Why do you play video games?
That question seems a bit absurd, I know, but I ask because every once in a while, I find myself in the thick of a quantity vs. quality debate. It’s an important conversation to have, for sure, as countless games have been padded to manipulate our perception of value. However, these discussions often take such a disheartening turn, that I can’t help but feel like I’ve wandered into an alternate dimension, one that could only befit an episode of The Twilight Zone. Expectations of gaming are going to vary from person to person, sure, but there are certain arguments I’ll just never be able to wrap my head around. Jamin Warren, host of the PBS Game Show, is my latest source of bewilderment, because he’s making the case that video games are too long.
I was intrigued to see if Mr. Warren could produce a reasonable argument in his video segment, but it took less than a minute before my eyes had rolled to the back of my skull.
To showcase the extreme amount of time we, as gamers, have to invest if we’re to play through today’s hottest games, he begins by pointing a finger at Forza Horizon 2, which takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete. Personally, I wouldn’t classify that as a long game, but to each their own.
Next, he brings up the considerably longer Grand Theft Auto V remaster, which boasts at least 30-35 hours of gameplay. Acknowledging he’s already played through the last-gen iteration, he’s still willing to tackle the lengthy heist drama once more.
Now, this is where my head begins to spin. Not because he’s willing to invest up to 70 hours on a single title, but because he’s already invalidated his opening argument. A 15 hour game is, apparently, too much to handle… yet he’s justifying a 35 hour game – twice, no less – merely because he likes it.
Of course, in the same breath, he has to go that extra sensationalist mile with Dragon Age: Inquisition, as he says the prospect of its 40 to 80 hour campaign made him ‘weep inside’.
So, one 70 hour investment is fine, yet the other is not?
But then things get interesting:
“Games are, far and away, on average, longer than any other medium on the planet. For example, during the 276 hours that this Tumblr user spent playing Call of Duty, I could watch every movie on the AFI 100, finish the works of Tolstoy, and listen to most of the major works of 20th century pop music.”
He goes on to explain that while video games are a wonderful way to spend our time, it’s hard for a responsible adult to squeeze in such drastic minimum completion times, as we still have to juggle family, friends, work, etc. As a result, at least according to him, this is why only 10 to 20 percent of people ever complete their games. I’d like to respect the correlation he’s making, because there’s undoubtedly a link between completion rate and the amount of time people have in their day-to-day lives, but I have to wonder how sincere his ‘games are fine’ asterisk is when he follows up his train of thought with:
“So I can’t help but notice when I feel like games are wasting my time.”
He immediately goes into some explanation about how other forms of entertainment don’t require your undivided attention. You can simultaneously listen to music and read a book, for example.
I’ll agree that music can be more liberating than other media, but it depends on the person. There are plenty of people who don’t just use music as background noise, but as something to become immersed by. As far as books go, some can deal with distractions, while others can’t. Also, the pace at which each individual reads should be taken into consideration. According to my Kindle, I still have 13 hours left on a Stephen King novel I’m reading, but I’m sure there’s people who could probably knock it out in half the time. Film and television are also ingested in a variety of ways. Point is, no one person is alike, so blanket statements need to be left out of the equation, here.
He then states that the medium is experiencing a ‘crisis of audience’. Games now appeal to most age groups, and naturally, they all carry a different set of expectations based on their lifestyle. They all want different things.
That’s a crisis? We’ve reached a point in time where games aren’t seen by most as children’s toys… and that’s a crisis?
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
There has ALWAYS been a great deal of diversity amongst video games. You could seek what lurks in the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, or collect fruit in the preciously adorable Bubble Bobble. Enter a castle dripping with atmosphere in Castlevania, or hop on a pogo stick as ‘Unca Scrooge’ in Ducktales. Get your face hacked off by Jason in Friday the 13th, or roam around in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Regardless of what someone sees through their rose colored glasses, there was a variety of gameplay at the ready, and not a single game was beloved by everyone. But, because video games have only become more diversified over time, there is something for everyone.
But, you know, that’s apparently a BAD thing.
Mr. Willen even goes as far to suggest that games come equipped with a story slider – very much like the ones we use for graphics and difficulty – to reduce or extend a game’s narrative. This would allow for any given game to adapt to what WE require, and not the other way around. For example, those who are turned off by the beefy Dragon Age campaign would now have reason to play it.
Now THAT’S a slippery slope if I ever heard one.
