The video game industry needs to change. While it’s true that the existence of social media amplifies the negative aspects of anything, 2014 was a tumultuous year for our favorite pastime. GamerGate divided the press and their audience, microtransactions continued to jump the shark, and publishers released an absurd amount ofbroken games.
But it’s time to stop complaining and start instituting change, and it starts with everyone involved in the circle: Press, publishers, and gamers alike. Here’s what we need to do to improve our beloved industry in 2015.
#1: Deliver games that work on launch day.
This may seem obvious. Then again I’m still waiting forHalo: The Master Chief Collection — which released 3 weeks ago — to work properly. The frustration here is palpable, and I’ll wager a guess that it’s at the top of your list as well. There are two valid sides to this argument. One is that the age of connected consoles and a “day one patch” mentality has made game publishers complacent. The other is that it’s often impossible to foresee the technical problems that crop up when millions of people simultaneously enter your world. I get that.
Still, this level of brokenness wouldn’t stand in any other industry. Imagine buying a new KIA and discovering that your brakes don’t quite work as you pull out of the dealership. You don’t rationalize this by saying “I’ll just avoid stoplights and use the e-brake when I pull into the driveway. I’m sure they’ll fix it for me in a few weeks.” No, you immediately stop and demand that the dealer rectifies the problem. In other words, don’t tell me to enjoy a game’s single player portion while I wait for its multiplayer to work properly.
(Sidenote: Most gamers don’t cling daily to sites like HaloWaypoint or the Ubi Blog to notify them of weekly fixes, workarounds, and known issues. Mostgamers buy a broken game and are simply confused and angered that it doesn’t work.)
However, the blame can’t rest solely on the publishers. As consumers, we need to push back against these practices. Within hours (and before press was allowed to talk about it), it was obvious that a game like Assassin’s Creed Unity wasn’t ready to be released. Erik Kain argues that it’s a strong case for instituting video game recalls. He’s right, but as consumers we have the power to implement change. Speaking of that…
#2: No more pre-ordering
Pre-ordering used to be a way to guarantee “hot titles” on their release day. As a former Gamestop supervisor, I can tell you this was a commonly used argument to compel a customer to plunk down $5 toward a big release — so that it wouldn’t be sold out when they came to purchase it. Well folks, I’m sorry, but publishers like to make money as much as you love to play their games. Maybe not with consoles themselves, but scarcity isn’t something publishers are practicing when it comes to launch day.
Pre-orders are a different beast now. They reinforce the idea that content (sometimes trivial, sometimes substantial) can be plucked out of a game and used to incentivize consumers, who then inexplicably pay for a product that hasn’t been released yet. We’re effectively telling publishers “we preemptively approve of your potentially broken game, but here’s money anyway.” To use the car analogy again, it’s like giving the dealer your down payment 2 months before purchasing a vehicle, and then discovering that the brakes are bad andbeing completely ok with it…
I’m even going to take it a step further: Stop buying multiplayer-centric titles on launch week. It’s a long shot, but it may force developers and publishers into the realization that consumers deserve polished product that works out of the box. Again, it’s an unpopular opinion but I believe we’re the ones to blame.
#3: A public beta for every multiplayer game
As consumers, we have to start viewing Beta tests as personal investments into a post-launch hassle-free experience. While it’s thrilling to get an early hands-on snapshot of a highly anticipated game, we have to immediately stop treating them like rewards from publishers; like things to salivate over and actually buy or pre-order games to obtain. Betas are not a favor to you; they’re an aid for the developers.
Historically, Betas have served as server stress tests, to allow developers to anticipate disaster under heavy load. Sometimes they’re used to tweak gameplay and weapon balance prior to release. These are good things, but I’ll admit they can’t always prevent launch day (or week, or month) disasters. Case in point: Driveclub had a Beta, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection did not. Both games’ online functionality were crippled weeks after release. But as more and more games launch with the notion of seamless multiplayer — and the inherent connectivity problems — it’s time to expect a Beta period to test the waters.
#4: Less annualized sequels, more original IP
This is a tough one, I’ll admit it. And the burden for change is on both consumers and publishers. I can hear Reggie Fils Aime’s voice in my head right now, fromNintendo's last live E3 appearance: “You want what you’ve always wanted, but you also want something new. You want to play things that look like they always have, but you want the buzz of the new.” Hell, that’s basically Nintendo’s Modus Operandi, but they’re not force-feeding us Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, andThe Legend of Zelda every year.
Another quote comes to mind: “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” Certain annualized franchises likeCall of Duty have paid the price for their yearly iterations with a continued decline in sales. And hey, some franchises are like our gaming comfort food. Winter staples where we find happiness and familiarity. But some of these annual releases need to go back to the drawing board.
Think about the most critically acclaimed games of the year: Shadow of Mordor (new IP), Dragon Age Inquisition (not a yearly franchise), Grand Theft Auto Vfor XB1 and PS4 (not a yearly franchise), Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Shovel Night, Dark Souls II, etc. Games like Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, Call of Duty, even Skylanders (and, I suspect, Destiny) all need to recognize when they’ve run out of steam, take a year off, and find inspiration to wow us.
#5: Give us a compelling reason to embrace digital downloads
We should be neck deep bathing in a digital revolution by this point. Instead we’re questioning why the simplest things like download speed and installation progress details aren’t available for our console-based digital downloads, and why half the time these downloads/installs are corrupted or altogether impossibly slow.
But the biggest problem is the price. Publishers and platform holders should be rewarding their customers for buying digital. That means not charging the same price as a physical package, usually $59.99. Give us 5 bucks off! There’s no manufacturing cost, no transportation cost, and no possibility of flipping the game used back to Amazon or Gamestop. Make it worth our bandwidth, our time, and our money.
#6: Ditch the “one week mental shelf life” of video games
“I want a gaming industry and press that value the long-term post-launch life of a game, that reflects thoughtfulness instead of playing to hype inflation and the treatment of games as disposable diversion.” ~Kristen Maxwell via Facebook.
This one’s not on publishers at all. It’s on us: the press, our audience, and the gaming community. Video games shouldn’t be flavors of the week. and I always question how much of the experience we’re missing by feeling compelled to move on to the next big thing, especially during the insanity that is the holiday release season. (We blame publishers for that dense release schedule, but shouldn’t we also blame ourselves for not exercising self control and patience?)
There’s no hiding behind this one. The press (that’s me) participates in a news cycle that emphasizes, endorses, and perpetuates this mentality. Chalk some of that up to the necessity of moving from one review to the next, and anticipating what our audience wants to read based on a number of factors and metrics. But it doesn’t change the fact that we’re not savoring our games anymore. Everyone involved in the industry — especially press — needs to treat a game review asthe beginning of the conversation, not the final word.
All year the resounding theme has been “here’s what’s wrong with the gaming industry.” Let’s spend 2015 fixing it. What are some things you’d like to see change next year? Sound off in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter.