The future is looking bright and bleak at the same time.
There’s no doubt there are so many great things that come out of gaming, from success stories to pure enjoyment, but there are also some real disappointing and harsh things that seemingly go on too. Then there’s also the things that go on in the background that I suppose we probably all know about somewhere in the back of our minds, but we don’t seem to think too hard about... perhaps we should shouldn't ignore them?
Digital Purchases Aren’t Even Yours
How many digital games do you own? 1? 100? Too many to count? You bought those games with your hard earned money fair and square, so they must be yours to play whenever you choose right? I’m afraid that’s not always the case. Here’s a hypothetical situation, which, I say is hypothetical but actually happened. Let’s say you’ve signed yourself up to this brand new digital service, and let’s call it “OnLive”. You buy all your games through the service, which are all digital purchases mind, which allows you to play the games whenever you please. Said games though require an internet connection in order to allow you to play them, because on this service, the games are streamed over the internet. Suddenly your internet cuts out, so you can no longer have access to nor be able to play them. Oh no wait-- now your internet is back up and running, great! However the company itself can no longer afford to function, so it is shutting down its servers, which also means you can no longer access any of your many games you bought on the platform ever again!
This is a problem which some digital platforms, mostly streaming ones, aren’t tackling. You spend hundreds of dollars buying games to allow you to play them whenever you want, but if your connection goes down or the company shuts down, they take all your digital purchases with them. Fortunately platforms such as Steam allow you to play all of your games that do not require an active connection in “Offline mode”. The Wii shut down its online services in 2018, however you can still download any games bought over its store; you just can’t buy anything anymore. But with streaming supposedly being the future with the likes of the Google Stadia, one has to wonder who truly owns your games. Not only that, but for all you know, you’ve agreed to terms and conditions you didn’t actually read on a platforms services which effectively allows the company to delete the game off of your account after a period of time or even close your account full of all your games at any time if they so desire.
Your Progress on that Online Game You Play Will One Day Disappear... Forever!
In a somewhat similar vein to the first point, we move onto MMO’s and online games. How many hours have you put into an online multiplayer game such as World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, or even non-MMO games like Hearthstone, DOTA 2 or any Call of Duty multiplayer? These days with everything being so microtransaction heavy, people are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on cosmetics, level boosts and surprise mechanics-- I mean loot boxes.
However one day, your favourite online game will probably shut down. This has already happened for games such as Star Wars: Galaxies, but let’s keep it more modern: World of Warcraft. The game has been out for 15 years now and although it still makes money to this day, suffice to say things have been sketchy for the game as of late. Whether it’s in the near future or still decades from now, World of Warcraft will shut down its servers, and those characters you spent hundreds of hours playing and all those characters you bought level boosts and exclusive mounts for will be gone forever. You’ll have the memories sure, but you’ll also have to live with the fact what was essentially a chunk of your life is dead and gone. It’s partly why people despise microtransactions too: you’re not getting anything physical to keep, you’re just getting pixels to a game which will someday shut down and all your earnings will be gone for good.
As a gamer, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of it all. There’s a game coming out that perhaps you’ve booked the week off to play or you come straight home from work and sit there for hours and hours playing your current favourite game. Although there’s no links to say that video games harm your mental well-being, there are links that it can harm your physical well-being. After all, for a lot of gamers, you are just sat there either tapping away with a keyboard and mouse or with a controller. For some people, and this goes for myself too, you use a computer for 90% of your work and come home, only to do the same thing anyway, but for entertainment. This means for a lot of gamers, you’re not getting enough activity in your daily routine if you’re somewhat of a hardcore gamer. You may also be sat there slouched (heck you might be slouched RIGHT NOW reading this), which cannot be good for your posture and bones, and you’re constantly staring at a screen which isn't good for your eyes! Binge sessions of gaming can often lead you to a lot of snacking as well. After all the “sponsored by Doritos and Mountain Dew” thing didn’t come out of just anywhere. The meme is that they are the gamers food, two of the most unhealthiest products out there.
Then there’s the flip side: other people’s health. Fortunately a lot of video game companies are getting better and better at looking after their staff, but there are those that don’t where “crunch culture” is a thing. Crunch culture is where a developer/publisher often demands their staff to work incredibly long hours under strenuous conditions. In some circumstances it’s because a game is so close to launch so they want to get things just right, which is understandable but as long as staff are happy to do so and not forced into it. In other situations however, staff are overworked, underpaid and given very little credit on the work they do complete throughout the entire development of the game. It doesn’t help either when gamers are sending death threats to the developers because they “didn’t do this” for their favourite game or they’re taking too long developing an announced game. Everybody is human no matter who they work for or what they can do, so looking after ones health is super important; it’s probably the most important thing on this list. Get some regular exercise, fight against the bad companies, give credit to the good ones.
