Mass Appeal & Mass Dissatisfaction

In the last few years, gaming has been expanding at a very fast rate. The variety of experiences available to players has been growing, creating new genres left and right. Along with this expanding of concepts, and the inclusion of new innovations, we have seen the actual gaming audience and community changing along with the games themselves. No longer is gaming this little exclusive club, where the core gamers are king. Now publishers have different groups of people, with a vast variety of interests to take in to account. It’s clear that these new players have been influencing the scene, and it has caused many people to discuss whether or not this expansion is such a good thing. Are these new experiences, and these new players overriding the established status quo, and changing gaming in a way that the core audience does not approve of?

I found myself first pondering this question a few months ago. Up until quite recently, the ‘casual’ crowd never struck me as a bad thing. If anything, I hated using the term as if it were a bas thing, I figured it could be a good thing. I enjoy sharing my hobbies with as many as people as possible. With new players joining the community thanks to the gateways of mobile and Facebook based games, it gave me more people to discuss the things that I have spent the majority of my life loving. It changed it from this private experience to something that I had in common with more people than not. And I was perfectly content with all of this. Nothing I loved was effected by their being more people. Nor did any of the games that they enjoyed come in to conflict with the games that I preferred to play. It was a perfectly harmless relationship.

There's actually nothing wrong with this. Really
Of course, that apparently was not a harmony that was meant to last. I hate to use a word as heavy and as purple as disturbing, but over the course of a time a disturbing (at least to myself) trend actually has arisen. Publishers and developers that once did nothing but churn out games for the core demographic began changing the way they approached game design. Words like accessibility, and inclusive have begun to fly around the room at an alarming rate. Games are being designed for everybody, and it’s beginning to feel like the core crowd is being ignored in the interest of earning even more money.

Before anyone begins raising flags, I understand that developers and publishers are businesses. They exist to create a product, and earn a profit off of how well that product performs. It makes sense for them to create titles that have a mass appeal. Games that resonate with the core crowd won’t resonate as widely as an angry birds or a Farmville. So creating games that fuse that brand of simplicity and that level of addiction with more in depth mechanics makes sense. Try and grab the attention of both camps of consumer. And thus make money. From a business stand point, it makes perfect sense.

I've noticed this hybrid style of game making more recently as I have been pulling myself back in to the hobby (I have had a lull within the past couple of years as changes occurred in my personal life). Within the past few months alone I have played and reviewed a couple of games that left me scratching my head by the time I was finished. The question I was pondering was itself more perplexing than I ever thought I would encounter in the gaming world, “How was that a game?” That is not the sort of question you should really be asking yourself after playing through a game that a developer spent time and money putting together.
There's a ton wrong with this
These ‘games’ had mechanics in place that felt game like. They had me use a controller to move around my environment, and I could interact with things within those environments. Most of the time, I didn't feel like I was being challenged to actually complete anything though. The game was holding my hand and walking me through to the end (In one highly mind boggling example you did nothing but walk and look at things). The whole while I could not help but think I was experiencing something, not playing. I've been under the impression for my whole life that a game requires an objective or goal. Does staring at pixelated flowers, or talking to a variety of NPC’s about pure nonsense really qualify that rule?

I have decided (with no level of malice at all) that these sort of games were made in the trend the casual experience and in the interest of bringing in new audiences to the gaming scene. Even if I force myself to dismiss these ‘experiences’ as okay and just a tool of bringing in new players, I have also been noticing some other things that don’t quite sit well with me personally.

Even with the influx of casual games and gamers, (like I stated before) I have been content with how things were going. But then things began to get taken away. Even if I had to share the hobby with a new breed of gamer, and had to occasionally play a game that I believed defied the concept of gaming, I would always have the games that I grew up with. And I felt, for a very long time, that the trend of mass appeal would not be able to touch those games, and those memories. To put it bluntly, I was wrong.

