The Dumbification of Gaming

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The Dumbification of Gaming

Shamus wants us to stop fighting and get along.

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The push for more sales really has made games easier and less complicated. It is the same reason instruction manuals have died a death. People don't want to have to read and learn in order to play so it has to get more simple.

RTFM used to be a staple reply online. I can't remember the last time I saw it though.

You are correct(ahh...the level design of Heretic,Hexen...Dark Force), however I disagree on one of your points. I believe that the niche market is big enough to support developers, yes they aren't going to sell 10 million copies, but they can sell enough to be comfortable.
Example being Team ICO and CDProject Red - they are selling games for (relatively) small audience and they've been successful, same as the guys with Amnesia. There is a market for everyone, and I believe that sooner or later we will realize that. The market for games with "wide appeal" is over saturated, it's just a matter of time before publishers decide to be more flexible with their money.

I has an idea. Devs invented Hard difficulty level. They invented Very Hard difficulty level. use it.

Feel this picture is appropriate:

image

Not sure what's sadder, the fact that FPS's have basically become hallways, or that I can run that DOOM map with my eyes closed...

bjj hero:
The push for more sales really has made games easier and less complicated. It is the same reason instruction manuals have died a death. People don't want to have to read and learn in order to play so it has to get more simple.

This is a falasity. Manuals have died because companies don't want to invest money in manuals, a game without an Ultima/Wizardry style manuals cost around 2-3$ less to the developer. Not to mention that an engaging tutorial is way better than any manual.

draythefingerless:
I has an idea. Devs invented Hard difficulty level. They invented Very Hard difficulty level. use it.

Hard and Very Hard difficulty do nothing but crank up the numbers of health/ammo your opponents have, which doesn't really help since enemies fallow the same pattern. As long as you know what the A.I. is doing, and it doesn't take long to figure it out, you're in the safe. Challenge can come from more things than enemies.

Playing through DA2, I really am struck dumb by how much they hold your hand these days. They honestly don't let you figure out ANYTHING for yourself anymore, which is a shame.

The side quests, for example: you pick up a random item of no particular importance - other than the nifty little arrow next to the name, indicating it is a quest item. You've now got a journal entry that tells you exactly where to deliver said item. It's also on your map. And when you happen upon the target NPC, he or she will have a giant arrow over his/her head.

This isn't an MMO. The quests aren't supposed to be an annoying race against the clock, mere obstacles between me and a max level character ready to participate in the "real" game. The quests are supposed to comprise the desired experience.

TLDR version: Damn you, WoW.

The problem with trying to make a game with ever widening appeal is that very quickly it tends toward appealing to no one. It tries to do everything for everyone and ends up doing not enough of anything for anyone at all. I think it would be better for developers to have a diverse portfolio of games, where each game appeals to a specific market or demographic, as opposed to trying to make that single killer, one-size-fits-all game.

I would also throw out there that I think game developers need to get away from the triple-A game mentality. It's just not a sustainable model at this level. It was successful back in the early days of gaming because you would only get 1 or 2 out of the year. But, now with developers trying to make them like mana raining from heaven, the whole machinery of it all is overburdened and breaking down. The games are becoming too costly, the overall quality of the experience is degrading(because they're being rushed), and gamers just don't have the time and the money to invest in so many. You just can't mass-produce these things.

Eventually they will lay the blame at the feet of the (mostly PC based) casual crowd and their sense of entitlement.

What? That doesn't make sense. The casual crowd isn't mostly PC based, and there is no PC based casual crowd that gets the blame for games becoming easier. What are you on about.

Other than that, pretty solid point. No, not the "stop fighting and get along" point. The point where games becoming easier is a result of the success of the industry.

But good luck getting people to understand.

FieryTrainwreck:
Playing through DA2, I really am struck dumb by how much they hold your hand these days. They honestly don't let you figure out ANYTHING for yourself anymore, which is a shame.

Its most apparent(for me at least) with the items you give your companions. In the first, you had to guess who would like what. Or you would know what they liked, if you took the time to talk about them. You basically had to know stuff. Now its just "THIS ITEM IS FOR THIS COMPANION. GO THERE AND GIVE IT TO HIM/HER."

Just made me sad.

draythefingerless:
I has an idea. Devs invented Hard difficulty level. They invented Very Hard difficulty level. use it.

This does work in some cases. But some games can be annoyingly hard if you crank it too far.

