12 smalls ways to improve the games industry
There are some elements of the videogame industry that need to die. They need to die so that they can be reborn. The games are getting bigger and more ambitious than ever before, but still the same old problems – inconsistencies that have been allowed to become commonplace – continue to dwarf our enjoyment and our immersion. In 2017, as gaming continues to grow into one of the most powerful forms of entertainment on the planet, something has to change.
Tiresome loading screens
Why is that we – living in the year 2017 – are still having to contend with lengthy, laborious loading screens? To an extent, this complaint directly reflects the impatience of modern society but, then again, we aren’t exactly booting these games up on a ZX Spectrum. Considering the power of our consoles and the creativity of the creators, why are we still staring blankly at (and likely ignoring) tiresome tips and lore that couldn’t work its way naturally into the narrative? So much care goes into game creation, it’s time for some of that love to work its way to their most boring, necessary component.
Grand Theft Auto V
For 15 years we’ve put up with it, the long wait to run riot through one of Rockstar’s open worlds. It’s about time we could play right away, don’t you think?
Bethesda-developed games are notoriously buggy. While that can be overlooked, you’d at least think the studio would get loading times down.
It’s all well and good giving us the capacity to quick save and quick load, but until we get instant restarts (Geometry Wars style) we simply won’t be content.
While the likes of Mass Effect and Metroid have done their best to hide lengthy load times behind a bunch of monotonous elevator rides, there is something with a far greater potential on the horizon. For the last 20 years, Bandai Namco has had a patent on the concept and execution of the loading-screen minigame but, as that patent for the feature finally expired in 2015, we may well see the demise of the static screen and the introduction of something far more entertaining in the coming years as developers begin work on the next iteration of the humble loading screen. That could be very interesting.
Endless game updates
There’s a common misconception in the wider gaming community that developers no longer care about QA. While we know that, generally, this isn’t the case (much time, love and devotion goes in to every game; yes, even the bad ones) it is starting to feel like corners are being cut. Developers used to work to a finite deadline – ‘going Gold’ meant the game was shipped and that was that, bugs and all. While we aren’t bemoaning developers that wish to improve the launch experience right up to the wire, something has to be done about patches, particularly those of a day one variety. The waiting, oh, the waiting; this madness must end.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
It is broken, messy releases like Assassin’s Creed: Unity that day one patches were built for, though Ubisoft ultimately paid the price on that one.
Oh, so you want to come back to Destiny do you? Wait, you meant you wanted to wait 14-hours for it to install the patches, right? Of course you did.
Final Fantasy XV
Square Enix shipped FFXV knowing changes were needed to overhaul Chapter 13 and fill in story blanks through monthly post-release patches.
As games become more intricate and complicated to design, so too is the QA process. But it’s become clear that more time needs to be dedicated to bug fixing and optimisation ahead of launch. When game patches arriving the size of Half-Life 2 has been normalised you know that there’s a problem, and it’s one developers will need to be more transparent about in the future.
It’s fair to say that modern videogames are built around a culture of trolling and griefing, in fact, many games actively do encourage this kind of behaviour. However, a problem arises when developers don’t put any systems in place to stop it from happening or from going too far, giving those with an inherently disruptive personality a space to ruin an experience for others that are around them. Trusting players to play the game as it was originally intended, not to go off script and cause chaos, is a largely redundant practice now. The sooner that we all accept that a small, irritating minority are more interested in trolling than competing online, the sooner that game developers can work to exorcise it entirely.
Mojang has always leaned on community moderation, but that has left griefing to mutate largely unchecked, with builders often facing their works destroyed by troublesome players.
Halo 5: Guardians
Halo players will be familiar with the banhammer – the mystical, all-seeing hammer of justice against online jerks. More publishers could learn a thing or two from Bungie and 343 Industries.
If you’re going to encourage trolling, at least build it into the framework of the experience. DayZ actively encourages griefing, but it does so in a way that feels natural.
A greater emphasis needs to be placed on appropriately protecting players, alongside the core-gameplay experience itself. Open multiplayer lobbies are largely silent, the sense of community that helped propel Xbox Live and PSN to success seems to have just faded away, and developers need to get smart about the ways in which it combats disruptive behaviour.
