I like video games. So much so that I spend a disproportionate amount of my time arguing about them online, writing now-shelved dissertations about them and, obviously, playing them.
More to the point, I spend a lot of time reading about new games and enjoying the inevitable shit storms that are becoming common-place in the community, so I’ve decided to start a short series of articles regarding recurring phrases; explaining why they make no sense and why you are a fucking idiot if you ever use them.
This week, gamers need to shut the fuck up about…
“It’s only a matter of time before the industry crashes again!”
You might not be aware of this, but people on the internet have a habit of blowing things out of proportion. Way, way out of proportion. Gamers are no exception to this, and when news drops regarding a new, potentially intrusive form of DRM or how Sony and Microsoft might be planning to put a lock on their new systems that prevents used games being played on them, there will always be one dipshit Nostradamus there to foretell the beginning of the end.
They will wade into the discussion, no matter where it’s being held or how relevant their outrage might be, and start saying shit like, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this, have they forgotten what happened the last time!?’
For anyone not familiar, a quick history lesson: The Great Video Game Industry Crash of 1983 occurred when, in the fledgling days of console gaming, companies like Atari flooded the market with hundreds of horseshit games and then couldn’t recoup the costs after games like the infamously awful E.T. had more than three million of it’s preposterous four million unit inventory returned; bankrupting just about everyone involved.
A few years later Nintendo swooped in to revitalise the market by operating a strict policy of releasing classic games people actually wanted to play, as opposed to games where the player controls a bare-arsed General Custer as he attempts to rape a Native American woman tied to a cactus.
As a result of Nintendo’s success the industry was reborn, with the market exploding in the early nineties and getting bigger and bigger ever since. Hooray for the second coming, I love a happy ending!
Nowadays gaming has become such a huge phenomenon that the costs involved in producing triple-A titles are on par with a fairly decent Hollywood movie. This creates obvious problems when smaller developers –ones who don’t have a budget on par with the GDP of a small country– want a piece of the action and are forced to spend a fortune on their game if they want any chance of giving it mass market appeal and often, even if critically and publically acclaimed, they can still fall flat on their face in terms of overall sales, eclipsed by the marketing power of bigger franchises, leading to the companies being bought over or shut down altogether.
The situation is made worse by the aggressive expansion of the used game market, which went from small independent stores that catered to gamers on a budget to high street stores like HMV side-lining the first-hand stock to focus on a policy of almost exclusively selling second-hand games, (go into any store that sells games nowadays and I guarantee you you will find more second-hand copies than you will new.) It is a genuine problem in the industry and while some companies are at least attempting to handle it in a civil manner, others are just throwing their toys out the pram and coming up with ways that punish the first-hand buyer. Take, for example, irrevocable software licenses that limit how many different computers you can install a game on; meaning you’ll eventually have to buy the game again to play it on your new computer. Can you imagine the furor if other processes worked like that?
These problems –and they are problems, admittedly– have led the armchair market expert to the conclusion that the entire video game industry is going to crash again and it’s all the fault of these few, stupid greedy companies who have the gall to wish that Tesco would stop selling used copies of Call of Duty for a pound less than the RRP of a new one, oh and also the fault of the stupid sheep casual gamer who’s never heard of Silent Hill but fucking loves the shit out of some CoD.
Why it’s Bullshit
Allow me to actually put my marketing degree to use for probably the first and last time in my life and explain why the concept of anything remotely approaching a video game industry crash would be absolutely impossible, today. When everything went to hell in 1983, the market for video games was tiny. Companies didn’t dissect the market and try to cater to individual niches (well except for the range of porno games, including the rape simulator I talked about earlier) because it was so small that there was no fucking point.
Instead, they adopted a policy of undifferentiated marketing: throwing a ton of games into stores, essentially saying, ‘play these or don’t, I don’t give a fuck.’ The market collapsed then, partially because most of the games sucked, had nothing to do with their title, or were just plain rip-offs of another more successful game, but also because the industry hadn’t been around long enough to survive any real dry spell; there just wasn’t enough interest to sustain it.
Fast forward thirty odd years: Those few allegedly greedy companies I mentioned before? They comprise a tiny part of what has today become a gigantic, diverse, worldwide market. For better or for worse, gaming now has the mass appeal to cater to every type of person, and while some demographics are more heavily invested than others I doubt there is anyone who couldn’t find at least one thing that they like, even if it’s just playing Snake on an old Nokia.
How does this make the whole ‘the industry is going to crash again’ thing bullshit? Well, for arguments sake, let’s say that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all folded their home console businesses tomorrow; do you honestly think that the PC market would disappear as well? How about the community of immensely talented indie studios who get their start online and (occasionally shitty/insane) Flash designers who make games for sites like Newgrounds? The App Store, handhelds, Farmville, for God’s sake. Why would any of them suddenly cease to exist because of what is happening in a completely separate market? That’s like if Honda went under one day, and every other car manufacturer said ‘well, that’s that. We had a good run, though, didn’t we, guys?’ and then boom: No more cars ever.
Or, to use a more apt comparison: remember when the VCR was supposed to kill the film industry, or how Napster single-handedly destroyed the music industry? Wait, what’s that? The music industry still exists? It still exists and, in fact, consumers are now able to buy songs at fair and universal prices through things like the iTunes Store, as opposed to brick and mortar stores like HMV which, before they were forced to deal with their market becoming obsolete, used to slap an arbitrary £24 price sticker on a fucking Iron Maiden album just for the hell of it, and you had no choice but to pay them the money because they had your money and your balls in a vice grip?
What to say Instead
“These are clearly the actions of companies struggling to deal with a rapidly changing industry. Although things may be grim for a while, we should all grit our teeth and be patient, because in the aftermath the only thing that awaits us is a better future.”
Okay, admittedly it’s not as snappy as the original phrase, but in all seriousness, the video game industry is going to change, of that there is absolutely no question, and some companies have already made a move towards more enlightened ways of interacting with their customers (I’m looking at you, Steam) with some being, quite frankly, irresponsible in their generosity. These are great examples that prove the industry is full of people who really care about the consumer and, at the heart of it all, great games, but as is so often the case most of the press goes to the negative shit and all anyone can ever seem to focus on is how everything in the future is going to fucking suck, (seriously, I hate those guys.)
I say for once we, as a community, embrace that change instead of shitting the bed and passing round the tinfoil hats and huge post-apocalypse drums of baked beans.