I remember when my Dad first brought home our Atari 2600. That system changed my life (although my family might argue it was not for the better). If my parents’ generation was raised by television, my generation was raised by video games, and I loved them. I played all kinds of games, and I remember playing on almost every system that came out in the 80s and 90s, even if I didn’t own them (and I owned quite a few). In addition to that 2600, I owned a Nintendo, a Super Nintendo, a PlayStation, a PlayStation 2, an Xbox, an Xbox 360, a Wii, and a PlayStation 3, not to mention all the iterations of computers I’ve had.
But lately I’ve been hearing announcements about the PlayStation 4, and I have to admit something I never thought I would say: I really don’t care. The truth is I couldn’t name five games that have been released for the PlayStation 3, let alone played them. I might, might have played three games on the PS3, although considering one of them was Tony Hawk HD I’m not even sure that counts. Another was Final Fantasy XIII, which I never got more than thirty minutes of actual game play out of, although I spent several hours watching cut scenes.
So what have I used it for? Collecting dust, mostly. Same with my Xbox 360. The problem is that the games cost too much and demand too much, and quite frankly the systems try to do too much. Once upon a time (and I realize I’m dating myself here, but bear with me) console systems were designed for one thing: playing games. Now they’re designed to be music players, Blu-Ray players, web browsers, connect to every possible internet service, and oh yeah, play games occasionally too. And all for the low, low price of a few hundred bucks straight out of the box, plus peripherals, plus the cost of games, which is going up every year, IF you don’t include DLC, which all of them do.
The problem I have with this is that I already have a Blu-Ray player that works a lot better and is easier to navigate, I have more ways to listen to music that are more portable and do a better job, if I want to surf the web I’ll use my computer or (heavens!) take it with me, and as for the internet services I want, I can get them anywhere a lot faster and easier. What I want form these consoles I can’t seem to get anymore: a unique and fun gaming experience that doesn’t take an IT genius to set up and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. (I mention the IT genius because the only person I know that actually uses all these systems the way they’re designed to be used is, in fact, and IT genius.)
So here’s the crazy I want someone, anyone, to take and run with: make a stripped down, basic console. One that just plays games. And no motion sensitive, wild and crazy, “new experience” controllers, please. Just give me a quality gaming experience. Hey, Big Gaming Companies: if you really think people want something outlandish and expensive in their gaming, why are you losing market share to $0.99 games? Why did social games take off? Was it the “innovative” game play? Hardly. It was the basics. A good story, a fun time, something simple and basic, that people didn’t have to mortgage their house for.
I’m sure it can be done, and fairly easily. When I can cruise around and find a memory stick that can do the job in lots of 20 for less than $5 each, processors for $11.00 in ten seconds or less, and I can probably find the rest of the components with a little work, I seriously doubt it would be that hard for a major manufacturer to put together a workable console that could retail for under $100 (or even $50). Get some kids straight out of college to put together short games that would play in ten to twenty hours and retail them for $20. Even resale, they’d only drop to $10 at the lowest, and at that price you’ll sell enough to maintain a profit margin, plus get the goodwill of not looking like you care about the secondary market. If someone wants to write a longer story, just break it up into a series. Lord knows franchises are the Holy Grail of gaming anyway.
I can’t believe it would be that hard, and it’s a wholly unexploited market share today. There’s a lot of people who want to play games, but staring down the barrel of a $400 up-front cost is just too daunting, and upwards of $80 for a game I might play for a week just doesn’t cut it anymore, particularly in this economy. Bring it back down to earth, and watch them fly off the shelves.
It’s not like I’m some sort of newb: my first gaming console was an Atari 2600. I’ve played most of the consoles since then, and I’ve owned every iteration of Playstation and Xbox that has ever existed, as well as most of the Nintendo consoles. I’ve had a computer since x86 was even a designation, and “baud” was a word. I get gaming. Believe me. I’ve loved it, hated it, and been thrilled and frustrated by it. I just don’t think gaming gets me anymore.
For those of you who only started playing video games in the mid to late nineties (or heaven forbid, since Facebook and cell phones made video games acceptable), let me describe to you what gaming used to be like. You would sit in a room, usually by yourself, and you would put the game in. It would start up, you would play for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days (depending on your endurance and the size of your bladder), and then you would pass out. If you were really lucky and you were playing the right kind of game, you might have a friend to play with. If you were unlucky, you had a sibling you had to share with (hi, Jen). That was about it.
Somewhere along the line somebody got the idea of creating multiplayer games in a very real way. I’m not clear on exactly when this happened (I blame Doom), because they didn’t dominate the world of gaming for a long time. They coexisted, out there but not overshadowing traditional gaming. At least to the best of my knowledge not before Everquest came along (colloquially known as Evercrack). I lost a lot of good friends to Evercrack, mostly because I just never saw the appeal. It seemed more like a job than a game, spending all of your time “grinding” (that would be doing senseless and boring tasks for in-game currency to buy in-game items or achieve other in-game objectives) so you could get to a point where you could, I dunno, play the game. And it was always a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.
Then I discovered City of Heroes. This is a massively mutiplayer online game in which you get to play a super hero, and it was tailor made for me. My wife became a gaming widow for about a year. She finally got me back when she lured me into World of Warcraft, which had taken over from Everquest as the fantasy MMO equivalent of crack. She got tired of it; I didn’t. At least, not for a long time. It took a lot of grinding, foul language, and downright immaturity that I would be shocked to hear from an 11-year old boy to finally get me to quit. Two years of that later I finally went cold turkey. I’ve been clean for about six months now, and I’ve discovered something: there’s no games left for me.
See, here’s the problem. I never liked first person shooters (Doom, I’m looking at you again). I just never got the whole “twitch-twitch-flinch-twitch-this is fun!” thing. And I’m done with MMOs. It’s not the games; it’s the players. I just can’t tolerate their bullshit. For the right game I’ll pay every month (although that did grate on me, I won’t lie), but as City of Heroes found out, the free to play model isn’t enough to keep you going when the content isn’t there and the jerk-to-fun ratio is jacked up to 11.
But when I go to look for a nice, simple game, something like the games of my youth, they all seem to be gone. Note I didn’t say “easy”. Anyone who wants to claim that Metroid or even Super Mario World was easy has either a short memory or way too much time or their hands. But I don’t want to have to invest three days learning the control scheme. I don’t want to have to do mental and physical gymnastics to control my character (Wii, Kinnect, I’m looking at you this time). Even the franchises I used to love have confused added complexity for improvement. I loved Civilization. Civilization II may well have been the pinnacle of game making. Civ III was so convoluted and confusing I couldn’t even finish a game on the easiest setting. I hear they’re up to 5 now. Good for them. I wouldn’t even give them 5 bucks for it.
How about a basic platformer with some deep story? I’d love to see a great RPG that I can sit down and play for hours, not sit down and watch for hours a la Final Fantasy 13, which was so painful I couldn’t get through the first two hours, which translated to roughly fifteen minutes of actual gameplay. How about instead of adding bad multiplayer, you take the time to program the game such that I can choose between playing it FPS or strategic (Fallout 3, I’m talking to you). How about just once, you deliver a game experience that maybe isn’t all about the hottest graphics and coolest sound, and instead rewards me with gameplay so compelling, so rich, so intuitive and fun that I want to come back again and again, and I’m actually willing to pay twenty dollars more for extra content, because the original game was JUST THAT GOOD?
Oh, and how about not forcing me to be online just to play a single player game, Blizzard? ‘Cause, yeah, that’s bullshit.