It’s a sad truth that, despite having the most powerful home consoles within our reach, games are still ultimately limited by the technology available. At least Microsoft is upfront about its own limitations, claiming its “optical disc drives can’t read data quickly enough to keep up with modern games” on an official support page. That means the days of just inserting a disk into your console and being able to play it immediately are over – a maximum data transfer rates of just 54Mbps is largely to blame. New technology is supposed to make life easier and more convenient, but the current generation of consoles is struggling to find the courage to make a necessary leap into the future.
Destiny: The Taken King
Patches and updates weren’t the only thing waiting for us at launch. Lengthy disk install times ensure that you’re sat waiting while your friends are off adventuring.
EA has the right idea, letting you play a limited build of the game whilst waiting for installation. But it’s still a slog, especially as team choice is ultimately restricted.
Resident Evil VII
You’ve been waiting a decade for a good Resident Evil game? You can wait another few hours then, time well spent lamenting the lack of a cheesy game manual.
Don Mattrick warned us, and we refused to listen. Physical media is proving to be a blight on modern gaming, where the transferral of assets and critical data to the console’s HDD is proving to be more of a hindrance than a revelation. Powerful new hardware, such as Project Scorpio and the PS4 Pro, needs to reduce install times, else we should usher in the age of digital-only gaming.
Okay, it’s finally over. You hear us? It is done. With the release of Gears Of War 4, the age of the ‘manly man’ has finally come to an end – the torch of annoying protagonistic duties passed to jovial students born from the Nathan Drake school of machismo comedy. Considering how authentic voice and motion capture is now, there is little reason for a character to be defined only by how low on the baritone scale they can register a gruff. And yet many developers seem afraid to let this embarrassing trope die; videogames can offer powerful emotional resonance, but its lacklustre characters are holding them back.
Gears Of War
It’s all fist-bumps and man hugs, which means that it hasn’t aged well at all. Gears was of its time, but it’s also time to bring some character to war.
Duke Nukem Forever
Duke Nukem has become an embarrassment to himself and all of us. He’s that misogynistic uncle that you thank the lord you only have to see around the holidays.
Madden NFL 17
While the game itself isn’t too bad, EA’s messaging is. Gamers have grown up, it’s time that the way that games are marketed towards them does too.
Manufacturers will always serve their core demographic, but there has been a noticeable shift in the way many large publishers have set about making and marketing their games – diversifying the image of their biggest properties to better appeal to a wider cross-section of people. Change is happening, it just needs to happen a little faster.
Open ended to a fault
Open-world games used to represent the future of our medium; the last generation brought about true, emergent and reactive open spaces the likes of which we had never experienced before, they were fresh and exciting. Now they seem bloated and purposeless, and the push to bring everything into open worlds is beginning to have an effect on game quality. While worlds continue to evolve, the creativity and content within them has stifled, leaving productions feeling small and impersonal. It’s time developers and publishers learned a valuable lesson: huge open worlds no longer impress, it’s the game within that will ultimately stand the test of time.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst
After years of waiting for a sequel, Catalyst was an abject failure. The concept failed in an open-world environment, and so this sequel was dead on arrival.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Ubisoft’s largest open world and, without question, its emptiest; Wildlands is proof that a sandbox is only as good as the toys you find inside of it.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The exception to the rule, The Witcher 3 goes to show that open worlds can evolve an experience if enough care and heart is put in to the execution of its design.
Developers such as Naughty Dog, Remedy Entertainment and id Software are demonstrating such a high level of expertise and execution within their linear games that simply can’t exist in open worlds – at least, not by the standard to which they are created today. For the better of the industry, game design needs to be scaled back.
Unlock the past
If the Xbox One has proven anything, it’s that backwards compatibility is no longer the hurdle it once was. As the leading manufacturers continue to evolve and iterate on their online systems, there is very little reason we shouldn’t have access to our libraries of previously purchased digital games. Nintendo is seemingly the worst for it, putting its most loyal fans in the position of having to repurchase NES, SNES and Game Boy classics time and time again as a new console arrives – although Sony isn’t much better with its paywalled PlayStation Now service. There is no reason for generation-locked digital content in 2017, it’s time publishers did something about it.
The subscription service lets players repurchase PS3 titles and an assortment of classics, but it seems trivial when put against Microsoft’s (free) service on Xbox One.
Super Mario Bros.