This error was proven in the form of remakes. Which I will never deny as a good idea. Revamping a beloved, older franchise so that a new generation of player can experience it sounds like a spectacular idea. Like I had stated earlier, I enjoy the idea of sharing my hobby. What I was not ready for, was to see those experiences revived only in name. To see that instead of resurrecting my childhood memories with a new shiny coat of paint, they instead attached that name to a different beast all together. Two big names rise to this instantly in my mind. Dungeon Keeper, and Thief. I have fond memories of both of those games. Many hours spent toiling away at creating the perfect dungeon, or navigating the dark corners of a city, pilfering to my heart’s content (and often dying for the effort).

In both of these cases, I found that the games presented to me were not what I (and everyone else in the core demographic) actually would have liked to see. The bigger example of the two of these would clearly be Dungeon Keeper. While Thief has no doubt disappointed a large amount of people since its release, Dungeon Keeper stands alone as a clear atrocity. When it was originally released in 1997, Dungeon Keeper was a real time strategy/dungeon management/god game that tasked you with building a dungeon full of evil creatures. Ultimately you would defend your cesspit of evil against the forces of good. The game garnered very heavy praise, and was played for many years after its initial release. If anything, it was a clear candidate to be remade in the modern era of games.

This was great
When they finally decided to revive the franchise, what they gave of us was in a way, insulting to the memories formed with the previous instalments. Dungeon Keeper and Dungeon Keeper 2 will always be remembered fondly. But now that we have the remade game, I don’t think the core audience has any interest in any new versions from this point forward. This sort of reaction hinged on many of the design choices that were made with the remake. Dungeon Keeper (as no subtitles were used to distinguish this game) was in every way possible a mobile, casual offering. Micro transaction oozed from the game, and were forced upon the player around every corner. This was not a game you could pick up in play in similar fashion to the original releases. It was made to cash in on the prestige of the original. A method of using a beloved franchise among the core to earn money from the more casual audience. This was enough to kill the name, and raise substantial ire from the core community.

This is decidedly not great
This is where I may start colouring myself a little bit old fashioned. I’ve met a few people in my time who have set their sights on developing games for a living. Most of the time, these people make that decision because they have a passion for the industry. They want to create something great, and give back to the hobby that has given them so many years of joy. Never, have I ever heard these people say that they are going in to the industry to make money. It never seems to cross a single one of their minds. So I know that it isn’t these people making the decision to make these games. These decisions are being made by the guys at the top. The executive business folk who see things in dollar signs and bottom lines (which again, makes sense for them). What I do question, is how the passionate people that I have seen pursuing the world of game development are being shoe horned into making titles that aim for nothing but making money.

It seems like there I presently no end to the trend in sight. We still see a few sprinklings of true, core experiences. Built by people who still care about the fans who made gaming what it is today. Most probably because they too are fans in a similar vein. Unfortunately, these few developers, making these few games that really represent the best of the modern gaming age don’t feel like they will be enough to stop the casual wave. I hope that the realm of AAA games has not been lost to the core gamer, and that in a few years’ time this trend will die down, and show itself for nothing more than a fad.

I know I may be sounding over dramatic, and maybe a little bit presumptuous, but I really can’t help it. Things feel stagnant. I know that we can’t ultimately blame the whole ordeal on the casual market. They have a right to game as much as anyone else. I just feel like developers need to refocus. They can still make money off of the core market. If anything, exposing the casual group to more and more truly core experiences can do nothing but good, show them exactly why we love games as much as we do. There’s a solution somewhere. Perhaps it’s in our wallets. Should we hold of purchasing games that are giving in to the casual watering down of otherwise great ideas, and let the developers know that we really don’t want these kind of games? After all a consumer’s greatest tool is the almighty dollar. On the other hand we can just leave it up to fate. Keep purchasing experiences, and taking to the internet to bitch about them, kind of like this. 


Achieving Entertainment

Achievements have become a very major part of the gaming experience. That is an undisputed fact that began with Xbox Live and the Xbox 360. Players enjoyed having a visual representation of things they had done in their games, and having a way to gauge it against their friends. It was a brilliant move by Xbox, and it has spread throughout the gaming industry as a whole. Could it be possible though, that this trend is getting a little bit out of hand, and propelling itself to areas that are essentially unneeded?

