Let’s acknowledge the worst trends in modern gaming so we can work to overcome them.
It’s hard to picture a time in my life before video games. Thanks to being a child of the 90s, I don’t have to. However, if I grew up a few decades beforehand, the closest I could get to electronic gaming would be shocking myself with a badly wired board of Operation.
It makes you realise just how young gaming, as a medium, is: Around fifty years old, give or take a decade. To put that into perspective, it took movies around fifty years to get to westerns and Film Noire, the good stuff. And even then, there were so many problems with the industry that the Hayes code was introduced to try and clean things up. The bill did a really bad job of it, but that’s another story.
The point is, gaming is still figuring itself out. And while it has changed dramatically for the better over these last fifty years, it still manages to screw things up once in a while. Therefore, for the purpose of forwarding the cause of the medium that I so dearly love, I present to you the five worst trends in modern gaming in the hope that you will join me in lambasting the scummy developers that try to get away with this.
1. Fee 2 Play Games
A term coined by the illustrious games journalist Jim Sterling (thank God for him), Fee 2 Play games take all that is scummy about DLC and throws it back into the swamp to stew for a bit.
In simple terms, it’s the idea that you can have customers pay full price for a game at release (around $99 in Australian and $60 everywhere else) and then shake more money out of them through microtransactions.
Overwatch and Shadow of War, with their loot boxes, are two of the biggest offenders in recent years. And what makes these two instances even more egregious is how they’re implemented.
When you buy a one-use shader for your gear in Destiny 2, you could at least take comfort in the fact that you knew you were shilling out for something you could have bought and used as many times as you wanted in the original. But in Overwatch and Shadow of War, the developers have learned something from the big casinos and introduced gambling into the mix.
You’re no longer paying for a known quantity, but the chance to win something you want.
Now the common defence for this is that these loot boxes only provide you with cosmetic changes and don’t alter the gameplay, except when they do. But I’ll ignore that for now and play whatever the reverse of the devil’s advocate is (angel’s prosecutor?).
At the end of the day, developers wouldn’t be placing these things in their games if they didn’t expect people to buy them. Now if these DLCs and microtransactions were unobtrusive, I’d have a lot less of an issue with it. However, a daily grind of modern gaming is wading through a mire of pop-up adds and digital currency.
And obtrusive is as good as it gets. Developers are now pulling off sneakier techniques that target the reward centres in your lizard brain to pay more more more. Anybody who has felt the rush from opening a loot box in Overwatch will know exactly what I’m talking about.
All of this in a game that you’ve already paid full price for.
2. Video Game Award Shows
After all this time, video games still have an image problem.
Try telling peeps that you’re studying literature or movies at a university and they won’t bat an eye. But mention video games and you’ll be guaranteed a few condescending smirks.
So why do video games still have a hard time being considered legitimate art?
Well, there’s probably a bunch of reasons: toxic gamer communities, video games’ immaturity as a medium, the association with being a children’s pastime. However, there has always been one way to guarantee that your medium is taken seriously.
You need to be pretentious.
Yes, a strong dose of pretentiousness is the perfect cure for an industry that wants to be taken seriously. Not only do you get art snobs talking up the merits of your medium, but they will also viciously defend anyone who would dare insinuate that their pastime isn’t worthy of devotion.
Film and television have already found a way of distilling pretentiousness in its purest form. They have an award show.
It is a solemn event when the giants of the industry gather around and collectively pat each other’s backs. There is a level of smugness and self-satisfaction on display that gaming sorely needs.
Now, gaming already has its own award shows. However, compared to the Oscars, they’re downright tacky.
Publishers and advertisers have the run of the show, using the event as little more than an opportunity to have a captive audience for the next hour. I mean, could you imagine if Schick tried to have this guy show up at the Academy Awards.
Gamers and developers deserve an event that takes their passion and craft seriously. I say it’s about time they got one.
3. Runaway Hype Train
Gamers are passionate people. The sheer enthusiasm for their medium is one of the most endearing things about them. However, it’s not hard to whip that excitement up into a full-blown frenzy.
