Nearly thirty years ago the video game industry its first large scale crash. From the years 1983 to 1985, video game revenues dropped ninety-seven percent. The industry before the Crash was overloaded with home consoles and poorly developed games. While the industry was nearly wiped out during this time, it survived and, thanks to the NES, was back on its feet by 1987. Today, video games are a huge money making industry with revenues hitting sixty-seven billion dollars. All this money has lead to greedy companies and individuals looking to squeeze every penny out of their consumers. The industry is flying high right now, however it is in dire need of a bitch slap to bring it back down to earth. This week, I will look at some of the major reasons of why a crash is needed to save the industry.
Last week, EA unleashed the DRM-shackled SimCity to a mountain of criticism. The item that drew the most ire was the constant internet connection requirement. EA and Maxis treated gamers as if they were wearing helmets and denied that the feature was nothing more than DRM, basically stating that no current consumer computer can run their GlassBox engine. Other companies have experimented with this type of DRM and have drawn huge criticism for even mentioning it, let alone implementing it, but this did not impede EA in the slightest for SimCity. Companies have used forms of DRM to protect their properties for years, but it has gotten to the point that companies would rather screw their consumers if it means stopping a few pirates.
Unfortunately, the screwing of consumers does not stop at DRM. Downloadable content, introduced as a way for gamers and developers to get more life out of their games, has been abused by many companies as a way to squeeze their customers even more. Certain companies have become notorious for selling DLC that is already present on the disk. Capcom ignited a fair amount of rage when it became public that all twelve of the DLC characters for Street Fighter X Tekken was included on the disk. Capcom treated gamers as idiots as well, saying that it was a necessary measure to make sure compatibility between players and to lessen the download time of the content. Other companies use DLC as a way to make money off used copies of games, locking away disc based content while including an unlock code with new copies of the game. While I do not agree with this practice, it is at least a bit more ethical than some of the other practices I have mentioned thus far.
The boom in popularity for video games has brought untold billions of dollars to the industry, and at the same time investors galore looking to ride the wave of money. Investors are protective of their money, they do not like to take huge risks. Many investors do not know the first thing about video games and have no connection to the industry besides cash. All of these things contribute to the lack of innovation that has struck the industry in the current generation. Rarely do companies develop new IPs, and it is even rarer that the new properties take huge chances. A new IP, along with innovation, brings a mountain of risk since there is nothing to guarantee success.
Should a new IP hit the jackpot, the developer and publisher go into overdrive to capitalize on the success. Sequel after sequel are released in an attempt to keep the money pouring in, with some franchises seeing a new entry every year. Many times the follow-ups to the initial game are little more than the original with a new setting and characters, but same game play. A bit of innovation within these series would be nice, if only to make each sequential release seem to add something different to the series.
It may seem as if there is nothing good with the current state of the industry, however that could not be further from the truth. Valve has quickly risen to the top when it comes to video game companies. From taking action when a developer releases an unfinished product on Steam(EA should have taken notes) to Gabe Newell inviting a pair of Half-Life 3 protesters to a tour of Valve’s offices(and that was after he ordered them some pizza). Besides Valve, there are many indie developers who have the same love of video games as true gamers do. Indie developers display their love by taking chances and creating innovative titles, all on budgets that are hundreds of times smaller than the big developers of the industry.
It may seem strange seeing somebody who loves video games wanting to see the industry brought to its knees. The truth of the situation is that games as we know them are being destroyed. It is not hard to imagine a future where there are only games aimed at the casual and the bro gamers. For every Ni No Kuni that is released, there is a pile of generic first-person shooters and a second pile of casual games to combat it. I wish the industry had a reset button that would make games nerdy again, but that is not the case. The time is right for the industry to crash, and I am eagerly waiting for it to happen.