Very recently, Microsoft has said that they will be implementing achievements for other forms of media on the Xbox One. This was specifically outlined by the example of users being able to earn achievements through watching shows and movies on Amazon’s video streaming service, as well as through Xbox Video. For example, if a player were to watch ten titles on Xbox One by the end of 2013? Achievement.

It should be noted of course, that achievements earned through movies and shows will not affect a player’s score. The only method of increasing gamer score will still solely rely on playing video games, as it should. At the same time, I can’t help but think this is taking the achievement a little bit too far.

Get rewards for being a couch potato!
I can understand the visual representation for video games. You actually do something in games. You guide your experience and ultimately rely on your own skills. But what sort of skill, and what exactly can you achieve while watching a movie? Do you even need a pat on the back for sitting down and watching ten movies?

A person shouldn’t need to get a clap just for watching a movie. As far as I can tell, no one has ever really wanted one. It’s an unnecessary and an absolute waste of resources. Since movies came in to existence, we’ve watched them simply because we enjoyed them, and the hour and a half of entertainment is often reward enough for spending or money. While sitting down and watching the Avengers, I didn’t think the experience would be enhanced in any way if a little blip popped up congratulating me for finishing the movie. Nor did I feel like I deserved some sort of recognition for sitting down and having a Lord of the Rings marathon. Sure, they are long, but I didn’t really do anything but sit on my couch.

Now, I know this isn’t the first time we have seen achievements spill out of the gaming world. This trend is reaching phenomenal proportions, and for some reason, tech developers all over the world believe that the consumers just can’t get enough of them. Kobo e-readers have the ability to reward players for the simple act of reading a book. Reading has been around even longer than movies, this is a no-brainers. No one has ever needed this proverbial pat on the back for sitting down and enriching one’s mind through the written word.

Like I had previously said, I think that achievements in games work. I’ll admit that I’ve never really seen the point by them, but I can at least see where the fit in to the picture as a whole. Gaming has an inherent and very prevalent competitive aspect to it. You want to look at what your buddies have done compared to you. You want to see who has had the most success and this deserves the bragging rights that go along with accomplishing those goals.

This doesn’t really fit in with other types of entertainment media. No one competes while watching movies. Movies are something you do strictly to be entertained. Does Microsoft believe there is actually a group of people who want this type of experience? How many hipsters are really in the market for a new video game console?

Perhaps this plays in to the ideology of the Xbox One. Microsoft wants the One to be the centre of your living room. Your single go to machine for all of your entertainment needs. Games, music, movies, television. I can see why they would want to beef up the experience in every way possible. Otherwise, people are likely to continue just watching TV from their DVR’s and through other methods that are not the One. They need to set the entertainment experience you get on the One apart from everything else. I just don’t think they are going about it the right way.

Microsoft would be better off providing ways to extend the experience. Film and TV buffs love getting secondary content. Commentary tracks are a valued item to have on DVD and Blueray packages, and become the reason to actually purchase the discs as they are released. Plenty of people enjoy peeling back the curtain and getting a glimpse behind the scenes. Others enjoy watching gag reels and outtakes and missing scenes. This is the sort of experience Microsoft should strive for. We don’t need achievements for movies. Gamers love their games, but we are not defined by that simple word. And if someone enjoys watching movies, they don’t need an incentive to do the simple task of being entertained.


All Aboard the Hype Train! Next Stop... The Same Place as Last Year!

As I was scrolling around my Facebook news feed today, I noticed a strange little post by made via the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 page. It featured a picture, with all of the CoD games going straight back to the second version. It also included the Ghosts logo. It then prompted it's fans to tell them what their favorite game of the series was. Like you would expect, being the people they are, the CoD fans swarmed in with thousands of little answers. Oddly enough, a fair amount of them listed the unreleased Ghosts as one of their favorite... What the flying fuck?

This is where I get a little bit baffled. This game has been officially announced for less than a month. So far we have zero information on the product aside from the fact that it will be a new story arc. We have no footage, no teases or anything to tell us what sort of game Activision is bringing to replace Modern Warfare 3. All we know is that is will be a Call of Duty game. Apparently that is all people need.

