Tragedies, triumphs and tropes; lamentations of a gamer

With the announcement of the PS4 and the Xbox720 we can safely assume that this generation, my next-gen, is coming to an end. It will, undoubtedly, carry away with it some vestiges of greatness of which will never return, but also along with it the mediocrity we've committed, as producers and consumers, in the name of greed and safety, I hope.

Before we set our sights on the new generation, we must sit back and gaze inwards, and take inventory of the garbage and filth we've expelled around us into this current world. It would be a crime most heinous for us to drag with us all this wrong and underachievement into the new era.

We've turned gaming into a science, but somewhere along the way we lost the art. In this day and age of mega corporations, global agendas, executives and shareholders, we spend so much time and money trying to understand games and gamers that we've stopped respecting them. Terms like downloadable content and free-to-play used to be good, synonymous to innovation and opportunity, but now it’s warped into concepts like day-one DLC, on-disk DLC, content treadmills and pay-to-win. A discount used to be paying less for the same, then it evolved into paying the same for more, and now it's paying more for the same or paying even more for less later. This is not a healthy business model; this is a corrosive strategy focused on short-term profit at the cost of long-term sustainability. There is a reason why over fifty percent of developers identify themselves as indie.

The passion is not dead, the talent is not dead, and the love for gaming is ever-growing. The pulse of the gaming culture hums like the fucking coils of an overclocked GPU on the verge of exploding. So wherein does the problem lie? For starters, let’s inspect what is wrong with the funding structure:

The game starts with the developers: they care the most about the game but have the least say in the development process. The money starts with the shareholders: they care the least about the game but have the most say in the development process. Ergo, we can deduce that the money is more important than the game. In this funding structure, the money only cares about money; it does not care about the quality or sanctity of the product.

In the independent, or kickstarter, scenario the money comes from the backers. Now let’s be very clear for a second here: a backer is not a shareholder, but a backer is without a doubt a stakeholder. The backer doesn't get paid if the product does well; the money is given upfront to support a product the backer believes in, and the profit is metaphysical. This difference is critical because in this funding structure the money only cares about the quality of the product. So what happens when both ends focus on the product? It means nothing is more important than the game.

So let's say I'm a publicly traded company, not an indie, I have to answer to executives and shareholders, I work in a cubicle but the fucking machine that counts money gets its own office; how do I survive in this industry?

Now before I give some examples both good and bad, I first must say that things like DRMs, DLC, RMTs are not inherently bad or evil, but they get perverted and distorted as it moves through the pipeline and although the final product is slowly driving a thick nail into an industry shaped coffin, the concepts themselves at its purity are truly brilliant.

Let's start with DRMs: it stands for digital right management, that's it, it doesn't stand for death rape murder. So why does every gamer you ever meet wince at the sound of those three letters? Well, let's first consider why we need DRMS in the first place: piracy is real, piracy is wrong and piracy is rampant, this is all true. A certain company, let’s call them Inosoft cuz my hand slipped, came out with some shocking numbers recently about how much money they're losing to piracy on the PC. The number was ninety five percent, as in out of every ten people, only half a person paid for the game they're playing. Inosoft reported one billion four hundred million in sales last year. Their revenue breakdown shows ten percent of their total revenue came from PC. If you add up the numbers, this means they lost two billion six hundred and sixty million in sales due to piracy; that's almost double their total sales that year. That's like five percent of total global loss due to piracy that year.

Therefore it's completely justified that Inosoft would implement such invasive and demeaning DRMs to protect their games, right? Do the DRMs at least work? The answer is no, to both questions.

This is the epitome of disconnect between the corporate paradigm and the chaotic hivemind of the digital realm. If the DRMs where designed to dissuade the masses from each hacking their own individual copies of the game, it would work. If the scene people were trashing DRMs to sell for profit, it would work. The problem, however, is that neither of these assumptions are true, and the Internet doesn't run on profit, it runs on glory. Introducing a new DRM-riddled game into cyberspace is not introducing a threat, or a nuisance. It's introducing a challenge and the harder and more expensive the DRM is the better.

Before I continue this subject, I must point out that it is not completely directed at Inosoft; they are not the only ones who use DRMs or even the worst.

