As we prepare to enter the next age of video games, one thing has become readily apparent, this industry, as a whole, has some talent. No, I am not talking about creating breathtaking graphics, amazing music, or engaging gameplay mechanics, although a few companies do still have talent in these areas. The true talent of this industry is the ability to take great ideas and utterly pummel them into submission. Some may say that this is not a talent, however given at how swift the industry is at destroying ideas, there is no other word for it.
The first idea that has gone horrible in recent years is DLC. DLC, which began as an exclusive to PC games, has made its way to consoles thanks to hard drives and internet connection. The early days of DLC had fans receiving Unreal Tournament maps at no charge. Then came massively popular games like Call of Duty that decided that a pack of five maps should cost fifteen dollars, or about a quarter of the purchase price of the game. These map packs helped pave the way for other companies to release even worse types of paid DLC. Crazy DLC packs are everywhere now, from costume packs to full content packs, it seems that the number of ways to drain consumers is countless.
While Activision had its hand in starting the DLC-money-madness, Capcom was the company that pushed its luck too far. Not only did Capcom plan for overpriced costume and character packs for Street Fighter X Tekken, they took the next step of including all the content on the retail disc. Originally, this on-disc-DLC was planned for the majority of future Capcom releases, however public backlash eventually resulted in Capcom relenting on this idea. DLC was once used in proper ways, and some companies still use it as such, but all too often it is used as a way to drain consumers long after a game’s release. With the next generation focusing even more on digital content, I can only imagine DLC getting much worse.
Getting money long after a game released is great, but what if there was a way to get money months before a game sees the light of day? The year 2009 brought a solution to this when the website, Kickstarter began. Initially, Kickstarter was a great way for people to fund creative works while maintaining complete ownership. The early days of Kickstarter were full of projects from people who had little, if any hope, of having enough money to fund their creative endeavors. Today, Kickstarter has seemingly taken the place of publishers as the first stop for many developers in need of financial backing. Even developers that have had a history of commercial success have turned to the service to fund their next games.
Before the crowdfunding craze, not drawing interest from a publisher could kill a game quicker before it ever had a chance. Failing to land a publisher usually was a sign of having a product that was of lacking quality and/or having no potential of grabbing sufficient public interest. Today, veteran developers like Peter Molyneux, Denis Dyack, and Richard Garriott, all big names in game development circles, are bypassing publishers all together. It is easy to imagine publishers lining up for them if they had an idea for a game that was not complete bullshit (Molyneux), episodic bullshit (Dyack), or over-hyped, mediocre, bullshit (all three). Of course, self-publishing a game means that there will be no publishing company to split profits with. Also, with funding coming from a service that provides no guarantees for a finished product, there is less risk that the developer will have to pay back any money should the game fail to be released.
The final idea is also the one that was the easiest to destroy, Casual gaming. Casual gaming has existed in some form since the early days of video gaming. Movie and sports games long filled the slot of casual gaming, until the Wii happened. With motion controls and Oprah’s incessant support, the Wii opened the proverbial flood gates to casual gaming. Soon, millions of people who look at the core-gaming crowd as violent nerds found themselves purchasing Wii units faster than Nintendo could produce them. The Wii had a golden opportunity to develop these casual gamers into something more. Instead, the Wii was overrun with shovelware aimed at making a quick buck off of the casual audience. More substantial gaming experiences on the Wii may have helped convert some of the casual audience. Maybe this is all wishful thinking on my part, however, I do believe that a gamer is not just born, but cultivated with great experiences. Perhaps a portion of the casual audience are core-gamers at heart, but have avoided games in the past for one reason or another.
These three topics are only a part of things that the video game industry have mutilated. While the notion that casual gaming could have had a positive effect will undoubtedly be argued, I feel that all three of these topics have, at one time, been a positive addition to the video game universe. The true problem came about when profit-hungry companies used these ideas as ways to screw consumers over. The one thing that I foresee for the next generation is DLC offerings getting even worse. Casual gaming has already shown that it is turning away from consoles and heading towards tablets like the iPad, and one scandal could easily spell the end for Kickstarter. Of course, once these ideas have been played out, a new set will take their place, and that is when the industry will once again display its prodigious talent.