This of course is not the first time I've been exposed to such a phenomena. The concept of pre-ordering these days is really the biggest example you can get. People will bet their sixty dollars right off of the get go that this game will be good. They do it in situations similar to this one, where we are all walking blind yet still being asked to purchase the game. Usually, this is done just by flashing a name. Once that happens it essentially sells itself. This of course is a problem.

Games like Call of Duty are essentially all hype these days. I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy the gameplay to a degree. I've purchased my fair share of them as well. What I will not do is blindly believe that I am getting a new game every time. Yes, they storylines are different (which isn't really a big deal, they only clock in at about five hours per game), and the graphics get a little bit better with each installment. But those really aren't the bread and butter of the series. Everyone knows what really brings people back. It's the multiplayer. And that is where things basically stay the same.

If one is to be realistic, then they would come to the conclusion that in reality, a lot of things added to the CoD online experience could essentially be added in with DLC content. New guns, maps and occasionally a new mode are essentially all you see when you jump on to the online for the first time. Yet even with this glaring and obvious point, the fans of the series still stand in line on release day, and run home to crank the sales numbers up for Activision again and again.

Then, you get people who go online and rage that the game was the exact same as the last one. That they didn't change anything, or improve stuff exactly how they had wanted it. The truth of the matter is, the developers and publisher for games that get this sort of treatment don;t have any incentive to change things in any drastic fashion. Their sales data is all they need to see. And what does 6.5 million copies in just 24 hours tell them? That people are perfectly fine with the game the way it is.

And even more confusing about the matter, after about another year, the exact same process occurs. The same people line up, buy the game and then complain about it as much as they can. What did they expect? The game is released on a yearly cycle and people drop money in to it like it is a bank. If they have so many issues with it, and want to see some significant change in the series, then why are they giving their money to the product every single year. Why are they ignoring the biggest weapon that they, as a consumer have?

It comes down to the simple fact that they won't. In a way, the people that give in to this sort of hype can't. Maybe it is just down to the fact that Call of Duty has been one of, if not the biggest releases on the calendar for the past eight years. Maybe they want to feel like they are part of the next big thing and just can't help themselves. Maybe they actually like the game just the way it is, and they only complain about it because that is the in thing to do. Or maybe they are just vulnerable to the very core of the matter, they hype.

It's a shame that the gaming community has this sort of problem present. We see the sort of innovation possible in the hobby. We know the sort of quality that can be given to us if the publisher cares enough to give it. Yet as long as people keep dumping their money on a yearly title, that sort of change will be stagnated. We will make no progress and year in, and year out we will be doused in more Hollywood action shooters than we actually want.

Hopefully one of these days the hype train will come to a stop, and people will get smart enough to speak with their money. If you don;t want something, don;t buy it. Eventually, the people in charge won't be able to hear the sound of money puring out of their asses. They will be forced to adapt and change their product. They will give the consumer what they want, because they will have to as a business. It's really not that complicated, simply buy smart. And don't proclaim that a game you know nothing about is your favorite from a series. That's just flat moronic.


Innovation, or the Lack There of...

Anyone even marginally in to the gaming scene knows that we are very rapidly approaching E3 season. This means, that very soon we will be getting blasted with a lot of shiny new toys. Innovative ideas and concepts from every corner of the industry should soon be drowning us with information. And as a result, gamers everywhere should begin to get very, very excited. This year more so than the usual, as this is the E3 that will in a way, usher in the new generation of gaming. This should be the E3 where the consoles of old begin to actually die after their many years of service.

What I've found though, as the year has paced itself along, is that I am really all that excited. A few years ago, around this time, I was usually buzzing with anticipation. I couldn't wait to see the new games that were going to be announced. I wanted to see just how the industry would be innovated. I wanted to see the changes that would occur. Now though, I find myself just idly waiting. While I am still looking forward, I find that I presently am not excited.

Somewhere along the line, something caused me to lose that initial excitement. Their are a few culprits that could end with a finger pointed in their direction. It could be the endless tide of first person shooters, with their yearly installments and never truly evolving gameplay. Or maybe it is to blame on the mobile gaming trend, with it's over saturation of games that are basically the exact same. It was difficult to really figure out why it's so hard to get excited, but I think I have actually managed to nail it down.

