So as of this year I’ve become very interested in the history of video games, their cultural impact, how culture impacts them, how they impacted my life as a storm dragon who loves the darn things, and other stuff. I’d like to thank channels such as Gaming Historian and Games as Literature for helping me fuel this obsession.
When I can get the time, I’d like to write a series of posts looking at that history and impact, for each individual era of video games (being a person born in 1995, I have a better grasp on the 2000’s and 2010’s of course, but still).
But that’s not what this post is about. Well, not completely.
This post is about industry trends that turned into monsters, as well as shifts that make the exact future somewhat uncertain.
Mostly, though, I just want to complain about microtransactions and loot boxes. Especially in light of EA’s disasterpiece that is Star Wars: Battlefront II and the loot box/microtransaction fiasco that attracted government attention.
I’m going to start this all with a particular claim, one you are welcome to wholeheartedly disagree with: In several ways, I see the early/mid 2000’s (the generation of the Sega Dreamcast for what short time it lasted, the Nintendo GameCube, the Sony PlayStation 2, the Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo’s GameBoy Color/Advance and DS -in its infancy- handhelds + Sony’s own PlayStation Portable) as the Last Great Era of Video Games.
Why is that?
It feels like, for all the new technology and truly fantastic games we’ve gotten since then, things have… stagnated somehow. Which is both true and untrue, I feel. Again, we’ve had plenty of truly fantastic games since this era (Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Last of Us, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn to name a few, and I haven’t played the first two there), but yet it also feels like we lost something since then. I’m willing to chalk it up to me simply being nostalgic, though.
Still, the era of the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii (and I suppose the DS, since it lasted through this timeframe as well) brought with them trends that, well, turned into monsters as I mentioned before.
Microtransactions. Day One DLC. On-disc DLC. Controversy after controversy related to these happened, yet nonetheless they still took hold and now, in the year 2017 of our great pantheons, we’ve been greeted by a video game called Star Wars: Battlefront II. I think this game is some kind of culmination of sins or something.
Now, I would like to simply state that I’m speaking purely from console gaming here. I’m not sure when the DLC trend really picked up and got ridiculous with PC gaming, although I’ve heard many a PC gamer moan about how “Remember back in the day when expansion packs actually had content?” so I, a baby PC gamer (only got interested in it in 2011, by the time those so-called glory days were gone) have no context for that.
Anyway, when it came to on-disc DLC and overpriced DLC in general, Capcom was the poster child for it. I find it both frustrating and maybe a little hilarious how blatant they were about their scummy business practices. I could dedicate an entire post to the Capcom DLC Saga if I really wanted to.
That wasn’t the only problem, though. Now, being truthful here, bad business practices have always existed, Publishers shipping buggy to completely unplayable video games was always a thing. But this era and the next brought it to whole new heights with many games being released incomplete with day one patches (and, of course, that paid Day One DLC). Release now, patch later became a viable business tactic.
The culmination of that is really in Steam’s Early Access in the magical land of PC gaming. Now, you can release a broken alpha of a game, never update it, and get some cash from folks until they get mad (at which point, if you’re an expert, you release another broken alpha of a game). Occasionally the outrage brings a game down, but not enough to make people think twice, it seems.
Studio closures happened a lot during the PS3/360/Wii era, and it only seems to have gotten worse. Games now need to sell millions of copies almost immediately to be seen as profitable in the eyes of the publishers, who seem more interested in growth and quick short-term profit than anything remotely resembling the long term.
Also, just wanna put this out here: It’s not just budgets being too big, if that’s even part of the problem. #BlameThoseExecutives
But it’s these supposedly bloated budgets being used to “justify” bleeding the playerbase dry of every penny they have.
Of course, the backlash against Star Wars: Battlefront II’s microtransaction and loot box scheme will either spell an end to these predatory practices or just further enforce them.
And I’m not sure what it’ll be yet.
This rambly mess had a point once. Uh. Stay tuned for Part 2?