A game is more than just a product

In the comments to my last post Isey of I HAS PC made the interesting point that gamers tend to “put game developers and companies on a pedestal” and wondered why that is when it should be perfectly clear that game companies – at the very least the big, publically traded ones – are like any other business in that they need to prioritize maximizing profits above everything else. Like, say, their customers’ best interests.

At least to me it is absolutely clear. I don’t have to like it though, and I’m not willing to just calmly accept it. To be honest, we as consumers shouldn’t let any company get away with it anymore, no matter which industry they’re working in, because it’s gotten seriously out of hand in recent years.

The effect of greed dictating decision making is especially devastating and heartbreaking in the gaming industry though, at least in my opinion. Today I’d like to talk about why.

Pictured here: greed

I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever put any company or single developer on a pedestal. There were some, like ‘old’ Bioware and Blizzard, whom I trusted to deliver great games more than others, but I’ve never been a fan or even fanboy of anyone. Well, ok, maybe except for The Bitmap Brothers and Factor 5 a long, long time ago.

That being said, I’m still very passionate about everything gaming-related, as are many others. And I think that’s perfectly ok because games are more than just commodities.

What differentiates games from most, if not all, other products – at least in my mind – is potential. Potential for greatness. Potential to be that one perfect game you’ve been waiting for. Potential to take you on an adventure you’ll never forget. Potential to meet new people and make lifelong friends. Potential to make you feel at home away from home.

Most other products don’t have that. Even the largest TV set is still just a TV set. The most powerful vaccuum cleaner still only sucks up dust. The world’s sharpest knife still only cuts stuff. You may be very satisfied with them, glad that you bought them, even have fun using them. But that’s about it.

The only type of product that comes close to matching the potential games have to be more than what meets the eye are movies and serials, but those can only be consumed passively. You may witness extraordinary adventures, but you don’t experience them yourself.

This is why I can get mad at developers and publishers when their games don’t fulfill my expectations. If you ask me why a certain game disappointed me I’ll probably name some features I deem incomplete, missing or just bad. Or bugs, hackers, whatever. What I’m really mad about though is most likely the wasted potential. I just can’t help but imagine what could have been. What, in my opinion, should have been.

Pictured here: wasted potential (still a cool game though)

For this reason I’m not satisfied with ‘cost per hours of entertainment’-calculations either. It might be true that a 60 Euro game that I enjoyed for, say, 50 hours before getting bored/pissed/whatever has given me more hours of entertainment per buck than many other hobbies do, but I really don’t think they can be compared like that. Like I said, I expect more from a game, and as such it can’t just be measured in hours of gameplay per Euro spent.

Of course I do make exceptions. I’m perfectly fine with games like Uncharted that tell a coherent, complete story and provide good gameplay – a matter of taste, obviously – for like 15 hours and aren’t designed to do anything more than that in any way. Or gems like Limbo and Inside, that are even shorter but also cost less and are just exceptionally great experiences.

What bugs me are games that actively make me get my hopes up only to smash them. That are specifically designed to make me think there’s much more to them and would like me to play them for hundreds of hours, but where after a much shorter timespan it becomes apparent that, no, there isn’t anything else and I’m now expected to do the same shit over and over and over until the service part finally kicks in and more content is provided. For an additional cost, more often than not.

Which brings me to the second practice the gaming industry has adopted in recent years that I really hate because it is just the destroyer of potential: hacking games to bits and pieces so they can nickel and dime us for every little feature or scrap of content.

Pictured here: content locked behind a blonde paywall

Want to look cool? Pay for it! Need more inventory space? Pony up! Fancy playing two more hours of story? That’ll be 20 bucks please!

In free to play games some of this is ok, those obviously have to make money somehow. That we find so much of that crap in 60+ dollar games nowadays is sickening though. And I haven’t even adressed the elephant in the room that is lootboxes…

All of this is actively working against any potential a game has to be great. How are we supposed to be immersed, to feel like we’re having an adventure, when big red price tags are slapped right in our faces every five seconds? When we can’t look cool unless we swipe our credit cards some more? When we can’t pick up stuff because we haven’t bought enough inventory space? When we can’t play the character we like because she’s locked behind DLC?

Say whatever you will about AAA games needing to make more than 60 bucks a copy to even recoup its development cost nowadays – if it’s even true – or whatever. This. Shit. Is. Not. Ok.

Pictured here: NOT OK!

Every product is expected to work, to do what it’s supposed to do. Well, as far as I’m concerned games are supposed to be epic adventures that entertain us in ways no other product can. They have the potential. The big dogs of the industry seem to have forgotten that, but I hope we’ll manage to make them remember.

2 Replies to “A game is more than just a product”

  1. I had missed the comment thread on your previous post, darn. The idea of missed potential being the catalyst for such anger in this space is an interesting one. Leads me to the question though of what game can ever reach such a pinnacle of satisfaction as to meet said potential, then?

    I have big dreams and wants for future games. I want Brain Computer Interfaces to be the norm, allowing for control inputs simply not possible with any sort of translation device like a controller, mouse or keyboard. I want immersive VR the likes of which we see in movies like Ready Player One.

    That’s the potential I think of for games. And yet… In most respects I agree with you over Isey’s comments in the prior post. The hours to dollars calculation is fairly cold comfort to me at the end of the day. I got something like 85-90 hours out of Anthem, a good ratio by most any measure of entertainment spend.

    But there should be very little room to deny it was in an awful state – and continues to be in an awful state. It should not have released how it did. It wasn’t ‘done’, as you say. That it was nonetheless possible to extract some enjoyment from it anyway in no way negates or disproves that position.

    For all that, I get that game companies are a business. I’ve even made some posts going into the rising costs of game development and the correlation with monetisation models. But Damn. I still miss me the days of some good ol’ fashioned full-sized expansion packs. NeverWinter Nights (the BioWare releases, not the MMO) with their xpacs adding not only whole new original campaigns, but also new music, creatures, tilesets etc for the creation and DM tools… So good.

    I also think it important that we speak up when things tip too far in favour of the commercial.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t quite call it anger…but yeah, I’m admittedly pretty ticked by the state of affairs.

      I fully agree with everything you said, and your last sentence is basically the one and only ‘message’, if you will, that I tried to get across in my last two posts.

      I’m happy for everyone who got a lot of enjoyment out of the titles I mentioned, I really am. We still need to speak up and point out anything that just goes too far, and more importantly, let them feel it affecting their bottom line.

      Liked by 1 person

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