I was recently clicking around the web and came across a video article that posed the question “Are we on the verge of a second video-game crash?”. Not being one to watch video reviews on a regular basis (I prefer print), I didn’t spend much time with it. The article focused mainly on the increasingly rapid proliferation of games across all systems, and also touched on the troubling effect of ultra-low prices for app-style gaming.
Like I said, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on this video article. I was, however, interested in some of the ramifications that stem from such ideas. Over the last several years, I’ve found myself wondering whether the entire industry might be a bit over-saturated with software. I’ve repeatedly come to the conclusion that, even if I spent all of my free time playing video games, I wouldn’t even keep up with new monthly releases, much less have any leftover time for my interest in retro-gaming and classic systems. I realized that any serious attempt to keep up with the industry would make video games feel like work–the polar inverse of gaming itself.
Personally, I don’t play smartphone app games (no buttons / no controller = no fun), so this prejudice helps to keep my personal roster of games a bit lower. I’m a lifelong Nintendo fanboy, and I haven’t even bothered to acquire the current generation PlayStation or Xbox systems. I’m well aware that both of these competing current-gen systems have awesome, innovative games–more than Nintendo, even–but in simplest terms, my life is already busy enough, and I have barely enough time to play the best titles on my favorite systems. I already spend 2 to 3 hours a day on games–and I’m not looking to quit my job or give up my social life–so that’s the most I’m gonna be able to dedicate to this hobby. Even with these significant limitations, I’ve got a stack of DS and Wii games still in their wrappers, as well as lists of titles I’ll eventually be buying.
Before anyone jumps down my throat, I’m not here to pit Nintendo’s merits against those of the other systems (a battle for another day)–I only mention these other platforms to illustrate that my narrow scope of interest (i.e. Wii, DS, retro-Nintendo, and retro-PC) is the only way that I can possibly maintain a realistic gaming schedule. I could easily afford to buy a PS3 and/or 360 along with the requisite greatest hits for each, but this would only further dilute my enormous pool of choices while cutting further into my already-crowded schedule. Just as happened with my previous generation systems, I’d end up with a lot of fancy (expensive) hardware but only a very small software library for each platform. Seems almost stupid when I look at it that way.
Right now, right off the top of my head, I have a list of at least 10 highly-praised Wii games I haven’t even played, and I could probably add 20 more if I combed through lists of early releases and Wiiware download-only titles. Given that the lifecycle of Wii has approximately less than 1 year remaining, I’ve got my work cut out for me. I can’t even deny that the dearth of 3DS software has given me vital time to spend time on some straggling “must have” games from the original DS library (Rhythm Heaven, a totally legendary game that I never previously got a chance to play, is my current title of choice). So while most players complain (rightfully) about the lack of 3DS support , I’m making the most of the interim, and I’m sort of glad to have the chance. Whether they intended it or not, Nintendo’s non-existent 3DS lineup is granting me some useful breathing room in my gaming schedule.
Before going further, let’s apply some realistic perspective, a calculus I’d like to call the “year in the life of an adult gamer“.
10 good video games could take a busy adult player (read: an adult with a life outside of games) a solid year to finish. Pretty standard, about 1 a month. Almost anyone could do this, and most of us do.
So, lets up the ante by ten. To play–and finish–20 legitimate titles inside of a single year, one would need to be a very dedicated gamer. It’s not impossible, but you’d need to be the sort of player who is either incredibly skilled (finishing games in record time), plays most games in easy mode, doesn’t put a lot of stock on fully finishing a game, or doesn’t invest a lot of time in online co-op experience. Or maybe you’re just unemployed, so you don’t count (get off the couch and get a job, dude). Anyway, in any of these scenarios (other than champion-level gamer) you’d have played 20 games in a year, but you probably didn’t dig very deeply into everything each title had to offer.
Finally, lets go 10 higher…to the absurd number of 30 games in a year–wow. Hard to imagine it. I sincerely wonder if I’ve ever “really played” 30 games in a single year. I’ve probably tinkered with 30 titles, but this might mean turning it on, getting familiar with the concept and appeal, even finishing a level or two—but not really digging into it or getting down and dirty with the guts of the game. I mean, before anyone scoffs at me, claiming “I ALWAYS play 30 games in a year”, I’d point out that this would mean 2.5 games per month, every month, solid as clockwork. This effectively means finishing (or abandoning) a title every 12 days. I guess some people do it, but honestly, I’d never be able to live my life this way. I love games more than almost everyone I know, yet I still I have too many other hobbies, interests, and basic life goals to keep such a schedule. Call me crazy.
