Why disposable games are wrong and how to turn them into art

I've been reading through this news “Video game manufacturers may pressure resellers”, (Thanks to Acord of the Indiegamer Developer forum) which is an interesting read about the conflict between publishers and Gamestop's used games and trading policies, and a part really caught my attention:

Video games are different from movies or CDs, which often hold more sentimental and replay value over games, which can be played through in 10 hours and then discarded. The challenge for the industry is to get consumers to buy games they'll want to hold on to.

Reading this, I suddenly flinched at the awful realisation. Have video games fallen so low as to have no sentimental value whatsoever? It's not something to generalise about, but I'm afraid there is a certain amount of truth about that.

A player that is interested in a particular gaming genre (RPG, FPS, RTS or any other categorizing acronyms) will be able to find several generic games of the genre on the shelves, used or new. The keyword here is GENERIC. A lot of games implement a certain amount of features that are expected from the genre they classify in and then add a few minor improvement to it so they can write something on the back of the box. Generic games like that are raining down from the game industry and they are often hard to differentiate (except for a minority of them). What's there to get all emotional about?

A player interested in a particular genre just play through a game, discard it and play the next one, which will probably be just as satisfying (or unsatisfying) as the precedent. In this context, yes, I can understand that games are a disposable product. This reality comes down from the industry itself which pushes out those disposable games. “The challenge for the industry is to get consumers to buy games they'll want to hold on to.” Well yeah!! And publishers are turning to downloadable content, online features and other server based features that prevent piracy and reselling. This is probably a perfectly suitable business solution, but does it create love? In most cases, no. It creates bounds.

The players won't care emotionnaly about the games they buy as long as the publishers are deciding what goes in them exactly. Game development handled as a pure business inevitably creates disposable products, NOT products made of love and caring. If the publishers want products that instill love and caring in the players, they MUST give creative control to the developers so that they can care more about the products they work on (how many times have I heard not to take a gaming industry job too seriously, that it's “just a job”?). If the products are made with love and caring, that love will shine over to the customer. And THAT my friend, is ART!


Junkyard Sam said...

Great points.

I think often whether the game comes across as "art" or not depends on how much love and passion the developers put into it. Was it "someone's baby" or is the studio thinking of it only financially? Were the artists working on it night and day or did they treat it as a contract job? etc.

Also, I think it's okay for some games to be more emotional than others. A minigolf game might not be as heavy emotionally as the experience of, say, the Silent Hill series.

Most importantly though I really think it comes down to time and the attention to detail...

I wish studios would make smaller, better games than an epic enormous games of lesser quality.

Kevin said...

I'm totally for smaller games, especially since I've been growing older and my time more rare. I would love to enjoy games as I can with movies: short, complete experiences. When a movie is compelling enough and I feel there might be things I missed, I DO watch it again. Would I go through a 60 hours game again? Sounds painful... Thanks for you comment!