The blame could be said to rest on the simple fact that innovation and change just aren't as blatant as they once used to be. In older days, we would look at a new console and be blown away by what we were seeing. Graphics crept closer and closer to being real with every step. Games became more complex and all the more immersive as new technologies came in to existence. The biggest jump obviously would have been when we made the leap from the Super Nintendo and Genesis to the first Playstation, and the excellent Nintendo 64.

When we were seeing those consoles for the first time. We were truly seeing something different. We were greeted by the sight of true 3D imagery for the first time. Instead of jumping and running on a 2D plain, Mario could now jump and run wherever he could see. This changed gaming, and people took notice.

As things went on, we were greeted by similar jumps in technology and things were well. Microsoft gave us the first dedicated online service for home consoles in the form of Xbox Live, Nintendo delivered the first motion based home gaming system. Now though, the jumps seem smaller in significance, and as a result, don't quite create the massive explosion of anticipation that we would normally have expected. So far, we have received on of the next generation consoles, and been given a small glimpse at another. And it feels like we are just stuck right where we had begun.

Nintendo was the first of the big three to make a mistake. While anyone in the know was aware of what the Wii U was, those in less attentive groups may have missed the point entirely. The biggest issue may simply be the name of the device. Wii U doesn't really sound like a new console, does it? What it actually accomplishes is sounding more like an expansion to the already existing Wii. Which, as they found out pretty quickly, could confuse their targeted consumers without much pause.

This may seem like a marketing problem more than anything, but I'm blaming it more on the fact that there just isn't enough different about the Wii U. It still has the same rectangular Wiimotes, it still possesses the same name, and has only slightly upgraded graphical ability. The biggest addition to the console, was the tablet-styled controller. While a nifty little idea, and certainly something worth exploring, it really doesn't feel like something you can sell an entire console on(Couple that with so far, a ghastly line up of games, and we aren't doing so good).

So let's go over that again. Nintendo expects people to pay $300 for a console that they already probably have at home, some slightly flashier images, and a tablet controller. Call me a skeptic, but was the success of the Wii not resting solely on the shoulders of the motion control. At the same time, was that not also hinged on the idea that the more casual, non hardcore market of people would be into the idea? Why release another more casually aimed device, if you had already nailed down that market?

I could probably go on and on about the failures of the Wii U, but that really isn't the point of this entry. So let us refocus our eyes to someone who is actually targeting a more core audience- Sony, who has officially announced their next generation console, the PlayStation 4. What we get here, like the predictable name, is actually of no surprise. Details so far are fairly slim, but what we do know has not really given me a whole lot of hope.

Like we would expect from a new piece of hardware, the PS4 comes equipped with a lot of upgraded internals. Normally, I would be all kinds of excited about this, unfortunately this doesn't make much of a difference to me. We have seen games already running on next generation engines and hardware, and the difference isn't big enough to really cause much of a stir(at least as far as I'm concerned).

In fact, the only big change that Sony has applied, like Nintendo, is to the controller. What we get now is a clusterfuck of gadgetry that is really hard to understand. Like a lot of people withing the core gaming community, I'm fond of my controller. I'm more than happy to see that Sony did not kill it in favor of the motion craze. At the same time, I'm not exactly jumping for joy at the amount of stuff they decided to strap on to the predictably named DualShock 4 controller.

These additions include a small touch pad on the front of the controller. While and interesting concept, that builds on today’s trends, and makes an attempt at capitalizing on them. I really fail to use the practical use for any core gaming experience. Along with it they have upgraded the six axis system from the previous controller. One thing instantly comes to mind though. Wasn't the motion gimmick on the DualShock 3 all but ignored during the life span of the PS3? The answer is a booming yes. Why do we need this again? Why would Sony decide it was necessary to include once more?

