By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
Last year I predicted that the uprise of card games would change the industry, and I am happy to say that I was right. Hearthstone got insanely popular after the beta, and if you look at streaming platforms like twitch, it is one of the most streamed games of the industry. While some point to it as an extreme example, plenty of other CCGs have seen decent success, especially in the realm of mobile games. Just because you don’t see a ton of press coverage or advertising for them doesn’t mean they aren’t bringing in the bankrolls.
Seriously these card games don’t even have to be online anymore and people just throw all their money at them.
Unfortunately this was one of the few success stories of 2014, as most of the online gaming industry suffered greatly. A lot of people are not happy that developers seem to be making major changes in their games with arbitrary care for community feedback. Gamers in droves began leaving their titles, only to find paywalls blocking out anticipated upcoming titles as Steam Early Access and founder pack programs conquered the ‘free to play’ model. The other side of the paywall has proven even riskier as indie developers on Kickstarter have started to realize the gap between their funding and game developing experience versus their expectations and promises. This creates discouragement both on the side of the developers who get labeled as frauds, and the backers that have been burned one too many times.
Because of this I expect to see 2015 bring the beginning rumblings of change, even though we will still see an endless supply of early access beta tests that seem to stretch forever. Players are getting wiser by the day and far less likely to buy into just any paywall beta. The industry will be forced to react in kind, and I’m fearful that they will take the wrong road, walking forward with even less risks to maintain low but stable profitability. We have seen plenty of games in the last year that were almost direct copies to the previous title in the company’s portfolio. While the most obvious culprits are the Chinese MMO publishing groups and app game store developers, even major studios are becoming guilty now. One that comes to mind is a title like Far Cry. Far Cry 3 was an amazing game, it was a game that was extremely different from the first two Far Cry games, but the latest Far Cry basically was the same game, in just a different setting. This doesn’t mean that the game itself is bad, because lets be fair it was still an awesome game, but if you really think about the development of the game, they basically had a lot of content already that could be rehashed for a fraction of the cost of producing the first game.
The need to cut costs and corners at every turn is changing the game industry into a much simpler, predictable place. The warp speed rate that graphics have improved in the last decade is now peaking out. The cost of going to the next step just isn’t worth it, especially when older gamers are donning their nostalgia goggles to go googly-eyed over graphics that were passible in the 1990s. Again Far Cry 4 stands as an example of astonishing graphics. They’re so good, most players can’t even suggest areas that they could have been improved in.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and not all companies see it as an opportunity to cut corners though. One direction that seems to be becoming a popular focus in place of graphics is a game’s storyline and proper cutscene direction. Final Fantasy XIV continues to push out console RPG quality cutscenes within an MMO, complete with voice acting localized to multiple languages, and their playerbase loves them immensely for it. Some companies continue to push the boundaries of how realistic of a game world they can create, such as was done in Watch Dogs. This game showed huge potential, only to become a huge let down to the majority of the crowd that bought the game. I myself had pre-ordered the game, and even though I did enjoy my time playing it, it wasn’t what I expected. One could question, who is there to blame for this continued disparity of vision and product? And I think that we the consumers are partly to blame.
While the online gaming community struggles to meet ends with early access and founder pack programs, on the other side of the tracks the console juggernauts are living easy while still pushing pre-order programs like it ain’t nobodies’ business. As sales quotas are met before the game even ships, inexperienced developer heads become satisfied with their product under this guise of false confidence. If there is a publisher like EA behind it, this could discourage them from implementing much needed key features, content, and polish that might make or break the game. Obviously this is not the way the world or industry works all the time, but enough small dev teams signed to large publishers have fallen victim to circumstance as is.
The ever growing shorter attention span of gamers only exasperates the problem, as games are given a narrow window after launch (or even when shown in beta) to reach potential before the masses give up and move on. We have seen plenty of games that were insanely popular during the early access rush turn into full ghost towns upon release. One that comes to mind is DayZ, I myself and many other zombie survival gamers have invested into this game. It is now a bit over a year later and the game is plagued more with bugs than actual features. This doesn’t mean that the game itself is bad, I enjoyed it, and even though I didn’t get as much enjoyment I thought I would get out of it, I probably got my money’s worth. However, I do know that a studio like Bohemia Interactive sticks with their games for the long run, but I wonder if they’re ever going to find a positive return at this point. Most of the people that bought DayZ are pretty much done with the game, and it’s far from being released. That’s a really bad thing if you think about it, the majority of the playerbase basically bought an unfinished product and were satisfied already.
I hope 2015 is going to be different, there are plenty of promising games coming out this year and I really hope that many of these games are actual finished products. People love an early access, and people love investing into a potentially promising game. But lately we have also had people buying into an early access of the game, even though the full product is supposed to be entirely free. While at first the publishers may see this as a win, they soon must face the reality that when no one is left to purchase from their cash shop at launch, the game makes less money in the long term. I think the gaming industry is going to mature a lot in 2015. With faith in online gaming running at an all-time low, publishers are going to become much more wary of showing an unfinished product to the public, and may keep games hidden in the garage until the full valued product is ready for shipping.