The Future of Video Games

Once upon a time video games didn’t exist. Then God made sweet, sweet love to a computer programmer and thus Pong was born. Then He slowed down the Earth’s orbit around the sun to provide us with an extra calendar day for the sole purpose of enjoying this magnificent creation.

Okay, any video game historian worth their weight in salt will tell you that Pong wasn’t remotely close to being the first, especially as the debate over what constitutes a video game to begin with is fierce, but there can only be agreement that video games are merely a byproduct of computer games. In fact, one could argue that with the advent of the Xbox, video games have become more like computer games than ever before. When the Xbox came out, it was the first time I had started paying attention to a console’s specifications. Nothing said “I am a computer!” more clearly than the Xbox’s specifications. I don’t understand half of what it can do, and of the other half I only use two features: the game and DVD players!

Video games, in their current incarnation, began as arcade games in the 1970s and at the height of their popularity could be found at roller-skating rinks, malls, movie theatres, restaurants, bars…even grocery stores! And, of course, video arcades. It was when businesses made the ambitious attempt to bring arcade-quality games into the living room that the video game console was born. We all know the classics: Odyssey, Atari, Intellivision, and ColecoVision, and if it hadn’t had been for these early pioneers, video games would probably never exist right now.

It’s a real shame, then, that console games as we know them are now on their deathbeds.

We’ve all seen it; the signs are clear, all around us, and in our faces to the point of obnoxiousness. Games as we know them are a dying breed and will soon be lost to the beast that is the online game. Some of you will argue that going online is the next logical step, to which I reply, “You must be brainwashed by Big Business.” Here’s the deal: the future of video games is decided by businessmen who know nothing about the product they’re peddling. None of these CEOs or presidents ever started out as programmers, so they have no clue as to what makes a good game outside of what focus groups and their marketing departments tell them.

Back before the video game industry was seen as a profitable venue, developers had full reign over what constituted a good game, as they made games that they themselves wanted to play—kinda like how George Lucas started out making movies he and his friends wanted to see before his wealth started slapping him around. Unfortunately, though, once businessmen started seeing dollar signs as arcade games became insanely popular, they slowly started to infiltrate and domineer the industry until we sit where we are now: with the most successful programmers at the mercy of fat cats. Even now the developers know perfectly well what constitutes a great game and they truly desire to make them, but then some corporate jerkwad from the publisher comes down to mess everything up. So not only are some of the games we have now completely horrendous because of these people, they also hold the keys to the video game future.

These talentless hacks called businessmen have stopped caring about the consumer entirely and are only concerned with making money. No longer is their focus on where it needs to be—“Take care of the consumer and the money will roll in just fine.” Now it’s somewhere else entirely—“Let’s rob these little retards of everything they own while giving them the worst possible service so we can see the most profits!” The programmers ain’t too keen on this, as they desire to make games that people will actually want to play. Unfortunately, they gave up their control a long time ago.

Way back when, all you needed to play a video game was the console, a physical copy of the game, and a controller. This was enough and it will always be enough. But then everything started going digital and in the beginning it was looking promising since games now came on discs, as they allowed for greater game data storage capacity. But then the businessmen looked at the booming beast that was the internet and came up with a devious idea: to have people play games online for a monthly fee. “Why buy a game when you can purchase it and then continue to pay for it afterward? Why own a game when you can just rent it instead?” Why indeed.

Online games have become their own circus of ridiculousness (just look at them on launch day). Now, not only do people buy these games just so they can rent them, the systems are set up to the point where these already gullible people throw even more money at them for microtransactions so they can have extra items, upgrades, and level progression. Level progression! “Why make it through the game on your own when you can just throw money at a paywall instead?” Those of you who actually play these kinds of games (yes you, the ones I called gullible earlier) know better than I do, but it’s getting to the point where the games will just play and beat themselves if you only throw enough money at them.

And why not? All the really cool stuff that happens in games nowadays only ever take place in the cut scenes now—we don’t have permission to do them anymore because game directors don’t want that pesky gameplay thing to get in the way of their artistic vision. Hell, we even have achievements now in console games for putting the controller down while the game is still going! (I’m looking at you, Pay Your Respects in Batman: Arkham City and Venting Frustration in Alice: Madness Returns!) And all of this is somehow considered gameplay progress by the consumer?

