Crunch, loot boxes, microtransactions… All these things are here for one reason only: because we allow it.
Video games. Gamevids. That thing you play when you want to stop worrying about real life for a couple of hours. It doesn’t matter how you want to call them, video games are part of our society more than ever before. But nowadays we are starting to see the dark side of making video games more frequently. Not only in terms of greed from the companies in the form of microtransactions, DLCs or loot boxes, but also regarding the conditions that developers have to suffer in order to bring us that game we really want as well. “But this is outrageous!”, some will say. “We have to do something in order to fix this industry!”, others might add. And those are great things to say in order to get some RTs or likes on Twitter, but I know the truth! You want to hear it? Okay, come closer and I’ll tell you. Are you ready? Here it goes:
We can’t do jacksh*t in order to fix the videogame industry.
What’s that? You say I’m a conformist who doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel? Well, I would agree with you regarding other topics, but today’s one is so deeply f*cked up that the only problem you’ll fix will be closing this tab before reading what I have to say. So, let’s see why I say that the gaming industry cannot be fixed. Oh, and be warned: I won’t candy-coat anything that I will say, so expect some swearing and some sad thoughts regarding the industry.
Indies: Cool Theory, Painful Practice
The first alternative people try to say is the following one:
First of all, if you think becoming an independent developer fixes anything, you are dead wrong. If you work for an asshole boss who laughs and makes their employees work to death and one day you say “I’m going to start my own company where I can be my OWN boss”, that’s great! But only for you, because your other co-workers will be dealing with the same crap as you did.
You see, no matter how selfless or kind you think you are, we humans are all moved by selfishness. At the end of the day, EVERYONE does something in order to get something in exchange. Even the sole concept of “helping others” is just a way to tell your brain that you are better than the others because you are doing it for a purpose, even if said purpose is just a mere “thank you”. But enough about this “Bring me to life” philosophy, let’s focus. If you turn indie, you are going to make games that you enjoy doing, for sure. But by not talking and doing something regarding the experience you lived while working for a bunch of white dudes wearing suits, you are only evading the problem.
Working as an indie dev is a good idea if what you really want to do is make things that you want without pressure or schedules. Except that’s also false. Indie devs have to deal with way more crap than big Triple A studios if they want to dedicate their life to making games. You want to make a game for the big bucks? Well honey, hope you are ready to find a good publisher, a good community manager and, of course, you better do something that strikes on the right time, otherwise hope you like the Shovelware section of Steam (A.K.A “the place were indies go to die”).
Trust me when I say this: if you are an indie dev, either you are making something really, really good or you are just another brick on a wall that its only purpose is to be there gathering dust. Does this mean that you shouldn’t be an indie dev? Of course not! But don’t go expecting everything to be handed to you on a silver plate; indie developers work harder than anyone else, but they are still game developers, so they should talk and act against these kind of issues. If they could, of course.
Your Creepy Neighborhood Spider-Company
Developers, if he:
- Never listens to your problems
- Once you do what he asked you to do, he never calls you back
- Makes you think that staying with him is more important than your family and friends
- Gets angry when you don’t do the things he wants you to do
- Always send his own friends to answer when someone asks you how are you doing
He’s not your man, he’s a game publisher/company. And guess what: if you are a consumer, you don’t give a single f*ck about this. You might think you are doing good by not buying their games or by lowering the score of their latest title, but this mess of a industry is so wrong that, no matter what option you take against the guys above, you’ll end up screwing those who made the game.
If a game doesn’t meet the expectations made by investors, you can either say bye to that franchise (here’s a couple of them) or even the entire team behind said series (Visceral Games among many others). Low scores are often followed by low sales (because we love making judgement based on completely arbitrary numbers), so not buying a game doesn’t help. What’s that? You paid full price for that game? Then you are just helping said companies to keep feeding the cycle of buying half-backed titles because let’s get real; you can only return games on Steam (you can do it on GOG too, but only if the game is filled with bugs and not if you “didn’t enjoy it”), and it’s quite sad that you can tell nowadays how fun a game is in less than 2 hours. This leads towards the next point, which is none other than…
Videogames Don’t Take Risks Anymore
Think about your favourite game. If you are from the old days of gaming, that game probably did something interesting with its mechanics or the way everything was presented or heck, even the level of challenge it offered. However, if you take a look at games from this year (indies take more risks but 90% of them don’t offer anything “new” but rather “nostalgia-esque”, but I’m talking about big titles) you’ll probably tell me something that make you say something like this:
Chances as well are that the game you think it’s the exception to the rule is either an indie title or… Yeah, probably an indie title. What games we had this year? Let’s see… The 4th entry of a bald guy with beard, A Fistful of Rockstar 2: the Pre-Sequel, Beating A Dead Horse Creed: Odyssey, I Can Hear Ubisoft’s Far Cry 5, Spider-Man (yeah completely new concept never done, Spidey never had a game before this one) and the list is longer and with one constant pattern: all these titles are from games that are not new. Heck, companies are taking the Hollywood route now and they are remaking everything again!
Triple A games follow trends, and you can’t be mad about how “everything has microtransactions and battle royale modes” because games are made by people who want to see numbers, not people. You really think EA’s CEO is crying and sleeping less because he killed a franchise loved deeply by fans? Of course not, they don’t give a single f*ck! They release products designed to sell fast and in big quantities, and when a group of people types angrily on Reddit “loot boxes can go to hell I want my game back” they are just screaming at a well. And a deep one.
So… Are We Screwed?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: yes, but only because we still don’t understand what video games should be. And yes, I include myself here because I don’t know where can I put the concept of “video games” in this world. Do we want to treat them as art? As visual and mental junk food? As something offered as simple and empty entertainment that makes us waste time playing it instead of enjoying our time with friends and family? Or are games the key to communicate feelings towards an interactive story?
No matter which one of those questions suits you best, you need to understand this; games are product, and products have always dark things crawling behind the scenes. As long as consumers AND developers don’t work together in order to create a healthy workplace, we’ll just keep eating whatever crap companies throw at us. Too bad for those poor devs that their sweat and tears are so addictive for us consumers… right?