Friday, 10 February 2012

Why The Games Industry Needs To Die

[NOTE: This article contains spoilers for the Gears of War series, Call of Duty series and the Mass Effect series. Do not complain bitterly about random spoilers because I am warning you now.]

The games industry needs to die. It needs to be the Necromorph that meets Isaac Clarke's boot repeatedly via its skull. It needs to be the random mook that falls to the Master Chief's gunfire. Dare I say, it needs to be the Goomba that Mario stomps on?

Now that your attention is grabbed by that opening statement, I'm going to attempt to clarify why the games industry needs to die. The main reason is so that it can be reborn into a better form, one that actually functions well. I've been a gamer for 20 years now, and to be honest, these should be the best days of gaming, what with the ridiculously realistic graphics, the amazing soundtracks that sweep you away to new heights of pleasure, and the stories present in them should be epically written masterpieces after developers have had years to hone their craft.

But these aren't the best days.

The SOPA issue, and a few other issues such as GAME potentially going bankrupt, have brought forth the ugly side of gaming. The side that doesn't care about people any more, and just sees us all as cash machines to be drained dry. Activision, EA, Square-Enix, hell practically all of the big games developers just don't seem to care any more about making a good game, they just want to make something that they can half-ass and know that you will pay good money for it. And unfortunately, due to both the widening of the market where everyone now seems to be a gamer and the introduction of the internet, they can get away with this. Why the internet? Because now they don't have to spend months or years testing a game for bugs, they can rush it and throw it out there and patch it up whenever someone breaks the game too much. See all the care package glitches in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3. They patch it but people still find a way around it.

I'm not saying that glitches are a new thing, hell I used to glitch Pokemon Red to get infinite rare candies, but at least that was really only affecting me, given that I never played with others on it. When stupid shit like the care package glitch, to name one example, starts to affect my online play because the developers are too lazy to test the game for bugs, then in theory, I should be able to return my game because it's not fit for sale. But one person returning a game won't do anything really, because the new thing of using the people who rush out and buy a game on day 1 as beta testers is apparently cheaper than getting actual testers in to do a job.

Go back to the late 90s for a second, I'll meet you there in my DeLorean. Good, we all here in 1998? Remember back in the winter of 1998 when the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released? Do we all remember how it kept getting pushed back and back throughout the years, and had been in development since 1995? Do we remember that it actually got properly tested and that there weren't many glitches in it, and the few glitches that were in it didn't ruin the game play experience? Do we remember FFVII and FFVIII being released the year before and the year after Ocarina of Time respectively? Do we remember how time and effort was spent on them and the sense of wanting to tell a story was present in them?

Can we now compare and contrast that to the big games of today. The Call of Duty series. The Gears of War series. The current incarnation of the Final Fantasy series. Resident Evil nowadays. The story seems to be tacked on as an afterthought for most of these games. Apart from a graphics change and the setting of one of the games, the last couple of Call of Duty games are clones of each other practically, and are really, really poorly written stories. They could have had so much good story writing, given that the first Modern Warfare game really was revolutionary for its time, and was genuinely shocking. Same with Mass Effect 1 with the Virmire choice where you had the chance to save only one of your squadmates and not the other, although given that Mass Effect is a Bioware series, it has good writing anyway and is exempt. The Halo series, although massively clichéd, is written in such a way that the clichés add to it, not detract from it.

I will freely admit the Resident Evil series has never had the best storytelling or voice acting, but at least it has tried. Gears of War however, hasn't even tried to tell a good story. It's a case of “Here are the enemy, they are invading, kill them.” It was around the end of Gears of War 2 that I actually began to sympathise with the Locust, after seeing how desperate they were getting with the Lambent civil war going on and what measures they were prepared to go to in order to survive. That's really not a good thing when you think about it. You're supposed to make the player root for the protagonist, not make them hate the protagonist and start wondering if we can't work something out with the antagonists.

Oh, and speaking of Gears of War, the third game in the series has what I call Call of Duty syndrome in it. Put simply, CoD syndrome is this: A game has to include a shocking moment in it that will make the player go wow. It comes about from the first Modern Warfare game, which featured the player character being nuked, for those who don't know. It was, and still is, genuinely shocking. However, it seems that developers have gone “Modern Warfare made lots of money, people are talking about the nuke, let's do something similar to make lots of money”, and in Gears of War, the CoD syndrome moment comes about with Dom's death. I could see what the developers were trying to do, given that Dom has been your partner throughout all the games, and that it was supposed to be shocking, them killing him off.

But it really wasn't. Because it was so badly written, it came off as a pointless death, one that could have easily been avoided and one that was telegraphed for miles beforehand. And yet, gamers are eager to lap up the bad writing. Compare and contrast Gears of War to Mass Effect 2. Because of the writing of the story actually making you feel invested, if you messed up and got people killed, it actually had an impact beyond “Well, Tali's dead, time to swap to Legion for all my hacking skills”. If you had been romancing Tali, then shit, you've just lost your girlfriend and she ain't coming back. Garrus dead? Damn, no more deadpan snarker covering your back. Samara just got wiped out? No more peaceful serenity in the battlefield for you.

My other major complaint about the industry is the money issue. I get that making games costs money. I get that selling games also costs money, and that developers have to make money somehow. As much as my ranting above about how games are made nowadays, I get that they make a profit for the company, I just wish that they were better developed and didn't cater for the lowest common denominator and that I was getting more bang for my buck. But reading this quote from THQ designer Jameson Durall, which I've put below, just leaves me shaking my head in disbelief.

“I know that some will say I'm not considering the retail games stores and the impact something like this would have on them...but remember they were doing fine well before the Used Games market became such a staple of their business. The truth is, they aren't concerned with how this business is affecting us so why should I care how these changes will affect them?”

By making that statement, he is showing his own ignorance of the situation. Society changes, and businesses need to adapt in order to keep making a profit. Game retail stores adapted when they saw where the big bucks were, in the form of pre-owned games, and made money. And yet, according to Durall, they shouldn't attempt to make money. I'm not saying that game retail stores are paragons compared to developers, because both are just as greedy as each other nowadays, but at least the retail stores have adapted to the changes in society. It seems to me that developers are stuck in this mindset of not being able to make games cheaply and are complaining bitterly that they should be making more money from their product.

This is why the games industry needs to die. It needs to be taught a very valuable lesson – that it needs to adapt in order to survive. Everything else on this planet does it, and the games industry should be no exception to this rule. It needs to die and be reborn in a decent world where piracy is not blamed for games not doing well, where politicians and lawyers and fear-mongers can use it as a scapegoat whenever some nutter goes on a rampage despite being declared mentally unstable and it's discovered that he had a copy of Manhunt or some other game in his possession. It needs to die so we can get rid of the endless clones that are churned out to make money alone, so we can get some decent creativity back in the industry during its rebirth and go back to days when games were for the gamer.

Who wants to join me in an Isaac Clarke-style headstomp to the games industry?

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