Video Game Trends that are Toxic
( 12 min read )
Some video games are good. And some suck.
Maybe they could’ve been great and a lot of fun to play. Or maybe they already are fun to play, but are just poisoned with bad decisions from developers or publishers. There’s a lot going on and its hard to pinpoint a single area that plagues the gaming industry by itself.
Here’s just a few trends:
- Alpha & Pre-Alpha releases
- Always Online - DRM - Digital Rights Management
- Digital Membership/Subscription
- Day-1 DLC - Downloadable Content
- Microtransactions / In-Game Purchases
- Pre-Ordering & Pre-Order Bonuses
- Review Embargos
I’m going to weight these using three factors to help determine their toxicity to the overall success of a video game.
1. Money (Costs of the game)
Low prices mean easier access to the game. Which means more people will try it because the barrier-to-entry is lower. Higher prices doesn’t mean a game will not be successful, but it can hinder the launch of a game especially when paired with in-game shopping like DLC and Microtransactions.
2. Mood (Reception of the game)
More enjoyment means gamers will continue to play it. Simply put, successful games need to be fun to play and need to continuously be enjoyable. A bad game could start out great for the first 10 minutes, but then grows repetitive or boring. Or a bad game could have been successful if the publishers didn’t piss off the fanbase with unfulfilled promises.
3. Minutes (Length or replayability of the game)
Short games are generally seen as lower-quality than their lengthy competitors. Long drawn-out campaigns, replayable multiplayer modes, or randomly generated worlds, arguably offer more gameplay for a longer amount of time. Which means gamers will continue to play even after beating the game.
Toxicity of Trends
Let’s grade each factor from 1-5, where 1 is the most toxic and 5 being harmless.
Alpha & Pre-Alpha releases
- Money = 5 - Whether you pay now or later when its released, doesn’t seem to hurt at all. Unless they follow the Minecraft model, and start low ($5 USD) and increase in beta and then launch.
- Mood = 2 - Excitement and hype are aplenty. But if it takes years until beta or launch, that excitement dies off pretty quickly. Especially when reading dev-notes and seeing ill changes and compromises in the development process. Old supporters grow tired of waiting. New supporters will see forums or subreddits of complaints. (e.g. DayZ standalone)
- Minutes = 1 - As excitement dies off, so does playtime. Early supporters will have “done-it-all” by the time the game launches. Effectively shortening the life-span of your game. Instead of launching the game on Year 1 and expecting 2-5 years of life, it basically starts when Alpha 1.0 is released, and if your development takes a few years like most games, then that eats into the expected life-span. Again, Minecraft is an exception here, as it defies logic and continues to be released on new platforms like mobile and console, thus growing a new player base.
Always Online - DRM
- Money = 5 - I’d say DRM should lower the price of a game. But it seems unaffected. AAA games are still $60+ even with this DRM requirement. (e.g. For Honor)
- Mood = 3 - Gamers loathe always-online requirements. They’ll take to contacting the companies and slamming their game in online forums and subreddits. They make their voice heard and demand changes by big companies like EA and Ubisoft. (e.g. SimCity was basically replaced by Cities Skylines, a proper sim game) Even if someone has good internet speeds, and hasn’t noticed the background-check while playing, all it takes is one rainy afternoon where their cable or satellite stops working, and bam. You can’t play your game, at all. NADA. not even modes that don’t seem to require online content or servers. And you’ll be just as angry as everyone else.
- Minutes = 4 - In addition to any other toxins, the always-online requirement hurts extended gameplay a bit. Especially since most of the United States still has terrible internet connections (3Mbits download) or no internet at all.
- Money = 3 - Monthly fees are usually tacked on top of the base price of a game. Even if that base price is FREE. And most gamers don’t seem to upset by subscriptions or season passes. I personally hate them, but I think I’m alone on this one. MMO games like World of Warcraft started this trend. But its leaking into other genres like EA’s shooter, Battlefield.
