EA and Activision are ruining the gaming industry! They swallow up franchises and developers and sell watered-down titles with obvious cash sinks like DLC that should be in the base game. Whatever happened to good publishers that respected their customers? Games used to be built on creativity and inspiration. Now they’re just the same recycled crap!
This isn’t a direct quote from any particular corner of the internet but if you’ve made any attempt to discuss video games online it’s a sentiment you’re familiar with. Across the web there’s no shortage of people willing to take shots at corporations for ruining their favourite pastime and it’s hard not to agree with them. Back when gaming was young there was no shortage of innovative titles (and there still isn’t if you know where to look) but now we find ourselves inundated with derivative crap. What the hell happened? How can an industry built by geeks and thinkers be twisted into such a monstrosity? Why can’t companies simply listen to their fans?
First off, while the vocal minorities of the internet may seem to control the discourse, their endless diatribes that are strewn across endless forums say far less about a game than sales figures. For every dissatisfied customer who pours his soul into a post that details the horrible problems of a title there are usually ten who have never even discussed gaming on the internet. It’s a fairly new problem of Reality Not Being Realistic Enough (I’ll spare you the TV Tropes hyperlink because frankly you need to get some sleep). Message boards are a great place to discuss ideas and learn more about a subject, but they can become insular and closed off from reality. Take Battlefield 3′s premium service for example. The internet was on fire when this was announced and you would think EA was mining your credit card information to fund orphan killing death squads. The entire internet seemed to be against it yet the collective voices of criticism are a drop in the ocean of subscribers (1.3 million at last count). Sure you may not have bought it, but we did.
This brings me to my second point: this is exactly what we asked for. By ‘we’ I mean the bloated cultural hodgepodge we sprouted from. While you may be a unique little snowflake, you’ll inevitably become a part of the grey icy slush that constitutes the rest of humanity. Our entire outlook on the world comes from this slush. Art is the mirror that we hold up to this gravely mix of ice and dirt. It’s a reflection of our culture’s values and ideas. Consider that the next time you look at the state of video games in a negative light. Modern Warfare 3 is after all, the fastest selling piece of entertainment ever. It’s not like Activision managed to brainwash 6.5 million people. This is what the general public wanted. This is a reflection of the general video game market.
Look around you and tell me I’m wrong. Pressing ‘like’ on Facebook passes for activism. We have a love-hate relationship with reality television. Consumerism and vapidity infect every aspect of our culture. When you consider this, it’s really hard to blame major publishers for the state of modern gaming. Activision and EA are businesses at the end of the day. They aren’t looking to spark a new intellectual movement or change the dialog on hot-button issues. They’re trying to secure stable revenue for their shareholders. Given the shared culture of the Western world (Japan can play too though), the most obvious way to do that has been to create shallow, cinematic escapism. Well, that was the case for several years at least.
We’ve entered into a sort of transitional period in the world of gaming. Many of the folks at the Inaugural Baltimore Area Game Developers Beer Night were fascinated in the recent trend of decentralization in the gaming industry. Whether it’s born from a reactionary dissatisfaction with state of video games or it was carried over from the old standards of the industry, there’s a clear shift happening right now. We owe the recent surge in indie gaming to this change in the values of our little corner of culture. People have found the most effective tool in voicing their opinions to major publishers imaginable: their wallets. If you stop buying games that you don’t like then eventually developers are going to try to make something you do. Here I am telling you to be a little consumerist after that last paragraph.
While much of the modern world runs on money, there is still room for discussion. Not the masturbatory vitriol of closed off internet communities but rather the kind of discussion that pushes the dialog on video games further; the kind where you actually start talking about video games as a real artistic medium. How can we expect progress in the conversation when it’s carved up by cliques and insults? The self-imposed exile of nostalgic gamers longing for the return of thoughtful and original titles has run its course. Step out from your gated community and look at what intellectual isolationism has wrought.