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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Is Another Video Game Crash Really Possible?

I've been reading here and there that there's speculation about another video game crash similar to the one that sent a ripple effect across America in 1983. At first I just thought it was just a few people posting their concerns but it turns out more than a handful of gamers are fearful that some of the practices in the industry today could result in third crash. These aren't just scary thoughts that popped into their heads overnight. I've found editorials dating back to a few years ago on the matter.

The crash of '83 occurred at a time when the industry was only in it's second generation of gaming hardware so there was still much to be learned. In many ways, the disaster that happened over two decades go shaped the way the gaming industry is run today. Oh, sure there are still crappy games. That's inevitable, but at least the market isn't over-saturated with more consoles to game on and companies jumping at the chance to earn some quick cash through poorly developed games. OK, so that last one still happens, but it's nowhere near a bad as it back in the early '80s. Even so, there are a number of disturbing practices that make some weary that a crash could occur.

A number of companies are no longer satisfied with initial sales that their game generate, even if it does manage to sell some 2 million copies. To get even more cash, many have jumped on the downloadable content bandwagon. Depending on the content contained from DLC it can be quite good or rather bland. Some DLC is free, but most of it isn't. I draw the line at $10 for DLC but some developers are exceeding that limit. Max Payne 3 has DLC pass that will go for $30. Sure, you could buy the add-on packs separately and pay more, but a pass for $30? I don't care how much content you're getting, $30 is still a lot of money to part with, especially when the game will retail for $60.

Then there's disc-locked content, content that's already on the game that you bought, just locked away in a shed until the publisher says you can have it. For a price. From what I've seen on the net, the majority of gamers find this practice to be about as shady as one can get. Why on Earth should you pay to get something that you should get for free when it's already finished and on the game you bought? Both forms of DLC are really getting out of control and it's just another sign that developers and publishers are getting more and more greedy. Yeah, these companies gotta make money, but this is getting insane.

Some game companies feel that the used game market is a blight upon humanity. I don't care what you personal feelings are towards GameStop, killing the used gaming business would benefit no one. There are rumors that Microsoft plans to lock out all used games on the 720 or whatever the next Xbox will be called. Do you know how many people loan their games to friends and vice versa? What about rentals? Or how about when the game isn't being manufactured anymore and can't be purchased new? Don't forget that GameStop also sells games new and since it is one of the largest gaming retail chains on the planet, that would put a serious dent in game sales for third parties that develop games for Microsoft's next gen console. But the biggest loser in all of this would be Microsoft itself. How many gamers would refuse to buy the system for this reason? Selling games used is perfectly legal, has been for decades and nickle and diming companies just need to learn to live with it.

Just as platformers ruled the day in the '90s, first person shooters are king of the hill in today's gaming world. It seems like everyone is trying to make the next Call of Duty. It's a lot easier to sell an established franchise with name recognition than take chances and create a whole new game with fresh characters. Some believe that the industry is running out of ideas and that all it can do is copy what someone else has already done. The aforementioned Call of Duty, no matter how many hate it, is a cash cow franchise and others would love to bask in the fortune that Activison is currently swimming in from that series. Nintendo's Wii was a huge success so both Sony and Microsoft tried to mimic it. Both the Move and Kinect are seen as failures. What these console manufacturers failed to realize was that even though the Wii pushed motion controls, there is a library of quality games behind the waggling. Of course ignorant gamers will shout otherwise.

I don't like to sound like I hate games with good graphics, because I certainly don't but there seems to be a huge emphasis on this these days. One of the Wii's main criticisms is that it was heavily under powered compared to the PS3 and 360. Jaw dropping graphics are good but do we really need to strive to reach the polygonal ceiling like Cliff Bleszinski thinks with "face-melting" graphics? At the end of the day, that's not keeping development costs down. It costs money to make a game and not every title can have a Hollywood budget. Gamers don't like forking over $60 for a game as it is and Mr. Bleszinski wants the next generation of consoles to fry our faces. If I have to pay even more cash just so I can walk around without a head, I think I'll pass.

While the gaming industry is a  lot bigger than it was when the crash of '83 occurred, in no way is it perfect. Company greed, vendettas against the used game market, follow-the-leader business tactics, both forms of DLC and way too much emphasis on pretty pictures are running wild, so I can see the cause for concern. Some gamers actually want another crash to happen just so these companies can learn from their follies. Europe and Japan were fine when the crash happened but American was hurting for two years. Nintendo had a tough time convincing jaded retailers and gamers that video gaming was not dead. As much as I'd love for these companies to get smart, I don't ever want to see the crash of '83 repeated in America or any region.

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