You know what I miss? When a game was released completed and not one that required a pay wall to truly finish.
Gaming today is kind of strange.
On one end of the spectrum there are complete single-player experiences like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Witcher 3, and Super Mario Odyssey in which DLC does not have an actual effect on completing the game. On the other end, you have multiplayer heavy games in which there are numerous paywalls and can be at times lacking in content. It is rare to find a game that is nestled at the center, meaning that it finds the right balance in its multiplayer and single-player experience. The one game that kind of comes close is Uncharted 4, it’s got a lengthy, quality campaign and a surprisingly good multiplayer. Personally, I don’t have a problem with there being extremes, but my problem lies in the fact that publishers, developers, and even fans, will go out of their way to denigrate whatever side a person happens to favor. Single-player is dead? No, not with critical and commercial success of recent releases. Multiplayer only games are trash? No, as Fortnite and PUBG have proven that quality games can emerge with the appropriate attention.
It’s maddening to be honest. Like all industries, gaming follows trends. But unlike certain industries in which trends will be around for years, gaming is susceptible to trends that last for months so it becomes hard to predict what will become popular. When Dark Souls hit the market and found success, hardcore games were all the rage. PUBG opens up the world to a quality Battle Royale game, almost every developer afterwards wants a cut of that success with Fortnite being the most successful. Can’t blame developers for wanting to follow suit, but the market has already become saturated and the year hasn’t ended yet.
Differentiation is a requirement for a business to be successful especially when they operate in a crowded market. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are all well aware of what is required to be successful even though we in the gaming community question certain decisions. Everyone is waiting on Microsoft to make a move as strangely, their exclusive library is lacking. E3 is just around the corner and you never know, they could surprise you. Sony and Nintendo are on fire, which is kind of unexpected because Microsoft was ahead of the pack the last generation. But in this industry, things can turn on a dime, risks need to be taken and events unfold in front of the public. This level of transparency is expected and it is difficult to hide due to the advancements in social media. So when a head scratching decision like adding microtransactions to a fully priced game occur, the entire community is up in arms. Nothing brings people together like controversy.
Microtransactions are unfortunately another trend that has become prevalent in the gaming industry and it isn’t difficult to see why; the sheer amount of money that can be made off these loot boxes or add-ons can be tremendous. I don’t disagree with their inclusion as long as it doesn’t affect gameplay, there’s nothing wrong with dropping a few extra dollars for cosmetic items. But, when a fully priced game, such as Star Wars Battlefront II or Shadow of War have pay-to-win microtransactions, this is where the line has been firmly drawn. The respective publishers for both of those games were hammered by the gaming community and rightfully so, this should have never happened in the first place. The lack of respect for the consumer is particularly vexing because it can affect later releases. It’s ok for games like Rocket League or Fortnite to have these microtransactions because the money is used to better the experience. Plus, those titles were either free to play or appropriately priced.
On the topic of publishers and developers, it’s a little strange that there is a lack of respect for each other’s properties in the sense of business direction. It’s well known that EA believes that single-player games are dead and while other publishers have not publicly agreed, gaming has trended toward a multiplayer environment. Which is fine, multiplayer games are developed with the long-term in mind, there is a chance that capturing the attention of fans long-term will yield positive dividends. But, there is no denying that single-player heavy games are successful. Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, and Breath of the Wild were all single-player only games that saw incredible sales figures. But still, EA relented and upset the gaming community. Which is ironic, because they promoted the excellent A Way Out, a game that could be played either by yourself or cooperatively and did not feature any competitive multiplayer. Just respect one another’s work regardless of the climate, single-player games will remain popular as long as it is of a high quality.
But here’s some irony; how about the fact that some independent titles are being favored for Game of the Year? Both Sony and Microsoft used to get mocked for featuring independent titles on their respective systems and today these are the types of games that players want to play. Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch are examples of titles that aren’t gameplay heavy but feature incredible narratives that hook you. I used to be a skeptic, but not anymore. I honestly have enjoyed independent titles like Hellblade and Celeste than I did some AAA titles. You can get a lot of bang for your buck. Combining tight gameplay and a strong narrative are throwbacks to the days when games didn’t rely on DLC. It’s refreshing and it’s always nice when you can scratch that nostalgia itch.
What I find questionable, is when publishers tend to try to remaster a franchise without being upfront about what that remaster entails. It is ok, if a developer wants to re-release a twenty year old game just so that the older generation can play it on current consoles. It is not ok, if you’re going to release a title that would not hold up to the standards of today. Developers tend to use nostalgia as a marketing tool and its effectiveness only works if the game is still playable. Dark Souls Remastered may upset a lot of people in a way that the Crash remasters didn’t. Crash was updated, while Dark Souls is an HD re-release, there is a huge difference but it wasn’t initially brought to the attention of gamers. It feels cheap and is more than likely trying to cash in on the interest of a popular franchise. Why this happens in this generation more so than the last generation is beyond me.
With all of this being said, it should be noted that the biggest positive to come from the current state of affairs is that there is far more diversity in gaming. No longer do people have to anticipate triple-A titles, they can satiate themselves off of excellent independent titles. Competition is at its highest amongst the industry leaders, even if it feels like it’s a two-horse race between Sony and Nintendo. Hopefully, the industry begins to become more transparent with the microtransaction practice because there are times where publishers are hesitant to release details based off fear of reprisal.
Microtransactions and loot boxes aren’t a bad business practice, there is no shame in wanting to maximize the cash flow for a product, but being intentionally deceitful is one way to alienate your consumer base. This strange state that gaming finds itself in won’t go away anytime soon, but the industry can clean up its act for the betterment of everyone.