Editorial: The Two Gs Killing Gaming

Warning: Opinions Ahead

One of my last posts was about some of the current problems hitting the gaming industry, and therefore us mere consumers. That particular post is pretty general, and only really covers some of the more recent releases to hit our libraries. For this, I’ve narrowed it down a bit to two individual problems that I think are having some of the greatest negative impact on gaming. Yes, the publishers are pretty terrible right now, as is the focus on pre-order sales over everything else, but these two are a bit more special and involved with every big company you could name:

1. Graphics

The drive for greater graphical fidelity is something that consumes the industry as a whole. It even informs the gaming culture, such as it is, and the product rivalries that exist between the three main systems of play (PC, Playstation and Xbox). On all new releases, graphic quality is heavily pushed at every opportunity. Video advertising almost entirely comprises of stunning visual set pieces using “actual in-game footage”, and both public and press-demos are quickly becoming stand-alone segments of the game designed to highlight graphics and art over gameplay. The demo released for the recent Aliens: Colonial Marines is absolutely notorious for using exactly this method to pre-sell units and provoke a positive press response. Graphic quality beats story, now, and often beats gameplay in the race to perfection. The most memorable moments in many games are the heavily scripted, heavily produced set pieces that show off nothing more than the companies’ graphic technology. Style over substance is a criticism rarely heard because it’s now expected. And games are suffering.

2. Gimmicks

Gimmicks are from the darker side of gaming. You can tell a lack of confidence in a title if it comes with something advertised as ‘unique, some little thing designed to distract you from wider problems with the game. Of course, sometimes that gimmick does work, but generally only when it’s bound up in the gameplay rather than as an unnecessary extra. Sometimes this can take the form of an in-game item, or a physical reward for buying the game, but more often that not is some special mechanic that only that particular title can boast about. Now, I imagine you’re about to stop me to inform me that a mechanic is directly part of gameplay and therefore has to work as per my previous statement. However, there are many examples of mechanics bolted onto a gameplay system that simply do not fit, do not work. They’re there as a gimmick. A gimmick mechanic is something designed and included outside or on top of the existing set of mechanics and rules that govern how you can play the game. And usually this means it doesn’t really work. I know you can think of a few examples yourselves. When extra time has to be devoted to this serious point, it has to be cut from other areas and the game will suffer.

So, there we have it. The two Gs that really are starting to ruin gaming. I understand that the style and quality of your game is very important; it’s unlikely that an ugly game will shift many units, but really this ties back in to my original post. Indie games often use quite basic graphics, or pixel art, and still achieve amazing things. Bethesda as a company are highly regarded for their story focus and immersive worlds despite a lesser focus on how good everything looks. It’s a crutch to help your game hobble a long, when it’s the crutch that hobbled the game in the first place. Gimmicks can work. They can turn a title from a single game to a huge series (Assassin’s Creed with it’s free running), but only when it’s an instrumental part of the gameplay itself. If you think your game won’t survive without something tacked on to it, take a long hard look at other areas of the game first. Chances are you’ll find the thing that’s broke.

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