Is the obsession with release dates, profit margins and online gaming destroying our enjoyment?

Is a deluge of online play destroying our video games industry? When I mosey on down to one of the high-street game retailers for my latest instalment of one of my favourite games, I am constantly disappointed by the longevity and development of modern games. Everything is geared for online multiplayer, while other features it seems, are forgotten. Even games which don’t really need online multiplayer; Assassins Creed, Red Dead Redemption, and Saints Row, to name a few that realistically don’t really need it, or particularly benefit from it, still have it for some reason.

The big dogs of game development such as Ubisoft etc, never seem to bother actually producing a decent game any more. Instead they prefer to just cash in on the multiplayer, DLC, and online elements. It’s summed up by THQ VP Danny Bilson quite nicely when he said “Like any game, if you have a great creative core to it, you just keep exploiting that core.” It promotes the thinking that you can just keep rehashing and regurgitating the same ideas no matter how stale they get, while not actually creating anything new. This thinking detracts from the game market in my opinion. When I spend £40 (or an average days wage) on a game I want forty pounds-worth of enjoyment. I don’t want 5 hours of rehashed last generation graphics and gameplay. I want new, I want gleaming; I want my money’s worth. Considering I’m asking this of multi-million pound game developers, I don’t think I’m asking too much of them to make a game worth the price. Considering today’s money tight times, £40 is enough to get you a good weeks shopping for two people, a years subscription to a magazine, it could pay for insurance for your console, or buy one new game. So as you can see, that one new game needs to be worth it.

If we backtrack a bit to the Metal Gear Solid series, we see what well produced games can really achieve. MGS2 was supposed to come out with the release of the PS2. Did it? No, because they held it back to iron out game flaws highlighted in Beta. Subsequently it was more than worth the wait. MGG3 didn’t just “cash in” on the previous titles, it offered something new and exciting, and probably the most immersive MGS experience yet. Why? Because Konami produced it to be so. They didn’t just rehash MGS2, and cash in on previous dynamics and ideas. They also didn’t spend all their time creating DLC and endless online padding. Built up from scratch with new characters and a new engrossing storyline, MGS broke cover late but was amazing.

But do modern game developers follow this ethic? It would appear not. Take the ever failing (its fans, not its financial margins) game series we see stacked up on the shelves just waiting to disappoint us. Driver: San Francisco being a prime example of just how quickly a new game can hit the second hand market at bargain prices, not a good sign (films that go straight to DVD generally suck…) Since ‘Driver: Parallel Lines’ it’s been 5 years, long enough to produce a more than decent competitor to the market…so you’d think. What do they offer that is new to their concepts, improvements on their game dynamics? Truthfully; very little. Call of Duty has pretty much been a marginally upgraded/reworked Modern Warfare for the last 4 years, Assassins Creed has followed the creed a little too closely if you ask me, as the last three games are barely distinguishable from each other in game play and story. Brink was just another indifferent shooter, forgotten as soon as it was released. Forza 4 should be called Forza v3.1 as after a few hours play it’s hard to tell the difference. NFS started out promisingly with NFS Underground 2 (2004!) and has gotten progressively less realistic/enjoyable and “commercial” in its bid for the biggest and best cars thrown together with the usual abandon after running far too long with the same old ideas. Saints Row reached its peak with SR2, and now feels like the life has been sucked out of the 3rd Street Saints and their world, by commercialism. Funnily enough the primary income of the ‘Saints’ is commercial in the fictitious world of SR3. The feeling of the Saints having “sold themselves out” in the game and lost their balls is sadly ironic.

Online play is a great experience, it’s fun and exciting, and it’s a big market and community. But don’t sacrifice offline game content and our pay cheque/pocket money for it. All that achieves is to alienate and irritate buyers who when they spend £40 expect a full game experience, not half developed rehash with the rest as “online multiplayer” and “DLC”. If developers insist in producing games primarily for online play (Battlefield 3, CoD MW3) then halve the shelf price, because fundamentally you are only getting half the game.

Half the game? Yes. Something that takes less than 6 hours to complete with ease is half a game, especially when you are playing something that has simply been re-tweaked for the fifth time. What are we paying for exactly? Alternately release the online content as DLC and use the extra time to make a whole game. So many reviews (other than ones endorsed by the developers) have complained about replay value, length of games, and lack of new content in 4/5 new releases these past few months. Even the CoD machine is feeling the bite of the gamers as MW3 was described as a “MW2 map-pack” by a number of people, and reviews also picked up on the underdevelopment of the game as a whole (shock/horror).

What has become of our games? The games industry spanning the big three (Xbox, PlayStation and PC) is worth billions of pounds. But I have observed that as profits grow in the video game market even given the shaky global economic climate; developers are rushing games out more and more, substituting a decent game experience for getting it on the shelves within a deadline with added DLC. The games industry just like any consumer based industry, is very competitive, with producers and developers fighting for contracts and ideas. But surely taking longer to produce one ground-breaking game that will secure a solid and long lived fan/income base is better than producing three half hearted offerings on time. Quality over quantity,….right? If we cast our minds back to before the onset of DLC and online multiplayer in console gaming, we notice that games were more complete (equally you had your dead fish, but you know what I mean). Because content that is now DLC was already included, and because online multiplayer hadn’t taken off, developers spent more time actually ‘developing’ the game experience for the players. DLC, seems to be a lazy man’s tool; ‘Oh we cant be bothered to write this and that into the game coding before production, so we’ll just make it downloadable’. Everything they either can’t be bothered to write into the game or couldn’t get in on time just gets dumped in the DLC bin for later. Many developers and producers claim these techniques as money saving and cost cutting. Considering a non-special edition game sells for £40 new on average, and you sell 20 million copies, plus years of second hand sales revenue from the likes of HMV, GAME, Game Station etc., it all makes a steady stream of capital for that one title. And no one is just running one title-you do the math. Then they tell us that that’s the best they can offer. They just keep driving the cash cow down our high streets and filling the shelves with what comes out of the back end of that cow (or bull to be specific) and the biggest problem? We just keep eating it up.

YARS encourages free speech, however the views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the site’s.