You Made Me Do This!
...And by "this" I mean a return to tabletop gaming. Oh, and by "you" I mean you lousy game developers. Okay, that might be a bit harsh, but I am angry. Very angry. You have killed PC gaming for me.
Kaput. Finished. Done. I just can't take anymore of the slop being shoveled my way. And I certainly tried to put up with it for as long as possible. I mean, just take a look at this blog, one of my many, many blogs, where I desperately tried to put lipstick on a pig. But in the final analysis it has proven to be all for naught. PC gaming, video gaming - whatever you want to call it, - is now dead to me. For the time being, anyway.
I think this realization really hit home with the spectacular launch fiasco that was X: Rebirth. I mean, here we had a dedicated PC game developer, one beloved by fans around the world, that released what could be described as an awful and incomplete console port. This fiasco was made all the more horrendous by the fact that the devs, Egosoft, have been proudly beating their chest that this game has been in development for over seven years. SEVEN YEARS. And what do we get? A console game in a late alpha stage. At best. (Good summation here)
Of course, this was just the latest PC launch fiasco. Who can forget that other launch fiasco from another dedicated PC dev, Creative Assembly? Oh yes, Total War: Rome 2 arrived in a condition that at best could be described as embarrassing for such a major dev. Maybe not alpha bad, but certainly early beta bad. (Good summation here)
Even the cross-platform titles have been of sub-par quality. This time we can add DICE to the List of Shame as Battlefield 4 arrived as another paid beta, filled with bugs, glitches, and crash-to-desktop errors galore. For this I am expected to pay a premium price, not once but twice if you want to be part of the Battlefield Premium club? Does that include premium CTDs?
The we have Call of Duty: Ghosts. Okay, most PC gamers didn't really expect Activision to keep their word about giving the PC version the proper love and support it deserved (and they didn't - good summation here), but even the console version has gone over like a lead balloon (I know it flopped because this is the first CoD where I didn't get bombarded with press releases touting how many sales records were broken. Not even a single press release. Ouch!). I mean, when even Activision is phoning it in for their billion dollar flagship franchise, you know things are really bad.
In the words of the great Bob Grant, "It is sick out there and getting sicker." Such is the state of video games. And I finding this state of gaming to be simply intolerable for a variety of reasons:
- It is Becoming a Disreputable Industry: In the wake of the X: Rebirth fiasco, lots of angry gamers were making posts comparing the act of selling that game in its broken condition to a car manufacturer knowingly selling a car without a functioning engine. There is more than a little truth to this popular gaming meme despite the vast differences between manufacturing an automobile, and writing hundreds of thousands of lines of code across multiple platforms. But even giving game devs that coding benefit of the doubt there is little justification for devs/publishers knowingly selling products that are nowhere near complete, nor functioning as designed. The sad truth is that game devs and publishers are just shoveling this stuff out there regardless of condition with the idea of taking the money now and delivering the finished product later. This has clearly become an accepted industry practice, one made worse by the even more loathsome practice of "pre-order" traps set for the consumer (why even wait for a release date to start raking in the ill-gotten gains from a product you know isn't ready for prine time?). This is inexcusable, frankly, especially in this day and age where gamers have demonstrated their willingness to tolerate missed launch dates for more polish, not to mention the availability of the somewhat more ethical trend of paid "early access" where gamers are warned about the buggy state of a game prior to their purchase. Simply, what is going on with game development is bordering on the criminal as far as I am concerned. Again, that car metaphor: if, say, Kerberos Studios' dreadful Sword of the Stars 2 was an actual car, it would have been even money that some attorney general would have filed a criminal complaint against that company. Such rotten, anti-consumer behavior is only tolerated in gaming...for some reason. Maybe we need more lawyers in our ranks....
