When I was a little boy of about 7 or 8, I was introduced to a games console that would change my life forever. I only ever had 6 games for it.
My beloved Nintendo 64. I'd never owned the expansion pak, and I couldn't save my data on a few games. All I could do was play the same levels over and over and over again. I used my N64 so often over the course of about 5 years that my analogue stick almost completely failed to work, developing a deadzone so large that the stick would wobble about if you shook the controller.
Of course being stupid and young, you don't quite appreciate the value of the things that you own... and yet with my N64, I absolutely understood its value. I understood that coming from a fairly poor family meant that I would not be seeing a new console for a long time. My N64 would be my primary source of entertainment until long after the PS2 peaked in sales. Whilst my brother did get a PS1 when I was about 10 years old, it remains largely insignificant in my memory, unfortunately. I mostly played it for Rugrats, and that's it. I missed out on all of the must-plays, what with it being his PlayStation.
Thus I spent all of my time on Super Mario 64. I spent countless hours on Mario Kart 64, Turok: Rage Wars, 1080° Snowboarding, Goemon's Great Adventure and Lylat Wars. Over the years, I squeezed the living life out of these games. I became the master of 150cc racing. I destroyed Andross multiple times on both his normal and hard paths. I was a master of Turok's bot modes, because the main story scared me too much. I nearly rescued the Princess but was deterred by a few 'unsettling' levels in Mario 64. I beat Goemon without the ability to save my game. And I did a fair bit of snowboarding as the dude who wore the beanie hat. He was cool.
I was raised to appreciate the games that I had, because games aren't cheap, and you'd better enjoy that bloody game because you aren't getting any more. And this was fine. As a kid I have nothing but fond memories of these games and my N64, a nd this is why I'm altogether very worried about the state of modern gaming.
If we fast forward to today, we'll see an altogether different image. We see that most gamers on Steam have what we call "piles of shame". Hundreds upon hundreds of games in our libraries that go untouched, uninstalled, and unplayed. There's a website called SteamShame that calculates how many games you've yet to play as well. We can also see through Steam achievements that many players are not completing their games, dropping off at some halfway point. Losing interest, perhaps to jump into yet another game that will fail to whet the palate, and go on itself to become another unplayed number.
I'm absolutely terrible for this. I have an entire library where approximately 250 of those games are unplayed. How did they get there and why would I have such an incredible library of goods that have been, and will continue to remain completely unenjoyed? It's easy to see with a backlog that big looming overhead with no desire to play any of it, that purchases could eventually dry up.
It's the beginning of the end! IT'S A NEW VIDEO GAME CRASH!
And while it might seem fairly extreme to announce the end of times, it's a much scarier reality than you may think.
Back before the Video Game crash of 1983, the industry was very profitable. Many homes had an entertainment system of some type, and arcades were huge too. Video games were the new and unrivalled competition to the entertainment industry, and they seemed untouchable. Everybody wanted to get into such a successful business, and everybody had ideas to contribute. Worst of all was that everybody had a relatively easy way of self publishing these games.
If you had a few guys that could programme and a way of distributing your product, you could create and sell a game. Amateur video game programmers popped up all over the place, and it became easier than ever to get something onto the market. There were no quality checks ensuring that the products that made it to these systems were any good, and to top it all off, games were expensive.
More often, gamers would find themselves unsatisfied with the games that they were buying, and video game sales tapered off, hitting an all time low. Consumers were sick of getting burned, and faith in the video game industry plummeted. Video games became harder and harder to sell. E.T. was dumped into the ground. The video game industry crashed. Gaming died a death.
You've probably seen most of this happen before, and it's not because you're aged 40 or older. This is happening right now.
Around 6 years ago, it wasn't easy being an indie developer. Most of the games created by indie developers had to rely on word of mouth advertising and a genuinely good game in order to get any sales momentum in the industry. It was a risky business, and it paid off for very few. You could apply to get your game on Steam, but stringent policies, quality control and red tape made the process convoluted. It was a hassle to get your name out there. It was hard to sell a product. It was a difficult time for developers, but it ensured quality product, and it ensured that this quality product would be well received by the consumer who paid good money for it.
