2/10/11

This is how you ruin my hobby - The Video Game Industry

It gets harder every day not to look around myself as a geek-of-all-trades and go "What are you doing to my hobbies?" I don't know what I hate more, the elements of those hobbies that provoke such a response, or the fact that I'm slowly turning into that old, grumpy geek that can't enjoy anything because "nothing is as good as it was twenty years ago".

I make a conscious effort to avoid such a mindset. Every new generation of movies, TV series, anime, video games, and RPGs has provided me enjoyment. I try not to just degenerate to complaining for complaining's sake, like so many, many blogs.

But sometimes I need to vent and just be unabashedly negative, so that's going to be what this series is going to be.

Video games tend to hold the greatest share of my gripes. Much of this probably stems from the fact that video games are more or less where I started as a geek. They are very near and dear to my heart as a hobby. Started when I asked my parents for an NES, and got an SNES, and continues to this day.

But, there are some things that worry me.

Gaming is far from ruined, and I still enjoy most games to come out, but I think most people who play video games as a hobby have one complaint or another about the industry right now. Many of the complaints are two divergent groups arguing style. Nintendo/classic gaming fans arguing that the industry is full of same-y cover based shooters starring grunting caucasians bristling with muscle and testosterone. "Core" gamers [an ill defined term that I dislike even more than the term "gamer"] lament that their hobby is being taken over by motion controls which are unreliable in their responsiveness at best and by casual games that are of relatively low production value.

Funny thing is, neither of them are necessarly wrong.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with the gaming industry is that it has come to the unfortunate realization that the movie industry came to years ago.

Quality does not equal profit.

It seems counterintuitive at first, I admit, but hear me out. In theory, you would think that game publishers would push to make the best games possible, because the best games sell the best, and, therefore, make the most money.

In reality, people don't buy games based solely on the quality of the finished product. EA makes money hand over fist on their yearly Madden output, while new IPs are lucky find a fraction of that success. Further problems arise when you look at the average hobbyist gamer. Once again, in theory, they should drive the market, because "gamers" buy more games than the casual consumer. In reality, there are two problems with this assumption. Just because gamers seek to purchase more games, they don't necessarily have more expendable income. Oftentimes, hobbyist gamers are more likely to turn to used game sales [which net 0 profit for the game studios and publishers], or worse, piracy. These options are not as commonly used by the more casual gaming populace, who head to their local Wal-Mart and buy whatever looks good.

And, the topper of it all is, crappy games are cheaper to put out. Product without effort costs less time and money, which means a lower bar for success. It's why you see so many formulaic, churned out movies in the theaters each year. They generally sell as well, if not better, than high concept indie flicks, and requires less effort to make, therefore making more money. This isn't to say that a good product can't be successful, but it does mean that putting time, effort, and money into a product ceases to become the default smart decision and becomes risky. Publishers are generally business-like in their approach. It is their job. And businesses like to avoid unnecessary risks. Hence the Wii shovel-ware and the dozens of gray-to-brown shooters.

And the medium suffers as a result.

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