Let’s say they did this. Let’s say Dragon Age: Inquisition offered a ‘story slider’. If you abridged the story, you’d have to alter the game mechanics too, wouldn’t you? I mean, how could that even be done? The entire game would have to be re-invented multiple times to suit multiple types of gamers. Keep in mind the devs spent at LEAST three years to bring this game, as is, to retail. To ask that they retool EVERYTHING to appeal to whatever YOUR schedule dictates, would seemingly add a lot of unnecessary time – not to mention cost – to the development cycle. That means MONEY, Mr. Willen. Where would the cost of extra time and resources get passed down to? You guessed it. The consumer. Do we really need to give publishers another reason to inflate the overall cost of games?
Now, as far as game length is concerned… well, that’s nothing new, either. Many classic platformers can be beaten within a couple of hours, and there wasn’t much accommodation. Many of these games had no saves, no passwords, nothing. Just you, the controller, and whatever the game had in store. But we also had Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III on the SNES), in which the primary quest could take 35 hours. Including side quests, you could easily have a 40 to 50 hour game on your hands.
And besides, even the SHORT games could chew up lots of time. I mean, you can technically beat Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts in less than 2 hours, but personally, I’ve NEVER been able to beat that game legit. I still play it to this day though, and I’ve probably invested well over 100 hours of my life to it.
So, who cares if Dragon Age takes 40 or even 80 hours?
I understand that life doesn’t leave much time for gaming. Most nights I only play for an hour or two, and sometimes not at all. Does that mean developers should compromise their vision to appease me? Absolutely not. It’s no secret that Dragon Age, or many of the other lengthy games out there, require a substantial investment. If you don’t want to invest the time, then don’t. Don’t buy a game if you think it’s too demanding for your lifestyle. That’s the beauty of having so many diverse experiences available in the marketplace. If one game doesn’t meet your needs, there’s plenty that will.
As a side note, despite my lack of time, I still play really long games. If I want to play it, I see no reason to skip it. Sure, it’ll take an extremely long time to beat them, but I’m fine with that. I mean, what’s the rush anyway? To get it out of the way so I can move on to the next? Personally, if a game is fun enough, I’ll see it through to the end. Know when I will step away? When it stops being fun. Otherwise, I’ll be content knowing my $60 investment could last for MONTHS.
Anyway, Mr. Willen argues that even if you DO have a lot of time on your hands, it’s still a precious commodity that shouldn’t be wasted on side quests.
Who’s to say what should constitute a waste of time for ANY of us? Some people really like the side stuff, and for a variety of reasons, at that.
One person cannot judge how valuable a game’s content is, or isn’t, for anyone else. Same goes for our tastes in books, music, and film. Some think The Lord of the Rings – as written by JRR Tolkien – is a literary masterpiece. Others believe it’s needlessly padded with an overwhelming amount of detail. Some people prefer listening to single songs, while others prefer the experience of a complete album. You can’t please everyone, right? Right. So, let the artists bring their vision to the table, and let the consumer decide what’s right for them. There doesn’t need to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Choice is the spice of life, after all. But, hey, if that’s what you want, guess what? There’s plenty of games that already do that, and more are on the way.
Which reminds me that Mr. Willen conveniently ignores something else, though. If quick satisfaction is what you need, there’s already an entire market dedicated to you: Mobile gaming. If you own a tablet, phablet or cell phone, the options at your disposal are almost limitless. There are games that cater to those with only mere minutes to play. If you like the episodic style of Telltale Games, their titles are compatible with virtually every modern device. If you want truncated versions of major AAA console titles, mobile has that, too. Dead Space, Mass Effect, Battlefield, Hitman, Madden, Call of Duty, and Batman have all made the jump to smaller screens.
So, let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Mr. Willen even all that interested in gaming anymore?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he needs his ‘gamer card’ revoked, or anything like that. But, what’s the most important part of any game? The gameplay… which is ironic, because this PBS Game Show host no longer seems to care about that aspect of the experience. No, he just wants to get in, get out, and walk away with a satisfying narrative… which is fine.
What’s NOT fine, however, is that he’s asking for a complete overhaul of the industry mold, and he’s doing so without considering the repercussions. I mean, let’s say developers around the world began catering to the ‘short and sweet’ crowd en masse. Polygon’s Ben Kuchera – who tends to agree with most of Mr. Willen’s argument – implies this could lead to consumer savings:
“A shorter game can be made for less money which leads to lower prices which means more people buy it… and so on.”
But does that even remotely echo reality? Mr. Willen’s specifically addressing AAA console games, but would publishers like Ubisoft, Activision and Electronic Arts REALLY reduce the price of their games if they cost less to produce? Of course not. One needs to look no further than Call of Duty, an annual franchise featuring 5 hour campaigns and a minimal multiplayer experience out of the box… unless you buy a season pass, of course. And yet, this game has the same MSRP as the time-consuming behemoth that is Dragon Age. If anything, I think these companies will stick with the $60 price tag regardless, and bank their savings from development to improve profit margins.
