Games are at an all time low when it comes to quality and excellence, and demand for good games is at an all-time high. The game industry’s climate has changed - drastically.
If you ever played an arcade game at your local mall in the 80s or 90s, you know what it’s like to struggle through the first stage of a game and absolutely love it. To this day I’ve only ever cleared the first stage of Pac-Man. I know, I suck at Pac-Man. The point is games were hard back then, and while some games today are notoriously hard (Dark Souls), most modern era games are way simpler and far more accessible to first timers.
These days, it no longer takes a player hundreds of hours to learn a new control schema, as they’ve become largely standardized and simplified. To add to this accessibility, gamers can simply click “download” to get a new game. You don’t need to drive to the mall to buy a game anymore, or stand in line at your favorite arcade machine. You were invested with both time and money, so you didn’t mind that the game was hard. These days, any game in the world is one click away and sometimes free - free with ads, micro transactions, pay-to-win bull sh*t, etc. So now, with little investment, you give a game ten or fifteen minutes to master, and if you don't feel it, you're out. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the point. Everything has gotten faster and easier with far less investment.
What effect has this speed of access and lack of investment done to the gaming industry?
For starters, the industry is booming. Games are easier to make and distribute, and everyone is a gamer to some degree or another. People play games on their phones, PCs, Consoles, VR headsets, and standalone gaming devices. Developers can simply upload a version of their game to the internet, and within minutes the whole world has access. The world has never been so flooded with video games, and with that, unpolished turds trying to pass as playable video games.
But is this a good thing or a bad thing?
It's not good, that's for sure. Some might say that this tsunami of games and gamers has diluted the industry both in general player skill and also in demand for game-development excellence. Games being made for the masses at such a rapid pace has drastically effected the level of challenge in order to retain more players, and lower level of quality due to faster release dates and deadlines. In short, games are made faster and easier to play for the current market, and it's not a good thing.
Don't get me wrong, making a game easy-to-play that also requires skill to master is entirely possible, it's just more difficult to develop. Accessibility and mastery are not mutually exclusive.
For developers, the bar for excellence has been lowered in terms of creation and distribution. After all, you can sell the game before it’s even made, patch any game-breaking bugs after release, and never actually finish anything at all and still make money. Indie developers, like myself, face the challenge of making something of quality and making it quickly. Time is our biggest enemy because unless games are released, we don't make any money.
We also see AAA studios becoming so “corporate,” they cannot make a quality game because they’re too caught up in micro-transactional profit margins and outright greed. We see indie developers pumping out half-baked ideas because it’s so easy to add a couple of shiny assets to a game engine and get greenlit on Steam. This is frustrating to gamers and aspiring developers as bad games are a colossal waste of time and money.
It’s a bit like your uncle who “Published” a book probably titled Suburban Survivalist’s Handbook and other conspiracies. Congratulations to him, but he likely wrote it and edited it himself, and he owns the only copy courtesy of Amazon’s print-on-demand service, which will likely, and ironically be the reason he needs to survive in the suburbs some day. Back to the point of the analogy. Like the myriad of unread, unprinted books swirling around the internet, game quality is suffering a similar fate. For every game that receives “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews on Steam, there are a dozen that get so many thumbs downs and negative comments I’m surprised Earth’s gravity isn’t effected. Like your uncle's book, there are simply too many people making games. And they suck at it.
So. What now? Will AAA Studios pull their heads out of their own… wallets long enough to focus on quality over quantity? Will Indie developers stop pumping out garbage? Can we change this video game climate?
The answer is no. But we can be smarter about where we spend our money.
The climate, not unlike Earth’s climate, is here to stay for the foreseeable future. We made it this way. We continue to spend our money on games that don’t deserve it. We continue to vote with that simple, one click purchase. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’re here and we have to find the diamonds in the rough, and believe me, there's a desert of "rough."
As developers we have to continue to strive for excellence, to fight the current of mediocrity, and to simply make good games. As gamers we need to be patient and wait for games to be completed before throwing our money at them. The industry may never change, but perhaps amidst the wasteland of unfinished, unpolished, and unplayable games, a few more gems will immerge, and we won't have to try so hard to find good games.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. This blog started out with the simple idea of game difficulty and how it’s changed over the decades. I hope it wasn't too scattered. I’m not surprised by where I went, or how I got sucked into the abyss of the current climate of the gaming industry. It’s been on my mind for a while, and I face challenges every day that relate to this issue, both as a gamer and as a developer. It’s important to stay positive about the good things. Gaming is good. Making good games is great. Keep playing.