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New Challenger: 3 Reasons Why Gaming Will Destroy Itself Part 3

This is the end. Of the world. Ooooooooooooooooh!

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you the final part in my trilogy of articles about why gaming is going to destroy itself. In the previous two articles I looked at how anti-piracy measures and an overall lack of big-budget innovation are stifling the industry we know and (mostly) love. In this final part I want to talk about how the pressures of the industry, coupled with a discrepancy between vision and capability, are causing a dive in the diversity and quality of some of the highest profile videogame releases, and why this is a bad thing for everyone involved.

First of all, let me clarify what I mean by the “pressures of the industry”. Anyone who has seen some of the E3 trailers from this year’s expo will probably have noticed a tendency towards homogenisation in the big name titles. Was that Medal of Honor or Battlefield 3 Premium you were looking at? Was it Dead Space 3 or Gears of War? E3 2012 provided us with a glimpse of a future where almost all shooters are distinguishable only in title and interface; the action, sound effects and visuals will all blend together eventually. People have complained about brown/grey shooters for a while now, but that has nothing on the plateau shooters seem to be reaching right now.

"I'm sorry, but who are you?!" "I'm your new best friend. We're going to do EVERYTHING together."

On the one hand this should be something to celebrate, as it means that graphics have become as good as they possibly can, but on the other hand it means that gamers will have to rely on knowledge of previous games in a series to gauge the potential enjoyment of a new title, instead of looking at a trailer, seeing something new and impressive and making a decision based on that. This will also make the world of gaming even more impenetrable to newcomers, which is a bad thing.

I have pondered and read a lot on the subject of why games are all starting to blur together, and the general consensus seems to be that publishers are now demanding games with wider appeal across all genres. That is why Dead Space was a single-player horror game in an enclosed environment released with next-to-no fanfare, but Dead Space 2 became a little more action-based and the horror elements were diluted somewhat by a shift in focus on a wider audience; the developers chose instead to focus on sudden scares rather than recreating the atmosphere from the Ishimura in the first game. Not to mention the odd idea to staple a multiplayer mode on the end and then almost pretend it wasn’t there; with no achievements and no integration with the story, there really was no incentive for the player to venture online at all. Dead Space 3, looks to succeed at bringing the game into the online sphere with co-operative and multiplayer modes, and in doing so further decreases the player’s isolation, relegating the game to a third-person action game. It has effectively become a multi-platform Gears of War.

"What are you doing?" "Just try to look badass, those Dead Space guys are trying to exploit our fanbase."

A similar thing seems to be happening with features common to RPGs filtering down to places where they don’t really belong. It seems like every game wants the player to spend time levelling up his or her character, sometimes for a very unrealistic amount of time. *cough* Dead Island *cough* In some ways this trend is perfectly justifiable; in games where the character’s development is a central theme, such as the new Tomb Raider, it makes sense for the character to change as challenges are overcome and the player grows with their character. Yet in first-person shooters, for example, the player’s progress is traditionally marked by better equipment, as the act of shooting at everything in sight is not one that can be improved in any way. In the case of online modes, having a level system makes sense to stagger a player’s access to the better weapons; otherwise there would be nothing to work towards. Level systems have no place in shooters. And yet they are creeping in.

Now I want to spare a moment to talk about the second part of my opening statement: disparity between vision and capability. Vision is absolutely essential to the gaming industry; without it we would still be playing variations of Pong. The problem with vision is when it cannot be fully realised, either because of a lack of funds or because of pressure from the publisher, and so results in an inferior, or worse, buggy end product that frustrates as many people as it pleases. Skyrim is a good example of this. If the developers had been given just a few more months to iron out a few bugs and test it properly so they could find the game-killing PS3 crashes, the game would have been received in an entirely different manner. As it was it united players in praise of the game and the sheer scale of its vision, right up to the point where games started to crash and other things started to go wrong. We need games of this scope to push us onwards, yet how much better would it have been to buy a polished product off the shelf rather than something that needed a day-one patch and subsequent updates after that. It took them an age to fix the PS3 version, which was a big issue with many people, me included.

Dovahkiin could tell by looking, Arnold was having a terrible morning.

Another game that seemed to be a compromise between vision and reality is Dead Island. Its advertising campaign caused such a stir that the world was watching when the game was released with disappearing weapons, save files that rolled back on the player for no apparent reason and many other little irks. Now, do not get me wrong, I played and loved this game (and Skyrim, actually), but it rankles slightly that even though I have finished the game and completed many challenges, there is a discrepancy between what the game tells me I have done and what I know I have done. Trophies failed to unlock and I lost hours of progress on a new save with a different character without ever realising what was going on. This is embarrassing for the publisher as well as the developer, reflects badly on the industry and serves to make players even more careful about how they spend their money.

And let’s face it, money is what it all boils down to. That is why anti-piracy measures are being rammed down our throats, that is why sequels are released in favour of new ideas (although Watch_Dogs looks set to impress, so I might eat my words yet), and that is why games are being slowly coaxed into formats that appeal to a wider audience.

I really hope this game makes me eat my words. But it's got scope, so will it disappoint?

So if mainstream gaming continues down the path it is on, one day soon you will be able to walk into a shop and buy Call of Duty: Future Warfare. On the disc will be a half-finished game because the publisher was pressuring the development team, so you’ll have to download a patch straight away. Then the game will ask for an online pass to unlock the latter part of the story, the true ending of which will actually be paid day-one DLC anyway. Then, once you’ve got past the menus and started the game, you will lose all your progress every time you turn off the console because you pressed X in-game, something that was never tested because the game wasn’t even finished when it went gold. Eventually you’ll get to progress to the open-world part of the game, at which point, befuddled by the fact that the game is now a third-person shooter in which the player must level up in order to achieve certain goals, you will gaze into the screen as a tear runs down your cheek. On screen? Error 37.

Video games were a part of Chris's life from the Mega Drive onwards. He has many happy gaming memories, including the first time he collected all the chaos emeralds in Sonic 2, collecting all SSBM's trophies (yes, all of them) and, more recently, collecting far too many platinum trophies on his PlayStation 3. In the real world, he has a degree in French and is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @DPrime_Chris

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