Wednesday, 4 September 2013

"The Video Game Crash of 2014"

20 years ago, what was known as the 'Atari shock' was when the video game industry crashed. Its revenues that once had peaked at $3.2 Billion had fallen to $100 Million. That's nearly 97%. What was the cause of this? Games were easier to make back then. Gameplay and level design was extremely basic, it was pretty much just blocks moving around on a screen. Instead of companies being limited due to technology, not being able to create profound experiences, they used this to their advantage.

There were bloody loads of games, and with loads of games, came loads more consoles. There were 12 consoles on the market by 1983, most of which were Atari 2600 clones, and most of their games were clones of those released on the 2600. The shelves were flooded with bile and cheaply-made games. The 2600 was cheap, starting at $199 then going down to £50 ($77). Games were cheap and there were loads of them. Eventually, the market became diluted, no one bought them, and the industry crashed. It was revived again by Nintendo, with its revolutionary NES. They set the standard model for third-party licensing, with its famous 'Nintendo seal of approval', in which not just anyone could put out a game. They had complete control over what games were allowed to be released, reducing cheap bile that once saturated the market.

Compare this to today. Our market is being diluted with the same type of game: the shooter. This is due to the popularity of Halo, Call of Duty and Gears of War at the start of the console cycle. They were reviewed incredibly well and sold millions, becoming the three most popular shooter franchises of the current console cycle. Look at the games on the market now. Watered-down Call of Duty's and Halo's and Gears of War's that appeal to that large crowd. Of course they didn't think as to why Call of Duty fans would leave their beloved franchise for a game that's largely similar, and worse. Of course, there are exceptions, like Far Cry 3, Bioshock, Spec Ops: The Line, Fallout 3, Team Fortress 2, and the Uncharted series. What these games did is use a familiar genre: the shooter, but had a twist; they had something different which distinguished them. Whether is be story, setting or aesthetic, they all had something that Call of Duty or Halo didn't offer. That's why (most) of those games were critically and financially successful. Look at Bodycount, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, Kane and Lynch, Medal of Honor 2010, Fuse, Homefront, just go to your local game store and you will find a heavy slog of samey, greyish-brown shooters. Dead Rising 3 is appealing to Call of Duty fans now, Dead Space 3 added a broken coop, reduced the claustrophobic semi-scares and added more guns to make is appeal to Gears of War and Uncharted fans, and Resi6 had loads of explosions, loads of guns, ridiculous action, more guns, muscle-bound gun-bro's, etc. because anything that isn't Call of Duty isn't Call of Duty enough. Don't publishers see this? Dead Rising 3 is already getting angry fanboys bash it, and Dead Space 3 and Resi6 are considered financial failures, as well as getting lukewarm reviews.

Instead of there being loads of games that are dirt cheap, there are now loads of games that are seemingly made of solid Gold, because who the hell would spend £47 on the new Battlefield? 47 boffing quid on a 4-hour campaign, a handful of maps, and some new skins? Same with the new Call of Duty. Same with Dead Space 3. We spent £40 on your game, now you want us to pay more money for some skins? How do they get away with doing this? How do people not even have a problem with this? A cheap way of making a game last longer is multiplayer. So now all games have to have multiplayer as a default tickbox. Look at Spec Ops: The Line's multiplayer that was shoe-horned in that nobody played and that even the lead designer called a 'cancerous growth'. Look at the unnecessary DRM on SimCity that everyone complained about and made the game near unplayable. Look at the marketplace for Diablo 3 that spawned Error 37 and that even the lead designer regrets it. Does no one see how the industries obsession with multiplayer is damaging the industry? I'm not going to solely lay the blame on the developers, as they're only making games that people want to make...or are they?

Story in games is now on a rise. Spec Ops: The Line started it in shooters, with a main character that became disturbed, deluded and traumatized in a radically different environment, which carried on into Far Cry 3 and the Tomb Raider reboot. Also with the Walking Dead and Journey, which received multiple Game of the Year awards and sold millions. Same with Bioshock Infinite, which dealt with many serious themes and ideas as well as selling 4 million and got a 93 on Metacritic. I may not think The Last of Us is gaming's Citizen Kane, but I certainly like what it tried to do. It had a strong female character, not a ditsy, skinny-waisted, large-breasted female stereotype like most female characters, it had an excellent environment and it had some well-written, truly believable scenes. It's not my game of the year, but it did sell loads and get the best scores of 2013 thusfar. Yet publishers are still churning out samey, greyish-brown shooters that don't sell and receive lukewarm reviews. Why? Why do they keep doing this? Do they think shoe-horning multiplayer and taking away parts of the game for cheap DLC will give them even more money? Because it bloody well won't, and it's up to us to make them realize that.

We are not robots that will automatically buy your *insert popular game here* clone. We are not the same audience we were in 1983, so stop treating us like it. We are entering a new age of gaming. Games go for the price of a burger on Humble Bundles, Steam Sales and the App Store, but the console market thinks 10% off Blood Dragon is a huge deal. Dead Space 3 and Battlefield 3 went on sale with many other games a few weeks ago, for an average price of $5, yet XBLA or PSN think £20 for Borderlands is a steal. When will this end? When the market crashes again? When people stop buying the regurgitated, overpriced, DRM-laden crap on consoles and the market then crashes? What then?

With the new consoles coming out, I am extremely wary of what the industry will become. Whether it will dwell in multiplayer-focused crap or evolve into a truly artistic medium. Whether our community will turn into a hellish, hostile environment of morons, or it will flourish into an educated, smart, analytic consumer-base. This is all up to us. Let us buy not the Call of Duty wannabees and the poorly made, greyish-brown conveyor-belt of creativity-emaciated cardboard boxes made multiplayer, but let us buy the story-driven, significant, deeper-than-a-tea-tray experiences that will resonate and be remembered in years to come. This can turn out positively if we divert out boffing £47 away from EA or Activision, and toward Valve or Telltale or Thatgamecompany. Let this not turn in to 1983.