- Declining Review Scores from Gamers: Total War: Rome 2: 3.8; Call of Duty: Ghosts: 1.8; X: Rebirth: 3.3; Battlefield 4: 6.2 SimCity V: 2.1. Those are the user Metacritic scores for some recent, high profile titles. Granted, Metacritic can be the grouchiest of grouchy gamer review sites - largely because outraged consumers get to vent alongside the more forgiving professional reviewers - but I have found the general thrust of the user scores to be accurate. With that in mind, of the five titles I listed, all from formerly beloved game developers, every one has ranked somewhere between abysmal to mediocre. I mean, once upon a time all of the above titles would have been given the special "ridicule review" treatment from gaming magazines for such low scores (remember those early days where professional game reviewers would have a ball tearing apart such shameful games?)! Just what does it say about the contemporary art of game design, even amongst AAA studios, when their flagship franchises are getting bargain bin scores? Nothing good, that's for sure.
- "Iteration not Innovation": You know all those unwanted sequels that are being churned out year after year? This is why. "Iteration not Innovation" has been the openly proclaimed design philosophy amongst game developers and publishers for some time now.. In other words, don't take a risk and make something fresh, rather just take your previous title and incorporate a few new bells and whistles, and sell what is basically the same product for full price again. Why would they do this? Because like with Hollywood movies, the cost of making a game has increased exponentially, causing both devs and publishers to become risk adverse. Better to stick to an established franchise than try to make a new one. Hence, more of the same, year after year. Sad. Was it really that long ago when there were more fresh and imaginative titles to play than there was time in the day? I guess those days are now over....
- Mediocre Kickstarters: I realize what I am going to say next is going to be somewhat controversial, but I have yet to see anything truly good to come out of the Kickstarter trend. Don't get me wrong: there have been lots of great ideas funded via Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced funding methods, but so far what we have received out the other end has been merely "okay" at best (Strike Suit Zero & Endless Space come to mind), and downright forgettable at worst. Equally concerning to me is the fact that many of these indie projects have adopted the practice of the bigger studios by papering over lackluster launches with the promise of more content and patches post-release - in other words, "we'll fix it later!" but admittedly with better intentions. And as for the mega-funded indie projects like Star Citizen, well I am truly hoping for the best with games that are blessed with such a rabid and charitable fan-base, but I have to ask: what makes you think you can make a great game just by throwing money at it? Isn't that exactly how the federal government conducts business? I think we know the end result of such a financial strategy: mediocre results and lots of wasted cash. Why would gaming be different? Prove me wrong, Star Citizen....
- Poisonous Multiplayer Communities: I didn't incorporate it into this list, but one of the other sins of modern game design is how high handed many developers are: "we're making it, and you're going to buy it" seems to be their philosophy. In other words, devs have shown that they really don't care what you want, just what they want. This is particularly true when it comes to the great divide between those who prefer single player and those who prefer multiplayer. Case in point: the soon to be released title, Titan Fall. When this very interesting sci-fi shooter was announced in a preview article, the first question from many gamers was "Is there going to be a single player campaign?" The response from Respawn was classic: (words to the effect) "there isn't enough interest in a SP campaign from gamers to commit the resources to making one." Huh? THIS WAS ONE THE MOST REQUESTED FEATURES IN THE COMMENTS SECTION OF THE ARTICLE! LOL! Again, "we're making it, and you're buying it." Be that as it may, while I admit that certain games are better suited to MP play-styles, I am finding it increasingly difficult to enjoy my time in those communities. I once told a newbie to MP shooters that the only way to enjoy a MP game is to 1) close the chat window and, 2) shut off VOIP/Teamspeak (unless playing with friends in a closed match). Why? We all know why. Poisonous, racist, foul-mouthed, trash-talking "l337" idiots dominate MP games. It is really disgusting. And embarrassing. And the forums dedicated to such games are just as bad (especially seeing how many MP players "rite lke kidz hoo flonked enlish clase"). Don't get me wrong: I have wracked up lots and lots of hours in various MP games, and have met some nice people at that...but I am finding it increasingly hard to keep doing so seeing how the vast majority of MP gamers are little better than juvenile delinquents (and, sadly, I suspect most aren't juveniles....). What benefit is MP gaming really bringing to me? And why am I increasingly forced to play MP against my will? Speaking of which....
