A dark age is upon us.
Gaming has changed. It’s no longer about the games we play, gameplay or the gamers. It’s an endless series of marketing battles, fought-out by industry fat cats and their cronies. Gaming, and its mass media consumption, has become a well-oiled money making machine. Gaming has changed.
To the eye, HD graphics were a noticeable step up from the SD resolutions that had been our staple diet for so many years on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube.
The all-in-one entertainment systems, an evolution in gaming or so they say. A power inside their consoles to enrich and quench an undeniable thirst for graphical superiority. Cloud gaming, social, 4K resolution, frictionless and seamless control. Everything in one single place, and you’re guaranteed 24/7 access. Gaming has changed.
The age of HD has become the age of entertainment. All in the name of maximising profits from the gamers themselves. And those who control the distribution channels control your wallets. Gaming has changed. When the industry is under total control by people who don’t understand the gaming consumer, then it’s the games… that become routine.
Thanks to Sony and Microsoft that’s exactly what they want you to believe: that gaming can be so much more than just video games. Play movies, connect to your Facebook account, communicate on Skype whilst finishing off your last multiplayer session on Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Am I just dreaming or is this some kind of real personal hell that I can’t wake up from?
Back in 2005, things were very different. Microsoft were preparing for the official launch of the Xbox 360, a console which has since gone on to have a paramount level of success, thanks in part to the huge number of subscribers active on Xbox Live.
The difference between now and then was that the main focus remained on the games themselves. Connecting millions of gamers together over the Internet to play alongside their friends just seemed like a logical, timely and most welcomed next step.
To the eye, HD graphics were a noticeable step up from the SD resolutions that had been our staple diet for so many years on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. Whilst Sony and Microsoft focused on HD gaming and connectivity, Nintendo innovated, making video games more accessible to the casual market.
This new 7th generation of consoles felt like real progress, a noble step to advance the gaming industry further and take our beloved medium of video games to the next level, or so we all thought…
And eight long years after the initial launch of the Xbox 360 we are now faced with an industry that is losing sight of its main core focus. An industry placing all its money and efforts into maximising revenue for a conglomerate of media publishers and advertisers, repurposing video games into one, all-singing entertainment package supposedly uniquely catered to our individual interests.
There was a time when the sole reason you bought a console was for that one particular game, franchise or IP. There are many gamers who still uphold that belief to this day. I fondly remember the first time I begged and pleaded to my father for a Mega Drive simply to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I was five years old. Why did I decide to purchase a Gameboy Colour when I was eleven? To play games on the go and most importantly during my lunch breaks in school!
Did I purchase the PlayStation 3 on launch so I could watch Blu-ray movies? No, that was simply an optional bonus. I wanted it for the games. I happily boarded the E3 Hype train and intended to ride it all the way to the station to see what the initial line-up would have in store for me.
There’s one simple question we all need to remember, especially the executives at Sony and Microsoft. Why do we play games and purchase consoles? We do it because we love video games. It’s as simple as that.
It’s become apparent that too much unnecessary noise is getting in the way of gamers enjoying the games themselves. It’s become harder to invest into a catalogue of games without running the risk of it being obsolete by the time of the next console launch. Microsoft has even announced that the next Xbox One won’t be backwards compatible with previous 360 titles at all. Nor, will Sony’s PlayStation 4 support PlayStation 3 games (though at least a possible, albeit hardly ideal, solution is in the works to stream PS3 games with Gaikai).
What about the physical media? Why should they even bother with having game discs if they’re going insist we install all the games to a hard drive? I personally prefer the feeling of having a tangible physical copy in my hand, to admire the glorious box artwork and place it proudly into my video games collection to display; a fond topic of discussion each time my friends come round to admire my recent purchase or collector’s editions.
Nintendo have been far from perfect, but when they have made mistakes they’ve rewarded loyal fans with discounts and rewards.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, Nintendo are but one company lighting a beacon for the industry and gamers to congregate towards. They are placing the consumers at the very heart of their decisions. With Nintendo Direct they’ve moved into a constant dialogue with consumers, updating different sections of fans with catered information specific to them.
Nintendo have been far from perfect, but when they have made mistakes they’ve rewarded loyal fans with discounts and rewards. Take the stagnant 3DS launch for example; Nintendo thanked early adopters with access to the ambassador program giving them ten free Virtual Console games at no extra charge. And when they were rightly criticised for the slow load times on the new Wii U operating system, they corrected it without a fuss mere months later after launch. Nintendo are also focusing on adding more indie titles from independent developers and studios to the eShop store; a far cry from the Nintendo of old which critics observed overly focused on Nintendo IPs and titles from their own back catalogue.
Indie developers must also be rubbing their hands in eager excitement at the upcoming launch of the Ouya. A console for $99 is looking to capitalise on the rising success of mobile titles and indie games. Not only that, but it provides developers and even individuals with the right skills to freely develop new games the world has never seen before. No license fees or expensive SDK required here. No red tape to cut through either, developers have access to the tools they need to start making games right away.
Valve have also been doing a grand job with their greenlight program on Steam which is helping to bring more indie titles to the PC. Valve should also be commended for highlighting these indie games and have been rewarded with a number of them becoming best sellers on the Steam store. You get the feeling that Valve’s Steam Box is going to huge success allowing PC gamers to break the shackles of their desks and take PC gaming back into the lounge or other recreational spaces.
That’s swell for PC gamers but what is to be made of us console die hards? Are we just going to have to put up with this new industry mantra of putting entertainment, as opposed to games, first?
Call me nostalgic, call me sentimental, maybe I’m just stuck in the past, but I prefer my gaming from a simple age where it was you, the controller and the game. Nothing else mattered. All I know is when I decide to buy a console, it is with the sole purpose of enjoying one of man’s greatest creations: video games.
A great game can sell a console. A great game can make a publisher successful. A great game gives you great memories you can always return to. Let’s stop milking the dead horses, the DLC and imposing monetised barriers to entry; instead let’s spend more time thinking about the end consumer and placing the focus of the entire industry soley back on the games themselves. Is that really too much to ask?