Let me preface the following rant with - Sometimes we complain to those least guilty of the offense because they are most likely to listen. And apologies in advance to all the geeks gaming in their parents’ basements who will probably not appreciate the tone and direction of the following.
Unfortunately, the industry that was once poised to grow, contend with and for some families replace many forms of entertainment has stalled. The new gen of consoles are marketed as total home entertainment systems – the hub of the family. Yet, the primary functionality of these systems – gaming – has not been evolving in the manner which would be needed to make the vision a reality. Game development, whether directly or indirectly affected by the platform developers is at fault for the languid state of gaming’s expansion into the mainstream.
The current crop of games is still as divided into hardcore games for gamers and family friendly party games (for kids) as they were the day after the Wii came out and opened the eyes of the world to what could be. Unfortunately, that momentum was allowed to devolve into novelty and what we are left with has grown very little. Some trends that seem to be going well are inclusions of big name voice actors and the occasional inclusion of a big star’s face. Inclusion of co-op is great, but limiting it to online (no local) seems shortsighted. While I understand that development is a shell game of trade-offs, excluding a feature as customer-facing as split-screen to include a technical display of how well your software takes advantage of the latest hardware capability is not the path to growth.
The game development life-cycle is broken (not irreparable) and in what might seem to be a catch 22. The fan base is so small that a game needs to cost $50+ to predict a return. This forces the team to think about replayablitliy due to the value proposition of a single game costing 300% as much as an IMAX experience and 500% as much as a month of Netflix movies. The current method of justification is in hours of entertainment – I often make this argument when defending a Borderlands or other game of similar genre (RPG) because their single player story modes do outperform other forms of entertainment in an hours per dollar analysis. However, that measure is far too geeky for the average citizen who sees a game as a single experience or story being told; and I can see it from that perspective as well.
In addition to my hover-car, jetpack and robot butler, I’d like a Hollywood level of writing and storytelling in my games now please. That and a clever (accessible) UX will be the only way broaden the consumer base by bridging the gap between gaming enthusiasts and occasional, casual (or non) gamers. Recent advances such as episodic distribution are providing a framework for a shorter product life-cycle as well as a more digestible chunk of entertainment. What else can be done? Developers need research that tells them what the people not playing their games want, rather than singing along with the already converted. Designing for endgame as a means to a better value proposition is as unsustainable as a corporation cutting cost to get ahead. Endgame should be a consumer buying another of your well crafted games.
As with most rants, mine is transparently self-serving – as the following conversation will demonstrate:
Me: Lets play a game.
Wife: But we play a game every single weekend, so lucky you, how about we skip this weekend?
Me: There are people who play games every night instead of watching DVRed episodes on the tele, so every week isn’t very often, lucky you.
Wife: So you’d have me play the same 30 hour episode (game) every night for 2 or 3 weeks until it was over, then what?
Me: Um, good point.
My house is not unique, and my wallet is not the only one which would open up more to the gaming industry if there was more to buy which we could play as a family and which was designed around a good tight story instead of grinding for value.