And since we’re talking about money, EA’s fiscal 2015 third quarter earnings call held some intriguing info about Dragon Age: Inquisition… You know, the game allegedly too daunting for the masses:
“Dragon Age: Inquisition captivated fans and critics worldwide as it launched in November, and it quickly became the most successful launch in BioWare history. More than 113 million hours have already been spent exploring the depth and detail of the single-player experience in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and more players are joining each day. Named “Game of the Year” by 32 media outlets around the world, including IGN, Game Informer and the Associated Press, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a true masterpiece from the team at BioWare and a game that is sure to be played for a long time to come.”
“In particular, Dragon Age: Inquisition had by far the most successful launch in BioWare’s history, exceeding our expectations. In addition, game sales for last-generation consoles were also much stronger than we had anticipated.”
“Outperformance versus our outlook was driven by the record-breaking Dragon Age: Inquisition performance.”
Not that there’s a strong correlation between game sales and game quality, as hype can go a long, long way… but Dragon Age is a well-established franchise. The devs themselves even more so, thanks to their success with the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Mass Effect series. People knew what they were getting into.
More than anything, I think this shows that Mr. Willen doesn’t truly understand what gamers want… just what HE wants.
So, in retrospect, maybe the question isn’t why do YOU play video games – since we see the kind of a response that elicits – but why do WE play video games? As I’ve gone through painstaking detail to point out, there isn’t a simple answer for that. Never has been, never will be. We ALL have our preferences, and as we grow and mature, those preferences are likely to change. As a result, self-inventory should take a large role in our internal conversation, especially if you’re echoing the sentiment that games are too long, wasting your time, and find yourself rushing through them ‘just because’. Games should not be, as Mr. Willen puts it, a chore. Yes, some games are needlessly padded, but this happens across all mediums.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the INDIVIDUAL to decide what’s best for THEM.
What’s the point in having a New Year’s resolution? It’s easy to say, “I’ve learned a lot this year, and I’ll somehow apply that knowledge to make a ‘better me’ the next”, but I’m a bit more… realistic:
-The most common resolution? “I’m fat! I need to lose weight!” Well, I’m a big guy that loves big food. I will NOT be visiting ‘Camp Putdownadaforka’ in 2015.
-I could say I’ll work on propelling myself into a better job, but money isn’t everything. I never work nights, weekends or holidays. I don’t think it get much better than that!
-As for the money I DO make… yeah, I’m not much of a saver. Not because I’m flat out terrible with money, but because I know how precious – not to mention fleeting – life can be. So, I spend money on the things I enjoy. I love taking my family to fun places, going out to restaurants, and my two favorite hobbies have always cost a fair amount of coin: Film and video games. I may not live in a mansion, but I lead a happy lifestyle. What’s the point of having a wad of your cash in your pocket if you leave this life unfulfilled?
-People often vow to relieve themselves from stress in the New Year, but screw that. “I will be less stressed” is a weak resolution, and furthermore, it’s odd. Why would I cite myself as a source of stress? For the sake of argument, let’s say I am. Maybe I have a chemical imbalance and can’t help myself! Nah, my stressors are probably the same as yours: OTHER PEOPLE. Not everyone, of course, but I know that if I leave the house long enough, I’ll find just enough of those joy-joy mood parasites to feel at least SOMEwhat agitated. On second thought, I don’t even have to leave the house for that… I can just hop on the net or turn on the news.
-Travel? Didn’t I JUST rant about how other human beings affect me? Why would I want to hotbox myself in an airplane with people who have NO social awareness whatsoever? I have no intention of dealing with folks who can’t keep their knees off the back of my seat, have never learned how to properly utilize an ‘inside voice’, or can’t stop burping and farting without explaining their entire medical history to me. Your gastroenterological issues are yours and yours alone, pal. Keep your escaped poo and bile particles confined to your own personal bubble, PLEASE.
Clearly, I’m joking.
On a more serious note, though, I’m really not the kind of guy that likes to partake in the whole ‘New Year’s Resolution’ thing. Life is too short to fixate on flaws. If I feel like making some changes, I’ll do my best to make them… and an arbitrary date on the calendar won’t have anything to do with it. That said, I HAVE learned some hard lessons over the course of 2014, so the opportunity to share these ‘epiphanies’ couldn’t have come at a better time. Hopefully, this list provides something you can think about while deciding how to spend your money in 2015 and beyond.