The Death of Physical Media
I myself am a stickler for physical media. I love the idea of buying a physical copy of a brand new game and having it sat there in my collection. Not only that, but if somehow, say, the PlayStation Network is down, meaning I cannot download a digital game right now, I have the physical version where, excluding any patches, I can let it download in offline mode right off the disc (or play directly off the disc like they used to). However if there’s one thing I’ve noticed is that more and more people are buying their games digitally; I’m not referring to just PC games, which has basically become the normal way to buy your games there. I’m talking about consoles too. If you live in the United States, a physical copy and a digital copy of a game on, for example, the PlayStation Store or on the Xbox Store are usually the same price. Elsewhere in the world? Well…
Here in the UK, you can often buy a physical copy of a AAA game for between £35-£45 depending on the game itself. Move over to the digital stores however, and the prices range from £50-£60, perhaps more. We’ve been seeing a lot more video game store closures, most recently with GameStop stating they will be closing down 200 stores over in the United States. One day, just like Blockbuster, physical video game stores will be a thing of the past as we move into an all-digital future, and it’s actually quite scary if the prices are going to remain the way they are. You would no longer be able to trade in your games, which I suppose in some ways is a good thing, since trade-in’s don’t often support the developer.
I would happily rather spend £35 on a physical game than £50 on a digital version, and yet I’m finding people are going full digital. Why? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Is it convenience? Did they find it cheaper somewhere? Do they not care about their money and have it just to burn? Are all games going to be priced so highly in this all digital future? This point again reflects onto my first point, where as we start moving into everything being digitally downloaded and streamed, do you truly own your games anymore? Some say that you don’t truly own your physical games either, but at least you don’t get locked out of a physical game so easily like you can be with a digital one. Though of course the downside of physical media is that eventually the disc will wear down to the point it no longer works on your console. But then you’ll most likely be dead by then, so it’s not your problem, eh?
The State of Gaming Today
If you’re around my age, or maybe a little older, you remember what gaming used to be like. You’d get your game, you’d put it in your console and play it. It was often so simple, even if it wasn’t entirely perfect. These days, there are so many little things which have just changed the way we think about our games, yet we brush them off as a mild annoyance. But if we allow them to continue, it could see gaming being looked at in a bad light.
Microtransactions are the biggest offenders these days. They’ve taken over the majority of mobile phone games, they’re starting to plague single player games unnecessarily, and the way they are enforced means you often have to spend more than you want of a games currency to buy the thing that you want. E.g. Apex Legends often does “deals” of a skin that cost 1200 Apex coins. But wait, you can only buy Apex coins in bundles of 1000, or spend some more to get 2000 coins (with an added bonus of 150 extra coins, WOAH!) for a little bit less than had you bought two lots of the 1000 coins. You’re overspending to get the thing you want for absolutely no reason other than EA/Respawn saying “GIVE US YOUR MONEY”.
Reviews are important whether you believe it or not. The reason they exist is not just to give the opinion of the person who played it, but to let you know if it’s even worth your time and money. Yet for some reason, developers/publishers and even review sites are manipulating this system. Developers/publishers will now only target the sites they believe will get their game good reviews, publishers will pay sites to give their game a good review, and some review sites actually score a game a certain number just for clicks and not because of an honest opinion (e.g. say it’s actually a fantastic game and everyone knows it is, one site perhaps decides the game is actually bad without giving credible reasons just for clicks). It’s why many people find it baffling why the Epic Store still does not have a review system after almost a year of being live. People don’t want to buy a bad game without knowing if it’s bad or not.
The quality in games as of late is certainly dipping and rising. We’ve had fantastic, well-crafted AAA titles such as God of War, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Last of Us to total lacklustre games and clear cash grabs such as Anthem, Fallout 76 and Metal Gear Survive. Games are also getting shorter and have little content, but are costing a lot more. What’s bizarre is that a lot of these developers and publishers who made said bad games/cash grabs used to craft the best games, but as time went on they seemed to change their whole outlook. We do, too, have publishers such as EA and Activision who for a couple of decades now have been very money hungry, and put their investors first before the players. Until people stop supporting such toxic developers and publishers though, nothing will change. But sometimes it’s difficult; as much as you want to try and not buy that EA game, something about it appeals to you, so you and millions of others do it anyway and alas: you’ve helped support the very publisher you said you wouldn’t. Only time will tell on how far such publishers and developers are willing to go to jeopardise gaming as a whole.