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The dilemma facing video games today:
I'm personally troubled by the trend that I've seen over the last 6 years or so. I'm a 35-year old OG (original gamer), I've owned and played just about all of them, Pong, Atari, Intellivision, Colleco, Commodore 64 and many various incarnations of Sega's, Nintendo's, Sony's and now Microsoft.Although we seem to be entering into the age of high-tech gaming and hardware, strangely games aren't really benefiting from this boost in technology. Games don't seem to capture the imagination of gamers the likes of many others, and myself who have been spoiled by the games and systems of yore. Yes that's right, I said spoiled. You see even though those little 4-bit consoles we played as kids produced graphics laughable compared to today's hard-core SLI & CROSSFIRE Riggs, not to mention XBOX-360's & PS3's; we had tons of fun! Was it because that's all we had? Maybe we didn't know any better because we were never exposed to the awe and majesty of today's machines? No not at all, you see today's game machines and technology therein seem to only focus on looks, "hey dude what makes a great game...killer graphics of course". Now a days gaming has become very much like the society we live in, shallow and superficial. However, in the quest for ultra realistic gaming environments developers and publishers seem to be forgetting the many other very important aspects of "what makes a great game". I truly feel sorry for those who never had the opportunity to play some of what were probably the best gaming experiences bar none. The Mario's, Legend of Zelda's, Rygar's, and Mega-man's the list goes on and on. But I'm not here to take a walk down memory lane; I am here to discuss the dilemma facing video games today. You see although games have made a quantum leap in the areas of graphic's and even overall performance, I feel the industry has taken a major step backwards in the realms of substance and originality.I would like to stop just for a moment and say (to the credit of the many wonderful hard working developers out there) that thanks to them, we have had the opportunity to enjoy some fantastic titles. In no way am I trying to put a black eye in the gaming industry as a whole. However, there are some major issues that face the industry today, and if these problems aren't addressed and resolved, they will surely become issues that can, and will seriously damage the future of the gaming industry.
Games today are becoming cheap experiences:
I'm definitely not referring to the retail value of today's games, especially since the average game costs around 50-60 dollars. What I am talking about is the total lack of content. These days a game that lasts for 7-9 hours is about all you can hope for, don't get me wrong there are a few exceptions to the rule but for the most part that's all you get. This is a huge departure from what used to be the norm, which was around 15-20, and in my opinion one of the major factors that lends toward the fleecing of today's gaming experience. Indeed, how can you become immersed in a game that ends in 7-9 hours, how can you lose yourself in a game that doesn't last long enough for any real character development to occur, or for you to truly embrace the world you have entered into. I liken today's gaming experience to a stick of chewing gum; ten brief minutes of flavor and then you spit it out, that's not my idea of great gaming. The problem here is the fact that with every new console that hits the market, with every new "next generation" set of hardware comes with it a huge cost for developers. The average cost to develop games for this current generation of consoles is roughly between, $5,00,000 - $10,000,000 dollars respectively (depending on the system). Its safe to assume that with new "Next -Gen" hardware on the horizon these figures will at least double, if not triple. The simple fact of the matter is that only the biggest game companies / developers can afford to make games for these systems. Do you remember when the PS2, XBOX & GAME CUBE first hit the scene? Do you remember how many game companies bit the proverbial dust, leaving those left standing to quickly close ranks as they merged in an effort to strengthen their financial positions?If this tendency continues, one day you will have to take out a small business loan in order to purchase one of these games. We will be left with only a handful of companies that can actually afford to develop them, and most of them will probably be owned the manufactures.
No interesting, or original titles:
There just aren't enough interesting, or original titles out there. Why is this? Why is it that with every new line-up of so called "Next-Gen" consoles, all we end up with are a bunch of lackluster facsimiles of the same stuff that we've been playing for the last 10-years? Oh yeah, but they've got better graphics! The reason for this takes us back to the issue of money; you would think that the people who develop these games have most of the say in what they do. However, in most cases it's the publishers who truly call the shots. You see in today's world of high-end gaming the production of these games greatly relies on three separate but equally significant organizations. The hardware manufacturers who design the TECH we buy to play our games, the developers who consist of the artists, programmers and writers who make the games, and the publishers who make it financially possible for these games to be marketed and mass-produced.