For starters, I’m honestly done with buying games on day 1. The industry has changed in such a way that it doesn’t even make sense to me anymore. Most major releases have either not worked, or required a significant patch upon release… meaning these games aren’t complete out of the box. There’s also a troublesome trend of games being sold as if they were crack: Major publishers will provide a mere taste at release – at $60 a pop, mind you – so you’ll get hooked and feverishly buy into whatever DLC they throw at you. Me, I’m tired of spending full price for a product that’s literally incomplete off the shelf. MSRP for good intentions? No thanks. So, I just won’t do it anymore.
And yes, this also means no more pre-ordering. “Pre-ordering doesn’t harm anyone though, right? I mean, if a game comes out and you hear bad things about it, you can always cancel.” Yes, I can always cancel, but why pre-order in the first place? How many times have you been legitimately burned for not doing so? Unless you’re looking to get a limited collector’s edition or the latest console, your local retailers will have a TON of copies on display. And believe it or not, pre-ordering DOES hurt the consumer. Think about it: Why are publishers confident enough to release their games in an unfinished state? Because those pre-order numbers tell them they’re going to make a lot of money regardless, so as a result, they let that ‘fix it later’ mentality creep in. This, unfortunately, is what happens when we tell these companies, “Yes, we’ll buy your product sight unseen.”
And you know, I think I’m just going to buy less games in general. I’ve purchased a TON in the last 12 months… and for what? To sit on my shelves looking pretty? I mean, it’s nice having a large selection of games to choose from, yes, but that’s no justification. It’s disheartening to think of all the games I bought at full MSRP; many of them remain unplayed, and can now be had for $30 or less. Yes, by the time I get around to most of the titles in my backlog, they’ll be worth at LEAST 50% less than what I paid for them. Since September alone, I haven’t had the opportunity to play Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Hyrule Warriors, The Evil Within, or the remastered iteration of Grand Theft Auto V. I’m not even sure when I will… so what the hell did I buy them for? That’s five games I could have nabbed for $30 instead of $60… meaning if I was smart, I could have had an extra $150 in my pocket. That’s not exactly chump change, you know?
So, with that decided, I’ll naturally work on my backlog. As a matter of fact, I’ve already begun the process… and to be perfectly honest, I’ve been much happier with those games (The Witcher 2, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) than most of 2014’s offerings. That’s not to say I won’t dabble with the Wii-U, Xbox One or PS4, but rather they’re not likely to be my primary source of entertainment until the end of the year.
But there will be a point in time when tackling the backlog buffet feels too much like a chore… so I’ll keep things interesting with retro games. I’ve emulated my childhood favorites for years, but all that did was remind me how stupid I was for selling off my old systems. Well, I’ve had it up to here with regret, so I bought a Retron 5, original SNES controllers, and a respectable batch of old-school games. I know it’s technically emulation, but I don’t care. There’s just something about using original controllers in a machine that has a cart sticking out of it. I plan on utilizing this machine A LOT, so you can expect to hear my thoughts on some retro games as I complete them.
But again, don’t mistake this rundown as New Year’s resolutions. The wind has been blowing this way for me as of late, so the change in tide was inevitable. For once, I actually welcome it, too… which is weird. I’ve always been apprehensive to change, but this time it’s different. Maybe it’s because I do my best to always look for the silver lining, I don’t know. I certainly don’t approve of major publishers continually attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, but if they HADN’T plunged the industry to new lows last year, I’m not sure I would be the informed consumer I am today.
Regardless of how you felt about 2014 though, here’s hoping each and every one of you have a fantastic year in gaming. New, old, or REALLY old… it matters not. The only thing you should really concern yourself with is having fun. That said, it never hurts to stay informed so you can make decisions that better suit you, your wallet, and the industry as a whole… that is, as you, the consumer, would want it to be.
Happy New Year!
The NES played a central role in my childhood. I remember walking around the corner to a friend’s house, spending countless hours playing the titles that were destined to become classics, and Capcom’s DuckTales was amongst the most memorable.
At the time of its release, Capcom was already a well-established company… but how they managed to land a deal with Disney is beyond me. In retrospect, I would have imagined Capcom’s reputation for producing crushingly difficult games would have sent mixed messages to the animation giant. After all, their target audience would have been the youngest of children. Could you imagine little Timmy picking up the latest Disney game, only to spend an afternoon crying because it proved to be just as punishing as Mega Man or Ghosts ‘N Goblins? Well, Capcom’s take on DuckTales was surprisingly well balanced. The gameplay wasn’t easy but not particularly challenging, yet hardcore players kept coming back to see who could find the most treasure. This addicting formula was rounded out with fun level designs and one of the catchiest 8-bit scores of all time.
