For as long as I can remember, I was infatuated with video games. At the tender age of two I got my first console (an NES) along with a couple of games that I had a real hard time putting down. As the years went on I earned a deeper and deeper appreciation for the medium, the industry and of course the content creators. But in more recent years, new business models began permeating the world of gaming, which hadn’t changed much since in my (almost) thirty years of gaming. Words like microtransactions, DLC, patches and free-to-start became common parts of the gamer’s lexicon at the same time that games got bigger and bigger, to the point of muscling out smaller developers from the industry. Maybe its the nostalgia talking, a longing for a simpler time, but I really do think classic gaming beats what we have today.
Now I don’t want to just throw modern gaming under the bus, as some of the best games I’ve ever played have coming out in the past couple of years. And despite sometimes being full of the things I lamented in the opening paragraph of this article these games were also much more cinematic, offered deeper mechanics and allowed a truer expression of the artists’ vision than what was possible on 8, 16, 32 and 64-bit systems. And while I will always prefer playing older games, I also wouldn’t trade modern experiences away just to have more ‘retro’ themed games, I just wish they wouldn’t make it so hard to enjoy them without feeling like an open wallet for greedy executives.
And that’s really the thing that ticks me off the most. Gaming is already an expensive hobby. A new console costs upwards of $300, retail games are pushing $80 and controller prices seem to shoot up every generation, so to add in post-purchase add-ons in the way of DLC seems like nickel and diming the consumer. Back in the day, when you bought a game, that was it. It wasn’t going to get new content because it just couldn’t on the consoles of the time. And if you played on a PC, Expansions Packs were often time as big (or almost as big) as the original game itself, and gave you more, meaningful content, for a reasonable price. Today it’s not uncommon to get a single (one, uno, un) new character in a fighting game (as an example) for nearly $10! The value to content ratio has been in steady decline over the past decade (since consoles went online in earnest) to the point where almost all new content/expansion to a game has to be priced and sold to the consumer as an optional add-on.
Thankfully, these add-ons are definitely all optional and while you might be at a disadvantage if your opponent is using the DLC you are not forced to pay for it if you don’t want to. However all this extra revenue has been a boon for major corporations with giant payrolls, however it’s also led to the death of the mid-tier game developer/publisher industry with companies like Majesco, THQ, Acclaim and Junction Point all going belly up in the last few years, muscled out of the industry by games with bloated budgets, for both development and marketing. And with the prevalence of DLC these games remain relevant for a long time, making it hard for players to justify investing in new experiences.
Which brings me to my final point. Games these days, especially the major AAA releases are basically all platforms in their own right. Games like Destiny, Overwatch and Smash Bros. are meant to be played for years and expanded upon with new content on a regular basis. This leads to a new dilemma for today’s players ‘do I invest time in multiple titles to play or do I put more money into this game that keeps getting content?’. And because of the permanence of the game’s mentioned above a lot of smaller, more insulated and focused games tend to get overlooked, like the ones made by the companies I mentioned above.
So all this to say, I like classic gaming more because its simpler and allows for companies, both big and small to thrive. Maybe its the nostalgia talking but the mid-90’s and early 2000’s definitely like more creative and exciting times to be a gamer. Oh sure, you didn’t have a plethora of online options, modes and settings and the cinematic quality was lesser but the focus being more on the experience than a more ‘meta-game’ heavy focused was nice. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this point but I did want to take a moment and remember how we got here and maybe get the gears turning to how we could make modern gaming better.