Games: evolution and return

People often have trouble understanding the word “compensation”, of course it is quite easy to understand as an exchange, but in current corporate parlance it is understood as the exchange of one product as a cost for another. Yesterday I was playing Dissidia from Final Fantasy on the old PSP when I marveled at the replay value of the game, yes I’ve already spent over 50 hours on it, which is what this whole topic is about.

Normally, if you look at older games like Mario and Dave, they had one thing unanimously in common: addiction to it. Not that I’m spreading the obsession for anything, however, this is what the current gaming paradigm has been reduced to; A convenience. I’ve always been a gamer, I won’t deny it and this is exactly what my argument is with today’s games. The early games had a lot of things that got people hooked, but mostly it was about the level of engagement the player had with the game environment or the “world” of the game. And this compromise has little to do with 3D graphics or the extensive options available.

Let’s take a look at the progression; First was the advent of simple arcade type games which were phenomenal to a degree. It kept gamers hooked and ushered in a new media boom to the world. This was where literally all the kids were begging for Atari systems and their Pentium II and III machines had Sega and NeoGeo emulators installed (mine still has both installed by the way) and the game elements were difficult commands mixed with clever sequences. Take this a bit further and the same two systems incorporated decent mixed stories and the continuity in the games enhances the capabilities of the media being explored in both tracks. The KOF fighting game series is fiery testament to this and hence came the rise of turn-based strategy and role-playing games that became akin to “user-controlled novels” on computers. This adaptability of both the game and the media can be called the inflection curve of the gaming industry.

Because this was where many business heads realized that games could be used to simulate many things, pretty much everything, so the potential as a commercial product was obvious even from that point on. From then on, progress was on improving the game’s visuals, additives were obvious, visuals needed more work, so came the influx of investments in game studios and the push for 3D graphics in games. That vertex can be called the secondary curve because once it was established, the potential for business earnings through gaming became insurmountable. Hollywood movies will tell you the story of the rise and fall without fail, but games have the replay factor attached regardless of the size of their audience that guarantees the payoff.

And this repetition factor was charged next. We can all see the online capabilities that the games offer, which also paved the way for gamers simply buying the next power-up or update online. The “buy all” concept is where we can point and say that the games have been transferred. So at a point where games were fun with added complexity like Baldur’s Gate, Ys, Metal Gear Solid, games became more about commodity value.

The biggest factor in all of this is mobile gaming, of course, and here I point to smartphone games that are purely focused on killing time. The problem occurs when most of the smartphone gamers are not regular gamers, but are there to kill time. So when you give a game like Subway Surfers online shopping advantages for “normal” people, a certain level of competition is spread between console / PC games and phone games. The niches are different, the categories are different, and the size is different. A game like Temple Run can’t be compared to Farcry 3, but ultimately when games are about money, these things deviate and get mixed up.

Today, great play items are being added, furnished and refined. Complexity is a given and with that some features feel good while others don’t. What runs counter to the gaming paradigm in general is the holistic approach to sales that often makes them compromise a lot from the gaming side. Ultimately, when games are more focused on shopping rather than playing, it takes away all reason to play a game.