Vision, Budgets and Gaming

What makes a game? Whoever has played a game, and perhaps still plays one, has at times asked themselves this question. Even if you think you are not a gamer, you might be one in disguise.

How does that work?

Well, let’s not get to the controllers just yet; let us take a look at the options.

Is it a puzzle?

On many systems, whether PC’s with or without Facebook, on a tablet or on your mobile. It is possible that you have played Sudoku! I have seen a truckload of them and two stand out. First for the iPad there is Finger Arts Sudoku, which is a massive piece of fun and it is all for free. The game is pretty much a perfect version. The second one to mention is Platinum Sudoku on the Nintendo DS. The game went cheap for around $20 and has hundreds of Sudoku’s per level and as you go along, you unlock sounds, backgrounds and so on. Once all have been done, you unlock a few million additional puzzles, Sudoku heaven in two titles.

Is it Nostalgia?

Again, tablets, PC’s and Consoles have a host of games that are revamps from older computers. Ascendancy, Railroad tycoon, X-Com, the list goes on and many are free through Abandoneware some cost just a few dollars through the Apple store or Google play. They can free your mind from several places and some parts can keep you busy for a while. It is as simple as eating pancakes.

So why these jumps?

Well, I had to make a few changes in my life and as such I missed out on a few games as my consoles remain off line for a few months, which means, no Destiny for little poor old me. Yet, is that the case? I got a link to the ‘Angry Joe Show’ who had his vision on Destiny, the 500 million budgeted cash cow for Bungie. The reviews were ranging from 60%-80%, with one overly high one. This is not good, for a game implied to be budgeted at half a billion; you would expect a 90% plus rating.

So what did Angry Joe state?

  1. Lack of competent story telling
  2. Repetitive mission design
  3. Frustrating random loot

Important is that many critics have said similar things on the game. So how come it is such a success?

Well, there are two parts, the first, the marketing was top notch, they created interest and they kept interest levels high, without overhyping, which is reason that the interest stayed. Another side is that if grinding multiplayer games are your thing, then you are fine. Yet, how are these things any good?

They are not!

It seems that we are confronted with a new level of revenue based marketed games, however the overall quality of the games is going down fast, as well as the overall amount of gaming hours. Some state that the Unity main mission can be completed in 15 hours. I finished Infamous Second son in a little over 12 hours, this comes down to a one weekend of gaming, how can that be a decent investment of gaming fun for anyone? I stated issues with Black Flag, now Destiny seems to up the ante, which gives us pause to what comes next. That can be seen in several ways.

The truly big games for Next Gen, like Destiny and Elder Scrolls online are now falling because the outrage is getting stronger fast. So is making games so hard? No! it is not, for the right person, because a real visionary can create something that is desired for decades, like for example the Diablo series, and even though Elder Scrolls Online are getting a fair share of the winds of contempt, their previous games (Oblivion and Skyrim) are still regarded as top notch, even with the glitches.

When we see houses throwing a massive amount of money into something, the image is growing that things are becoming dubious. There is however an issue with that statement. Although GTA-V is not my game, it is a massive success; the game even broke the billion dollar record, which is as far as I know the only game to ever achieve that within the first week of release. There are other independent successes like Minecraft, yet we see now that Destiny made the revenue and the profit by remaining mediocre. So is it the games, or the players?

To be honest, I am not sure that the answer is that easy, for one, Destiny is almost unique on Nextgen. Xbox one has Titanfall, but the PS4 did not have anything like that (referring to multiplayer slaughtering). This skews the interest of the people. Elder Scrolls Online is also feeling the brunt in another direction. When the overall consensus is “I wish this game would’ve turned out better, but everything I read so far has told me to not even bother“, as one player stated it to be, you know that you a looking at a possible 200 million fiasco. This is in itself odd, because Oblivion and Skyrim redefined RPG gaming in a massive way. True, Skyrim is loaded with ‘glitches’ but the storylines can be played and the main story is great too. It is only when you decide to stay in Skyrim and make your character your lives work; it is then that the issues start piling up. However, as I have stated it before, Skyrim is a massive step forwards from Oblivion, which was a large leap from Morrowind, So the makers have given us more in a large way. This gives us the worry, why did they go MMORPG, when the single player games are so fulfilling.

The Angry Joe show also stated some issues on ESO. It is not unlike issues we see in several games. On top of that, one race is only there available if you buy the limited edition; in addition, it is monthly based, so the $100 comes with an additional $15 a month, with an additional $15 for a month zero payment (to set up your monthly payments). So in NextGen consoles, you will lose out on $120 before you got the first hour in. Now, let’s be fair, we need to pay, as we do with every game, but the reviews from several sources show an average game. For example you could be watching a group of 15 men try to charge whilst watching the game crash as the ESO server went down. These things happen in MMO games, yet we don’t see this with Blizzard games. And as money gets, you get 1 gold piece per kill and 2 gold pieces per boss. It seems entirely weird as a horse costs well over 17,000 gold pieces. You do get a horse with the limited edition that is $20 more expensive. So as we see the greed factor creep into the new games, we should worry on how gaming goes. Angry Joe talks a good story, brings the issues nicely with a few theatrics, so seek his views out in YouTube (seek: ‘angry Joe review’), he has published several interesting reviews.

There is trend that we now see growing, which could end gaming as the joy it has been for over 30 years.

