The (De)Evolution of Video Games

The (De)Evolution of Video Games

VGVideo games are about as impressive as they’ve ever been in 2015. Yet, despite all the grandeur, games can still suck. I say that as an optimist about the industry. Fair warning, if you aren’t a gamer, you’ll find this column frivolous.

To the gaming community, I would be considered a casual — one who plays a few times a week for a few hours, if that. However, I’ve grown up playing video games, starting with a Game Boy and a Super Nintendo and now an Xbox One, and I love what the medium is capable of. I think some of the longer, more engrossing games I’ve played have left more of an impact on me than most television shows.

Video games have taken on a downward trend in regards to content recently. Without a doubt, the games on the market today are some of the most impressive, state-of-the-art entertainment products available. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, the fantasy open-world RPG that released earlier this year, was a mammoth of a game and a joy from beginning to end. Game mechanics have certainly progressed, but games are becomming fragmented.

Now I don’t want to come off as Ranty McRanterson here, but I’m sure many other gamers out there would agree with what I’m talking about here. Video games can be incredible, and while still designed purely for the consumer’s luxury of entertainment, I think they are worthy of the term art. So, like all art, they are worthy of criticism.

Video games in general nowadays are undoubtably impressive. The medium has come such a long way from 8-bit pixels to full-on uncanny graphical feats in a relatively short lifespan of a few decades. During the course of those decades the value of video games legitmized, so along with it came sales goals and short holiday deadlines.

I want put down some thoughts that have been weighing on me about the console gaming industry in recent years, and especially so in this major video game release season.

The Decline of Story Mode

Man, gone are the days of Goldeneye, Star Fox, or even the original Halo when the single player mode was just as good, if not better, than the multiplayer component, and was included with the game’s cartridge or disc.

The trend now is for multiplayer modes to get the most resources, as they tend to be the selling point for replay incentive. Campaigns and story modes are pushed to the wayside and reduced in scope, story and length. In the reverse, great story games usually have tacked-on multiplayer modes that seem like more of a pandering move than a way to enhance the player experience.

It’s simple economics, though. The sales for Call of Duty and Star Wars: Battlefront don’t lie. Give the people what they want. What the majority wants is a first person shooter that has smooth mechanics, great graphics, and online multiplayer. There’s certainly still a majority that wants engrossing story and open worlds though, just look at Fallout 4.

True, Call of Duty and Halo do have story modes, but seriously, when was the last time that was a selling point? Especially in Halo 5, the campaigns are a shadow of what they once were in earlier titles. Don’t get me started about Destiny. That campaign, while beautiful, was essentially just “Go here, shoot this and save the galaxy.” What used to be 15 or more engrossing missions of variety and locations has been reduced to maybe eight or fewer, and the stories are normally bland or shallow and lack a variety of problem solving. Oh, and Star Wars? The most beloved story in cinema history? Battlefront opted out of doing a campaign story mode like the first two games in the Battlefront series had, and instead made it multiplayer only.

More and more games like Star Wars: Battlefront are becoming the norm. There’s sort of a push for a blending of story and multiplayer, like in Destiny, but those are clear examples of having one foot in and the other out and neither side succeeding. That formula just hasn’t been accomplished yet.

Take for instance The Legend of Zelda. Particularly the ones from the N64, Gamecube and Wii U. Those games are adored by all ages for their charming characters and exciting stories, but more so the depth, crazy variety of gameplay and puzzle solving that makes beating the game feel like an accomplishment. These games also only come out every five years or so when they are complete instead of every freakin’ Christmas.

I’m asking developers to create new game situations. We’ve all played the games that require us to collect 20 trinkets, find and return items in an amount of time or defeat waves of enemies.

I’m biased though, I prefer a good story game anyday over a multiplayer game. It’s depth and variety I’m asking for, and there’s less and less nowadays it seems.

All Hail the DLC

No longer does the initial price of a video game guarantee all of the game’s content in the age of DLC (downloadable content). To get 100 percent of a console game’s content, you’ll likely pay $100 or more. The games are $60 — whether they are four hours of content or 100 hours.

The problem here is development costs have gone up, and video games have remained the same price. There’s merit in including DLC to offset that imbalance. But when you’re charging players for more maps, golf courses, stages, music, weapons, etc. on launch… I don’t have that sympathy.

This concept first caught on with the popularity of the Halo 2 map packs that provided more gameplay experiences, and soon found popularity with pre-order retail partnerships for extra skins, missions and weapons in-game.

DLC is becoming more of a way to publish a game without all of its proper components in place. A game can publish, and a month down the road the developer will release a story mission or game mode that wasn’t quite finished, or entire playable characters at an additional price.

Before DLC, longtime gamers will remember doing some sort of difficult feat such as beating the game in a certain amount of time or collecting hidden items to unlock the new modes or playable characters. That was exciting knowing you’d be rewarded for the work. That’s all out the window now because marketing figured out they could put a price tag on it.

Bungie’s Destiny is a perfect example. The game costs $60, but with all of the DLC — which are just extra missions, armor and customization — consumers are faced with paying upwards of $130.

In summary, the gamer community is really pissed about DLC. It continues to be a profitable revenue stream though, so it’s here to stay and will likely become an industry standard from here on out. I get it though, developers are businesses, and they’re doing what makes them the most profit.

Believe it or not, some DLC is excellent because it provides a worthy expansion to the main game. That has my respect, and probably my dollars, too. Most DLC are obvious money grabs, however.


The truth many refuse to accept to all of this is simple. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. But here’s something important; video games sales have been in steady decline in 2015, according to industry watcher the NPD Group. I think the gaming community is getting tired of games at $60 that feature less and less worthwhile content. It’s more for less than what they got in previous generations. Maybe just like the music industry, we’ll see the rise of the indie game developer rebel against the majors in the next decade.

Go ahead, call me entitled. I just respect the art of a good video game, and it’s sad to see profit goals shortchange it all.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: Commentary