Like he said about New Vegas. I jumped into that game on hardcore cause I liked the mechanics and it created a greater challenge. To me it seems a lot of Hard & Very Hard modes do nothing but make enemies stronger, and make you die faster.... which seems like a lazy way to create a bigger challenge..

When it takes millions of dollars to produce a game, developers want to make sure that the game sells as well as possible. Thus most big-budget games have difficulties and complexities averaged down to the lowest denominator. I feel like the last, and thankfully growing, bastion of more involved gameplay and more risk-taking lies with smaller indie developers. They don't have millions to lose on a badly received game, and are able to work with smaller, more coordinated teams. Hopefully as the indie market grows and more talented people turn to indie gaming, classics in the same vein as System Shock, XCom, or Ultima Underworld will start appearing again.

I played PoP [ The Cell-shaded ] one but I didn't feel it was casual at all.

I enjoyed the narrative/scenery/dialogue/characters so much, I was simply having fun doing it all. Experiencing connection with Elika since she is the only soul left.

At any rate, I enjoy the depth and customization of the X3 franchise. I like both spectrum but sometimes, a bit tweaking and removing the fluff that isn't needed can be a good thing too!

I would have to agree about Civilization 5 it didn't feel simpler or easier to play than Vanilla Civilization 4 just different but I guess the great thing about Civilization is if you dont like something about it just mod it XD

poiumty:

Eventually they will lay the blame at the feet of the (mostly PC based) casual crowd and their sense of entitlement.

What? That doesn't make sense. The casual crowd isn't mostly PC based, and there is no PC based casual crowd that gets the blame for games becoming easier. What are you on about.

He has a point. PC games haven't been mechanicly challenging...ever...Wizardry, Might and Magic and Ultima are hard if you don't know what to do, but as long as you figure it out you are fine.

On the other hand knowledge won't get you through Contra or Ninja Guiden.

This is what happened to WoW in the long run. They wanted more people to be able to enjoy MMORPGs but didn't want players to think they had to sink countless hours to get anywhere. They also managed to keep the 'hardcore' players entertained by making the very difficult raids and achievements for doing crazy things in those raids.

I am sure a lot of people are going to hate that I said WoW but you can't deny their numbers. They have figured something out and it is working.

Traun:

poiumty:

Eventually they will lay the blame at the feet of the (mostly PC based) casual crowd and their sense of entitlement.

What? That doesn't make sense. The casual crowd isn't mostly PC based, and there is no PC based casual crowd that gets the blame for games becoming easier. What are you on about.

He has a point. PC games haven't been mechanicly challenging...ever...Wizardry, Might and Magic and Ultima are hard if you don't know what to do, but as long as you figure it out you are fine.

On the other hand knowledge won't get you through Contra or Ninja Guiden.

First off, you're comparing RPGs to action games, which is just dumb.

Second, I never argued anything about how easy PC games are. I argued against the apparent "pc-based casual crowd" that gets the blame for games becoming easy, which is unheard of for me.

bjj hero:
The push for more sales really has made games easier and less complicated. It is the same reason instruction manuals have died a death. People don't want to have to read and learn in order to play so it has to get more simple.

RTFM used to be a staple reply online. I can't remember the last time I saw it though.

That extra credits episode about tutorials is right though; people DON'T want to read about a game, they bought it to play it. When it's done right the instruction manual is unnecessary.

Well, I mostly agree except for one thing. I'm not saying it's the "console's fault" BUT! The technical limitations of the platform do force certain changes in game design. Primarily less opennes. I don't have the link now but the Crytek CEO once said (it's on youtube somewhere) that to go to consoles they would have to greatly reduce the playable area because there's not enough system resources to stream in all the data for a large environment. A game like STALKER just wouldn't really work well on console.

Although I'd like to make a caveat to that! We do get some open games like GTA 4 and Red Dead and Fallout, etc. How? Well, they have to sacrifice some graphics quality. I think it's a great sacrifice to make for gameplay, but with the caveat that only so long as they include high detail settings for PC gamers.

Crysis 2 had to look good, so they were forced to sacrifice. Fallout NV definitely doesn't look remotely as nice as C2, but it's nice enough and has a great environment. Actually in my PC version with a few mods it probably looks about as good... HD textures, enhanced bump mapping, of course lots of AA. Yeah baby.

poiumty:

Eventually they will lay the blame at the feet of the (mostly PC based) casual crowd and their sense of entitlement.