If you didn’t get to experience this game as a child… I’m so, so sorry. You totally missed out… that is, until Capcom announced they’d been developing an HD remake of the original classic – DuckTales Remastered. Yeah, the first thing that flew out of my mouth was, “SHUTTUP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” The prospect of being able to play this title in HD was all I needed, but Capcom wanted to improve upon the initial experience. I wasn’t sure how that could be possible, but I was intrigued nevertheless.
Before I get ahead of myself, it’s important to discuss what made this title so much fun in the first place – Its gameplay. Scrooge McDuck traverses through the Amazon, Himalayas, Transylvania, African Mines and even the Moon, all seemingly for the sake of acquiring more wealth. I say ‘seemingly’ because the devs never bothered to fill us in on what’s drawing our beloved Unca Scrooge to these locations to begin with. That may sound appalling by today’s standards, but this was commonplace in the NES’s heyday. Anyway, in order to obtain these treasures, he has to battle his way through tough apes, giant spiders, mummies, bats, skeletons, goats, slugs, carnivorous plants and more… and that doesn’t even take the stage bosses into consideration. McDuck doesn’t venture into these areas with any projectile weapons, or even a blade for that matter. No, he uses his cane as a makeshift pogo stick, pouncing his enemies into submission. The cane also doubles as a golf club – Small boulder in your path? Stand next to it and give it a whack, hurdling it towards the next unfortunate creature. Yes, it sounds simple enough, but each level has its own series of challenges to overcome. You’ll have to carefully time your jumps from one careening mine cart to the next, or channel the spirit of Indiana Jones as you hop across a collapsing bridge while a massive boulder nips at your heels. If you want our feathered version of the Monopoly guy to survive, you’ll have to be methodical and precise.
Of course, getting from point A to point B is only half the adventure. As already mentioned, you’re continuously adding to Scrooge’s money vault, and this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the game. Gems and treasure chests aren’t just sitting around waiting for someone to take them home. Nope, they’ll only be revealed after McDuck moves over their hiding spot, meaning you’ll want to walk and hop in every nook and cranny imaginable. Even still, you’re likely to blow your chance at retrieving certain treasures before you even have the chance to realize it… and shockingly enough, this never seems unfair. Missed opportunities will only demand multiple play-throughs, and even urge you to change your play style.
That’s pretty much the game in a nutshell. Everything worked so well in the original, so people pressed their hands together and prayed that Capcom would stay faithful to the original formula. Well, they did, and reviews of DuckTales Remastered has been mixed as a result. Seems kind of hypocritical to me, but I guess that’s the culture of gaming – Even if there’s nothing wrong with a product, you HAVE to find something to complain about. After all, what kind of news gets the most attention? Negative, of course.
So, how does the remake fare, exactly? In short, Capcom knocked it out of the park. This is about as faithful a translation as you can get – Level layouts are almost exactly the same. There’s a few minor tweaks, but they’re so subtle hardly anyone will notice. And oh, how gorgeous these diverse locations have become. Capcom actually enlisted the original series animation team to design the levels, so it actually feels like you’re playing in HD versions of the show. Furthermore, all the characters have been penned, inked and digitized as well. Last but certainly not least, the music has been lovingly recreated, and the result is pure sonic ear worm.
That wasn’t enough, however – In order to enhance the idea you’re actually playing through a DuckTales episode, there’s now a bunch of scripted segments that tie everything together. Their efforts definitely capture the heart of the show, but you know what really went a long way in driving this concept home? Getting the original cast to voice their respective characters. Yes – Scrooge, his nephews, Launchpad, Gyro, the Beagle Boys, and pretty much everyone else – they’re all here with fresh dialogue, and I dare say they sound better than ever (except for Magica DeSpell, who now sounds somewhat aged). Impressive, considering Alan Young – the voice of ‘Unca Scrooge’ – is over 90 years old.
As far as gameplay changes, there isn’t much to discuss. Certain boss battles have been modernized to be a tad more challenging, but all their classic moves are still present and accounted for. Honestly, the most notable change is that it’s easier to pogo. On the NES, you had to press A to jump, and then simultaneously hold ‘down’ and B. Oh, and move left and right at the same time. I’ll never know how I made it through my childhood with my thumbs still intact. If you’re something of a masochist, you can turn the ‘hard pogo’ control scheme on, but, uh… just don’t.
