Friday, September 18, 2015

What's Really Stopping Game Growth? 11 Points!

Geek.com list-maker K. Thor Jensen, who really loves the number 11 and seems to enjoy angering fanboys and girls alike, posted yet another list: 11 things that ruined video games forever. I was unaware of Jensen and in my blissful ignorance, read the list.

Dangit. I succumbed to the click-bait once again!

I'm almost certain that Jensen is in the 19-25 age range, as one comment-er pointed out. Because this list is full of fail. So much fail. What's wrong with quick saves and quick time events? I love quick saves! The only thing I would half agree on the list is that pre-orders are ruining video games, but this is a recent trend. In the past pre-orders were a good thing. A very good thing. And in some situations, they still are. But to outright dismiss the impact of pre-orders is juvenile.

The biggest glaring issue with the list, other then attempting to stir up trouble by picking items that would rile up the crowd, is that it's too generic. No details. No specifics.

Click-bait.

Instead of breaking down why this list sucks so much and wasting my time, I'm making a counter-list.

These are the things that I feel are currently curbing video games. Some of them are decisions made in the past that worked for the time, but no longer hold water in today's gaming market. Some are really bad ideas.

So, here is my list of 11 Things that are Currently Hampering the Growth of Gaming in the Industry and in the Community. How about that for a more accurate title?




1. Pre-orders. I've written about this topic quite a bit lately. And I do feel that publishers put too much emphasis on pre-orders that quality suffers in the final product in favor of a push for sales. Here's the thing: pre-orders on rare international imports or products that will have a low sale output are okay. For the first few Ace Attorney games, the only way to guarantee them in your hands was to pre-order. Finding them in stores was a challenge. They made only so many copies, and had a limited Western release initially. Those types of pre-orders are fine. But there is 0 reason to pre-order the latest Call of Duty when stock is plentiful, and you can still get most of those in-game bonuses after the game's release. Just saying.

2. Digital Rights Management (DRM). Over the past few years, companies such as EA have reviewed and changed their policy regarding DRM. It was developed as a means of combating piracy. In the process, it has locked out a number of gamers who purchased the game through legitimate means with silly rules that still cause us to scratch our head. Does anyone remember the installation limit on the early The Sims games? You could only install it up to 3 times on one computer before the product key is locked out and you have to call in to their support center for a special pass to re-install. So if you ever upgrade your machine to a new Windows OS or your computer crashes, you only get 3 chances.

In recent years, DRM has extended to an "always-online" mode, where publishers can verify a game's authenticity by scanning your system in the background while you're logged into their servers. Microsoft was blasted for this when they initially announced the XBox One, by having a required online connection for every system to do a 24 hour DRM check (or 1 hour if you are logged in to a friend's console). Without the check, you couldn't play any game on the system. At all. Which was a big fail since a good chunk of the US still doesn't have access to broadband connections, and it would have locked out most over-seas military locations (which, as my time at GameStop showed me, make up a large section of their sales). While they reversed their decisions, companies such as Ubisoft still use this practice, and give their users endless amount of headaches.

3. Rule-breakers for Online Gaming. Policing games has been an issue, and always will be. With MMO's you have to deal with real-time money traders (RMT) along with harassment claims and potential cheaters. The problem is that it hasn't really improved over the past 20 years. Since the earliest MMO's such as Phantasy Star Online and Everquest, the gaming community has grown. And so have the trolls and the amount of hate-speech that is thrown around. Many companies have very basic policies regarding complaints against another user. Those with banning periods are very limited or so lenient that it doesn't resolve the issue. And in some cases, companies don't even hear our requests for help until we go on social media and point out the flaws of their policies.

In today's world, it sucks if you're not straight, white, and male in online gaming. You'll be harassed in some form or another, and beyond muting headsets, there's little else we can do. And that sucks. This needs to change. It's needed to change for a long time.

4. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Because it's now the standard for all RPG and fantasy gaming, and it forces a lot of people to try and rise up to this ideal that may, or may not, be fitting for their games. We haven't seen many RPG's since Skyrim that have done well, because now we're trying to compare them all to this game. I mean...good on Elder Scrolls. Glad they they created something so engaging that people are still playing this game nearly 5 years later. But for the other developers, you can't be Skyrim. You need to carve your own path. If you try to replicate that success, you're doomed to fail.

5. Fanboys and Fangirls Disrupting Progress. The biggest issue I'm finding with gaming today is how much gamers are trying to disrupt change. They're most likely the minority in the opinion that games should stay as they are, but they have the loudest voices. They have the booming voices that cause us to flinch when they speak - because they don't represent the community as a whole. It's so easy for us to yell at a developer for big changes, and to ignore what others want. In doing so, we're stopping video games from growing into an artistic and entertainment medium that can be respected. We're hampering attempts at diversity and creativity. From #GamerGate to open harassment against women, and individuals of color within the industry, it's halting progress that we desperately need. I don't know about you all, but I'm tired of seeing the same 5 types of games release every year. I want new products. I want new faces. I want new choices. I want new games. Even Peter Moore, who I typically disagree with, would favor this point!

