Generation of Diminishing Returns

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For some reason, people are hyping this generation as the best of all time. With this, I can do little but scratch my head and sputter, “Saywhatnow?”

There’s certainly games I’ve enjoyed on both the PS4 and Xbox One, but for anyone to insinuate this is the generation to end all generations? I just don’t see it.

To start, let’s examine how everything’s been marred by technical witchcraft. Sometimes developers are to blame, and sometimes the hardware itself. I don’t think anyone could argue that both the Xbox One and PS4 were extremely limited at launch, but over the last 18 months, much hasn’t changed.

The Xbox One may finally be chock full of features, but still suffers from heavy heels, meaning it drags its feet whenever attempting to utilize core features. My experience with snapping applications has been an absolute nightmare. Getting a stream going via Twitch is a hassle more often than not, and ultimately makes me wish I never bothered in the first place. Updating games has also been a tricky endeavor, as I’ve known download progression to get stuck at times. Seeking help is nearly as frustrating as dealing with the console itself, as any time I ask for Microsoft to step up their game and rectify such issues, there’s always some smart aleck who chimes in with, “Just do a hard reset by unplugging the console! That should solve your problem!” And it does… temporarily. I’ll have to do it again, though. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s what Microsoft had in mind.

The PS4 certainly blows past its competition with reliability – and with all those stability updates, it damn well better – but the lack of common sense on display is… is just baffling. The home menu design leaves much to be desired. In fact, it’s been a point of contention with owners ever since launch, but instead of listening to the online community and providing a sensible redesign, they created an equally frustrating solution, complete with supplemental service icons that can’t be removed indefinitely. Because, you know, that’s what people wanted… a tiered money pit with Sony’s logo slapped on it.

As frightening as the reality of companies releasing unfinished platforms has been, the prospect of an all-digital future is even more so. As most of you know, the original plans for the Xbox One made it clear that developers don’t want us to ‘own’ our games, but rather the licenses to play them (if you didn’t validate those licenses once every 24 hours, you wouldn’t be able to play). After Microsoft was forced into scratching their DRM plans, most breathed a sigh of relief, believing they were out of the woods.

But oh, how wrong they’ve been.

During the lengthy PSN outage near the end of 2014, many reported their digitally purchased games would not work. To be fair, they probably hadn’t set up their PS4 to be the Primary unit (which can be done in the system’s settings menus), but it’s scary to think an honest mistake can render your library worthless.

The controversy surrounding PT’s removal from PSN has also been an eye-opener, at least to those paying attention. Yes, Konami pulled PT from PSN… but that wasn’t the problem. Licensing deals expire all the time, and PT isn’t the first game to be removed from a digital platform as a result (The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games come to mind). That said, once a game goes in your digital library, you’d be able to redownload to your heart’s content. But the rub with PT comes from the fact that it doesn’t matter if you had previously ‘owned’ it. If the game is missing from your hard drive after the cutoff date, it’s forever lost…

…and per the PSN terms of service, this is perfectly legal:

“SNEI reserves the right to change or withdraw features, specifications, prices, services and content at any time, without notice to you.”

“Upon SNEI’s confirmation of your transaction, you may access the item you ordered through your Account that you used to order the item, until such time as SNEI removes the item or your license expires.”

“You are solely responsible if you do not choose to download or access the content before it is removed or your license expires.”

“SNEI reserves the right to limit or remove the availability to stream or re-download other licensed content at any given time without notice to you.”

So it doesn’t really matter if you ‘own’ something. They can flip a switch, and because you agreed to their legalese, there’s nothing you can do about it. This also means hyped system features can become worthless over developer discretion. PS4’s SharePlay was promising enough, but fans had to wait some time for its arrival. Once finally implemented – after nearly a year, mind you – people quickly found certain content was excluded from SharePlay eligibility.

And, of course, there’s ongoing concerns in regards to DLC and microtransactions. In the last year, some of the most disgusting models have showed up in Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Evolve, and Mortal Kombat X. Furthermore, Nintendo have proven themselves inconsistent with how Amiibos work. Depending on the game, they can unlock harmless skins, or entire game modes that can’t be accessed unless you track down a hard (if not impossible) to acquire figurine.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of gaming.

BUT…

*In best Jeff Goldblum/Ian Malcolm voice* “Now, you are, uh, going to have, ah, games, this generation, yes? Hello?”

We’re nearly two years in the most recent generation (we pretty much know what’s coming out between now and Christmas) – which isn’t young, especially for a generation that might not be as long as the last – and the release calendar is still falling victim to growing pains blues. I know I’m entering highly subjective territory here, but most every game I anticipated this year has been pushed back. The Legend of Zelda Wii-U, Quantum Break, Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank… poof. Gone. And those are just the games -I- had anticipated. Other casualties (for this year) include Dead Island 2 and The Division (both of which haven’t grabbed my attention). I have some interest in the new Batman, Halo, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed games, but they don’t REALLY excite me. At least not yet (although MGSV is looking better by the week). Nintendo’s looking to have a decent offering with Yoshi’s Wooly World, Xenoblade Chronicles X and possibly Star Fox, but I’m not too jazzed for those, either. No, the only game I’m truly looking forward to this year is The Witcher 3.

This, coming from someone who owns all three current-gen consoles (excluding handhelds).

I understand I’m probably not on the same page as most gamers. Hell, I’m probably in a different book entirely. Most people will spend a bajillion hours between Madden, Black Ops III, and Star Wars Battlefront, and consider these reasons enough to justify the purchase of a PS4 or Xbox One. Now, I’m happy I have these consoles… but only to a certain degree. There’s games I’m happy I didn’t miss out on, such as Bloodborne and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, but otherwise, this is turning out to be one of the worst generations we’ve ever had.

I’d feel better if this appeared to be a temporary ‘glitch in the Matrix’, if you will, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to video games, these things keep trending downward. They rarely, if ever, swing up. At this point, you could argue the ‘law’ in this industry is that of diminishing returns. Well, as far as consumer friendliness is concerned.  What’s worse, is I have little hope that things will get better.  Does that mean any single consumer should just throw in the towel?  Of course not.  Our voices and wallets/purses are all we have left, so let’s use ’em to send a message.  Get a blog.  Go on Reddit.  Get on Neogaf.  Post on Facebook.  Tweet on Twitter.  Call your friends.  Text.  Write e-mails.  Do whatever it takes.

But… will it matter?

I’m sadly of the opinion that we’re past the point of no return… but you just never know.  A squeak can build up to a lion’s roar, and that has the potential to make things happen.  But before we can make things happen, everyone has to ask themselves a few simple questions:

Is this really what ‘next-gen’ is all about?  Is this what we want out of the future of video games?  To beta test console hardware for hundreds of dollars?  To beta test ‘gold’ certified games for $60?  To have that $60 price point go from ‘full game’ to ‘minimal cost of entry’?  To enable publishers to ‘flip a switch’ on our purchases?

I HAVE to believe the answer from any reasonable person would be ‘no’.

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