The State of Video-Games: 2013
Remember when video gaming was an eclectic slice of nerd culture generally shunned by society? It was “kid” stuff, something that was associated with Saturday morning cartoons and action figures. Even some of the more “adult” titles, like Final Fantasy or King’s Quest was about as “mainstream” as model rockets or Dungeons and Dragons.
Thankfully that is not the case anymore. The games market has boomed to become a titan in mainstream entertainment. It attracts top tier talent, massive budgets, and some of the biggest sales of all time. From 2008-2010, games saw the height of their prominence, with sales reaching unprecedented numbers.
But the last couple years have seen the industry come back down to Earth. 2012 marked the roughest year video games have seen for a while, possibly signaling the end of a golden era. Stepping into the mainstream has brought on a new scrutinizing eye for games, from people who have never picked up a controller to seasoned gaming veterans. Pundits have questioned the current state and the future of the video game industry. So what issues face our beloved medium as we roll toward a new generation of hardware?
Back in 2006 the hottest new consoles were the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3. There was no such thing as an iPhone. Smart phones had only started to find a market and mobile phone gaming was limited to Bejeweled and Snake. There were no games on Facebook, who the hell had heard of Zynga? If you played video games you were doing so by traditional means. Mobile and social games have grown into a lucrative and critically appreciated aspect of the industry. Titles like Words with Friends, Angry Birds, and Farmville; have been the games that defined the last five years. These games shatter the “kid” and “nerd” barrier and appeal to the masses.
Another part of the decline in gaming sales is related to the stale state of the hardware. With numerous publishers stating that it is hard to attract buyers when the systems being used to play games is six years old. Graphically the systems have become so passe that even a low end PC can do better. Take hit Xbox title Sleeping Dogs as an example; the developers released a patch that boosted the graphics for PC players, making it look much better than its console counterpart. But releasing a new console into the current volatile market has more questions than answers for the gaming industry. The Wii U, 3DS, and PlayStation Vita have all failed to meet their sales projections. These releases fail to reassure anyone that there is still a market for the traditional console. A misstep in pricing, capabilities, or even a bad launch line-up could leave Microsoft or Sony in a lot of financial trouble. Not to mention that with the “Steam Box”, Ouya, and numerous other consoles being released, the market is currently flooded with new gaming options. The window of success is tight and the stakes have never been higher.
In addition to the previous problems there are a number social/moral issues that games are having to deal with right now. There’s the same old arguments over games being too violent and bad for children’s health, but that has always been a problem for any young medium. Remember when Elvis Presley was considered the devil for shaking his hips?
However the industry has found new ways to make it onto the radar of the Daily Mail or Fox News. If you google the words “Girlfriend Mode”, Randy Pitchford’s notoriously silly comments are the first thing to pop up. Then we had David Jaffe making a dumb comment about oral sex, this resulted in women employees in the industry’s top companies taking to Twitter to document some of their more disheartening experiences. Anita Sarkeesian found herself being assaulted by the public for speaking out against it all, by the same stereotypical white heterosexual males constantly found as the main characters of games. Cole McGrath, Nathan Drake, Dante, Marcus Fenix, Jason Brody, Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, John 117 (Master Chief), even Mario!! It’s great that the gaming world could go out of its way to make a new game for Lara Croft (though every time she is shown there’s a new controversy about it), however as long as hardcore console gaming refuses to expand its horizon, it will actively be shunning 50% of the buyers market.
To top it all, games are becoming much more expensive to make. In 200, a mainstream console game cost between $2 million to $5 million. To put that in perspective, Darksiders II would have had to sell five million copies just to break even. The new console generation promises to be more of the same, raising the bar so high on development expenditure that only the giants such as Ubisoft and EA will be able to compete. The price for blockbuster holiday games will be so high that there will be no room for failure. Is the future nothing but Angry Birds: Harry Potter and Halo [insert number here]?
But let’s be encouraged by some of the good things we saw this year. The Walking Dead, a relatively unknown title from a medium-sized studio, went on to collect awards and record sales in a new downloadable frontier. The same is true about the first video game to be nominated for a Grammy; Journey, which showed that games could revolve around helping perfect strangers, rather than shooting them. Same sex relationship options were added to games, despite an outraged yet vocal minority. Games have grown, not only in technology, but in their artistic sophistication and narrative bravery. There are plenty of questions to be answered in 2013, but hopefully these answers will lead to growth and new opportunities.