2009 to 2017. I’ve been largely away from the gaming circle for almost 8 years. Back then I got all my games strolling the aisles of Target or GameStop. If I wanted to change the game I was playing, I had to get off the couch and change the CDs. I still thought smart phones were this weird luxury item that no one would buy.
Now I get all my games online, either from Amazon or downloaded from Steam. And now phones have made video game companies get dollar signs in their eyes. The games industry has shifted so much it was barely recognizable when I came back in. As I’ve been getting my bearings, I thought it would be fun to give my unsolicited opinion on these changes:
- DLC. As a whole, this is great! I love getting more out of a game! It just needs to be handled well and priced well (I’m looking at you, Fire Emblem). I’ve found that good DLC follows one rule: actual extra content put on an actually finished game.
- Unfinished Games. Speaking of finished games, many people seem to be buying ones that aren’t. I’ve seen this in many forms, such as “Day 1 DLC” or “Early Access Games” or an unpolished game that the devs plan to patch later. You realize that buying a game in early access means you’re paying to be a game tester, right? That’s a service that they should actually be paying you for. I can see that early access allows for some transparency in the development, but devs should just do what Square Enix did a year ago with Octopath Traveler: make a free demo. At the very least, they should make an early access game heavily discounted. $30 to me is still asking too much.
- Online Distribution. This feels like a double-edged sword. On one hand, online stores allow for the indie game scene to flourish, but on the other hand, it awakens the Shovelware Kaiju Monster, who decimates all unsuspecting digital stores in its path. In general I think most companies are doing an okay job at making quality games visible, but all platforms need to fine-tune their shops better.
- Innovation. Big publishers have the habit of making “safe” games, which is one of the reasons I left gaming back in 2009. With the rise of indie games, however, I’ve noticed that companies like Ubisoft and Sony are starting to take more risks and shake up their franchises. Even new franchises are starting to appear. I love it! Keep it up!
- Growing Up. Going along with this, I feel like games are finally starting to grow up. This year’s God of War explores actual mature themes like dealing with your past. And Nintendo’s tale-as-old-as-time Mario franchise has made a subtle yet welcome change to Peach’s character in Odyssey. She don’t need no man to travel the world!
- More Inclusive Industry. Moving this idea forward even further, I think games are starting to get more inclusive without being overbearing or stereotypical. I’m a straight, white, middle-class, Christian male. I guess I’m what the industry sees as the “core gamer audience” (although I think that is a terribly misinformed viewpoint… more on that in another post). And yet I am sooooo tired of straight white male characters. I want to explore new points of view through this medium. I want to empathize and relate to people who are different from me, just like I do with movies or books. And I think we’re starting to see the inklings of this medium becoming fully inclusive. Ellie from The Last of Us and Gregg from Night in the Woods are authentic LGBT characters, and Pokemon and Stardew Valley let people play as black characters, albeit as part of a blank-slate character creation. Games are definitely not there yet, but they have at least started the path to inclusivity.
- Streamers & YouTubers. Streaming sounds awesome on paper, and I have a Twitch account… but I never use it. Scheduling time with friends is hard enough, let alone finding time to watch a streamer. YouTubers on the other hand are much easier to follow. I can squeeze a video or two during my lunch break at work or while I’m cleaning the apartment. I love hearing everyone’s take on different games, trends, and news. It’s YouTubers that inspired me to make this blog in the first place. I’ll probably never make videos myself, because that is a HUGE time and money commitment. And also because I don’t want my income dependent on the opinions of thousands of strangers. Yikes. But I do enjoy their videos all the same. Arlo, Mark Brown, TheNationalDex, and The Geek Critique are some of my favorite channels.
- Loot Boxes & Microtransactions. Look, if I wanted smartphone game design, I’d have gotten a smartphone game. I could start a rant about this, but I want to actually finish this post. So I’ll echo the words of Jimmy Fallon and say that loot boxes are just “Ew!” Thankfully it appears that loot boxes are being phased out of at least a few games now. Let’s keep that trend going.
- 4k Gaming. I know graphics have been a part of the industry since its beginnings, and at first it was exciting to see graphic changes with each new console. 4k is… nice? It’s nice. But it’s largely unnecessary. I feel like companies are only going there because they don’t know where else to go. Honestly, depending on the platform and the art direction, 720p games look perfectly fine. Lighting, color, animation, and character design are all much more important. Pixel count was made for art direction, not the other way around. If a developer’s artistic vision really truly needs 4k, then by all means they should pursue it. I just don’t see when that would actually happen. Furthermore, pushing 4k graphics will only make games even more expensive to make, which will convince more companies to push for awful monetization methods.
So there you have it! Internet opinions, wahoo! Sorry if it comes across like I have these really high expectations for companies. The thing is, game companies once held themselves to these standards. So yeah, I’m going to call them out if they’re being anti-consumer. Overall, these changes feel like a mixed bag of great leaps forward, cautionary tales, and several reasons why I hope the industry will generally improve in the future.
What are your thoughts on gaming’s recent changes? Am I coming across as just an old man yelling at a cloud? Are there reasons why I should reconsider my stances?