Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I was at a point in history where personal and gaming technologies were becoming more common place, but not quite mainstream. Gaming was pretty much still a niche market back then, and gamers for the most part were still the odd groups of geeks and nerds. Like the cavemen who huddled around their smothering campfires, gamers were huddling figures who gathered around the odd PC or Nintendo systems, bathing in the warm glow of the (often mono-coloured) CRT screens.
Today’s gaming market however, is a completely different beast. With the advent of the internet, and brands like “PlayStation”, “Xbox Live” and “World of Warcraft”, gaming has become not only mainstream, but it has integrated itself so deeply into popular culture that it has become an integral part of the society. Gaming is now everywhere, with games on every corner, on every device – from apps on phones, to browser based games, to consoles, to MMOs and more. No stones have been left unturned, no market untapped (unless you count monkeys and donkeys – but I’m sure there are folks training them to play games even as you are reading this). We now have gamers from every walk of life, with young kids riding their sparkle ponies online, grandmas farming their farms on Facebook, and big brawny men doing yoga on their Wii Fits.
And, here lies the problem – the large diversity of games and gamers that exists today. The community no longer consists of a bunch of like-minded people, groups of nerdy adventurers banded together by destiny. Rather the market is now filled with multiple splinter cells of “gamers”, online but isolated, jumping from lobby to lobby, pwning their way towards endgame leaderboard uberness.
Parts of me rejoices at the state of games today – at the general acceptance of gaming, the extensive number of worlds to visit, and the incredible amount upcoming games that are always just on the horizon. Other parts of me however are skeptical, and are frowning disapprovingly. The market has become too saturated perhaps, with too many new games coming out too rapidly. Game hopping has become the norm, and majority of gamers are spending less and less time on each of their games. Indeed, even game developers and publishers have have adjusted the direction of their gaming designs accordingly, which, unfortunately further conditions our shortening attention spans.
In my opinion all these factors are having a negative impact on the health of our games and their gaming communities. A lot of games nowadays, even the well received ones, feels very much throwawayable. Modern “classics” are far and few in between, and are usually replaced by their sequels by the next Summer. The communities attached to these games fare no better. Playerbases of series are often fragmented by the sequels and the downloadable contents (and to a lesser degree server locations and console formats), while some games’ playerbases were never given a chance to thrive in the first place, with their players pulled away in multiple directions towards newer released games. This is particularly devastating to the MMO market, as many gamers don’t stay long enough for the games to settle in and thrive. It not only reduce the amount of resources available to the developers (and thus slowing down or in some cases stopping future development), but also reduces the active amount of players ingame. This make it a lot harder to socialise or find groups ingame, giving the games a very barren feel, which reduces the overall gaming experience dramatically, and often drives further players away.
Anyways I do miss the days in the past when games just seem more fun, more unique, more precious, more magical, more… sparkly. But, it is probably just me getting older and more jaded, and my memories more muddled. If I look back without the rose-tinted lense of time, who knows, all those magical fluffy unicorns from my past might turn out to be little more than troops of circus midgets dressed up in donkeysuits…