A subjective look on game industry

It is hard to say something about russia that I haven’t said before, especially without resorting to expletives. Similarly it’s hard to say something new about the countries that care more about the terrorist state well-being more than about own reputation and safety. So here’s a random rant on a completely different topic which I’ve been wanting to write for a long time.

Those who know me are also aware of the fact that I prefer playing adventure games (and sometimes strategies) from 1990s but not something from 2000s or newer. That does not mean though that I’m not aware of more recent developments (my other hobby is knowing random information I have no use for, after all). So here I’d like to present my rather obvious views on the gaming industry and why Sturgeon’s law is too optimistic for this domain.

First of all, it matters how the games came to existence:

  1. it may be an art project created mostly to make some statement (a game version of an arthouse film);
  2. it may be a passion project of some people (or just one person) wanting to create a game for people to enjoy;
  3. it may come as a calculated effort of a large company trying to create a product that will sell well;
  4. it may come as a rip-off of a popular game as an effort to get some quick money;
  5. or it may come as a scam that intends to get money from players without providing a useable product (which makes it different from a previous category) or money are obtained not from the players but rather from the investors/sponsors.

Let’s look at them in detail.

The first category was a favourite among French developers. The most egregious example for me would be Captain Blood game (you probably don’t have to be an alien to play it but that would help) but some Coktel Vision titles are hardly better (once I attempted to make sense out of the setting of their Ween game and tried to play its prequel, Legend of Djel; it turned out to be unbearably confusing). Of course developers in other countries do the same and the resulting games may be enjoyed even if for the reasons different from what the creator(s) intended. Or maybe for the right reasons—games involving late Benoît Sokal suck as adventure games and often make little sense but feature impressive worlds with various intricate details.

Then we have passion projects paired with common sense—where the creators also realize that the game should be fun to play (even if only for themselves). That does not always mean the result will be good (e.g. Troika Games produced memorable but buggy games) but it may still be enjoyable. And since different people have different ideas and no amount of marketing may predict how the idea will resonate with the potential audience, it’s important to let people experiment. Remember Flappy Bird? Not the most complex game and it lacks photorealistic 3D graphics but it was fun enough to play for a while. And of course adventure games even if developed inside a large company like Sierra On-line or Lucas Arts were a product of several people pushing for their ideas to be accepted.

And if you reverse the situation (companies pushing game designers to come with new ideas) you get the next game category. Usually it’s sequels to the original games with good sales (or remakes; or remakes of some competitor’s game), or it could be other franchise (e.g. movie or book series) tie-in games. Those games have big budget spent on making game look appealing, they may be competently made, they may be addictive as well—but they usually lack innovations as the company may be wary to step from the proven formula. The best (worst?) example would be Electr*nic A**s—the company founded exactly to publish gaming products. When they buy an independent company renowned for its games, they usually force them to make more games of the same kind until those stop meeting sales quotas and the studio gets closed down.

Then you get entities that do the same but on much smaller budget. From what I heard it’s a plague of the mobile gaming market—any more or less popular game usually has hundreds of clones with deceptively similar icon and title (not a problem for my Nokia 1110 though). An alternative option would be to release a game that claims to be a lot like some more popular game while in reality it’s of an inferior quality (for me such example would be Armaëth: The Lost Kingdom which tried to hint it’s as good as King’s Quest series while in reality it’s barely playable game I can’t say anything good about; similarly Leisure Suit Larry “inspired” Les Manley series and Rex Nebular and while those were made by respectable companies with some effort thrown in, these particular games are still not something to be much proud about).

And finally, complete scam. Of course there are various crowdfunding campaigns that may not deliver (or become Star Citizen) but I’m talking about slightly different things here, like the alleged reason behind the recent release of Skull and Bones was that the company had to fulfil obligations to the Singapore (which invested some money into the local division which worked on the game). Mostly it reminds me of the gilded age of russian gaming industry. Back when I cared to read or watch about it, the sources described it this way: back in early 2000s the business was easy for all involved parts—developers could come to a publisher with any crazy idea, get an advance and allegedly start working on a game, then whatever they produced was published, got good press (because gaming journalists had very friendly relationships with the publishers), so the public kept buying the games (and if not, some losses were compensated with the money from product placement and selling other games), becoming disappointed in them and waiting for a new game with equally good publicity. But the bubble got blown in about 2006 with the release of a certain ricing game that promised more than Peter Molyneux but delivered laughably little (IIRC it was also sold on several CDs with some junk to fill the space, otherwise it’d fit on one—and games had price based on the number of CDs back then). So even russians got fed up with it and it led to a local market crash. But of course it can get worse: in recent decade russian government has been tightening its control over ideology so nowadays you can get money for making a game from the governmental fund if it meets all the requirements (repeating state propaganda, not allowing “toxic Western values” and so on—art and fun are not mandatory), which leads to a game funded by taxpayers that nobody wants to play (but the money have been received already so it does not matter by this point). Some might remember a recent russian game (from a company pretending to be from Singapore) that was made mostly by volunteers paid in literal exposure points, that got some investments from e.g. Nvidia and despite looking like a scam and countless reviewers warning that it’s likely to be a scam it turned out to be a scam to the surprise of the involved Western parties.

Anyway, my point is that games can be made for various reasons. Genres in which games are made change popularity with the time as well. Back in the day adventure games and real-time strategies were popular, nowadays you mostly have “press X to keep watching this movie” and MMOsomething. Of course since development tools are accessible, fans keep making all kinds of games but mainstream games become more and more expensive to make (because it takes too many people to make them, and as a consequence those games are made for the largest possible audience in order to break even and get profit). I think this Pratchett quote fits here:

An interesting fact about acquiring cats is that the things are, by and large, either virtually free or very expensive. It’s as if the motor industry had nothing between the moped and the Porsche.

So I don’t like modern games, I don’t own hardware to play them either (especially 3D ones—the newest game I tried was Syberia II and it rendered mostly white polygons because 8MB of video RAM was apparently too little for it; first Syberia fared much better and I could get to Barrockstadt before it started to error out for the lack of video RAM) but I have more than enough games to play (and occasionally find a new game that may have an interesting FMV format if not a story). There’s nothing wrong if you like completely different games from completely different time period, it becomes wrong only if you think that if you like them everybody else must like them too.

And as an optimist I should end with an optimistic saying: no matter how grim the future looks, it will always find a way to turn worse than expected.

4 Responses to “A subjective look on game industry”

  1. Paul says:

    Why you do not like Modern Woke Games?

  2. Kostya says:

    Why those specifically? I don’t like modern games in general for a variety of reasons (primarily though for too high hardware demands and not interesting genres).

  3. Paul says:

    Ah the Big Productions Games, but there are some indie games that are cool and I think still run-able on today’s potato hardware. Also modern games try to be so visually realistic that its very sick, and ignoring most of other human senses.

  4. Kostya says:

    IMO photo-realistic graphics is mostly an excuse to have no style and high prices. Back in the day Capstone games featured a lot of photo-realistic graphics (i.e. digitised stills from e.g. video tapes) but they were not good as games either.

    And you probably wanted to say that it takes more and more efforts (computation time, storage, artists work etc) in order to make games more and more realistic while they’re still in an uncanny valley. I agree with that.

    As for “other senses”, I remember reading back in mid-90s about all experiments with virtual reality including tactile feedback—the technology hasn’t progressed much since then. And smells are easy to implement but hard to remove so if you keep introducing new ones you’ll end up with FFmpeg a stinky mess. So they take what they can…

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