All in all, this is DuckTales as you remembered it… only better. Of course, there’s an inherent problem with this – Not everyone got the chance to enjoy the NES game or even the original series. So, how are young gamers going to react to the HD remake? Well, reviews from 20-somethings across the web are mixed, and understandably so. There was a LOT of hype for this release, so expectations were bound to get out of control.
As far as the gamers who ARE old enough to have enjoyed the 8-bit rendition, reception has been all across the board. Some herald it as the greatest HD remake of all time, whereas others have criticized Capcom for emulating the original design and gameplay to a fault… but me? I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… this, coming from a guy who wholeheartedly supports major alterations (when appropriate, of course). I mean, take the upcoming Castle of Illusion remake for example – The original Sega ‘classic’ was a fun game, but the controls were dreadful and the level design left a lot to be desired. It appears the studio behind the HD version is changing things quite a bit, and for the better. To those who wanted something more from DuckTales Remastered… I honestly don’t know what to say. That’s a lie… of course I do – Get the fudge out.
That’s not to say there aren’t some minor issues. Some have complained that the amount of integrated cut-scenes is a pain in the tooshie. I actually enjoyed the story bits throughout my initial run, but they do become tiresome on multiple replays. At that point, all you want to do is collect treasure and bonk bad guys with your cane, and the cut-scenes do cut into that experience. Fortunately, you can press ‘start’ and select ‘skip cinematic’ from the pause menu. Capcom, it would be nice to see a patch in the future that would allow us to skip the cut-scenes automatically… just sayin’.
Last but not least, some have complained that Scrooge doesn’t always pogo when you want him to… but these complaints are a tad misleading. I actually found this to be a huge problem at first, but that’s because I was attempting to ‘hard pogo’ with the new control scheme. Once I stopped trying to do more with the controls than necessary, each and every goof-up from then on was a result of MY doing, and not from faulty controls. I can’t recall a single moment where I got frustrated and said, “GAWDAMNIT! I PUSHED THE RIGHT BUTTON!!! WHAT THE &%$#?!”
In all seriousness, this is a must own title. If you’re a fan of the 2d platforming resurgence, or just a fan of old school or arcade-style games in general, then DuckTales Remastered is the (nearly) definitive experience you’ve been looking for.
I remember a time when the going price for a console was $199, and at the time, it was undoubtedly a parent’s worst nightmare. Could you imagine the shock? Last year, little Jimmy only asked for a big-box toy which cost $40, but this year? He wanted a Nintendo Entertainment System, the premium in-home gaming solution that was priced at an ‘affordable’ $199. After his mom and dad finished cleaning the coffee the spit across the kitchen table, they figured it was time to start saving. After all, the kid had never asked for anything so expensive, and he was a good boy, so why not? Besides, an NES was the gift that kept on giving – Gone would be the days when a rainy day forced a child to drive his parents up the walls! Of course, that gift only kept giving as long as the parents did. Spare controllers were needed, game cartridges, and it wouldn’t be long before a Light-Gun and Power Glove would be added to the list.
Over the years however, prices have gone up. Consoles began to cost a little more, as did the games. Before long, a brand new console went for $299… and then the PS3 launched its premium package for $599, which made the future of gaming seem a little intimidating. Compared to that however, next-gen offerings aren’t going for the throat as many had imagined. The PS4 seems to be the bargain at $399, whereas the Xbox One, while offering more in the box, is asking for $499. While a majority of gamers consider these prices to be fair, if not better than expected (especially in the PS4’s case), there’s still a number of consumers who feel they’ve being extorted. To them, my response would be, “Really?”
Let’s just look at all the technological doodads many of us use, or see prominently displayed at retail. How about smartphones? Most of us have one, and most of us probably spend $199-$299 with contract terms attached. Want to upgrade early or get a phone without a contract? That price skyrockets to anywhere between $500-$700. How about those tablets that have become all the rage? There’s a variety of brands and models to choose from, but you can pay as little as $150, or as much as $1,000. Then there’s e-readers. They cost a bit less, you’re still likely to spend over $100. MP3 players are all the rage, and a decent one with larger storage capacity is going to set you well over $200, if not $300. There’s also laptops and PC’s to consider, as they’re the ‘other’ (and in many cases preferred) platform to game on, and we know the price for any kind of gaming rig can range from $500 to… well, the sky is the limit depending on how much you plan to future proof.
