Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Games consumerism: How many is too much?

I googled 'pile of games'. I reaped what I sowed.

So, I’ve been ruminating on this point for a few days, and I figure that this is as good a place from which to launch forth as any other. As you may be able to tell from the myriad posts on this site, I do not buy a lot of games. Most certainly, I do not buy a lot of new releases. In part, this is due to the simple fact that, until recently, I could not afford to splash out £50-odd on a new title. Except for the big boys. A quick look over at my games shelf quickly tells me that the last new release I picked up was Halo: Reach. If anything, a perfect case in point. A great title that received much hype in the run-up to its release, I found a few friends who were willing to co-op the campaign with me, and I was ready to go. Fast forward to a fortnight later, and it was stowed away where it hasn’t been touched since. It got me to thinking, who is buying all these new games, and how often?

Wow, typing that question-marked ending gave me a total Carrie Bradshaw buzz. Yuck. Regardless, the sentiment is true. Halo Reach was one of the titles that sparked this self-questioning, alongside other AAA titles, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops. Games like this are renowned for their respective loyal fanbases, composed of people who go through whatever comprises their daily grind, and then come home and game. Often with friends, whether real-life or online-only, they will play these titles night after night after night, in many case until the sequel is released. They move on, and the cycle continues.

It makes me wonder, however, just how often the average gamer forks out for a new release. Frankly, I fell so far behind the curve of gaming that there are so many games I want to play that have long-since passed their sell-by date that I am unlikely to ever catch-up to the forefront again, save for those occasional, Reach-esque games. In fact, the next ones I can see myself really going for are Bioshock Infinite and Gears of War 3. Perhaps Duke Nukem Forever, but I cannot be sure.

I would estimate that, in the average gaming year, I will purchase approximately 6 or 7 games, maybe a few more. Part of the original inspiration for this blog, in fact, was a desire to document such habits; to analyse and work out where and when my playing peaked, and to see if I could find correlating evidence to expose these machinations for what they truly were. Do you consider 7 games to be a poor show from someone who masquerades under the assumed title of a gameur ?

The other side to this, the much less enjoyable side, was the effect these habits may have on the industry itself. We have already seen the advent of DLC as a way for studios to squeeze some extra cash out of players, and a large inspiration for this was trying to find a method to monetise the pre-owned market. An economic grey-area of the gaming industry that leaves all the profits to shops, and gives nothing to the developers behind the product. Of course, people argue that you can do whatever you want with a car after you buy it, etc, and I support their right to trade in their titles when they’re finished with them. The fact of the matter is that this has an effect on the industry as a whole. If 100 people were going to buy your game on launch-day, but 30 hesitated, and then bought a pre-owned title from one of those 70 who purchased on launch-day, your profits took a 30% cut.

It’s not our job to mollycoddle studios so that they can make a living, but it certainly bears thinking about. If you enjoy a game, but you didn’t pay for it in a way that directly benefited the designer, what’s going to encourage them to make another game like it? People frequently praise the imaginative titles, the ones that try something a little out of the ordinary, but the simple truth is that these titles never fare as well as their gun-everything-down-and-high-five-your-buddies counterparts that are becoming ten-a-penny in the current climate.

Last week saw the final curtain call for Bizarre Creations, a UK-based studio most famous for its Project Gotham Racing series, and XBLA runaway success Geometry Wars. What killed it? Releasing a racing game that wasn’t quite a simulation game, and wasn’t quite an arcade title. Blur was a wholly original approach to the popular kart-racing genre, popularised by Nintendo with Mariokart. Sales were poor, and Activision said ‘Thanks guy, but no thanks’. And so it was, and so it will be.

If you can leave a comment, it would be great to hear how often it is that you find yourself buying video games, and indeed how you feel about that amount. I’m genuinely curious to see where I fall on the bell-curve.

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