Now don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with the video game audience being provided gamestyle options. Currently we have console games, computer games, online games, and massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs); variety is the spice of life, after all. However, a push is currently being made to turn console games into online games, and nowhere is this more apparent than with challenge maps that can be played online and downloadable content (DLC). DLC is being used to entice those of us too stubborn to change into joining everyone else online; we get sold half a game while the corporations dangle the other half at us from beyond the physical realm…and all we have to do to get it is throw more money at them. Holding half of the game hostage is a bad marketing ploy. It’s not only us old fogies who need to be brought into their spider’s web in order for the transition to become complete—people who don’t have the internet at all (poor people, military, etc.) need to make the move with us and they can’t; poor people just don’t have the money to pay for the internet (never mind newer consoles) and half of the military are in an area where having the internet isn’t feasible at all, like on a ship or in the Middle Eastern deserts. Even then, not everyone who has a connection can afford to pay for the super-duper-give-us-your-first-born-child deluxe internet connection that will allow us to play online games without the visual lag or worry of bandwidth limitations.

I see the potential for DLC, using it as an opportunity for expanding on the game you already own, furthering the adventure. What I don’t see is why I should fork over extra money to get it. In America (as that’s where I’m from), the first half of the game costs $60. If I was blind enough to dish out more money for the DLC, I’d be paying roundabout an additional $20. Then six months later, when the real game is released (the game itself plus all the DLC) it goes for…$60. And publishers genuinely think that every serious player is gullible enough to pay extra just to get the second half of the game early? Or that providing this as an option is reasonable? Of course not. We, the middle class and below (who make up about two-thirds of their revenue), mean nothing to publishers or even console makers anymore—just look at the prices listed for the current generation’s package options and you’ll see what I mean. If you can’t be bothered, then take a look at this video released by Sony demonstrating the PS4’s online capabilities. Go ahead; look at it all, from start to finish (there’ll be a quiz on it later):

Those people right there…they’re the target audience now. Rich kids in their early twenties with plenty of time on their hands, living on their inheritance. These kids have the ability to buy a game on a whim and use their super-duper-give-us-your-first-born-child deluxe internet connection to download a massive game file in 30 seconds without having to be concerned with bandwidth limitations. Big Business is doing everything it can to turn video games into luxury items because the only people who can truly afford their games and services are the wealthy and the pretty stupid—just look at Brian who needed his buddy’s help with Killzone only to see Will getting his butt handed to him and responding with, “I’ll show ya how its done…” Or you can just look at Will, who is a horrible Knack player and yet tried to take on Killzone…you know, because he’s so rich he didn’t need to research the game first to see if it was something he wanted to play or not. By making everything digital and online, from the game itself all they way down to the payment method, game companies will be able to better pander to the upper class. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the initial specifications of the Xbox One.

Fast Fact: Did you know that when you pay for something with a credit card, the money spent doesn’t register in your brain as a loss? Yet if you pay in cash you find yourself thinking harder about the purchase you’re about to make due to the pain that your brain feels of having to physically hand over the money. This is exactly why microtransactions can hurt your wallet if you’re not paying attention, especially since you don’t even need to be aware of the card’s existence in order to use it. Good thing you’re well-to-do so you don’t have to worry about such mindless frivolity, isn’t it?

The Xbox One had many things wrong with it, the biggest problem being that it was meant to be connected to the internet 24/7—officially this was just a rumor, but unofficially the Xbox One was meant to be always on; Microsoft just threw us that “once every 24 hours” nonsense to throw us off the scent. Another mistake they made was tightening down on digital rights management (DRM), treating their customers as if they were criminals. This DRM also extended to physical copies of the game—another crap factor. If you wanted to share your game with your friends, you initially couldn’t, though they were a little merciful later in allowing you to pay full price again whenever you lent it out to anyone. By making the Kinect mandatory for console operation (again, initial specifications) they already told the military and college people to go suck an egg (the Kinect requires 10 feet [3 meters] of unobstructed space), and the best part of it all is that the Xbox One isn’t backwards compatible with any of the previous generations’ games. “Did your Xbox 360 crash on you again? Just go buy another one! You’ve got the money, right? Why are you even bothering us with this?”

(Although, to be fair, backwards compatibility isn’t an easy feature to pull off, as there are multiple hurdles to jump: programming language, emulators, formatting, and whatnot. At the rate technology advances, expecting the new to play the old is as absurd as expecting your Windows 8 computer to still play your Minesweeper program from Windows 95. Of course, expecting Windows 8 to do anything but disappoint you is another discussion topic entirely.)

