Many years ago I used to be able to sit down for hours on end and simply game. Every so often I’d put aside an entire weekend just to play my current favourite addiction: no chores, no family, nothing but gaming. Oh how I looked forward to those times!
But for some years now nothing has grabbed my attention in that way. I’ve not had that buzz you get when a new game comes out and You. Just. Cannot. Get. Home. Fast. Enough. To. Play. It.
So that got me thinking: are games simply getting worse? Have game designers run out of ideas? Do larger publishers rely too much on sequels rather than looking for that next big thing? If I can still regularly find new music (thanks Spotify!) that excites and moves me, then why can’t I find new games, the form of media entertainment I prefer above all others, that do the same?
Power Corrupts, Absolute Power….
There is some justification for laying part of the blame at the feet of the Activisions of the world. After all, the dominant FPS right now is Call of Duty, a poster boy for sequels if ever there was one. But is that really the publishers fault, or are we, the customers, to blame? CoD’s core audience are the same people who come back year after year, looking for a refreshing fix of their favourite franchise. And since the ultimate power to force publishers to do what we want lies with us, then purchasing sequels just reinforces the publisher’s bad habits. To be clear; publishers go where the money is – if it’s in sequels, then that’s where they’ll be.
Sometimes the larger publishers will try new formulae. Titanfall was a game I was hoping would be The Next Big Thing. Infantry and mech combat in a fast-paced game from a top publisher with a AAA budget. Hallelujah! Unfortunately it did not live up to its hype (although it was far from poor). A free weekend spent with the game and I’d had enough. To put that in context, when MechWarrior 4, which is another mech game, came out in 2001, I spent two years solid getting up at 4am to play with my Euro and American buddies. In fact the guy who made the image on the top left of this post inspired me to spend several years modelling, texturing and animating mecha.
Is Small Really Beautiful?
That leaves the smaller publishers and indies. There are a wide variety of games that have, and continue to be, created by this dynamic group. Steam’s Early Access gives some of them access to the funding they need and deserve, and Kickstarter can also be a great place for funding (just ask the Exploding Kittens guys).
Many of these games are great, and I’ve tried quite a few, but again none have caught my eye across a bar, winked seductively and literally tied me up for several weeks until I’m too exhausted to carry on. If the spark ain’t there, then it just ain’t there.
All of which leaves me in a quandary. If there are more games available than ever before, with at least the indies really pushing the edges of what you can call “a game”, then why am I so jaded?
The Final, Bitter Truth
After more than 30 years of gaming, with more disappointment than elation from games that have promised so much yet delivered so little, I’ve come to the conclusion that my standards are now so high a game would have to be virtually perfect to really grab me like MechWarrior 4 or Battlefield 2142 did. Epic doesn’t even come close to describing those games, they had an indefinable quality that hooked me and kept me wanting more.
Not only do today’s games not measure up, but they have to compete with the rose-tinted spectacles effect. I remember that BF2142’s launch was a screw up of magnificent proportions – as was BC2, BF3, BF4….you’d think DICE would have learned their lesson by now. But despite that I can forgive BF2142 because it was just so frickin perfect. The later games were not, especially when measured up against BF2142.
As for MechWarrior Online, the latest installment in the MechWarrior franchise, meh it just does not match up to its predecessor. Even the fan-made and very brilliant MWLL was better.
So maybe this is a challenge to development studios – and I include the studio I work for in that shout out – to make games that hook and cajole and wink and seduce just like games used to. Make something different, make something fun, make something that’ll appeal, and in return I’ll take off those rose-tinted spectacles and put them here to one side.