So I have to ask – Why is a console priced at $400 such a big deal? People obviously have no problem justifying the expense of various other devices, so why are consoles unable to escape the financial stigma they’ve been associated with? Yes, many of us remember the early days where consoles were only $200… but our dollar was worth more back then. Everyone’s aware that prices have escalated substantially over the years, and it’s hard to ignore the contrast of living costs from 1985 to where it’s at today… so why do some people feel that consoles shouldn’t cost more than $199 or $299? Some people just don’t want to spend that kind of money when a price drop is inevitable, and that’s fine – I’m strictly inquiring about the people who solely believe the price to be out of this world.
Part of the answer rests with the rate of inflation. We don’t seem to notice when things go up a few cents here and there, and even if we do, the cost isn’t enough for us to miss. “It’s just a few cents, who cares?” But that difference becomes increasingly notable over time, and because most of us don’t have time to ‘stop and smell the roses’, it’s a shock when we finally catch up with what’s happened. ‘Meh, it’s only a few cents’ is an attitude that knocks our perspective out of whack, and allows us to maintain an unrealistic idea of what things SHOULD cost. So, naturally, people are recalling the days when consoles were $200-$300, wondering why they have to spend at least $400 today.
To be clear, I’m not saying that anyone is ignorant. For the most part, we’re talking about human nature here, and the snail’s pace at which our economy gouges us is a blatant attempt to exploit that. I’m merely suggesting that if you’re one of the consumers affected by ‘sticker shock’, you should pick your jaw up off the floor and understand that these price hikes aren’t ‘just because’ (well, Microsoft could have dropped the camera and charged $100 less like Sony but, I digress). You’re more or less paying the same financial value as you did in 1985, or 1995, etc.
Outside of price, there’s the perception of gaming to consider. There’s a fair number of people who enjoy their time behind a controller, but consider it to be a lesser form of art (The Last of Us says hello, by the way). In the eyes of these individuals, consoles are nothing but mere toys, and what toy can be worth nearly half a grand?
Now THAT’S ignorance.
Consoles. Aren’t. Toys… Period. They’re PC’s that are designed specifically for gaming. Each unit is produced with uniform hardware, thus allowing everyone to experience each and every game as the devs intended. You can browse the web, watch DVD and Blu-ray, stream from various services (Amazon Instant, Netflix, etc) and your PC, and more. If you’re one who fails to see why consoles are so much more than toys, just ask yourself a question – do you consider your desktop and laptop to be toys? How about DVR, digital disc and mp3 players? If the answer is no, it’s time to reevaluate from a perspective of logic.
Gaming isn’t just some idiot’s chore, and pricing isn’t quite as crazy as certain people make it out to be. Games are just another form of expressive entertainment, and considering the hundreds, if not thousands of hours you’ll spend gaming throughout the course of single generation, half a grand really isn’t that much to ask.
But how do you feel about it? Do you feel that people have blown the prices to enter next-gen out of proportion, or that they’re justified? Are there any other angles to this debate that you care to express? Leave a comment, and I’d be more than happy to continue this discussion/debate.
Debating consoles over the years has been equal parts intriguing and frustrating. I mean, there are so many aspects of gaming to dissect and so many different opinions to take into consideration, that you’re guaranteed to never have the same discussion twice. There’s the hardware comparisons, the evolution of gameplay from platforming to the third dimension, which games are the best of all time, the importance of story versus gameplay, if video games can actually be considered art… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That being said, there’s one aspect of these conversations that have been very cyclical for me, and I’d like to address it – Controllers.
Controllers have changed a lot since the beginning, haven’t they? I mean, the Atari only had a joystick and a single button, yet we managed to make it out alive. NES introduced a groundbreaking control scheme with its directional pad, as well as ‘B’ and ‘A’ buttons which were entirely separate from ‘select’ and ‘start’. All of a sudden, it was possible to do pretty much anything. The SNES controller further refined our gameplay experience by adding more buttons for our right thumb to access, and placed some bumper buttons up top for our index fingers… after all, our fingers weren’t doing anything up there before, so let’s put them summabitches to work, amiright? AMIRIGHT?! Today, we have more buttons, triggers and bumpers, and more. Still, there’s one thing that can’t be denied – The influence of the SNES controller is evident in almost every design we’ve seen since. There are some exceptions of course, but gaming might not have been the same without the SNES pad around for inspiration.
But much like every other aspect of gaming, I’ve come across a varying degree of opinions in regards to which control scheme is best. Everyone has different preferences, but those who seem to prefer the ‘unique’ controls of the Wii-mote or the Gamecube controller always have the same thing to say… and this is the only aspect of ‘game talk’ that I seem to relive over and over again – “Well at least they’re trying to do something different, instead of copying the SNES/PS1 controller”, and they say that like it’s a bad thing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but since when was the SNES or PS1 controller considered an abomination to mankind? Who EVER had a negative thing to say about their experience with such hardware? Nobody… and you know why? Because they just worked, that’s why. They were mostly comfortable AND intuitive, and allowed us to make the most out of the games that were coming out at the time, if not ever since.