While the other two new additions seem far more useless, the third addition to the controller is by far my least favorite. Sony has seen it fit, to include a share button. Of course, trying to take advantage of the ever popular social media craze. This little button, will allow users to quickly share game footage and stats, all at the click of a button. While I have had a few moments where I would think, “Hey, that was awesome... Too bad no one saw it.” I can also come to one simple conclusion, no one actually gives a fuck. I could only name a few select people on the entirety of my Facebook list that would even bother to click play on a shared video. So again, this feels like a limited, and almost unnecessary addition, just trying to take advantage of a craze that will inevitably die out(At least I hope... ).

Now, while I do feel that Nintendo and Sony haven't quite brought enough to the table. And yes, I will be fair and say that Sony still has a lot to show us. We still have one of the big ones remaining to try and wow us. Yet even they aren't on a good track yet. Microsoft has a devil on it's back, and it is casting a shadow bigger than I would have though. That devil has a simple name Always Online.

While that idea doesn't instantly make me want to lift a pitchfork, I can see where some people would come to blows over it. I live in an area where my internet is always steady and very rarely cuts out. In essence, I am already online twenty-four hours a day. This really, would not change a whole lot for me. I am aware though, that not everyone has that luxury. You hear internet horror stories all the time. People unable to connect, or those who lose their connection constantly.

On top of that, we have already had a few mishaps involving the concept. Diablo III and the newest Sim City both released and played with the idea of needing a constant connection to be accessed. This created all kinds of server related issues, and to put it simply, pissed off a whole lot of people in the process.

This is where I get confused by the idea of Microsoft building such a concept in to their next home console. The biggest trend in gaming these days is accessibility. We have already seen how always online can go wrong, and how people react when it does. It just seems like bad business for one of the biggest technology developers in the world to ignore such blinding evidence. Are we to believe that they are so crass and full of themselves that they would blindly ignore it. While I do see where they could get away with it, I also would like to put faith in the idea that they are a little bit more savvy than that. And I'm putting my two cents in now, the next branded Xbox will NOT require an internet connection at all time. Simply on the preface that it is a dumb fucking idea.

With all that said, we are not entirely doomed. Smaller gaming platforms are beginning to surface. Mobile gaming is on the rise, and crowd funding has become a real thing(Though, to keep length in mind, I will bypass those topics today). There are still ways games can be innovated. And there are plenty of people out their who want to see it happen. Maybe we just need to rely on someone who is willing to take the risk. Someone who has nothing to really lose, and the world to gain. Maybe that's what the stagnant nature of the big three is showing us right now. I just hope I'm proven wrong.


Say Hi!

Lately, I can't help but notice that I've been more or less losing my drive to write. I don't mean in the sense that It's not something I enjoy doing, or something that I don't want to do. Instead, I mean that my usual outlets just don't to be hitting the spot anymore. I want to move on, maybe have people see that stuff that I am willing to put to digital paper. So, here we are, a blog. A web journal with a big old sign on it screaming, read me, read me! Which to be honest, I never thought I would really be willing to do. My thoughts are usually a private matter, as well is my writing. I want to be a journalist though, so I have to start somewhere, right?

And of course a big part of being a journalist is actually writing. With my interest in said avenues of writing dwindling, I find that my output has gone with it. So I really need to start tackling some subjects that I have an interest in actually talking about. This will hopefully get me writing, and get me used to doing it as frequently as I used to. Help me find that proverbial spark that has gone missing in the current stretch of my life.

As far as the journal thing goes, I doubt I will actually use this for that. While I am usually fairly content with my life, I'll admit the day to day is lacking in a certain element. Talking about it for paragraphs at a time wouldn't really generate any real interest. And I would prefer people not pretend that such a topic was interesting either. Instead, I'll use this little slice of data to practice and hone my craft to a degree. That means I'll be posting my thoughts on games, movies, music and other such things. With just a little bit of off topic ranting thrown in here and there. It's my blog, I'll do as I please!

Normally, this is where someone would ramble a little bit about themselves, in hopes of introducing themselves to any prospective readers. I'm going to save on that, as I imagine most of the people willing to read this already know me about as well as I'd allow a reader to. And this is really just intended as a sort of opener for the blog. You know the content, you know me, and hopefully my currently open schedule will allow me to post stuff on here, and help get me kicked back in to gear.