- Mood = 2 - It hurts the initial growth of a game. But its not deadly. Fans have clearly shown they are willing to pay for good games with subscription fees. (e.g. Battlefield Season Pass, World of Warcraft, and even Xbox Live Gold) Sure some are upset at first, but if the gameplay/content is good, fans are willing to suck it up. Or simply stop paying for a period of time, and come back later to play again. Changes to a subscription model from a free model though, that really upsets customers. (e.g. PlayStation Network fee for multiplayer games)
- Minutes = 5 - Monthly subscriptions thrown on top of games with an initial base price, can lose their steam after launch, if there isn’t much content to the game they’re paying a membership for. But developers can apply ointment, by just adding more content, or reducing/removing the subscription fee. (e.g. Elder Scrolls Online) Adding more content is the best method to extend gameplay, as World of Warcraft has shown us since 2004.
- Money = 1 - Locked content in my brand new game, that just came out today? And I have to pay more money for it? Fuck. Off. (e.g. Evolve, Mass Effect 3) The only acceptable Day-1 DLC is free Day-1 DLC for all customers.
- Mood = 1 - This is self-explanatory.
- Minutes = 3 - Regular DLC extends game time. Day-1 DLC can destroy it.
Microtransactions / In-Game Purchases
- Money = 3 - On one hand, some in-game stores are pleasant, and don’t interfere with the core gameplay. On the other hand, it can give the feeling that content I paid for is being locked behind paywalls. A good ointment for this is to allow gamers to pay with in-game earned currency and still allow others to buy the conent with real money. (e.g. Battlefield 3/4/1, any Call of Duty from the last 5 years)
- Mood = 4 - Again, if done correctly, it won’t poison the gameplay. Developers shouldn’t waive microtransactions in your face though. (e.g. Gears of War 4, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, etc)
- Minutes = 5 - In-game shops can extend the life of a game and offer more game time.
Pre-Ordering & Pre-Order Bonuses
- Money = 2 - AAA games are really cranking up their pre-order bonuses. EA’s Battlefield 1 had a special edition of the game for over $120 and included bonuses like a mini-solider statue for ordering before the launch date. There is a very small, niche, audience for those willing to spend double or triple the standard price for a video game. The industry calls those folks whales. The rest of us… well we can’t afford that shit.
- Mood = 5 - Once a game launches the pre-orders and bonuses are magically forgotten.
- Minutes = 5
- Money = 5 - By itself, its seen as a way to earn more sales at launch. But if you combine review embargos with pre-order bonuses… then it can be damaging. (e.g. Dead Island)
- Mood = 5
- Minutes = 5 - Ok. So preventing game reviewers and media, from releasing their opinion on a video game, hours or even days after the launch date, seems like a bad idea. It seems like it would hurt the life-span of a game. But I don’t feel it damages the game’s potential. Gamers will simply wait for the reviews or buy the game outright. A bad video game that’s poorly developed will still suck regardless and a great game will still be successful. (e.g. Shadow of Mordor)
- Alpha & Pre-Alpha releases - Avg 2.67 (Cancerous)
- Always Online - DRM - Avg 4 (Painful)
- Digital Membership/Subscription - Avg 3.33 (Dangerous)
- Day-1 DLC - Avg 1.67 (Deadly)
- Microtransactions / In-Game Purchases - Avg 4 (Painful)
- Pre-Ordering & Pre-Order Bonuses - Avg 4 (Painful)
- Review Embargos - Avg 5 (Harmless)
Early Alpha releases and Day-1 DLC are fatal. They are dangerous to any video game and should be avoided by the developers and publishers.
Of couse… this is all my opinion. I would like to back up each score with surveys among avid gamers. But for now, this is my general feeling of the current status. I’m sure I’m not alone with some of these conclusions.
The video game industry needs to appeal to customers to buy their game and make enough sales to continue to survive to create more games. But if they contribute to trends like these… it will become increasingly difficult to succeed as a business.
As a customer, I won’t buy that crap… anymore. And I love video games; I’ve thrown down money for pre-alpha games. I’ve bought DLC and made in-game purchaces. I’ve unwittingly contributed to the toxicity at first. But after a while, seeing new games with these trends disgusts me.
I really hope this list doesn’t grow any longer, or deadlier. Developers need an antidote for these poisons, and they need it quickly.
Published: Mar 28, 2017