So what's the big rage? It's that DRMs are actually hurting a specific group of people, and it’s the last group of people you want to hurt: the loyal fans. Firstly, the DRMs cost money, and the money going into the development and implementation of these DRMs cut directly into the funding of the games. Secondly, it's incredibly invasive and inefficient; it is known to cost more HD space and negatively impact download and performance.

Let's focus on that last word: performance. It is now a thing where players literally on the first day have to wait in a queue to play a single-player game, if at all. Let me emphasize how ridiculous this situation is: it doesn't matter that you spent hundreds of dollars preordering a collector's edition of the game half a year before it was released, it doesn't matter that the game requires you to be always connected to the Internet even to play it single-player; you still cannot play the game on release day. You did everything correctly and legally, but you are denied what was promised you. Why? Because of an implement designed to stop pirates. Ironically, the pirates are completely unaffected; in fact, the only way to have guaranteed a smooth unmolested gameplay experience on day one was to pirate it.

What stabs at me the most, and often brings up a tear or two, is this loyalty. Like watching a dog abused by its unworthy master, the loyal gamer returns to spend their hard earned cash on these products. They could easily become the pirates these companies assume they are, but they do not, because they have honor, because the designated driver will still pay for gas.

Money, because the games industry is a for-profit industry. This is the age old dodge that's actually, sadly, age old now. Yes, absolutely, no games company can survive if it doesn't make money. The problem has never been about price tag, as long as the product was worth it. That there is the root of it all, the product is no longer worth the price tag.

In almost every other medium of entertainment, when the product is no longer good enough for the audience, you increase the quality of the product; the games industry is the only one that increases the price of the product. Here's the kicker: they're getting away with it. How? Cloak and dagger, that's how, it's kind of like smoke and mirrors except someone gets stabbed in the back.

Another abbreviation that comes with plenty of resentment: downloadable content, the suffix “able” implies that it could be done, not have to be done. Oh, how far has and will this argument carry them. Let us be nonpartisan about this, there are some incredible DLCs out there that is both non-intrusive and well done. It is not them for whom the bell tolls.

The ones that are not okay are the ones that do not give the gamer an incentive to purchase the DLC, it is not subtle enough that it is only found by players looking for DLC, it is not even well done. The average DLC attacks the psychology of the gamer, it uses scare tactics and punishment. You no longer get the entire game for the price tag shown. Now you have to pay for a better ending, pay for more story, pay for more options, pay for fighters in a fighting game, pay for guns in a shooting game; some go as far as make you pay to unlock something that's already on the disk.

This kind of conduct shows a genuine lack of respect for the gamer. DLCs should be made available for the gamer that actively wishes to further augment his experience with a particular game and is willing to pay more money for it. However, it is somehow assumed that such a gamer would be too stupid to find DLCs if it was less in-your-face. It is then taken a step further by making you feel like you need this particular piece of content or you are missing a piece of the whole rather than making you feel like it’s something extra. I've never seen a game reward a gamer with free DLC for completing the game, only punish them for not having them.

In the end, at fifteen bucks a pop, can you name any four pieces of DLC that could add up to the contents of the original game?

Actually, ask yourself this question: Is this DLC going to be more enjoyable than a movie?

Then ask yourself this: Would I have enjoyed six movies more than I enjoyed this game?

Real money transactions, also known as the cash shop, also known as microtransactions, are synonymous to the free-to -play market, with a slight deviation known as pay-to-win. Sadly, this is the least invasive form of moneygrubbing that happens in the game industry. Study shows that in a free-to-play game, a few percent of the population will spend an enormous amount of money and this is enough support the entire game.

Most players are less upset with a free-to-play game that released a piece of content they can't afford to or refuse to buy, while more upset with a game they paid for releasing a piece of DLC they don't really even care about. The reason for this is simple: if you did not pay for a game, you have no commitment to the game itself, you develop commitments to players you meet in the game, but these people exist outside the game world. Should you feel the need to leave the game, the investment lost is mental, not financial. Playing a free game for a couple of minutes and realizing its not for you is a lot more acceptable than paying upfront for a game that you realize in the same couple of minutes is not for you.

So if microtransactions are fine, what's my beef? It’s no longer a free-to-play thing. You now have to pay the full box cost, get dinged by DLC and deal with a cash shop on top of all of that. For a non-competitive single player game that you're footing full box cost for, how much of the total content are you actually getting? When is enough enough? At what point will we as consumers put our feet down and proclaim we demand that at least half the game come with the box?