And then came the big success stories. You had Minecraft, and Braid, and more recently Flappy Bird. You began to see these indie monoliths demonstrating that in an industry that favoured the AAA developer, the underdogs had a shot as well. Indie Developers have since come crawling out of the woodwork, and the market is saturated. This might seem like a good thing in an era of multimedia that touts near-unlimited choice for the consumer, but it's really not a good thing. At all.
As more games are released - more games of a lower quality, with reduced development times and cycles - it will become harder to find the diamonds amongst the rough. Gamers will continue to lose faith in the medium. Consumer trust will plummet once more.
The video game industry on mobile platforms might be considered prophetic of the fate that could befall console gaming. Consumers on mobile platforms demand cheap apps and games, forcing developers to adopt unfavourable In-App purchase models and freemium features, including pay-to-win and trial-and-unlock payment options. The mobile platform is often touted as a terrible platform to play games in general, and a rather pricey port of Bioshock has done little to sway that opinion. I myself am guilty of this mindset, having bought Adventure Time: Card Wars, finding it revolting that it also included In-App purchases too. There are far too many developers for mobile games, and not enough consumer trust to invest in them properly.
The problem doesn't just sit with Indie and App Developers either, please don't get me wrong. I fell in love with The Stanley Parable, and my girlfriend touts Thomas Was Alone as one of her favourite games ever. Indie Developers are vital for the continued innovation of the gaming medium as a whole and must be preserved. It's equally important then, that we also look at the state of AAA gaming.
This latest console generation is a strange one, in that we're really coming to see gaming as an essential pastime in modern society. The foundations of gaming have been laid and we are now building upon them; we no longer press X to accelerate, and it's widely accepted that we click our left sticks to sprint. Left analogue is movement, and right stick is camera. Everyone must share video at all times, and we talk to our consoles.
In a way, it's much like we're in the enlightenment era of gaming, which is why it baffles me that I've yet to play a must-own game on PlayStation 4. It's true, we've only had them for about a year, but their architecture is like that of a PC, the platform that most developers use to develop their games in the first place. I also understand that it's a matter of my standards; I'm asking for perfection, when near-perfection only comes once every good few years. It's unrealistic for me to ask for so much so soon, but the technical issue should be close to nil. Perhaps then, I shouldn't be asking a question of why we haven't had perfection, but why what we have had has felt so underbaked.
The two biggest releases of the year so far have been grossly overhyped. Review scores for WATCH_DOGS and Destiny are FAR from the glowing previews that we've been showered with. WATCH_DOGS was supposed to entail hacking everything, gaining power over an entire city using the power of a phone, perhaps even going deep enough into the philosophy of it all to leave a bad taste in our mouths regarding our growing need to stay connected. Destiny was described as being a thorough, polished, beloved project by the makers of Halo, built around a rich and fantastic lore, focusing on wide open areas and exhilarating squad-based multiplayer co-op.
Instead we got GTA with the odd ability to look at cameras, raise bollards, turn off street lights and look at randomly generated civilian facts, and in the other camp we got a mediocre shoot-deploy-rinse-repeat experience that does the shooting part well, but ventures no further than that. AAA games are falling into the rush-and-rehash trap, resulting in reduced quality, and a gross reliance on stupendously expensive advertising campaigns. This is a great factor in why Destiny was not my game of the month.
Who do we pin the blame on, though? Who's fault is it that in garnishing our beloved medium with choice, we're inadvertently asphyxiating it? And how can we combat this issue?
I love Boogie, and I won't hide the fact that this analysis was born of his own video of the same topic yesterday, but this is something that has been on my mind for a couple of years now. I also feel that there were a few points that he missed out on. Otherwise, he's spot on.
