The state of videogames today is abysmal. While the gaming industry has always been dominated by commercial concerns, there still remained room for development teams to express themselves and their love for the medium. This is no longer the case on any meaningful scale. The profit motive has come to dominate in every aspect of game development with publishers routinely participating in hostile, anti-consumer practices and unethical behavior present in every aspect of the industry. The result is a standard of quality so unreliable, and general expectation of consumer exploitation so high, the only historical comparison is the period immediately preceding the Videogame Crash of 1983.
It's clear, too, that the industry's degrading view of its consumers extends to the medium of videogames itself. While hobbyists have always demonstrated a deep respect and love for the medium, the industry's largest publishers make a routine habit of destroying beloved studios and franchises for momentary profits, and regularly employ anti-game practices that limit their ability to be enjoyed in the long term. The short-term perspective of the industry has lead to even flagship titles being treated as throwaways without lasting value, designed with an expected lifespan of a single generation in mind. Their marketing is instilled with this perspective, primarily emphasizing graphical upgrades as the key selling point, despite the fact they'll become outdated in a few years, while the games themselves remain uninnovative, each generation releasing and re-releasing the same titles in different skins.
The truth is, the technical returns of hardware are stagnating. In the past, the creative vision of developers was highly constrained by hardware capabilities before any other concerns, but this is no longer the case. The technology is improving, but the games are only getting prettier, not more complex, not better.
Is "pretty" really the reason we play videogames? Does it really justify being trapped on this hardware treadmill? How many times will we have to invest in system upgrades just to keep playing the same game? And really, why should we?
Against New Games
1. Good Graphics Are Unimportant
- In practice, good graphics means whatever is closest to photorealism today. It's a relative, moving standard that becomes outdated every generation: yesterday's realism is today's eyesore.
- Photorealistic graphics is primarily a marketing gimmick. It’s used to sell every new generation of hardware, and important enough that the industry often resorts to deceptive advertising.
- The technical quality of graphics has little influence on the actual experience of play. The visual aspect of the game experience is largely affected by its art design, not its graphical standard.
- Emphasizing photorealism is a short-term decision. It looks good only in the current generation, but ages poorly in comparison to stylized or abstracted visuals.
- Achieving the contemporary standard of photorealism is expensive. The drive for visual quality is the primary factor raising the cost of game development. The result is that game companies experience tighter profit margins and are forced to limit design decisions to the market conservative.
2. The Hardware Treadmill Is Unnecessary
- The hardware benefits to technical complexity have plateaued. Development will hit other ceilings long before they do a hardware limitation.
- Consumers are forced to upgrade their hardware every generation to continue playing new products, but this hardware treadmill does nothing to contribute to gameplay. The continuously rising hardware standard now exists entirely to support every generation's new graphical standard.
- Developers could optimize for lower minimum hardware requirements and provide extensive end-user graphics configurability, but they choose not to, forcing everyone to stay on the hardware treadmill to continue playing new games. The exceptions prove the rule: Valve, Blizzard and Croteam are studios well-known for their highly optimized releases.
3. Harmful Practices Have Become Industry Standard
- The industry as a whole increasingly employs consumer-hostile practices in its publication and distribution, such as:
artificial exclusivity, centralized multiplayer servers, DRM, exclusive content and pre-order bonuses, limited backwards compatibility, Hostility to Modding, no LAN multiplayer, no split-screen, console online subscriptions, paid journalism, P2W and microtranscation models, paid DLC, subscription releases or seasonal passes and vendor lock-in.
- Even the indie industry, which has heavily commercialized over the last decade, has begun to adopt some questionable practices, such as:
closed source & non-free software, early access, crowdfunding and paywalled content. While not as bad as the mainstream industry, they worringly shift risks onto their fanbases and diminish the community spirit of indie game development.
- It is uncomfortable to participate in and unethical to support this industry, and it will only change when consumers as a group reject it.
4. Good Games Don’t Age
- Good game design is eternal. The best games of the past are all just as rewarding to play today as they were at their release. This is evidenced by the common practice of rereleasing older games.
- Innovation in game design is less and less tied to innovation in technology. Any game made today could easily have been made 10 years ago once we discount graphics.
- In the long-term, games are evaluated on the merits of their game design, while the technical achievement of their graphics become irrelevant.
- The near-complete historical library of video games is readily accessible through emulation. A lifetime isn't enough to exhaust the long list of highly regarded games.
- The majority of games of every generation will be forgettable, and conversely, only the worthwhile ones will be remembered. There is little reason to bother sifting through today's trash when you can play yesterday's gems.
1. Reject graphical quality as an influence on your interpretation of a game’s value.
2. Reject any game that cannot be played on inexpensive hardware.
3. Reject any game that is designed or released with harmful practices.
4. Configure your system(s) to make full use of the emulation options available.
5. Consider all new games released today alongside all games released in the past, not only in the isolated context of their own generation.
6. Consider all new games released today from a long-term perspective. Ask yourself: In 20 years, would I choose to play this game, or the 40 year old one?