Thursday, September 1, 2011

Video Games: Many Complain They Should Be “Better,” Few Agree On What That Means.

Anyone who is paying attention to the evening news, and most people who try not to can see that most of western society is becoming increasingly polarized. We don't seem to have a large, vocal population that exists somewhere in a reasonable middle trapped between extremes. I'm certain those folks exist, but they are quiet enough that it seems that the majority of people anywhere drift toward extreme positions that disagree with each other. As I've pointed out before, the geek world is no better, and in some cases worse than the average subset of society in this regard. I am beginning to feel like this isn't worst in comic fandom or fans of particular science fiction TV shows or movies, where geeks stereotypically yell at each other about minutiae that most folks wouldn't be aware of, let alone care about. No, in reality, it seems like the most pointlessly divided and nearly schizophrenic community is video gamers.

I know this is unlikely to ever happen, but let's discuss the current state of complaints a bit.

Any forum, website or opinion column about video games will tell you in a matter of moments that there are a lot of people who complain about the current state of video games. Long gone, they'll tell you, are the days when games were quality, when there were consequences for character death, storylines mattered and developers weren't trying to soak us for every last dime. Games used to be great, and the mighty have fallen from grace, etc... You'll see these sorts of complaints all over the place, but scratch the surface of the complaints, and you'll find that while a lot of gamers are cynical and jaded about the state of the industry, you can see why these complaints are hard to address. It isn't that game developers are ignorant of fan concerns, and it isn't as though they know people are upset and just ignore the complaints. The problem is, that when pressed on the specific point of “What would you do to solve what is wrong with gaming?” people not only disagree, but give answers directly opposed to one another.

Consider the problem of the sequel. In general, I've heard more complaining about video game sequels than about any other facet of the industry, with the possible exception of DLC (Downloadable Content.) Even professional reviewers fall into the trap that developers get caught in. If a sequel deviates in any way from the first game in a series, it is derided and mocked, the developers accused of not understanding what made the first game great, and tarnishing its image. On the other hand, if the game is, aside from graphical improvements, basically the same as its predecessor, the developers are mocked for a lack of creativity and innovation. There is literally no way to keep the majority of gamers happy on this point. When new features are introduced, a vocal minority defends and decrys specific features, often screaming “We want more of this” and “Inclusion of this feature ruined the game” about the same mechanic.

Yeah, that sums it up.

This is especially evident when looking at discussions about game length. Gamers regularly complain simultaneously that games are both too long AND too short. The days of the 100-plus hour epic has passed, and many people are not happy about it. When a game is released with under 30 hours of gameplay in the core play experience, developers are called out for trying to cash in without providing enough content. That said, when the rare game with a robust 60+ hour play experience does get released, the primary complaint in customer reviews is that the game is too long for the story to be experienced. This sort of gamer is not happy that their personal attention span and the slew of great-looking new releases mean that the majority of their games will be put away, unfinished. What is a development studio to do?

Yet another manifestation of the fractured opinions of many video gamers concerns difficulty in modern video games. In general, once death happens in a game, you revert back to a convenient autosave or other checkpoint, and try again. Long gone are they days of limited lives, long sections of gameplay without the ability to save or significant penalty for failure. When a game has these “retro” elements, when encounters, sections or even bosses prove difficult, then the forums are ablaze with accusations of poor game design. However, when the low tolerance for frustration is accommodated, the overwhelming public opinion chimes in “Too easy,” and the days of when games were actually challenging are wished for with wistful sighs. Honestly, game developers would be completely justified in ignoring all customer feedback at this point, because the only thing the community as a whole seems capable of agreeing on is that games suck now.

Anyone bitching about games being too hard now is formally
invited to give this a try. Despite being one of the toughest games of all time, it was fun.

I'll grant that in many cases it isn't the same individuals holding the “I love this” and “I hate this” positions simultaneously on these divisive issues. It is possible that the gaming community is suffering from a crisis of identity, and some of this is due to a difference of expectations between generations. The average age of a video gamer is trending upward, despite the popular media's assertion that games are pastimes for young children and teenagers. The Entertainment Software Association puts the average age of video gamers at 37, and there are many ways in which the play styles of younger gamers differ from older ones. Younger gamers, in general, have lower tolerance for frustration, skip cutscenes and do not read in-game text, and are more prone to skip a single-player experience entirely in favor of online multiplayer.

An industry cannot survive by exclusively catering to the tastes of older customers, as the comic book industry's mistakes should plainly illustrate. In addition, the definition of what a “gamer” is frequently changes with the advent of social gaming on Facebook, popular casual game apps on mobile devices and family gaming gaining ground on handheld devices and consoles like the Wii. Large portions of the population who had never tried a video game before have been exposed to games, and they want more. They don't have Nintendo-era nostalgia, they don't hold sacred the same elements “hardcore” gamers do, and there are a lot more of them with open wallets than the small, vocal niche of gaming geeks. Things are changing, and gamers may not like it, but in the long run it makes the industry that supports our hobby healthier, and that is a good thing. Besides, there's at least one thing most of us can agree on. It is hilarious that the jocks that made fun of geeky folks in high school are conned out of $60 annually on the new Madden, a game that is nearly identical from year-to-year aside from rosters and statistics.
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Jay said...

how dare you mock our madden! ;)

Alpha said...

Great elaboration, as usual.

Post a Comment