Keeping my calculus in mind, and considering that many modern games require 50 to 100 hours of dedication, one really has to wonder how we’re supposed to keep up with the onslaught. Personally, my favorite gaming experiences usually come from long-term devotion to deep, content-heavy titles–and given industry trends toward enormous content, I bet I’m not alone. On Wii alone, I’ve logged more than 100 hours each on several titles including Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Strikers Charged, Monster Hunter 3, and Goldeneye 007. If a console includes even a few epic, time-consuming games like these, plus supporting all kinds of shorter-yet-highly-worthwhile gaming experiences (think No More Heroes 1 and 2, Muramasa, Punch Out!!, etc.), how exactly are we supposed to keep up? If you’re trying to “keep up” with the industry, you’re hardly going to be able to spent 50 hours gunning down buddies in Halo, or leveling up your party in Final Fantasy. And just forget about MMOs–to indulge is to abandon all other games.
I can only imagine the responses to this post. “Play more games.” “Stop whining.” “I’d rather have more choices than less.” “Competition forces game designers to work harder and create even better games” (I doubt anyone will be so eloquent). Yet many of these sentiments are true—like the rest of us, I want game developers to create great products and continue to innovate. I do believe that competition spurs innovation. And make no mistake—I’m not complaining. I’m really, really glad to have so many quality options before me, even if it ends up feeling like I’m missing out on so many great experiences. I’ve often wondered if we’re living in the true golden age of games. I guess I’m just wondering if other gamers ever feel the same as me, or even wish that the cycle was a tiny bit slower?
Right now, taking stock of just the games I’m actively playing, my list includes the following: Goldeneye 007, Rhythm Heaven, Zelda II, Xevious, Gumshoe, Muramasa, Mercury Meltdown Revolution, Klonoa, Little Nemo, and Sam & Max Hit The Road. Actively playing. This list does not even include several games that I’ve recently been playing, and hope to find some time and get back to them (Sin & Punishment 2, Ocarina of Time Master Quest, Ice Climber, Wrecking Crew, Maniac Mansion, and countless NES carts) or even games I own but haven’t played yet (Monster Tale) OR the list of great games I fully intend to buy for Wii and DS (too many to bother listing–I haven’t even played Galaxy 2 yet, can you believe it?). I’ve got Virtual Boy on my “must buy” list for this year (last year was R.O.B.) and I’d love to find a few minutes to dig out my SNES and revisit some dusty old friends. And don’t even get me started about my lifelong desire for a Vectrex or a couple standup arcade machines. Emulators already eat up so much of my time, it’s ridiculous.
Whew. When the hell did my favorite hobby become a full time job?
Remember when SMB 3 was our all-time greatest Christmas present—a single title that offered months of fun and an unbelievable amount of replay value? Weren’t these kind of experiences more memorable and entertaining than the throw-away caliber of so many modern offerings? On the other hand, given that every passing year includes many releases that are bigger, bolder, and even occasionally more innovative than SMB 3 (heresy, I know), wouldn’t a serious gamer be troubled by the inevitable need to miss out on so many of the greatest offerings? I know it bothers me, at least a little bit. I end up feeling rushed, compelled to stay relevant, to spend more money that I should. . . to rush through great games just so that I can get started on another one.
And finally–long way around–to the point: I’m feeling like the industry is pushing me to become some kind of ADHD gamer—to be a player who pays only minimal attention to any single title and who avoids spending more than a few days on any single game. I often wonder if the popularity of our own hobby has become our own undoing—there is so much money to be made through videogames that developers produce far more product than the existing audience can consume. Success attracts more comers–so for every huge gaming success story (read: profit), several more developers are born. Result: an overwhelming number of entities trying to get a piece of my all-too-limited pocket money. Could I be right in supposing that that the whole industry might be growing in an increasingly lopsided way wherein supply is outpacing feasible demand? Would the correct conclusion be that I, the gamer, need to stop seeing games as “art” (and caring if I miss out), and instead just enjoy what I can and let the rest of it fall by the wayside?
Should I just surrender any hope of ever keeping up?
Thanks for letting me vent. Your thoughts on this topic are appreciated.