maybe they can?
And that gives me hope. Heck, maybe we’ll see a resurgence of gameplay instead of this constant graphics overload coupled to the same stale game ideas that were cliche even a decade ago. Or maybe some of these companies will realize that cultivating an enduring game community & experience for many years can be as profitable, or maybe even more profitable over the long haul, than releasing sequels every two years and then leaving everyone in the lurch.

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