6. Social Media. This particular aspect is going to be multi-faceted. I applaud social media in giving people a new outlet for discussing their fandoms, and reaching out globally to new communities that share a love of gaming. I dislike social media for being one massive hole of spoilers and freebe advertising for gaming. Nothing annoys me more then to see "so-and-so got an Achievement in Assassins Creed" filling up my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It has become so pervasive that it doesn't encourage me to buy the game. It makes me want to play it less.Also, gamers. Stop posting spoilers! I had to avoid all of my social media the week that Dragon Age: Inquisition Trespasser DLC was released, since it was providing a lot of end-game content that sets up for game #4. Because people would not stop posting spoilers. Everywhere. Ladies and gents. I'd really like to play a game without pre-conceived notions so I can get the best possible experience of the product. You spoiling it for me does not help. So stop it. Please. You're making us dislike gaming more and more when you do that.

7. Obligatory Yearly Releases. EA and Ubisoft, I'm looking at you. There is no valid reason why we need to have a new Call of Duty game every year. Or Assassin's Creed. Or even Madden. I know this is not a popular opinion. These games sell well during their release, and people clamor for them every year. But it also hampers progress. It doesn't allow for many new changes to a product when you're set for a yearly release cycle. Which is why I gladly accepted the delay of a new Need for Speed last year so that the developers could make a new product worthy of their fans time and money. Gamers are willing to wait on a product if you give us new stuff, even for franchises.

8. Forced Monitization to Progress in a Game. This is a recent phenomenon. Pay to play games are not uncommon these days, and freemium is a word many of us wish would go away. But it's here to stay. The problem comes in with Triple AAA titles, and Assassin's Creed:Unity made us fear for the future. In Unity, there are areas and boxes that you can not access without paying for them. Yep. You dumped $59.99 (before tax) on a video game and you have to pay more to play the content that exists in the game. This isn't like an MMO where you're paying a monthly fee that goes towards keeping the servers online, patches, and game updates. This isn't DLC that adds more to the story. This is asking you, the gamer, to spend more money to access content pre-built into the game. It's dumb. And I hope it goes away asap.

9. Video Game Reviews. I remember the boom of gaming magazines in the 90's. I still have a number of them stored in Rubbermaid bins. So few exist today, but the impression they made has lasted. So much so that video game reviews are in a rut. Much like movie reviews, everything about a game review is arbitrary. Numbers, thumbs up or down, percentages, whatever. It's all made up. With this, it's difficult to really gauge which reviews are valid and which ones are fluff. And because a number of us grew up on those gaming magazines of the 90's, we use the same format as we did back then. Name the game. Here's what's cool. Here's what sucks. Throw out a fake number to represent how good the game is. Call it a day.

What bugs me about today's game reviews is that there is little depth to them. Typically a game reviewer will get a product anywhere from a week to a month prior to the sale date. Most are contractually obligated to release a review up to a week before sales. Some are asked to withhold reviews until the release date (and that's typically viewed as a bad sign - that the publisher doesn't have faith in the game). Because reviews have so many products they need to play and review, they can't commit a lot of time to each game. They need to be fair to the other games sitting in their pile. So an RPG may only get about 10 hours of play - which we all know doesn't scratch the surface of how in-depth they can go. An FPS may get 5 hours of play, and so on.

This system has created a false sense of faith in game reviewers. We trust them to provide us with accurate commentary on new products, and they can only deliver a few hours of game play to base our purchase decisions off of. While some websites are attempting to move forward in how game reviews are perceived, many still use the old system. It's not providing the quality of content to gamers that we're looking for.

10. Citizen Kane of Video Games. Can we just stop trying to make this happen? Someone made a Citizen Kane video game. So there. It's done. It's the best game we could have about one of the crappiest movies. So let's end this madness and admit that we will never have a Citizen Kane of video games. And we don't need one.

11. Achievements. I fully admit that I'm an achievement monger as much as the next person, but I feel that it's also detracting from the value of the game. As you run around the digital world, aiming to get your 1,000th zombie kill via head shot, you end up missing the beauty of the game. You're so absorbed in obtaining these ancillary achievements (which do not prove your gaming prowess, rather they show how much free time you have), that you ignore the game itself. You end up overlooking the quirks that make the game what it is.

One thing that I love to do in video games is hunt out alcoves, paths, and ledges to take scenery photos. There are moments in Final Fantasy 14 and BioShock that make brief appearances, before timers reset and you have to wait for them to pop up again. And they make for stunning images that are difficult to replicate. We miss these things because we're so focused on getting achievements. Take the time to appreciate the work of the developers.

Oh, and the dumb achievements are dumb. 10 points for starting the game? Really? If you're going to have an achievement, make it something of worth or do away with them all together.


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