Friday, 17 June 2011

The Week that Gaming Cracked

An article on Cracked.com this week entitled The 6 Most Ominous Trends in Video Games has been doing the rounds and provoking a fair bit of debate.  There's some interesting stuff in the article, most of the points raised will be recognised by all gamers with access to a console and a smart phone.

Gaming is at a bit of a cross roads: gimmick controllers, 3D, cheap gaming on smart phones and facebook (of all places) proving the most profitable place to sell your wares.  All this adds to the debate on what gaming is.  Some will tell you the future is narrative while other will baulk at their games being turned into interactive movies.  Some want a return to pure gaming, you live or die, without the lie of false choice.  Others point at new technology, Kinect and 3D pushing boundaries while others point at the headaches and the limitations of genuine control this new tech gives us. This is all covered in more detail in the Cracked article.  Go read it.  There are other concerns raised that are much more worrying.

When we buy a Call of Duty or a Battlefield title we know what's in the box.  An on rails First Person Shooter.  Not truly on rails like a Time Crisis, but on rails none the less.  This often engrossing gameplay will give most players around eight hours worth of entertainment and most of the game reviews for these type of titles will be full of the great/not great voice acting or the destructive/or non destructive scenery.  Most of us will not bother with it.  The truth is we don't buy Call of Duty or Battlefield to play against AI controlled opponents, we buy it for the sport of online.

Later this year Activision will bring us an experiment.  We'll buy the game for around £50 be able to access both halves of the title, both offline and online.  However there will be a massive carrot dangled in front of us gaming donkeys.  For an annual subscription we'll have free access to a COD social network, free download of map packs and more detailed stats analyses.  It probably doesn't sound like very much and indeed at the moment it isn't, but the worry is that it's a fore bearer of something else entirely.  How long before the only way we'll be able to game online will be for a fee?  How long before other developers look at the model and want a slice of the pie?  We could easily be at a point in a few years where titles aren't just fighting for our hard earned cash once for the disc, but also our loyalty in the form of an annual subscription to play the half of the game we really want.

People will pay for the additional features that Activision are offering, of that I have little doubt.  Whether it will be enough for them to call the experiment a success remains to be seen.  Frankly if they gave me the game for free and then forced the subscription on me to play online I'd be happier.

Forget the offline version that you plough millions into Activision, no one gives a fuck about it.  Then perfect your online model with servers that don't fail and seamless gameplay that everyone that wants a part of.  By all means charge us for it, just don't do it twice.