Guest Article – The State of Gaming

We have a great guest article from listener Robert Hughes (Roblcfc84) about the state of modern gaming

Enjoy!

The music industry has never been in a worse state than it is today. To be more specific, it is not necessarily that the quality or number of bands has declined but that the chasm of success between a handful of acts and the multitude of bands that sit beneath is more apparent than ever. Success is of course relative, but just review last year’s top selling albums, it is clear that, in the main, the most successful acts are all born from same genre, of which several have found fame on the X-factor. Today, people seem more content than ever to embrace artists that are presented to them on a plate, that which the media and mainstream programming overhype and oversell. The art of seeking out new bands appears to be in decline.

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It is ironic given the rise of digital distribution and streaming services, the ability to discover new music should be easier than ever. The music industry, much like the gaming industry or any industry for that matter, is as much reactive as it is proactive – if not more. Where there is success, there is inevitably repetition and as a result innovation is stifled. This is a generalisation of course; the hardcore music fans will always support existing as well as up and coming bands, but this dedicated group consists, in the main, of past generations. Last year Michael Buble’s Christmas Album outsold every single Rock and Metal album in the USA, need I say more…

Music is not the only victim; this very situation has been developing in the games industry for some time. The chasm between triple A success and what is deemed to be abject failure is evident and ever increasing. Developer closures are no longer the exception. What was once a bastion of independent, exciting ideas is gradually becoming an amalgamated ocean of sequels, clones, and spin offs. In many ways, the established genres have been erased, with most games seeking to feature elements of every other game – essentially trying to be all things to all men, and generally falling short in the attempt.

The issue is multi-faceted and the contributing factors are obvious; developer costs, an ageing console generation and of course the current global financial predicament. That said, are we the consumer to blame? Has the games industry become the victim of a similar apathetical attitude? It is definitely playing a significant role.

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Too many exciting, innovative titles have failed to garner the commercial success they deserve – think Shadows of the Damned, Binary Domain, Catherine, and Enslaved, compare the combined sales of these titles to the colossus that is Call of Duty, not even in the same ballpark. It is possible that games such as Call of Duty offer a better all-round experience, but it is equally possible that too many consumers do not have the inclination to research what’s on offer and to seek out new experiences. It is an easy and safe option to pick up the latest Call of Duty and play the latest recycled iteration of your favourite map. It’s also not surprising given the aggressive advertising campaigns of these few monolithic releases, but if the same games keep selling, the same games will continue to be developed with no incentive for creativity or altering the formula.

Taking a recent example – Spec Ops: The Line. On the surface, a military shooter that should tick all of the right boxes for the casual gamer, scratch the surface and there’s a military shooter with an intriguing narrative, which should have offered something of substance to the hardcore. Yet this game, like many others struggled commercially, it would be easy to blame the many variables, the name for one, the lack of advertising and so on. The information that gamers need to make their own decisions is out there and it is easier to access than ever. It would be unrealistic for the mass market to take the same approach as the more dedicated gamer but if consumers only took the time to consider where to invest their £40 pound as opposed to buying the obvious, easy option – the breadth of titles would surely increase.

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Are we heading towards a future where there are 20 to 30 major releases a year? There is still hope. The digital age has presented innovative and indie developers the opportunity to create more exciting titles at a lower cost and feed them directly to gamers through steam, PSN and XBLA. Titles like Journey, Limbo and Unfinished Swan offer some of the best gaming experiences of this generation and there are many more outstanding titles out there waiting to be found. Let’s not forget the ever reliable Japanese market which continues to support truly original ideas, which are fun, quirky and at times truly bizarre. Unfortunately given the limited success these titles experience in the west, many games simply don’t get released over here…we are still patiently awaiting Yakuza 5.

Maybe I’ve got it wrong. It is possible that the massive success of FIFA and Call of Duty make the industry big and healthy and allow for the “hardcore” to have their flights of fancy. In my opinion the evidence is not there, the number of retail releases which are distinct and original is ever decreasing. Perhaps these games are best suited exclusively to the digital format and possibly physical releases should now only service the biggest games, especially considering the global shift in the way that we access media. It would be easy to blame developers, publishers, pricing, the decline of retail but one thing is for sure, unless gamers are more proactive and vote with their wallet, we are heading for more of the same…

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