What? That doesn't make sense. The casual crowd isn't mostly PC based, and there is no PC based casual crowd that gets the blame for games becoming easier. What are you on about.

Where do you see the casual crowd coming from then if not the PC?

The PC will always have one of if not the biggest concentration of casual gamers because of its near nonexistent barrier of entry. Almost everyone already owns a PC, where as the simply act of needing to go out an purchase say a Wii puts a gap between interest and acquisition.

Things are being simplified so more money is made... but there will be a point at which it's so simple that even someone new to the experience is like "wait, that was it" and then's when the developers start backing up, going "wow, even newbies are complaining about this game being easy".

Slycne:

poiumty:

Eventually they will lay the blame at the feet of the (mostly PC based) casual crowd and their sense of entitlement.

What? That doesn't make sense. The casual crowd isn't mostly PC based, and there is no PC based casual crowd that gets the blame for games becoming easier. What are you on about.

Where do you see the casual crowd coming from then if not the PC?

I see the casual crowd on the PC as a side-effect of casual games becoming widespread. On consoles, that is.

I have yet to see anyone blaming PC gamers for AAA console games becoming easy and simple.

poiumty:

Slycne:

poiumty:
What? That doesn't make sense. The casual crowd isn't mostly PC based, and there is no PC based casual crowd that gets the blame for games becoming easier. What are you on about.

Where do you see the casual crowd coming from then if not the PC?

I see the casual crowd on the PC as a side-effect of casual games becoming widespread. On consoles, that is.

I have yet to see anyone blaming PC gamers for AAA console games becoming easy and simple.

Well there's the thing Zynga is doing on Facebook. Thats all I can think of though. I hear complaints like "companies are trying to catch the farmville-tards" every now and then.

Amen to the sliding difficulty mention! Very interesting approach from Fallout: New Vegas. Even though the game was a buggy pile of turds, that's a great idea. That's exactly what we need more of in games. Let you be just as "hardcore" as you want with it.

poiumty:
I see the casual crowd on the PC as a side-effect of casual games becoming widespread. On consoles, that is.

I don't think that's the case. The casual console games market really haven't caught on until recently(you could point to it really taking off in 2006 with the Wii), where as PC casual gamers can trace back to Minesweeper and Solitaire(early 90s), started rising in scope with the advent of Flash(mid to late 90s) and has really started expanded as they have begun plugging into social networking, see Farmville's apparently 62 million active users.

I have yet to see anyone blaming PC gamers for AAA console games becoming easy and simple.

Mention Farmville and you'll get PC and console gamers alike complaining about how games are becoming easier to cater to a wider crowd.

So...we should blame casual gamers and new gamers? Why shouldn't we flame the Wii which brought in the biggest chunk of each of these demographics, then?

Truth be told, I don't blame console gamers. I blame consoles. At least the newest generation of them. Up until and as far as the PS2 went, you could find console games which were sufficiently difficult/complex. Not incredibly so, but still sufficient. Not the case with this generation. And I do blame a lot of it on Nintendo/the Wii for showing other companies that the biggest profit to be had isn't in appealing to gamers, but is instead in appealing to non-gamers. And thus the money trail led Microsoft, Sony, and nearly all who develop for their consoles astray. That's really all there is to it.

Irridium:

Well there's the thing Zynga is doing on Facebook. Thats all I can think of though. I hear complaints like "companies are trying to catch the farmville-tards" every now and then.

Slycne:

Mention Farmville and you'll get PC and console gamers alike complaining about how games are becoming easier to cater to a wider crowd.

Farmville, however, became popular only after such a term as the "casual crowd" was solidified. There was the huge advent of the Wii before that. You can't really attach Solitaire and Minesweeper to any type of demographic. Every PC gamer has played those.

Again, I've yet to see anyone blame Farmville for easy games. Mostly because games were already starting to become dumbed down way before Farmville was recognisable.

world of warcraft is a great example of developers designing games to attract as many people as possible. Back when it came out, it was very difficult, they slowly turned down the overall difficulty in the Burning Crusade. Wrath of the Lich came along and it was so easy you needed very little as far as strategy to complete and encounter, by comparison. A lot of people blamed the casuals for it because Blizzard wanted to appease the people who still paid to play, but played the least. At least with Cataclysm, Blizz has admitted that their changes in Wotlk were a mistake and have currently changed the game appropriately to a happy medium of difficulty.

