Abandon All Trope: 5 Gaming Conventions We Hope To See Die With This Generation
November is a good month to be a gamer. This is true most Novembers, but 2013’s November is a particularly special one. In neighboring hospital beds, Microsoft and Sony have their legs elevated majestically in the stirrups of motherhood, and are taking frenzied gulps of nitrous-oxide to dull the pain. The internet: midwife of technology, is staring expectantly between the thighs to catch a first glimpse of the next generation consoles as they emerge, slick and glistening into the world. The atmosphere in the consumer electronics maternity ward is palpably tense and the stakes are higher than Sony was after opting for that epidural.
Yes, this is the circle of console life in all of its visceral glory. The coming of a new age heralds many exciting possibilities, but as with proper evolution we can learn from and build upon past mistakes to grow stronger and more robust as a community and an industry.
So in the grand tradition of courting clicks and views with lists, here are my top five things that games need to just plain cut out this time around. While I would love to see less of a reliance on chest high walls within the shooter genre, I have tried to focus more on the prevailing trends of the generation out with specific games.
1. Free to Play
The free to play (or ‘F2P’) business model is not new to gaming, and is not an inherently bad idea. As a young rapscallion, I first encountered it in the guise of browser based MMO, Runescape, and its pay for membership system. New players begin their journey in a free to play, expansive and engaging section of the world with plenty of quests to do, skills to perfect, monsters to kill and all that good shit. There really is enough there to keep you going and get you invested without spending a single penny. Convince your Dad to convert your pocket money into a month’s subscription however, and the rest of the massive map becomes your oyster; new skills are unlocked and all of the cool new items you spied high level players toting in Varrock bank are within your grasp. This is an example of F2P working well. You feel justified in spending the money because you are already engaged. The developer has earned your contribution on the merit of their content and you are getting more of what you enjoy. Yay!
Of course a good idea seldom goes uncorrupted in the gaming world. This generation has seen the rise of a more insidious and subversive form of the free to play model which turns gamers into little more than fleshy piggy banks, upended and shaken at a height to make it rain on callous suit wearing pigs at the top of mega corporations. The people behind the likes of Farmville, Sims Freeplay IOS, Candy Crush Saga, and their ilk are not stupid, despite what a cursory trial of these products might suggest. These are not games so much as thinly veiled, psychologically informed, painstakingly focus tested traps dressed as games, designed to get you to reach into your pocket as often as possible. Starting with cynical drivel shat out by the likes of Zynga, micro-transactions have extended their sticky tendrils into traditional pay-to-play games of late, and it’s just not gravy. GTAV’s multiplayer element, GTA Online, is full of potential and ripe for emergent gameplay between friends and strangers alike. It features a lot of (questionably finished) content that you can buy with your hard earned virtual GTA-Bucks, and that in and of itself is ok. Not so much is to have the majority of the good stuff hidden away behind unrealistically high prices, and to include an exchange system of real money to GTA-Bucks as the only realistic option for accessing it. Couple this with the fact that the game is geared to squeeze you for money from every angle (you have to pay for the ammo that you use in death-matches, for instance) and the result is a game that feels funnel shaped; at the bottom a money sucking vortex which chews up gamers, swallows their wallets and spits out the crumpled receipt. I already shelled out for your game, Rockstar, and I refuse to do so perpetually.
(Also include in this section: Day one DLC, season passes, on disc DLC)
2. Yearly Sequel Cycles
Unlike the previous entry, I hold out hope for a slight reduction of this practice in the coming years. You may be shocked to hear this, but making games is hard work. If you want your finished product to have any merit, great care and strenuous efforts must go into its creation. If you just want to milk the next $60 from your established audience however, all you need to do is start where last year’s title left off, make some textures incrementally shinier, and come up with another meaningless subtitle. If the latest Call of Duty reviews taught us anything, it is that we are fooled less and less by the subpar reboots rushed out of studio doors each year. Still, the mass migration of players onto the latest iteration keeps people buying. EA’s flagship FIFA and Madden titles are just as bad: travesties whose practices have been positively enforced by the fiscally idiotic.
Gaming should be about love and entertainment, passion and risk taking, but as with anything under capitalism, these pure motives are tainted, forgone in the face of profits, and gamers at large have proven easy targets.
With new hardware comes new development processes, and with that comes longer and increasingly involved production times. Hopefully the technical requirements and higher bar of entry will force studios into a more ‘quality over quantity’ frame of mind, though I shan’t hold my breath. These titles are some of the highest selling and most lucrative “franchises” around today, and cash money generating habits are hard to break.
3. Rabid Fanboy/Girl-ism
In reality there aren’t many mountains in the games industry. There sure are a lot of molehills though, and boy do we like to make one out of the other.
Social media unceremoniously smashed the barriers between creators and their audiences in the last generation, and dealing with the public is something that more and more developers have to take into account. Recent history is riddled with horror stories of this backfiring spectacularly, often with upsetting results. These examples mostly speak for themselves in their absurdity. Why do we continue to berate, harass and threaten the creators of content which enriches our lives? My gut says a culture of entitlement coupled with the confidence that internet anonymity gives idiots online. I can’t say much that hasn’t already been covered on this topic; I just want it to stop. (and to play Fez 2…)
4. Games Solely For White Teenage Boys
I have bellowed on about inclusivity in gaming in the past, but I maintain that it is a drum that needs constant banging. I will try to avoid becoming a broken record here though, keeping it nice and concise.
Games over time are maturing in quality, theme and artistic merit. They are dragging the culture surrounding them behind, albeit slowly. The misconception that it is only introverted young white men who buy and play games has been a hard one to shrug off, and conservative publishers and policy makers are still acting under this notion. This influences the content of the games we play in a most infuriating way. Focus testing warns them against alienating the perceived audience by putting them in control of characters they cannot relate to. This saddles gamers with an endless procession of bland white dudes for protagonists and erects yet more barriers in the path of games becoming an art-form which caters for everyone. If we can’t convince publishers that we can relate to the shared humanity inherent in us all, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, we are going to stifle creativity and fail to represent the true audience for modern games. For many years I have enjoyed walking in the shoes of orcs, elves, giants and even Tetris blocks; it stands to reason then, that this scope can be extended to contain the full spectrum of human diversity.
5. Real World Advertisement
So there you have it. This is very much an ideal progression, and in no way is it a prediction. For my money, gaming’s true trajectory is an ever quickening decent into morally ambiguous and creatively devoid hellscape. Games themselves will be superseded by intricate skinner boxes which will use an amalgamation of direct brain interfacing and Facebook likes to calculate optimum extortion and will harvest your personal information to take out short term loans in your name.
Just a guess.