Crunch time, a bizarre but necessary fact of life in the games industry, is not conducive to turning an article in to a major gaming site every two weeks. But the way we have accepted how the gaming industry pre-factors in months of overtime, instead of planning things out properly from day one, is an oddball, irrational decision that has set me to thinking about the other oddball, irrational things that gaming does. And there are many.
So, while crunch time may not be conducive to writing, it is conducive to full-blown misanthropy and annoyingly fastidious nit-picking. These, for no reason and in no rational order other than the scattergun workings of my brain on Red Bull, are the ten things that I hate about gaming right now.
1. Preorder Bonuses
Contrary to the popular belief that all you have to do is burn an extra copy of a disc, games cost a lot to manufacture, and so pre-orders are a good rule of thumb for a publisher as to how popular a title will be and thus how many copies to print. Therefore, it’s understandable that publishers put a lot of effort into hyping them. What I don’t understand is what gamers get out of it. When was the last time you weren’t able to get a major software release – the ones that have the desirable pre-orders – at launch date? And on the flip side, how long has it been since a title you bought for $60 in August is suddenly $20 in September? Is that worth the absolute tat that is passed off as “bonuses” for forking over cash early?
While gamers complain about the monopoly of stores like GameStop, removing their ability to shop around for a title by buying in pre-order gimmicks only feeds the madness. And then there are those trinkets themselves – they used to just be useless plastic gimmicks, until they started becoming useless in-game items. How long before pre-order bonuses go the way of the worst kind of DLC – to wit, become things that would have been on the disc in a previous generation? Honestly, I would have thought gaming would have grown out of this way of doing business by now.
2. The Race to Digital Distribution
While we’re on the subject – thought GameStop was bad? Imagine if they had no competitors at all, and never could have, because the only people licensed to sell console games were Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. This is the market we are headed towards in our rush to digital distribution.
Yes, Steam works, spectacularly. Why does Steam work? Because it has competitors that keep it on its toes. The PC is an open system, while the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 are utterly closed. Unlike Steam, no one will ever be able to open a store on those systems without the express permission and control of first party – and lack of competition inevitably leads to higher prices. While the near-monopoly that is GameStop makes market freedom in gaming somewhat theoretical, the one weapon consumers now have is the freedom to take their business elsewhere. An all-digital model, in the current console market, would be an invitation for first party to set their prices at whatever level they damn well choose.
3. Console-Specific Fanboys
Every bit moronic and futile as the right- and left-leaning, non-thinking spews of hate that clog up everything from the TV news to my Facebook updates every day. You don’t have to defend everything your side does or says. It’s alright to think for yourself once every so often. Stop putting yourselves in camps and trying to validate yourself through your company affiliations.
When did collecting random objects, often for no apparent reason, find its way back into the schools of sensible game design? The bane of late 2D and early 3D platformers; it seems that every half-open world game these days finds having players wander around the level looking for meaningless items to be an acceptable form of challenge.
I’m not talking here about Mario’s stars here – its how you get them, not what obscure part of the level they’re hidden in, that’s the challenge. I’m talking about things like Assassin’s Creed’s flags, Mirror’s Edge’s carrier bags and the most ridiculous I’ve yet encountered, Condemned’s dead birds. Seriously? You want me to collect dead birds? For what possible reason would I want to do that? This is a serious question – do people actually enjoy this form of gameplay?
5. The Used Games Witch-Hunt
While I didn’t want to write another entire article about this, I couldn’t let this comment from Realtime Worlds’ Dave Jones, the man behind Lemmings and the original GTAs, go unnoticed:
“With Crackdown we sold about 1.5 million copies, but even at that we pretty much only managed to break even,” he told Gamasutra. “It was due to the amount of factors that were out of our control as the developer, influences such as GameStop’s amazing used-game sales; we know 1.5 million new copies were sold, but it’s likely there were 2.5, three million sold when you include used.”