- The Pathetic State of AI: I have to laugh when I think of all the articles I have read over the years promising "This is the year of super-smart AI!" Yeah, right. More lies and broken promises. Instead, we have witnessed a regression in the state of the art of AI design. With the exception of Chris Park's superlative AI design in his AI War: Fleet Command, and the commendable efforts of Stardock's Brad Wardell, I think most devs just design an elaborate random number generator and call it "AI". This is the REAL REASON why game devs don't want to make single player games: any SP game that requires real AI is doomed from the start! Hence, why devs are avoiding SP games like the plague. Why "waste" the resources when you can just dump everyone into a MP moshpit? Hence, all these MMOs and MP shooters....
And I could go on and on and on. It is getting so bad that it is far easier to enumerate everything wrong with modern video games than it is to enumerate what is right. Speaking of that, I can only come up with one "right" thing: the free-to-play phenomenon. Yes, I realize a lot of gamers hate "F2P" because of the potential for micro-transaction abuse, something that IS a legitmate concern, but I have actually found F2P to be a boon. Why? Because 1) most games these days aren't worth much more than that in terms of price (Rome 2: F2P; CoD: Ghosts F2P...makes sense, right?), and 2) At least you get to try before you buy. If Rome 2 was F2P, I assure you that I never would have purchased it in its released condition. And, lastly, I do confess to enjoying the heck out of Hawken. There ARE some good F2P titles out there that don't abuse the relationship (World of Tanks is another).
So I am about ready to cash in my chips. Really, what am I going to lose? As I detailed in a previous post the number of worthwhile games that I collect per year is part of an ever shrinking list. Don't get me wrong: there are some great games out there being made by some great devs (just peruse some of my posts on this blog for some fantastic titles and developers - Paradox is a great place to start), but it seems to be an ever shrinking number. Instead, we are getting deluged with mediocre or worse AAA titles, or, very common lately, a seeming regression back to the days of side-scrollers and platformers (have you seen Steam's selection of new titles lately? Is it 1995 again?!? *facepalm* ).
So what am I going to do? Well, the same thing I did back in the early 1990s. You see, then, like now, gaming hit a brick wall of sorts as game devs had to make the jump from the glory days of 8-bit gaming to the unknown country of 16-bit game design. The result was not good: for every one good title, you got a bushel full of forgettable bombs; computer gaming was almost a complete waste of time. So I did what a lot of others did: I took up board games and miniatures. Had a really good time too! In other words, I waited out the storm until the PC gaming boom arrived circa 2003 with the development of powerful CPUs and GPUs, devs who knew how to leverage that power, and the maturation of the internet...and I have been here ever since. But now, sadly, I feel it is time to hibernate again with non-electronic gaming. Oh, don't worry: I will still be swiping up the occasional worthwhile title (Titan Fall is definitely on the list at the moment - but no pre-orders (if you are smart forget pre-orders for the foreseeable future seeing the dismal state of the hobby), and I will still be blogging here about the few gems I do find in PC gaming, but I think it is increasingly likely that when you do hear from me, it will be from miniatures front. Maybe time for a new blog? ;)
Indeed, I have already put my money where my mouth is with these beauts from Rebel Miniatures:
Truth be told, my return to non-PC gaming began two years ago when I first sniffed something foul in the wind of PC gaming. But now I am in deep. How deep? The sad truth is that despite the many Black Friday sales being had over at Steam and elsewhere, I have not had the slightest inclination to even peruse the offerings. Instead, I took my $40 and purchased the above tank platoon. Sadly, that's $40 fewer dollars for a PC game dev or distributor; $40 few dollars to fund a new expansion, or a new programmer. This is how the economic death spiral begins for an industry. Gamers vote with their wallets. Based not only upon my reaction to the state of the industry, but the many other gamers who have said that they have had enough as well (those past four fouled up launches really were the kiss of death for many gamers), I think times are only going to get worse for those who stick around.
Remember: You brought this on yourself, game devs/publishers! Your shoddy industry practices are the cause!
On the bright side, board games and miniatures seem to be entering a second golden age. I wonder why that is....