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I've been gaming for enough years to transition through several stages in my life where I have varying time available or vacillating interest in particular game genres.
Old school JRPGs were my go to games in periods of my life with ample time. Devoting 60+ hours per RPG game was the price of admission and grinding through some levels was just how it was. The grind was unavoidable but I had the time and enjoyed the journey as well as the destination.
More recently, I can squeeze in a few hours in between work, parenting, and social life, but picking up a 60+hr title can occupy close to two months of gaming for me. Consequently, I find myself drawn to closed worlds or linear tracks where I know I'll come out of a 15 hour experience having experienced the story and a fair quantity of game play.
In the context of a game I purchase for a fixed price it seems to me we're at a stage in game development where the player should have the freedom to avoid grinding or skip all fetch quests and not be hindered in advancing through the game. Multi-player games presumably should start with a level playing field, but even there we've seen double XP bonuses and myriad of "pay-to-win" (or at least "pay-to-save-time") mechanisms where for some cash, you can save time and advanced more quickly.
These mechanisms and many more within the creative vision of developers I think would broaden the fan base of many games by letting is control or scale some of the aspects of games. The rate experience is earned, gore level, AI tenacity, quantity/quality of loot dropped, travel speed, random encounter rate, and countless other game variables could all be sliders at the users control so we can scale aspects of the experience to suit our individual interests closer. Game statistics could even be captured showing the modifications people most preferred using and can be taken into account for future games.
Naturally, the defaults would be the game as the developers originally envisioned, and I'd be fine with turning all/some of the trophies/achievements off for games once you start messing with some game systems.
The long story in short is that I think we're at a development stage where allowing the user to scale aspects of the game would not be very difficult to implement and may open or enhance the experience for many gamers. I, for one, could go from 2-3 RPGs a year to 6-7. And, in games that aren't really resonating with me, rather then shelving them, I could tear through them and be part of the conversation at least and maybe contribute to the game's buzz.
I'm sure some of these ideas have been implemented on smaller scale in PC gaming, and I don't want to come off like an entitled gamer, but rather, this is an easy means by which the gaming industry as a whole will get more of my money. Everybody wins :-)
With the Wii-U releasing this year and the next generation of PlayStation and XBOX consoles estimated for release next year I've begun questioning the tight-rope each company must walk to get the most mileage out of their hardware while mitigating risks of it overstaying its welcome or being undercut by alternative means of gaming.
I think over the last couple of years, we've all heard our friends and the game media in general pay less and less attention to the Wii. Development and strong titles dwindled and more and more users were defecting to the HD counterparts provided by Sony and Microsoft that had become more reasoanble in price and offered a strong catalogue of games for any who were Wii only gamers. The fascination with the "waggle" wore off and Nintendo lost ground with respect to the other consoles. This is no doubt simplified through my experience, but I think it's fair to say that for many of us who game on a daily basis, our Wii is collecting dust at this point.
Now, again from discussions with friends, listening to podcasts, and reading articles from games media, I get the sense that gamers are and have been defecting to PC gaming in increasing amounts. For those of us who have been console/couch gamers for as long as we can remember, there's some fairly substantial initial investment in getting a PC suitable for getting the most out of newly released games, and some headaches that come along with hardware-software compatibility. But the payoff is substantial now. Experiencing multi-platform games with significantly richer visual graphics and significantly lower load times is a big draw. And with PC gaming working hard to ensure controller integration in most games, frequence sales on digital goods, and Valve debuing "Big Picture Mode" to try and bring PC gaming to your TV and couch, there's less incentive to keep that PS3 or 360 of yours dust free.
The biggest variable in this is really each individual's brand loyalty. For someone who had a Wii exclusivly for a while because it was within my budget and has subsequently betrayed it for the now reasonably priced HD consoles, I can say my Nintendo loyalty was not strong enough to have me intrigued by a Wii-U. PS3 and 360 however have worked hard to provide value and communities it may be harder to divorce yourself from. 360 is usually offered as the exemplarly model for the community and your friends list, while PS3 uped the ante this year with the PS+ instant game collection which is particularly valuable to late adopters to the console who may have missed many of these titles the first time around.
On the other hand, while there may be some gamer attrition factor for a long console cycle, there is also the obvious benefits that come with developer's ever increasing familiarity with the hardware and programming suites. We keep seeing new releases that extract more out of the hardware that we thought possible years ago. From beautiful set pieces and textures to enormous open world games, developers are continually can more efficiently work within an environment the have extensive prior experience with already.
