November 26, 2004

Game Over?

It’s the same song every year around this time. Coming up to the holiday season, the mainstream news media latches on to the video game industry and makes up a bunch of big stories. Are video games too violent, which system should I buy, which games are most popular, video games make more money than Hollywood, blah blah blah. People, none of this is news anymore. Most reporters who are outside looking in haven’t hit upon a worthwhile topic in years. It’s just a big excuse for them to either ride on the coat tails of a popular topic or incite fear in the hearts of worry-wart soccer moms.

Well I’m not going to talk about any of that stuff. Rather than talk about how games are popular, I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with the industry right now. I’ve been playing video games for a long time, and I see a whole host of problems that hardly anyone seems ready to acknowledge.

1- Mature Games: Too many gamers out there have this high and mighty attitude about them, thinking they are too “mature” to play anything that isn’t dark and violent or what have you. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they go out of their way to make fun of the games and the people who enjoy them, totally closing their minds to the possibility of these games actually being fun! People, that’s not mature. That’s immature! What’s worse is that the business itself is doing nothing to buck this trend. If you haven’t played games like Super Mario Sunshine, Pikmin, or Katamari Damacy just because you think they are “childish“, then I honestly pity you because that’s just sad.

2- Online Gaming: So playing online is supposed to be a big revolution, right? Well, that’s great and all, but when developing an online mode takes away from the single player experience, or worse yet, takes away from actually making the game good, then who cares if it’s online or not? Especially if it’s a game where there’s hardly anyone online to play with. And then there’s the other extreme, where a brilliant game comes out with plenty of great features, but the included online mode is a throw away extra with several limitations. Online shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of a game, nor should the inclusion of an online mode have a significant effect on a review or whether or not a game gets released on a certain system, but if you’re going to do it, do it right! And while you’re at it, don’t make me have to pay extra for it either.

3- Lack of Originality: Too many sequels and too many games based on movies have been big problems for a long time, and everyone has acknowledged that. So why is the problem getting worse? Do we really need a new chapter in the saga of “whatever” rushed out every year? If you’ve got to give us a sequel, spend the extra time to make it worthwhile, and give us something new in the meantime! The real problem here is that people are all too excited being force fed the same sort of games, year after year, and when something new and original comes along, it gets ignored. Come on, folks. Step out of your little box and try something else.

4- Marketing to a Release date: This is becoming a big deal. Look at how many big Triple-A titles have been released or are being released soon for the holiday season. Big, huge games. Too many of them. There are too many games and not enough time and money to play them all, which means that some games are going to be lost in the shuffle. See last year’s “Beyond Good and Evil” for an example of a game that got great reviews but didn’t sell because of over saturation. Must they all be released at the same time, just to capitalize on the holiday buying season? If the gaming market is getting bigger and older like people in the business like to boast that it is, then it shouldn’t matter very much if a game comes out in time for the holidays. We’ve got our own money, and we’re going to play games whether or not Santa Claus leaves some under our tree in December. Instead of rushing production of a game for the holidays, and potentially sacrificing the quality or cutting promised features to meet the deadline, why not release the game when it’s actually done? Spread things out a little so that we’ve got something to play in March or August, when hardly anything new comes out.

5- Games becoming too complicated: People like to brag about being “hardcore” gamers, and the industry has been catering to them. But if so many games are being made for the hardcore, then where are the new players going to come from? The business needs to expand. People who wouldn’t ever think about playing video games are never going to if they’re too complicated. You shouldn’t have to memorize button sequences or navigate menu screens to do anything cool. Make it more intuitive and stop scaring people away.

There’s much more to it than this, like the swelling of budgets and development times, but simply as a player removed from the industry itself but a follower nonetheless, these are my major issues. he only reason why I have these issues is because I love video games, and I want to see the industry flourish. People may think that Video Gaming is huge today, but I feel that if some of these problems are not taken care of, then a snowball effect is going to either severely cripple the industry, or make the future of video games one that I wouldn’t want to play in.

On a similar topic, check out this livejournal post from a former Electronic Arts employee who was fired. He’s speaking out against the policies of his former employer in the hopes that something will change. It’s long, but very fascinating reading from someone who’s worked on the inside.

Anyway, what am I playing now? Well, I’m about a year behind the times, but since it recently became a Player’s Choice title, I picked up a copy of “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker“. I love the Mario games, but I had never really gotten into the Zelda games until now. It’s an amazing game, far removed from the problems I’ve just listed, and I’m really enjoying playing it. So while all these other folks are shooting hookers in Grand Theft Auto and killing evil Teletubies in Halo 2, I’m cutting grass and breaking clay pots with my sword for rupees! It’s great!



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