Does it feel like the gaming industry has lost its flare over the last few years? It seems like issues have been popping up recently that are harder and harder to ignore. They come from the games themselves, the gaming community, developers, or the industry in general. Here’s my list of five things I feel are tarnishing the gaming industry for everyone.
5: Corporate Meddling
Corporations have one goal in mind: money. If they can make a dollar, why not do it? This is more a problem for AAA studios than it is for indie studios. Excessive, unneeded sequels are more popular than ever. In addition, preorder bundles are shallow cash grabs and many DLCs feel like cut content repackaged for profit rather than additional content. There’s also a fight against cross play from some companies—looking at you, Sony—who stop gamers from having fun to pinch a few more pennies.
Competition can breed heated words, but toxicity seems to be more and more common. Childish screaming, sexism, and tantrum throwing are particularly common in multiplayer games, shooters like CoD especially. There’s also some players ready to throw games or grief other people for the most minor or slights. In more serious cases there are death threats and even swatting. Admittedly, this is a vocal minority of the gaming community, but their existence isn’t doing the rest of us any favors.
3: No More Risk Taking
The 2000’s were a mini renaissance for originality. We saw plenty of new IPs yearly, leaving things fun and refreshing all year round. But in the last years of the 2010’s, it’s been so much of the same from AAA developers. It always comes back down to money, really. Once the formula is figured out, no one wants to deviate from it. Making a CoD clone or sequel is a guaranteed payday for gaming companies. Throwing $100 million into a new franchise could end up making five times the return, but there’s just as much of a chance for them to lose money on it. Most companies are content to sit on their laurels and milk franchises as much as they can or wait for other studios to take the risk and copy those game styles when successes happen.
Sequels don’t have to be bad; they can even resurrect a series. Assassin’s Creed: Origins breathed new life into a franchise that was suffering fatigue and atrophy. Others like Dishonored 2 delivered as well as the original. And there are still new games coming out that give a refreshing breath to the gaming market. Overwatch is a unique entry in the FPS market and its success is monumental. The indie market is a huge source of creativity. Although these games are often smaller in scope than what huge studios put out, you can feel the love put into the games. While plenty of positive examples are definitely coming out, there’s still an unarguable bloat weighing down the gaming industry. No one wants to take risks anymore. As a result, a lot of things feel the same. October and November are the same crappy sequels, remasters, and copies of other games. Gamers are tired of it.
2: Unfinished Games
Would you buy a dinner that was only half cooked? Or see a movie that was unedited with a chunk of footage missing? Of course not. So why is unfinished media forced onto gamers time after time? There are a number of reasons, admittedly. Companies have tight deadlines to meet, modern games are bigger and more complex, patches are easy to download. But those aren’t excuses. They highlight a shift toward a “buy now, fix later” approach that leaves no gamer happy. I’d rather wait an extra month for a game’s release than get a buggy, unplayable mess that I have to wait a month to play. It’s rude, disrespectful, and leaves a bad taste in a gamer’s mouth. The fact that this is almost expected with gaming today makes me worry about the industry’s future.
Long gone are the times when you only bought the game and got the whole package. Microtransactions are a staple of gaming now, and they’re quickly becoming the biggest problem in it. Some games introduce them in almost welcoming ways. Overwatch is the single best (almost the only) example of microtransactions done right. They’re all cosmetic—and frankly, look awesome. Every item found in loot boxes are cosmetic and available through in-game means. You don’t need to spend a single dollar to get any skin, spray, or emote. The option is there, and exclusive event skins can be tempting. But none of the items alter gameplay.
That’s really the issue. An increasing number of games are now using microtransactions to alter gameplay. Opening your wallet gives you unfair advantages over other players or lets you skip hours of otherwise needless grinding. Shadow of War was criticized for implementing unneeded grinding to encourage spending to skip it, and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 was roasted all over the internet for grinds and unfair advantages all over the place.
Microtransactions can extend the longevity of the game. When done right, this is an excellent structure. I’ve happily bought a few loot boxes from Overwatch as a way of supporting a game I’ve gotten hours of fun out of. But I wouldn’t do that with CoD or other games with predatory microtransactions. That’s part of the issue, honestly. Most of the people giving their money to companies doing loot boxes wrong are casual players who don’t mind throwing dollars away to get end game gear faster. So long as those people are around, developers will keep microtransactions going. The only thing gamers can do is try and encourage companies not to affect gameplay with them.
Answer to the Sickness
The problem of being a consumer is that you only have so much control. Voting with your wallet only goes so far and most of us don’t have the platform to compete with AAA studios. Opting not to buy a crappy cashgrab is one of the greatest tools we as consumers have. The internet collectively vilified EA for their greed and it wrecked Star Wars: Battlefront 2. But it gets tiresome to fight this same battle over and over.
So what is the solution? Honestly, I don’t know. Punishing developers for their most egregious actions will always be an option, especially with the internet letting voices be heard much louder. When an entire demographic yells in unison, companies listen. It always comes down to the dollar, of course.
Indie games are also an emerging market that has been getting more of the love it deserves the last few years. Giving smaller studios more support can make AAA developers glance over and take notes as well. The future of gaming isn’t all doom and gloom. But I fear to see the future of gaming if problems like these continue.