Archive for May, 2011

For the love of videogames…

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I have a love-hate relationship with videogames.

I love the possibilities, the opportunities, for creativity, for storytelling, for stretching the imagination in directions it could never go in real life. But I hate how the games industry has transformed over the last twenty-five years.

For me, gaming kicked off with miners running through caverns, dodging flying telephones, saws coming up through the floorboards, ants dropping boulders whilst avoiding butterflies, spraycans spraying pests on impossibly tall plants, men with jetpacs constructing rockets whilst killing aliens, the sheer randomness of the backroom creations was incredible.

But it didn’t take long for the businessmen to catch on, after all this was a nascent industry replete with investment opportunities and subsequent rewards. Art and creativity rapidly became business and cash cows. Out of these times grew Sega, EA, and many many more. The industry was born, and along with it both the marketing plan and the sequel.

Reading through a prominent games magazine at the weekend was enough to make my old Kempston joystick weep in its land fill site. It has been a topic of fierce debate over the years, about business both saving and ruining games, about the pros and cons of market-led development, but when you go through the list of upcoming releases, and every single game, not some, not most, but every single game is either a football game, a first-person shooter, or a sequel of a football game or first-person shooter, you can’t help but wonder where it all went wrong.

Thankfully the dearth of the smartphone has pulled us into a slightly different lane of the gaming motorway in the last couple of years, and people are having an opportunity to experience at least some of the potential inherent in last centuries madcap creations. The oftentimes simple creativity found in games like Doodlejump, Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies at least have pretensions for freshness, and the use of the camera, gyroscope and GPS units have the potential to take things on a step again. But that is by no means certain.

Perhaps this is the start of a new era, an opportunity for “real new” and not just “new clothing”. I hope so. That magazine was more depressing than you can imagine, and nothing would give me more pleasure than to see over the next decade the games industry come full circle, back to its creative roots. With my impressions of the games industry edging towards the hate camp right now, I would give plenty for it to take a swing back to love again.

Update: And this is exactly what I meant. THQ posts 2011 losses, and what is the first headline we read? “THQ sales slump for FY2011, looking to successful sequels in 2012“. Something goes a little sideways, and straight away they’re looking to sequels to recover. Hardly a winning strategy for the long-haul, nor one to excite any potential customers.

Update 2: Oh and for the record, rehashing classic games on a new platform, but doing it so badly that no-one would go near them with a stick, is just as bad. C’mon people, you’re better than this!