One of my lifelong passions is gaming. On the video game side of things, there's been a lot of talk about the impending doom of the triple-A game. I think there's some merit to this discussion, but I also think the death of triple-A games is still greatly exaggerated. One part of this argument that's definitely true: spending $100 million to make a game is no longer a guarantee that it will succeed.
Just ask Activision or EA. Big-budget flops have become a way of life for them as of late. We gamers are a fickle lot, and we've definitely gotten a bit tired of having the same drivel spewed at us on a yearly basis. I haven't played a Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 2. I haven't played a Battlefield game since the third one.
Call of Duty lost me when the games became 3-4 hour explosion festivals that Michael Bay would be proud of. I never touched the multiplayer. Battlefield 2 was one of the few FPS multiplayer games that held me for a long period of time, and I enjoyed Battlefield 3 as well, even if I didn't play it as much. Then Battlefield 4 came along and spent the first two weeks mostly offline. I passed on that one, and I haven't looked back. I'm glad I didn't, since launch disasters seem to be the new normal at EA.
The new renaissance
The ineptitude and bad decision-making of the big publishers hasn't helped their argument that triple-A games aren't dead. Also not helping? The rather disappointing launches of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. I was a bit shocked when I looked up the PS4's release date just now: November 15, 2013. That's no typo... the PS4 was released nearly two years ago, and there's still not a single game in the lineup that I'd consider a "platform-seller." The Xbox One? I couldn't care less.
Consoles were the bastions of big publisher domination, so it's no surprise that they've found their power over developers diminishing rapidly. Many developers getting started these days are going independent. Other developers are fleeing the big studios to do the same thing. Others are going to smaller, more adventurous publishers. The biggest problem of all, though, is that many of these developers are proving that they don't need the big publishers to be successful. They do need digital distribution, however.
My relationship with Steam is still a love/hate affair. I love them for making this PC gaming and independent developer renaissance possible, but I still hate them for having quite possibly the worst support of any digital distribution platform in existence. They recently added the option for refunds, which is a massive step in the right direction. GOG is making moves, however, so they might want to keep one eye over their shoulders. Of course, Microsoft and Sony have tried to emulate both of them, but so far have failed miserably.
Let's keep this going
We need to keep working on democratizing gaming. While it's great that this renaissance is still going strong with no end in sight, there are a lot of developers abusing the system. Steam's refunds were long overdue, and will definitely put a big dent in that problem.
We need to stop rewarding publishers for preorder bonuses. Square Enix is pulling this stunt on the latest Dues Ex game, which has squarely put it in my "wait for the GOTY edition" list.
We need to punish publishers for releasing broken games. That may be acceptable for early access, but it sure as hell isn't acceptable for a $60 "finished" game. I'm looking at you, Arkham Knight.
Last, but certainly not least, we need to reward the developers that are pushing the industry forward. There are a lot of independents out there with interesting game concepts, new ideas, and some absolutely stunning technical achievements. There are also a lot of smaller publishers putting out genuinely interesting stuff, and they're getting lost in the sea of mediocrity.
I'm excited about what's on the horizon for video games. I don't see publishers ruling the industry anymore, and that's a good thing. If publishers continue on their course, it will happen, whether they like it or not.