Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why Next-Gen Systems aren't really needed

The talk lately is all about Next-Gen, and there's a big flame war argument between people who are taking sides in the debate: Whether or not Next-Gen Systems are actually needed. Half say definitely, half say not. Here're my thoughts.

Excluding Graphical abilities, there's only a couple of major reasons that a new console is needed. The biggest one is System Memory. More System Memory means games can render more on screen at once, thus increasing the size of game worlds and technical capabilities. This can lead to increased techniques which can be advantageous to Creativity, but as I point out below, it's not automatic.

I don't believe that Next-Gen systems with more performance and graphical capabilities will make developers "more creative" as a lot of people tend to say, because that's just not true. Creativity is being able to create a fantastic story with gameplay that isn't just labeled "innovative" but immersive and unique, and having a more powerful platform isn't going to necessarily automatically translate into the ability to achieve that.

I also don't think that it's Developers who are intentionally or unwittingly making games that are basic and plain just because they do, it's because of the Publishers that games are so similar. When a Publisher sees a game take off, they become entranced with it and want to know how they can continue having the profits pour in, and in their eyes the way to do it is to stick to what's popular and nothing else. In my eyes, this is what leads to the downfall of creativity in video games.

It's also because with the current trend in gaming, mostly due to the economy, being slowed down, Publishers are less and less willing to gamble with millions of dollars on a new type of game as well as a new IP, which is why there's so many sequels and spin-offs and such.

Gamers don't seem to be too receptive to new games, sadly, especially ones that take the gaming experience in a new way. Games like Borderlands are great; they're a fun experience to have and if people enjoy it then that's great, because that's what video games are supposed to be: fun. But, I don't think a game like Borderlands 1 or 2 should be $60, because they're just not worth that much in my opinion. Maybe it's just the writer in me that is complaining, but I always value Story above all else.

There's no reason that anybody has to sacrifice story for the sake of gameplay, as a perfect example of that is Max Payne 3. Max Payne 3 has tremendous amounts of action and gunfighting, but it also has one of the greatest stories and narratives in a video game I've ever seen. The same goes for the Grand Theft Auto series, particularly GTA 4.

We all love eye-candy, myself included, and having better-looking games really is a cool thing, but regardless of how great something looks on the outside, it can still be disgusting on the inside. You can polish up a turd 'til you're blue in the face but it's still a turd.

I'm hoping with the Next-Gen systems that Publishers will shift focus away from gimmicky gizmos like Kinect and focus on real AAA games with epic gameplay and stories that last for hours and hours, but if history is any tale of the future I predict many of the games to become even more restricted as we move forward. Games will likely be shorter as attention spans shrink and Publishers push to release more after-thought content (Not DLC because it's not worthy of being called DLC) to bleed their games dry of any and all possible profits they can.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thoughts on Free-To-Play, AAA Titles and Vacation

Hey all, I was on vacation for most of August. Spent some time with family in Moscow and New York. I apologize for not getting on but I just needed to take a break. I'm back now, though, so let's get started.

The news has been buzzing with talk about EA's future goals (of which I've detailed on my blog months ago) finally being made public and the Assassin's Creed 3 director saying he thinks AAA games are dying out. Let's start with EA.

Electronic Arts

I've outlined in many previous posts about EA and what their future goals for gaming were long before the public was aware, and I'm hoping now that the news is out that people will start listening and realize the truth.

EA is banking on 100% Digital, that we all know already, as well as the Micro-transactions, aka Free-To-Play. Sadly, I think the Micro-Transaction/F2P model IS going to take off, mainly for Two (2) reasons:

1) While a lot of Hardcore Gamers won't buy into this, the vast majority are likely to give in if the base price is cheap and it becomes streamlined to purchase the extras on top.

2) Casual Gamers, or more specifically people who play games to kill some time, are definitely going to embrace this idea because they already have on the mobile devices.

I honestly don't think there is much that can be done to curtail this trend. The one and only thing that will completely fuck over Publishers like EA and Activision is if something happens that screws up the game or if the games they release are drastically stripped down to the point where the game becomes simply boring and, to be frank, sucks.

If EA/Activision don't shoot themselves in the foot over some mess up, I think people will embrace this idea, and that is extremely grim for the future of gaming.

So the moral of the story is DO NOT SUPPORT EA/ACTIVISION or any other Publisher that wants to infringe on the rights of Gamers.

AAA Titles

You've probably also read about the AC3 Director speaking about the future of AAA titles and how he thinks they're a dying breed. I couldn't possibly agree any more with him, he is completely right. There are Two (2) reasons that will help propel the industry into decline in the coming years.

1) The big publishers are pushing for F2P, as talked about above, so they can release content on Day 1 and over time to capitalize on increased profits.

2) The cost of Current-Gen and Next-Gen games is skyrocketing.

With respect to the cost of game projects, the Next-Gen systems are not going to help in reducing the overhead costs of producing games for said systems. Even if there are already set engines in place and certain criteria met beforehand, it's going to cost much much more to develop because people are going to be expecting outlandish visuals and High-Definition content.

When I say "High Definition" I don't just mean graphically, I mean HD in the sense of immersive sound, increased feature-sets, gameplay, content and more all wrapped in a big package with a pretty bow on top. As the levels of expectations increase, the price will follow suit. As stated above, I can see Publishers pushing Devs to be more adaptable (read: forced) to their thoughts and expectations of Next-Gen content, i.e. F2P.

This all spells the demise of AAA games as the mainstream. To be honest, though, I don't see this happening in the near future. AAA games will continue to be made for at least the next few years, if not 4-5 years, because they know there is money to be made in doing them. But, what I am trying to say is that as time goes on and budgets shrink and costs go up, games will start to lack even more content than they do now as Publishers try and push towards F2P to maximize profits.