Thankfully, the PS4’s superior sales projection caused them to change their minds (as they were perfectly content with ignoring the complaints of us middle and lower classers up until then), so don’t think for one minute that they’re not looking elsewhere; we’re just irksome mosquitoes to them. They can’t wait for the day when enough rich people buy their game systems so they can turn a blind eye to the rest of us. And it’ll happen, too; you just watch. It’s already happening right now; we’re being conditioned for it as we speak. Just look at that cloud (I hate soft language—they’re servers!) that all future video games will be played on! With so many servers hooked up to give you the grandeur of a massive open world, you can play better games that console limitations can’t allow for whenever you want. I mean, you’re not in an area where the internet connection can die for any reason, right? And it’s not like servers are prone to crashing or anything…

The most telling thing about the Xbox One, however, is that Microsoft gave us a glimpse of where the future of video games lies…according to them, of course. Every feature they claimed, and every restriction they called a feature, shows us exactly what console makers see for the future. Not only do these businessmen want to control every aspect of the playing experience, they want to turn game consoles into over glorified cable boxes as well with their own exclusive TV channels. They want to run your home life, they want to be the centre of your household, and the worst part is that, of all the changes they wanted to make, there’s nothing to stop them from ever going back to their original plan, as none of the consoles have been modified to prevent them from doing so once the heat dies down. And do you know what demographic doesn’t have a problem with any of this? Rich kids.

Remember the good ol’ days when console makers were so enthusiastic about you being able to play a multiplayer game with a friend who was physically in the same room with you that they sold their console with two controllers instead of one? Rich kids don’t care; they have all the money in the world to buy that second one if they so desired, but even if they don’t, they can always afford that social media hookup (Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, etc.) through their consoles to continuously stay connected. Always on, if you will…

For those of us who aren’t made of money, the era of video games will end when the following criteria fail to be met:

1. Consoles cater primarily to games.
2. Physical copies of games can be bought.
3. Single player games can be played offline.
4. Multiplayer games can be played with another person who is physically in the room with you.
5. Games do not require you to spend more money after buying them.

Call me old fashioned, but the only way a video game can be enjoyed is if the consumer has absolute control over what they do with their copy of the game and are free to play it however they want. I don’t know; maybe I’ve been spoiled my entire life because this is exactly how video games have been since their inception, and now console makers are here to give people like me our wake-up call…but I seriously doubt it.

When the day comes that these five criteria are no longer met, I’ll chisel out the rest of the tombstone I’ve made for video games with the death date and set the granite up on prominent display by the TV (the one that doesn’t require drilling holes in the wall, since I’m not rich or stupid enough to buy one of those).

However, video games will never truly die. They will all morph into MMORPGs where you have to fork over money every time you make a single move on screens so huge they will be built into the wall. With extra monetary inducements, games will play themselves while the player sits back and chats with their friends about how hard life is because the club’s valet from the night before wasted a few minutes of their precious time by accidentally pulling up in the wrong car, all while they’re masturbating to their console-exclusive pay-per-view porn channel in front of their motion sensor and voice activator while hackers spy on them. The future for video games is very bright indeed…we’re just not going to have a place in that sun at all.

Now, to be fair, there’s another reason why Big Business is pushing for everything to be online, which I hinted at earlier. By removing physical copies of anything, loading the digital copies with DRM and constant online connectivity to verify your copy of the game belongs to your console, piracy will become virtually dead. So will used game stores, but still, piracy! Because of piracy (and used game stores) developers and publishers never see any money from the reselling of their games. This is a valid point to make, as it’s the equivalent of someone never receiving any royalties for a movie they made every time it’s played on TV. And as expensive as these games are to make, Big Business is trying to get the most bang for its buck (that is, break even) on these fancy Frisbees because the money for them stops flooding in as early as the three month mark after a game’s initial release (to which I reiterate: take care of the consumer and the money will roll in just fine). Selling their wares to the rich is increasingly looking like the most viable option to turn a profit.

But hold on a second! These publishers, as much as they claim to be struggling, fall within the ranks of the rich themselves, and the rich kids won’t be kids forever! That means that the target audience will quickly go away (albeit not completely) and then they’ll have no one to go after next for another twenty-odd years, when the inheritance-squelchers’ kids grow up enough to play video games themselves. Very soon Big Business will be pandering back to us again or only to themselves. We may not be in a very forgiving mood by that point (Oh who am I kidding? Yes we will.) and they don’t play these things to begin with.

When that day comes the final nail in the coffin of the video game will be hammered home and the game industry will limp on. At that point, though, video games will never be the same again and the video game industry will eventually die off completely. And that is the day when video games as we know them will be removed from life support. Sure, versions of them will continue as they’re made for PC, mobile phones, iPads, and whatever other gadgets and gizmos are invented along the way, but we’ll never see another console ever again.

There is an upside, however. Somewhat. Indie developers are doing everything they can to derail the MMORPG future train by providing players with multiple gameplay options. Such action will allow consoles to live on life support for just a little bit longer…until a console maker like, say, Microsoft decides that they don’t want to publish Indie games anymore as such developers aren’t associated with publishers at all. Oh! What was another one of the Xbox One’s initial specifications? Right. They wouldn’t allow games to be coded to their consoles without publisher backing.

And they all live happily ever after. The end.

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