I would also like to note, the new "Deus Ex: Human Revolution" will feature a difficulty known as "Deus Ex", fun :D

Traun:
You are correct(ahh...the level design of Heretic,Hexen...Dark Force), however I disagree on one of your points. I believe that the niche market is big enough to support developers, yes they aren't going to sell 10 million copies, but they can sell enough to be comfortable.
Example being Team ICO and CDProject Red - they are selling games for (relatively) small audience and they've been successful, same as the guys with Amnesia. There is a market for everyone, and I believe that sooner or later we will realize that. The market for games with "wide appeal" is over saturated, it's just a matter of time before publishers decide to be more flexible with their money.

It all comes down to development costs. I'd love to see Halo Wars 2, because I like the cut down fast paced RTS gameplay, but that's an extreme niche market so it probably won't happen. But if they make it easier for developers to produce games, I think you'll see a lot more niche games.

When we reach photo-realism development will shift back into gameplay and we'll see a lot more experimentation and a lot more niche games. Development costs will go way down too, and games will start to get cheaper.

I dunno if it's really about gaming anymore. It's about our core shifting from people willing to work at things to people demanding to be spoonfed things.

What are the games we enjoy the most? Minecraft, HALO, Half-Life... Are any of them "easy"? Nope
Is Peggle "easy"? Well...it's simple, but it's not easy.

But some of the more recent games? Try failing on them. Try really hard not to win, while still learning.

It's really tough not to win. Even on Street Fighter IV, with my first character, I leapt through the first eight characters with a simple series of commands.

Then up pops Seth. SLAM SLAM SLAM. Dead.

Ok...new tactic. SLAM SLAM SLAM. Dead.

Ok, redo the tutorial. SLAM SLAM SLAM. Dead.

So, most of this game it walks me through, and then to artificially inflate it, it sets me up against a baddie that can only be beaten by grinding skills?

Isn't that just like Civilization, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Modern Warfare, Bioshock and all the other recent games?

I think that's where the accusation of dumbing down comes from. Triple A titles have used Gamification to realise that you have to make the start of the game stupid and then stick an insurmountable wall in the way to lengthen playtime. Whether that wall is 1337 multiplayers, level relative bosses or simply collecting rings.

And this whole thing started very early on. But on those games were we climbed the insurmountable wall, we love them - because we spent time on it, beating them.

So we've been the ones asking for the dumbing down, but who "we" are has been changing since the hobby went mainstream. And it's only because it's mainstream that we have all the games to choose from.

But I will agree with Shamus, no blaming each other over it. This is a far more prevalent attitude than just gaming.

Shamus Young:
Experienced Points: The Dumbification of Gaming

Shamus wants us to stop fighting and get along.

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Thanks for this article and I agree with large parts of it and you are one of the constant influences that make me come back and engage "this site" besides Yahtzee, but I think if there has to be one single entity to blame for all of this it would be Microsoft xD

We've had consoles before and they were more "Mass Market", hell I'd argue more people bought some of the games on the NES/SNES like Super Mario Bros. (ticked at about 40 million sales) and Super Mario World (at about 20) than they do nowadays with the likes of Call of Duty and Madden

image

and I've really liked these games, I've enjoyed them and still do... each console had its own "identity" and type of games... there was Nintendo with their quirky jump&runs, beat'em'ups and general co-op games like Mario Kart, Turtles in Time, Street Fighter etc., there was SEGA with Sonic and an obscene amount of Ninja games. The Playstation came and introduced largely Japanese based games (especially JRPGs) and there was the PC with its Shooters, Strategy games, Simulation and awesome LucasArts/Adventuresoft/SIERRA titles.

The one variable that came into play and overthrew that balance was Microsoft with their introduction of the XBoX in 2002 and flinging money all around as if it was feces to do certain things like steal away PC developers to develop for their "exclusively" for their platform as well as buying off console developers (say RARE) to do the same. What they did with all those newfound assets is a homogenization of all of them and introduction of the "mass market" as we know nowadays (and others followed although Nintendo is still luckily somewhat struggling against it, for which I respect them), even the Japanese market bought itself into the Western market and tries to "westernize" its games for a broader audience.
On that note, this article was funny :P http://www.hiwiller.com/2010/04/29/if-mario-was-designed-in-2010/

What Microsoft also did, which wasn't (imo) to any lesser extent... let's say "defining" for the industry in the last few years is promoting paid DLC "Microsoft was the first company to charge for downloadable content, with the 2002 video game Mech Assault."(even though some companies say Valve didn't want to and complained about it... but Microsoft wants its part and Microsoft better gets it) and the introduction of a base payment if you want to play "Online".