I get the angle that some gamers just want new and inventive ways to play their games, instead of feeling like they’re doing the same thing over and over again, but I feel like those people are just trying a little too hard to distance themselves from a trend. You know the old saying – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, Sony and Microsoft both apparently understand this in regards to their controllers. The PS controller added more buttons up top and eventually a couple of joysticks. They’ve had little need to change it since. Microsoft originally released a massive controller for the original Xbox, but eventually scaled it back and then perfected their design with the Xbox 360. In fact, I’d probably rate the Xbox 360 controller the best of all time, even though it’s D-pad sucks and isn’t really built for those quick, button-mashing fighter games, like Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat.
So, how is it that Sony and Microsoft apparently get what works with their gaming controllers, yet the original trend setting Nintendo, does not?
N64 – Let’s be honest, this wasn’t a great controller. It worked, yes, and there isn’t a single N64 game that feels comfortable unless you’re specifically using this controller… but come on. You had three handles on the damn thing, one of which was absolutely useless (hint: it was the left one). Your left hand always had to use the center grip, because that’s where the essential joystick and Z-trigger had been located. The A/B buttons in combination with the C buttons were just sort of awkward, and those pesky yellow dots weren’t comfortable to press.
Gamecube – I rank this one as the worst of all time. I’ve had someone tell me that it felt so comfortable it practically melted in their hands… and you know what? I’ll agree with them on that – When I was holding this thing, it was heaven. Those triggers up top were magnificent and really helped to seal the deal. That being said, using the buttons on this damn thing was an entirely different experience. You had a usable stick on the left, but on the right was this short, nubby little ‘C Stick’, which was mostly awkward. Next, the A button was transformed into a ginormous red panic button, and the X and Y buttons were made into almost rectangular shaped buttons that formed around it, so they weren’t comfortable to use either. Nintendo wanted this controller to look fun, but actually using this piece of hardware was anything but.
Wii – Yayyy! Motion controls! Grand in theory, but a failure in practice. I’ll give you one simple reason why – The nunchuk. You could use motion controls, but you had to have a small handheld joystick for the other hand… which wasn’t wireless, but leached power from the Wii-mote itself via a cord, hence ‘nunchuk’. It worked well enough together, but if they were going to go through all that trouble, they should have made the joystick wireless, or even go back to making traditional controllers. But, oh, the fun doesn’t stop here, does it? You can use a ‘classic controller’… but not unless it was plugged into the Wii-mote, which you wouldn’t be using anyway since both hands would have been on the classic controller! GAHHH!
Wii-U – OK, this is actually kind of cool, but still rather silly. Tablets are all the rage now, so OF COURSE Nintendo had to make their latest and greatest controller a freakin’ tablet. There are some really cool ideas in its implementation, a major draw for me being the fact that you can have your kid play on the tablet while you can watch your regularly schedule programming. Still… the thing is a TABLET. It’s BIG. It doesn’t really feel all that comfortable to hold, in my opinion. Again, it just feels like another gimmick, and Nintendo… you need to stop taking advantage of stupid people by selling them a gimmick every time they get a paycheck.
My intention isn’t to pick on Nintendo, exactly, but it just so happens to be their controllers to have pissed me off over the years. Anyway, my point is this – Just because something hasn’t changed much over the years (such as the controller designs used by Sony and Microsoft), doesn’t mean a decline in quality or performance. If anything, these companies have found something that has worked VERY well, and instead of trying to change the way we control our games every other minute, they have instead focused their resources on refining what already works.
Controllers shouldn’t be the constant game changer from generation to generation… it should be the gameplay itself (amiright, AMIRIGHT?!). How do you change the FPS game? Look at the open world mechanics of Far Cry 3 or the upcoming Killzone Shadow Fall for inspiration there. How do you change third person sandbox games? Look at Watchdogs, which allows you to hack into pretty much anything with a small electronic device (in-game, of course). I think there are plenty of people who think that gaming has gone as far as it can in the gameplay department, but that’s just bullcrap. A devs imagination is the limit, is it not? They are literally creating something out of nothing, right? So why do people say, “This is it! All we have our Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Halo games!” No, you’re just not looking hard enough. Try something outside of the mainstream, folks, you may just realize that it isn’t the controllers that are providing you with better experiences after all….