While I hope I’m not misreading him, is Jones really putting the blame on used games as the reason why Crackdown was not making more money? The only thing that the popularity of used games show is that a large portion of our audience don’t think that our product is worth what we’re charging. And when you see 6-hour experiences on sale for $60 drop to $20 only a month later, who could possibly blame them? How long do we really think that is going to be sustainable?
We need to take our foot off the accelerator, and learn to make and sell games for more realistic and sustainable price points. Attempting to regulate the world in an attempt to keep our unfeasible business model will be as futile in the long-term as propping up the failing airlines and carmakers of today.
6. This Game Is Brought to You by The Number 10
This one is a minor point, but whatever happened to the concept of plug-and-play? Why do we have to sit through a dozen credits before we get to a game’s bloody title screen? It’s not enough that we’ve tied ourselves into deals with middleware companies that force a display on the intro screen, but do we really have to sit through the publisher, developer, multiplayer mode developer, demo scene creator (etc., etc.) on separate, unskippable screens? Not to mention being forced to select your storage device, sign into one of the various networks, get informed about autosave and the other dozen things your system forces you to undergo before you can actually play the game that you turned on the console to enjoy.
Most games these days are kind enough to offer the option to view the credits at any time, in the laughable delusion that anybody actually cares what our names are if they’re not Kojima, Miyamoto or Blezinski. Isn’t that more than enough backslapping?
7. The Shooter-With-A-Gimmick Craze
Timeshift – it’s the shooter where you pause time (in order to shoot things better).
Haze – it’s the shooter where you get high (in order to shoot things better).
Fracture – it’s the shooter where you move the earth (in order to shoot things better).
Singularity – it’s the shooter where you move objects through time (in order to shoot them/be shot by them/use them to shoot things… or at least that’s what it looks like).
That’s just off the top of my head. The “shooter with a gimmick” is our generation’s animal mascot-based, side-scrolling platformer. And if you don’t think there are developers out there who sit down to make games based off the idea of “Current Popular Game”+”Gimmick,” you are very much mistaken.
8. The Multi-Platform Fantasy
16 buttons, 2 analog sticks, a “home” button, similar graphical levels, identical online stores, two online services that could easily be categorized as “free” and “premium,” an almost-identical number of good, but never quite brilliant, exclusives… if we swapped around the logos on the PS3 and 360 tomorrow, would anyone even be able to tell the difference?
9. Gamers’ Feelings of Entitlement
Yes, you’re getting ripped off in multiple ways and you should be upset about it. But whining about not having a demo right this very moment, or having to pay money for extra modes on DLC, or signing petitions against things like Valve’s decision to, gasp, release a sequel to a best-selling game just makes it easier for people in the industry to tar gamers with the one stupid brush, and ignore the valid points being made.
10. The Games
A look at the best-selling games of 1998 – an equivalent length of time into the generation of the day as we find ourselves at now – is terrifying. Look at the titles that came out that year: Grim Fandango, Resident Evil 2, Half-Life, Gran Turismo, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid. Has there been a game released this generation that is better, or more epoch-defining, than a single one of those games released in that one year?
Even if we go through the games I didn’t play or particularly care about, the number of major releases is staggering: Banjo Kazooie, Baldur’s Gate, Tekken 3, Unreal, Pokemon Red/Blue, Starcraft, Xenogears, Thief… games that still define gaming today, franchises that are still running over 10 years later. Is it just because 1998 was the perfect storm of free time and cash for me that these games still seem so brilliant? The fact that so many of these are still best selling franchises suggests otherwise – a good half of those listed above are original IPs still running strong today. This generation has been miserable for new IPs, and the tedium of the remaining calendar year suggests this is not going to get any better.
In fact, scratch numbers 1 – 9 off this list – the games should, as always, take priority. Think about 1998 the next time we have a “best year of gaming ever!” craze, usually around October. What I wouldn’t give to game like it was 1998.
Christian Ward works for a major publisher. These are the ten things he hates right now about gaming: Tell him yours.