The largest finger of blame to point is at the consumer. Yourself, myself, and everyone around us. We enforce this behaviour with our wallets, and every time we purchase a game that we otherwise wouldn't, be it through sales or other means, it tells a developer that what they are doing is correct, and desirable.
And these other means are equally as blameworthy. The Humble Indie Bundle once upon a time used to represent exquisite Indie quality, and for its first 4 or 5 iterations it was phenomenal value for the gamer. Next followed Indie Royale, and then Bundle Stars. Bundle after bundle are being thrown at us, luring the public into a false sense of value and coaxing undeserved expenditure. Under the notion of a sale, we will purchase many things that we would otherwise never consider... Hence my very own pile of shame. A library full of games offered under the false pretense of incredible value. For as long as bundles are being bought for one or two games, developers will continue to develop "fluff" to sit alongside these games.
Bundles might seem like fantastic value, but the worth in them going towards unused games could have gone towards truly powerful, infinitely better experiences.
Second of all, we have Valve and Steam to blame. With their Steam Greenlight system, it is clear that Steam attempted to loosen the grip of their ambiguous acceptance policies and allowed the community to invigilate the growing number of games applying for approval to be sold on Steam's storefront. On paper it seems like a good idea - Allow the people to approve the games that they want to play - But in practice this hasn't worked out very well at all. In the first quarter of 2014, Steam released more titles onto its platform than it had released throughout the entirety of 2013. It's becoming harder and harder to find the games that are interesting amongst the slew of new titles being released. Steam has accidentally opened up the floodgates that could damage PC gaming, and gaming in general. We need a balanced screening system of some kind.
Third, we have gaming journalism and publishers to blame. Yes, blame me, too. I consider this journalism and as such it should be scrutinised. Gaming journalism should exist for only one reason, and that's to allow the reader and customer to come to their own conclusions about games. The intent of this piece is to get you thinking about what is and isn't valuable to you.
Review scores are constantly inflated, developers are told to hit certain scores for payout bonuses, studios are buying reviewer ad-space and expect good reviews for the free publicity. The industry isn't helping gamers find the content that they need, and as such it's up to gamers to make their own decisions. It's a crappy situation, but unfortunately it's the only way that things will continue for now at least.
So how can we combat this situation at the moment? Whilst it may not be dire, precaution is still very much needed, and the best thing that you can do is this: Don't buy crappy games. Read previews and reviews. Don't preorder. Get all of the information first. As we continue to invest in sub-par experiences, more cheaply-developed titles will emerge. Quality will continue to slip, and this will have a knock-on effect on AAA gaming. If a publisher sees that they can charge you $60 for a game that is a load of rubbish, and the consumer continues to pay for it, who can blame them for exploiting that? Before you know it, AAA gaming has become jaded, Indie gaming has become jaded, and we're at another crash again. All signs are leading towards this point.
It's a simple fix, but the issue is the scale of the industry, and how far this kind of message needs to go. Ultimately it's a common-sensical idea to purchase the things that you like and ignore the ones that you don't, but in today's society where everyone is looking for a good, cheap sale price, it's a hard habit to break. I've just written this entire article for you guys and you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be in my nearest Game store tomorrow, scouting for more discounts and cheap deals again. I still have many bundles bookmarked - just in case - and there's no doubt that anything that I buy will come bundled with stuff that I never would.
Whilst I'm certainly not saying that we all need to go back to the Nintendo 64 and only own 6 games for it, It's certainly important to value the quality of the games that we have, rather than the quantity of genre's we're capable of covering (or not covering.) It's just something we need to teach ourselves.
Equally we need to start rallying for better moderation. We need to tell Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, and many other publishers, storefronts and retailers that there needs to be better quality control.
Ultimately just as Boogie says, it's up to the big personalities, the journals, the YouTubers, and everyone else with influence in the industry to guide the consumer through all of the bad games, and to direct us all to the good ones. We need to be vigilant of what we purchase, and eventually the good old games will come rolling in again.