Editorial: Awful Trends in Video Game Design

Good day to you, readers. As it were, many of my posts so far have been gloomy. They leaked gloom from their very cores like the spilled blood of my enemies. So I now bring you a different kind of editorial: a prophecy of doom! Well, not really doom, per se, so much as a mild warning that horrible things are afoot in the world of video game design. Surely many of you have caught glimpses of the horrors that await gamers each time they crack open a new game. The gaming world has been changing for many years. Some trends have been good, and some have been bad. In a fashion true to the image I have painstakingly attempted to convey to you all, I shall focus on the bad.

We will sell them the final piece for $15! Then we will sell them an image to glue to it for $20! We are brilliant!

This is an artist's rendition of the average gaming company's business plan.

The first and most obvious trend in this editorial is the release of incomplete games. People like Emperor Kotick encourage developers to create games that lack much of the content that gamers would expect. Games with vast multiplayer modes are created with an appallingly short arrangement of maps. This is where Kotick’s devious brain begins to work. The developers then create more maps for the game. They wave these maps in front of gamers’ faces and say, “Here are more maps! We will release them soon!” When the maps near their release date, Kotick’s evil minions approach their loyal fans and cackle, “Your maps will arrive soon! We shall be generous this time! We will only charge you $15 for each pack of two maps!” When the minions of Kotick receive their $15 per map pack, I presume they slink back into the shadows, eager to return to their master and bring news of their deeds.

“But Slab!” you tell me. “This could not, as you suggest, possibly be our fault! We are just as outraged as you about this atrocity!”

“Ah,” I reply coldly, “but who is it that pays the $15 for these map packs when they are released, rather than ignore them to prove a point to the great and terrible Kotick Empire?”

Only when gamers are willing to unite as a group and refuse to pay $15 for these extra map packs or additional character models or whatever else Kotick is throwing at them will Emperor Kotick see fit to abandon his beloved cash cow in favor of some other scheme, no doubt involving a demonic pact of some sort.

Way better than Call of Duty 35!

There is no denying it. It will happen by next July.

The second trend I will mention is to make games into a Hollywood production. Developers would rather put out sequel after sequel to a well-received game than make a new, revolutionary game. Just take a look at the Call of Duty series. There have been 13 Call of Duty games since the series was released in 2003. That is a bit more than a new game each year: worse even than the Madden series, whose sports games are released once a year. I have played three Call of Duty games myself: Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, and World at War. During the time I played those games, I found them all to be almost exactly identical, with the small exception of weaponry and a few minor HUD changes. The developers for these games figure several things into making these games. They first realize that a very large number of people enjoy these games. They realize that if they release more games like them, people will continue to buy those games. This is where it becomes partially the fault of the gamer. After a few test sequels, developers realize that gamers are not nearly as picky as they claim to be. Gamers seem perfectly willing to accept a sequel that is almost exactly like the original in every way, so long as it provides a similar experience. Companies do not feel pressured to come out with new, revolutionary games, and why should they? If they can make just as much money milking a popular franchise to death, why should they bother putting extra effort into making something new?

It is even more than that. Plot lines are reused, as well. How many games have you, the reader, seen that focus on World War II or Middle Eastern terrorism? As I stated earlier, I have played both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. In the first game, there is a point in the single player portion where you lose control of the main character because he is killed in a nuclear explosion. At the time, I actually found this interesting and shocking. In the second game, it is apparent that the developers must have thought that it was a great idea to kill off the main playable character, because they do it again, not once, but twice.

Back in my day, we called this 'SimCity' and 'Zoo Tycoon'.

Casual to the extreme!

The last trend I will discuss is the rise of the casual game. Casual gaming giant Zynga, the creator of the somehow popular FarmVille, is one of the most profitable developers on the market. Angry Birds, an application for mobile phones, has overshadowed many of the most anticipated console games of the past year. The Nintendo Corporation released its Wii console nearly five years ago with the gimmick to end all gimmicks in order to appeal to the most casual of all gamers: parents. With games such as FarmVille, Angry Birds, and Wii Sports promising easy, addictive gaming experiences for people of all ages, it seems likely that long games with depth to their plots and characters could quickly fall second to short, addictive casual games. Companies understand that there is far more profit to be made with games that are easy to create like FarmVille and Angry Birds. Gamers, both casual and even those who consider themselves hardcore, jump at these cheap, addictive games because they are cheap, addictive, and they can easily be played on their mobile phones, so they can be played anywhere.

Perhaps, readers, these trends do not frighten you as they frighten me. Perhaps they frighten you more, or less, or not at all. But I assure you that these trends are being exacerbated by the consumer. If the consumers of the world cannot change their spending habits, it is only natural that these trends will become the standard in industry. Perhaps they already have.

7 Comments

  1. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.06.22 at 16:26 | Permalink

    If one chooses to give a monster money when it behaves monstrously, one should not be surprised when the monster continues to behave monstrously–nor when that behaviour proliferates amongst other organisations equally interested in making money.

  2. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.06.23 at 01:10 | Permalink

    Blame Oliver Motok!

    Corporate console gaming is in a death spiral, but indie games will continue to offer value and innovation; and we may eventually see something positive bloom from the smoldering wreck of console gaming’s bloated carcass. You can only remove so much value from a game before you completely negate the rationale for their $60 price-tag, when viewed along side budget price download titles.

    I honestly believe that things can’t keep getting worse in perpetuity, eventually the industry will crash, and then reset.

  3. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2011.06.23 at 15:20 | Permalink

    Don’t get me wrong, SN, there are some fun indie games out there, but they don’t have the same appeal as big-budget gaming monstrosities. I would be dreadfully disappointed if the industry were to crash instead of learn a lesson. I’m sure Angry Birds is a wonderful game, but if it’s the only thing on the market because Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft screw up, then that’s no good.

  4. Emmori
    Posted 2011.06.23 at 16:11 | Permalink

    @Lusipurr: So true. But inversely, I believe that the sort of people who buy a new Madden game every year deserve to have their money taken from them over and over again.

  5. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.06.23 at 21:17 | Permalink

    @Slab: But the industry won’t learn a lesson until it crashes, and even then the imparted wisdom will only hold for a decade or two – that’s how capitalism works.

    And indie development is much more than Angry Birds.

  6. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2011.06.23 at 22:58 | Permalink

    @SN Yes, but the kinds of console games that I enjoy very much (Super Mario Galaxy, for instance) are most certainly not the kinds of games indie developers can make.

  7. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.06.24 at 01:02 | Permalink

    You’re always going to be able to buy Mario; those games sell like crack.

    I don’t think any crash is ever total – series which maintain good customer goodwill should be just fine. Any crash will result in at least one of the following i) a clearing of the ledgers as some devs/publishes are driven from the market, ii) the scrapping or downgrading of value deficient titles and the creation of more robust titles OR iii) a freefall in the price of retail games until they reach the price point that most of them are actually worth.

    Like a forrest, the game industry requires the occasional fire to clear away all the dead wood so that new life can germinate. At this point I believe the industry is overdue.