What will come next? This is at the core of the issues we face, some (me included to some degree), as Microsoft bought Minecraft for 2.5 billion, I am worried about what they will do to it next. There is no indication of what they have in mind, but Microsoft tends to be revenue driven, which means that Minecraft will be ‘upgraded’ to ensure no less than 5 billion in revenue, which makes me slightly worried on how they will do this.

Yet, things are not truly covered in darkness yet, however, that revelations will also come with another revelation that will not make you happy. I have spoken to some degree on an upcoming game that seems to be the next real game we all need to look for. The title ‘No Man’s Sky’ is all about newness, originality and sandbox gaming, all rolled into one massive achievement. The important part of all this is the worrying part. You see, like Minecraft, this game is also an achievement by an independent developer.

So as we look at the set developers like EA and Ubisoft, we see that they have not improved their gameplay for some time now. One review on NHL15 wrote “NHL 15 is a disappointment. It lays a good foundation for the future with enhanced physics and an improved presentation, but it’s still mostly potential“, I saw FIFA15 which looks nice, but I am not a soccer fan. Games Radar stated this on FIFA15: “This year FIFA 15 pulls off a difficult trick. Not only is the game closer to a TV-style broadcast than ever, but the experience is better than FIFA’s been in years“, so it seems that there is goodness coming from EA, yet is that enough? Sports games have their own following and as such for THEM there should be a decent quality game to keep them happy, whether it is NBA, NFL, NHL or FIFA. EA is bigger than just the sports section, however in that regard; EA has remained quiet (and as such avoided ugly hypes).

However 2015 should see the light of a new Mass Effect, even though loathed by a fair share of fans, Mass Effect 3 had several good sides, amongst them the best multi player side I have ever played. Mass Effect could be the next big thing, but time will tell, so I will not add to the ‘gossip’ and ‘rumour’ fire at present.

Ubisoft has a few options, but is in my view lacking as Watchdogs became a hyped success. It was graphically amazing, yet in the core a mundane game like AC1 was. This does not make it a bad game, but it could be the mind blowing start not unlike AC2 became, yet Watchdogs one started from a much better place than AC1, so that future could be promising. If you wonder how it helps speculating on this, then I have no real answer to that. Yet, consider that these are also the questions asked in Forbes magazine as gaming is now truly big business with projected revenues in 2014 surpassing 81 billion.

So, what is the issue?

It is vision!

Gaming is about vision; those who have it bring us all the greatest games. In an age where we need to turn around every dollar, we tend to focus on the true innovation. The even nicer thing is that fun and quality gaming does not need to cost $100-$150. Finger Arts and Abandoneware have proven that. There is a clear indication that the larger developers lack vision to a growing extent, which makes for several issues down the track. The Nextgen systems are still lacking a decent pool of really good games almost a year after its initial release. This should currently regarded as a disappointment compared to the previous versions of consoles, especially as we saw Sony announce ‘This is for the players!’ and Microsoft with ‘Everything you can imagine, Plus a few things you can’t’, neither have delivered so far. So, is my view that there are issues and it is my personal opinion that this feels like a marketing machine in overdrive whilst the rest of these companies cannot keep up, my evidence? Look at the initial Nextgen Top 10 as it was published on June 17th 2013, on average 22 weeks before the consoles were released.

  1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  2. Quantum Break
  3. Final Fantasy XV
  4. The Crew
  5. Destiny
  6. Knack
  7. Titanfall
  8. Watch Dogs
  9. Project Spark.
  10. Tom Clancy’s The Division

Out of these 10, 2 made the release date, one was 6 months late, the rest has not been released at present and they will not come until 2015, so we see an announcement that is off by 75% (they get 5% penalty for Watchdogs). Something this far off is pretty unheard of. It views as the hype from Microsoft and Sony to get console sales high and then end up skipping out on the games (to some extent). I must state that those with PlayStation Plus were given a barrage of games, free to download. Some were decent, 1-2 were really nice, which means that some was done, but was it an acceptable step?

What will happen next?

I think that we need re-evaluate the way we look at the gaming industry and more important on how those within it market their customers. In their defence, these gamers are like a group of hungry hyenas, so feeding them any news is at times the only way for marketeers to stay alive. Yet all of this is not done yet and we must all take a long hard look at what was, what is and what should be.

Budgets

There is no denying that games will be bigger and bigger budgeted, yet consider that these games, offering less than 20 hours are closing on the quester billion to develop. Yet, we see in Minecraft that it can be done in other ways, there are more games. Elite, remade from the 1984 edition, originally created to fit a 48Kb home computer. Good games are not expensive and true vision is priceless! That part is what we have seen more than once, if we take a few of the older really good games and their cost we see Ultima VII: The Black Gate – $US1 million (1992), System Shock 2 – $US1.7 million (1999), Resident Evil 2 $US1 million (1999), Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter – $US18 million (2006), BioShock – $US15 million (2007), God of War III – $US44 million (2010). So when we see Unity, Infamous: Second Son with their massive budgets, we see the trade off, where the larger players throw money to hide vision and to some extent they are getting more than just an even payment. It is there where my issue with Gamespot and their ‘closeness’ to Ubisoft becomes an issue. How can we get honest reviews whilst the makers of games are stacking the deck for mere profit? Independent review is the only way to see what is good, what is worth the money and what is bad. How can the consumer get the right information?

This is at the heart of the matter, I would like to solve the lack of vision problem, but that lies with the makers of games. They have options, yet are they willing to learn? Even if they are willing to accept that they are no longer visionaries, not unlike Steve Jobs, there is a chance that they can spot it when they see it. The question then becomes will they protect the future of gaming.

 

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