So we have the juxtaposition of increasing efficiency in development and lower costs with the competition between media that may offer a better cutting edge experience. With next year's presumed console launches this generation is heading to a close and we'll see next year whether how the market share fairs for each company.
Sound off in the comments below with your brand loyalty, excitement for new consoles, or thoughts on this topic. Has Sony and Microsoft pushed there luck with the age of their consoles? Are you dreading new hardware and would prefer to see continued life from your current console? Is the timing about right and you'll just happily upgrade next year?
In recent years, we've been witnessing myriad distribution means and financial models for getting games into gamer's hands. We've seen at least:
Good old fashion physical distribution of an entire game
Pure digital distribution of an entire game (w/ or w/out DRM)
Physical/Digital distribution of a game with DLC
Initial game sale and subsequent subscription based gaming
Subscription only gaming
Microtransaction/free to play
Physical v. Digital
Personally, I've been reflecting on this as we approach a new console generation. I've always liked the idea of physical media because you can sell/trade it (i.e. you actually own something) but also, I didn't have to worry about account issues and it feels like I can keep them around and always go back and play them. Hell, I still have an NES and SNES in the attic that I tell myself will work when I go to pick it up. Or even with the rise of emulators if felt like I could always just pop an old PlayStation game into a PC and play using an emulator because, "It's my disc, damn it!".
Now, having witnessed a few console transitions, I've seen both the positive side of digital games where a game you buy on your psp digitally is honored on your vita or from your Wii to your Wii-u, but I suspect the negative side such transfers won't happen due to backwards compatibility issues is going to happen as wel.. Digital appears to give distributors the freedom to let us carry our purchased software onto new hardware, but we're subject to the decisions of the suits.
On the flip side, I'm realizing that I'm not likely to see emulation of my 360 or PS3 so my games have as much life in them as my console itself does (or as long as replacement consoles are still available).
There's also the more palpable issue of costs. We know digital distributions saves publishers/distributors lots of money which theoretically can provide more money to the games development or potentially savings pass to us, the consumer. Look no further than for steam sales to see how great it is to impulse by something for 75% off what you might see in a local store. However, we also see the flip side of this where retailers need to clear shelf space and will sell games at a deep discount while the same game remains stubbornly expensive from a digital store front because it's just some space occupied on a server somewhere and imparts no burden to the distributor.
Fixed cost v. free to play or subscriptions
The old gold standard model of gaming was always a fixed price for a fixed game. This is always attractive because you have a easy to digest contract where you pay for a game. Here, for those of us who can wait for reviews to post, or even for a sale once it's not the newest item on the shelf. You can make an informed decision and be almost certain a game is going to be worth your hard earned cash. And, with prices that generally will decrease over time, if it's not a $60 value to you, you can wait until it hits your threshold, however much that is for. Much DLC is really a fixed cost transaction as well. Presuming you're buying an individual DLC expansion rather than a season pass where the individual entries are yet to be announced. You still can read about the DLC, weigh what you're getting for how much and just make a decision.
Free to play obviously has the advantage of "try before you buy". This is great, but at least currently, lends itself to good integration with limited genres. It also carries with it the risk of being hit over the head with the opportunity to spend money everywhere in the game. This falls short of advertising being in the corner whenever you play. But, while we all recognized they have to make money somewhere for future games to be possible, I personally, don't want to be constantly removed from the experience when I sense an obvious money grab.
Lastly, subscriptions also serve an important role in ensuring businesses have the capital they need to maintain the infrastructural necessary to provide a peak gaming experience. For many games where multi-player is key, these funds allow for frequent updates, lag free servers, and even a paywall to separate gamers casually approaching a game from those who want their multi-player experience to be more intense level. On another level, from the developer's perspective, it's a concrete way to measure user involvement in your game. If user subscriptions drop, you know that user has decided what they're getting isn't worth the money anymore. It's one more way to vote with your dollars.
Pros and cons... good and bad... no winner, right? Wrong. I think, for now, the consumer is the clear winner. We all have different priorities when we game or when we spend our money and as publishers are exploring different models to engage their customers, we have the power to navigate these options and vote with our dollars. For me, it's important to be able to hold that physical collector's edition to a franchise I adore, be able to get an expansion DLC when a game has lived up to my expectations and I want more, but it's equally important for me to be able to find those great digital deals or free to play games that let me try a game I may not have tried otherwise.
That being said, I'm sure there will be some winning and loosing strategies from the eyes of the publishers or distributors. We'll likely see less physical and more digital and less fixed cost and more a la carte, but for now, I enjoy being able to engage in some pretty diverse economic models and utilize them for their respective strengths.