The only real problem I see with the Hardware manufacturers is the fact that they have fallen into a trend of pushing new hardware onto the market before the developers are ready for it. Most people won't argue the fact that the last generation of consoles would have been more than adequate for our gaming needs, at least for another year or two. Unfortunately, hardware manufacturers are constantly trying to "one up" each other with new and more powerful machinery. The end result, by the time developers have truly learned how to master the hardware they're currently working with, now there's a new machine to become skilled at. So basically, by the time developers start to make some real money from the current generation of hardware, they now essentially have to re-learn how to do it all over again! Now don't get me wrong, in this industry this is the nature of the beast. My question is though, where does that leave the developer? Hardware manufacturers need to respect the fact that, although these incredible people who make video games love what they do for a living, they're not doing it for their health. Developers need to have an opportunity to profit from their hard work and dedication, this is not possible when every time they master the capabilities of a particular machine, they're given no time to truly exploit that knowledge (and make money).
Now we come to the publishers, these are the "middle-men" of the equation. They provide the funds and publicity needed to successfully mass-produce and market today's video games. Althoughthere are always exceptions, the basic rule of thumb is this, since these guys have the money, they call the shots. Unfortunately, publishers are not the starry eyed dreamers that their developer counterparts are; they deal with numbers, money. When you get right down to it, publishers don't like to take chances, especially when they can draw on the prestige, and popularity of previously successful games. This is why you end up playing the same titles over and over again, it's much safer to re-profit from previous successes, than take a chance on something new and original. Safe is a good thing for publishers, but not for gamers. "Safe" is a force that stifles the creative follow of the artists who dream this stuff up. Development of new games is what keeps this industry alive, hey I love the MGS series, I also love splinter cell and its corresponding sequels. Indeed there are many block buster titles I love, and I will continue to support them. I also understand that in today's world of high-tech, high cost video gaming it's vital to be successful and to turn a profit.
However, there must be a concession for the development of new ideas. If developers are constantly pressured to only make sequels of previously successful titles then the world of gaming is going to be a predictable and subsequently boring place to be. The affects of this can already be seen with GAMESTOP a popular retail video game store reporting massive losses last quarter. This was due to the lack of available hardware and more over, the uninspiring titles that have hit the market.
Manufacturers over the last 5 years have made some strategic moves as far as game development is concerned. For example, Microsoft launched the XBOX and promptly went about the business of buying up as many major development studios as they could get their hands on. Microsoft is not the only company that's guilty of snatching up what used to be independent third party developers. Do I like the idea? No, but I do understand why. As I mentioned earlier in this article, games have become incredibly expensive to develop. Some studios have no chance of competing unless they join forces with some deep pocket manufacturer the likes of Microsoft, although in some cases I'm sure greed plays a major role as well. Concerning the manufacturer, it makes prefect business sense, if you control the people who make the games, then you limit your competitors from being successful. By purchasing Rare Microsoft ensured that Sony would never see a single game from that studio on their machines. It makes prefect sense for a hardware manufacturer to want to own its own "tool shed" so to speak however, at what cost is this to the gamers out there. Corporations aren't artists, and for the most part they don't know anything about great games, that's why they hire development studios to make their games. In my humble opinion, third party developers must come together and demand that first; the manufactures freeze any new hardware development (as far as new systems are concerned). At least give developers 7 (full) years to work with the hardware they have available to them, before they produce newer, more expensive hardware. Publishers and developers alike must lay off the "sequel machine" I'm not saying that I don't want to play Metal Gear Solid anymore, I am saying give it a rest for a while. Games of that caliber will always be successful, let's see something new for a change. I'm not necessarily saying you have to come up with some groundbreaking; earth-shattering genre that redefines what gaming is all about. I, and I'm sure many others out there would be happy just to see some really good games with great graphics, good control mechanics and well conceived, well implemented story lines in greater numbers than we have.
In closing I would like to say that I love this industry, I love games, I've spent the greater part of 29 years of my life enjoying them. I believe that this gives me, and the rest of the gaming community the right to demand better than we have received from the manufactures, publishers and developers alike. None of these problems are worse than the other; all of the problems that plague today's games work as a collective barrier. These barriers lend toward the sullying of the gaming industry, and subsequent lack of excitement in the gaming community today. If changes aren't made, and made soon, video games will be in jeopardy of becoming mundane, over marketed versions of what used to be some thing so special, this would be a terrible travesty for all gamers today and the gamers of tomorrow.
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