Have games been getting shorter, some too short even, perhaps some are starting to get unnecessary multiplayer modes? The reality of it is, it’s even shorter than you think. The truth is games have been artificially lengthened for a while now.

Ever wonder why quests make you walk or drive across the town or even across the map? It's not so you can immerse yourself in the environment, it’s to extend the time cost just enough before you start questioning why you're doing it. A game recently came out that introduced random encounters during these long travels and heralded it as a game-changer. It's actually to tack on even more time cost while seemingly giving it purpose. JRPGs have been doing this for years now.

Notice how no matter how bigass or badass you are, doors will always give you trouble? They all seem to have an animation time don't they? A couple of seconds, just long enough so it’s not annoying. Think about how many doors you go through that game, back and forth, subtract that time off your total play time. Everything seems to have an animation time nowadays, even going into your inventory. Going up and down ledges seem to take longer, crouching and crawling are slower.

You used to always run, then hold shift to walk if you wanted to be sneaky; nowadays you walk by default, and hold shift to run, but you're supposed to be a super soldier or hell sometimes a robot, yet you run out of juice after just a few seconds.

Quick time events are another often lamented topic. Who thought it was a good idea to deny me the final attack on an opponent? I understand you wish to show me the developer circle-jerk a la beautiful cutscenes, and you know what, I really want to see it too. However, it should not have to subtract from my experience. A quick time event should not occur when I get the boss to a certain percentage, force me into a mini-game, and then punish me by making me redo the mini-game, or kill me, or give some life back to the boss. This is the worst form of artificial lengthening around.

The reality is, after I kill a boss, you can show me how I killed it dead, I'm not gonna skip a badass once-a-game cutscene like that. Oh wait, it's not once-a-game anymore now, is it. Here comes the punchline: they think gamers would feel that a cutscene after every kill would be too much, too repetitive even. However if there's a button combination involved, gamers will happily watch an already-dead opponent flop around for another five seconds. Notice how even opening doors nowadays is a quick time event?

When you're doing all this to hide the increasingly generic and linear gameplay, the question must be asked: Why can't you just make better games?

The casualization of video games, the console degeneration, the dumbing down of games; insert picture of ten-year-old holding a prop gun giving you the finger. Call it whatever you want and attach whatever imagery you wish, but it’s here. It is without a doubt here.

Games are getting easier, less offensive, less scary, less interesting. Every title seems to reiterate the basic movement methodology the controllers are designed around. Maybe the old days where you're just handed the controller and told to figure it out was too barbaric, but honestly, spending the first hour of a five-hour game being spoon fed one tiny morsel at a time on the most basic of basics of gameplay is not just necessary. Someone who actually can't figure out how to make their character look around without being taught in baby steps probably never figured out how to get the damn thing to play in the first place.

A tried and true horror title was told to go more mainstream, lose the scare, lose the learning curve, up the action, up the cutscenes. One of the best new IPs of this generation, just like that, crumbled into mediocrity.

Cover shooters was a game-changer; even though it was around in the old generation, it did not truly display its virility until this generation. Hail to the chest high walls and hulking space marines that brought this mechanic into prominence. Never stop. As for every other rehash of this exact same mechanic and the inclusion of this exact same mechanic in every title whether or not it needs it: Chill the fuck out. When you do this it tells us gamers that this is it as far as gaming goes in this generation. Is it?

It is understandable that as a generation winds to a close, less and less innovations are made, and once the new generation begins, everyone rushes to make the next game-changer that defines the entire generation. However, did we truly exhaust the limits of the current generation? Or are we simply being complacent in our disposition, just rehashing old ideas, sometimes straight up copying, shamelessly.

Tomb Raider came out this week. However, what I played was not Tomb Raider; I played every fucking successful game that came out this generation but I did not play Tomb Raider. We could have let the dead rest, but no, we love zombies so much we turned it into one, a heterogeneous amalgamation of parts hacked off of others, smashed together without rhyme or reason. Now forever the name Tomb Raider will be marred by this experience. I knew the moment I lay this game down that there is nothing left of this generation for me to see. In the sound of tearing plastic, the final seal was broken and Armageddon had come.