Such has been the primary strategy in video game marketing for the last decade. And I want to look at a case study to see how this can backfire.
No Man’s Sky was one of the most anticipated games of 2016. After their first trailer for the game debuted at E3 in 2014, the small developer was suddenly flooded with an outpouring of attention from fans. The game looked gorgeous, its concepts were original and the technology ground-breaking. Hello Games were building something new and innovative, and the community was paying attention.
At this point, there wasn’t much more that needed to be done. Maybe drop of few trailers between now and when the game came out and sit back and watch the money run in.
But once the hype train starts it’s damn near impossible to stop.
Gamers were craving any news they could get about the project and Hello Games was more than happy to be their dealer.
Sean Murray, one of the company’s founders, ran the media gauntlet. We’re talking press releases, talk show interviews and two E3’s worth of events.
The main problem is that during their development, games will change. Sometimes the code just doesn’t work and features that were promised to be included end up on the cutting room floor. The greater the hype, the greater the demand for more information and the greater expectancy of the final product.
Coupled with that you have Sean Murray, a developer who was thrust into the role of a full-time PR expert, making some dubious promises, and you’ve got a recipe for guaranteed disappointment.
And disappointed they were.
However, by that time the fans had already paid for the game. No Man’s Sky was a huge success. And by the time anybody asked if this was a healthy practice for the industry, publishers were already gearing up to start the cycle over again.
4. Open Worldification
When did we start acting too superior for levels?
Not every game has to have a sprawling overworld with hundreds of side quests, collectibles, and challenges. There was something simple and sweet in battling enemies through endless corridors to finally reach the boss at the end.
Don’t get me wrong, I love open world games too. The ability to take a left when the story wants you to take a right is unique to the medium. But not every Triple-A game has to have a bloody open world.
The big developers wouldn’t keep churning out this type of game without a good reason. So, what makes open worlds so popular?
The first reason is content. Open world games are great bang for your buck. While the main story might struggle to reach ten hours, by pilling up the side content it’s not rare to stretch out the completion time to the high thirties.
Now, this is perfectly fine in theory. Having side content is a great way to flesh out an expansive world. One only needs to look at The Witcher 3 for proof. Some of the game’s best content is hidden within its side quests.
However, The Witcher 3 also benefited from some of the best writers working in gaming. The side content was rewarding in part to the tragic and beautiful stories that you stumbled upon. When that quality of writing isn’t there or removed altogether, these side quests become garbage busy work, appealing to only the most devoted of completionists.
Tragically, Bioware is a recent offender with Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition, while Ubisoft has been perfecting the mindless scavenger hunt in Assassin’s Creed for years.
What started as one of the purest expressions of freedom in the medium has ended up as a crutch for lazy developers.
5. Perpetual Early Access
The last thing I want to gripe about is also probably the newest trend to rear its ugly head.
Early access games started off as a great form of crowdfunding. It allowed indie developers to get out early versions of their game to the public. Players got a cheaper version of a game that would later go on to be sold at full price and developers got a much-needed source of revenue as well as a constant stream of beta-testers. It was the closest thing to a win-win that the industry had.
It didn’t take long for the cracks to start showing up.
The obvious downside to early access is that the player is putting a lot of trust in the developer to (a) finish the game and (b) make sure that it’s not a hot mess at launch.
You can probably guess where this is going…
In 2014, a study found out that only 25% of games submitted to early access made it to launch. And in regards to the question of quality, most of these titles are sold through Steam’s Early Access, and that service happens to be almost completely automated. This means that nearly all these games are not tested or curated and that means that nearly all of them are garbage.
I know after reading all of this you might be looking a little less favourably at the gaming industry, but I want you to remember something. We’re still in the early days of the medium. Of course, developers and publishers are going to stumble.
By all means, call them out when they do. The games of the future are going to be informed by the discussions we’re having today. But also remember, at the end of the day, it is your dollar and your choice. Be a savvy consumer. If a publisher does something stupid, don’t give them your money.
It’s the only way they’re gonna learn.
To move past the frustration of the worst trends in modern gaming, let’s get optimistic with this list of some of the most exciting announcements made at this year’s E3.