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.
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.
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.
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|
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.