Luckily there are still indie and (eastern) european influences nowadays that cater to any one of those "marginal" demographics (as there are non-blockbuster movies and music out there) like Super Meat Boy (that is streamlined in its design process, but not in its difficulty) or King's Bounty, Minecraft, Magicka, Machinarium etc. and lately they are showing more and more that people are craving for that kind of experience (even with near to no financial investment and advertisement) and they can make huge money.
Personally I'm a lot more likely to buy such titles (also because they're more moderately priced) than any of the "AAA corridor shooter" titles.

Agreed for the most part, although I'd argue the relevance of the BioShock and System Shock comparison, considering they're in different genres almost. I'm not sure who the first group was to coin the whole 'spiritual successor' thing when it came to BioShock, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the developers. BioShock's a shooter, System Shock is much more of a mix.

For some games, the supposed "dumbing down" that they've endured is really just the result of a clearer vision, Mass Effect 2 being the prime example.

As for the console wars, I would hope that when we PC gamers talk about games being dumbed down for consoles, we mean the consoles themselves, and not the people who play them.

What's most important with this whole thing is that developers establish a proper difficutly curve, and decent (and short) tutorials. As long as its accessible to begin with you can progressively get more and more complicated.

Well more games than ever befpe are now made, i think there are as many 'hard' games as there ever were it's just they moved out of the mainstream about a decade ago and were superseeded in visibility by a lot of more acessible, mainsteam titles rathwer than replaced by them.

Lets take a look on the PC. There are still plenty of games with pretty head-crushing depth in them. Sins of a Solar Empire[1], Mount and Blade series, The Witcher, STALKER series, ARMA series etc etc. They are out there and they hjave an audience supporting them. Go forth. Play.

Why do people get so pissed off at mainstream games? Why not put that energy into seeking out more suitbale games to your interests. Its like people getting pissed off at chart music that obviously wasn't created for them, it's nonsensicle.

[1] depth isn't the word, who knew that selling metal on the stock market could be almost as exciting as shooting massive space-ships with even bigger ones on a galactic scale?

poiumty:
Farmville, however, became popular only after such a term as the "casual crowd" was solidified. There was the huge advent of the Wii before that. You can't really attach Solitaire and Minesweeper to any type of demographic. Every PC gamer has played those.

Still like I said, the casual market was already strong on the PC before Farmville or the Wii. It really emerged in the mid 90s on the PC with the advent of Flash(the widely popular Bejeweled started in 2001 as a Flash web game) and all various internet gaming portals. Pretty much every major provider or brand had their own - AOL, MSN, Yahoo, etc, and that in addition to all the other sites that existed, like BigFishGames and Pogo.com.

These all came to fruition long before the Wii and I don't see much of a case being made for a strong console casual gaming crowd before that system.

There is a line between making a game "simple" and making a game "dumb".

Making it so that you don't need to memorize what EVERY SINGLE KEY on your keyboard does and limiting it so that you can just use a few keys and still do just about everything without having to go through a sea of menus? That's "simple".

Making it so that there area few keys that do everything and then every few minutes going "HEY! REMEMBER THAT KEY? IT DOES THIS! IT DOES THIS! REMEMBER? YOU PROBABLY DON'T REMEMBER, BUT THAT KEY DOES THIS, AND THIS'D PROBABLY HELP RIGHT ABOUT HERE! REMEMBER?", thinking the player is too stupid to figure out what action would help. That's "dumb".

Making it so that if you die 8 times, you can skip the level, if so you chose, or maybe ramp the difficulty down? That's "simple".

Offering it the first time you die? That's "dumb".

Not having over 100 troops that really only have 10 functions, with some that are so situational that most end up useless, but make navigating menus hard? That's "simple".

Making something where the best strategy in ANY situation is "run first, shoot gun, die, respawn, repeat until enemy is dead"? That's dumb.

Remembering gamers only have 10 fingers? That's "simple".

Assuming gamers only have 10 IQ points? That's "dumb".

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