How many times have you purchased Super Mario Bros.? The classic has been made available on nearly every Nintendo system, we shouldn’t need to buy it again and again.
Xbox One Backwards compatibility
With hundreds of titles from the Xbox 360 era available, and a steady stream coming free monthly for Gold users, backwards compatibility on Xbox One is a guiding light.
Microsoft created an Xbox 360 emulator within the Xbox One and that has essentially allowed it to solve the backwards compatibility crisis. While Sony may struggle to implement something similar now, there is little reason why Nintendo couldn’t begin to honour its most loyal followers and give them access to classics they have already tied to their accounts across the 3DS and Wii era.
We made a mistake. All of us. We accepted microtransactions into the triple-A gaming space, we normalised their application in the highest tier of the industry and now they are likely here to stay. Do you remember the good ol’ days? Where you’d be rewarded with items, weapons and decals by simply playing the game? Microtransactions have a time and a place, but in much of triple-A it is not. Too often does it feel vindictive, as if it is holding back the potential of some game modes for fear of upsetting the now-established marketplace – think about it, when was the last time FIFA’s Ultimate Team received a notable upgrade or overhaul?
It’s almost impossible to play Ultimate Team without spending money, so enticing has EA made the experience. FIFA quickly becomes a scourge on your bank balance.
Halo 5: Guardians
Halo has never been a game that needed microtransactions, but it has them now! 343 Industries has forced them in to Warzone and it still feels out of place to this day.
It is getting trickier to spot these days where the game ends and the paywall begins. Many developers have taken to hiding them behind card-based mechanics – popular with YouTubers and unpopular with the general public. Ultimately, after you’ve purchased a game at full price you shouldn’t then have to contend with monetary barriers to better facilitate progression or aggression, especially in multiplayer gaming spaces.
Fiction with boundaries
Every time we begin a videogame, we willingly establish a suspension of disbelief – we sacrifice logic in favour of enjoyment. And that’s okay; we aren’t, after all, saying that every game needs to be presented (or reliant) on realism, most games are knowingly absurd and that’s fine. But as narrative and character ambitions continue to develop within enterprising studios, eventually there comes a time when enough is enough. Many games are too eager to shatter their own suspension of disbelief in favour of dated gameplay constructs – the bloated set-pieces and guided instances of peril – to fill a gap in logic or the story. As the industry grows, so too should our standard for storytelling and characterisation.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider
Hey Lara, how’s your frostbite? You had the foresight to forage for food, shelter and weapons, but not a jacket from one of the hundreds of men you murdered?
Broken hands: Nathan Drake would have perpetually broken hands if he tried any of that climbing in real life. The suspension of disbelief is real.
As gaming grows up and evolves, so too should the balance between gameplay and story. Traditional storytelling structures and narrative design really need to be respected, as does the role of a writer. Videogames have the potential to be an incredible vehicle for non-linear storytelling, and it is time that we began holding them to a much higher standard; this will only improve if we will it to.
Unneeded online features
There’s a horrible trend in the modern industry where developers wish for everything to be connected, all of the god-damned time. To an extent, this makes sense for a lot of emerging new titles; the likes of Overwatch and The Division are multiplayer-only experiences: they should be online, while piracy is still a large concern for developers looking to break into the PC market. Games with a single-player component that require an always-on internet connection are – particularly on console – inherently restrictive, putting us at the whims of unpredictable servers and ongoing support from publishers. Forcing people to engage with online systems when they don’t want – or shouldn’t have – to only serves to drive a rift between consumers and publishers.
Despite having a full single-player campaign, you’ll need to be connected at all times to play thanks to the way in which Ubisoft is attempting to blur the lines between its two modes.
Super Mario Run
It still makes little sense why Nintendo would release a smartphone game that’s unplayable on the Underground, in the air or in some parts of the country; for shame.
Blizzard is still feeling this one. Diablo III is as much of a single-player game as it is a multiplayer one, and taking so much control from players still follows the publisher to this day.
Whatever the reason – be it ‘a desire to enhance the experience’ or a way of combating piracy – single-player games that require an always-on Internet connection need to disappear. They are ultimately restrictive and anti-consumer by their very nature. This is one trend the industry needs to swiftly back away from as it will only hurt its growth and stability in the future.
Videogames are difficult. Well, that is to anybody looking in from the outside, we mean; they are made up of a series of largely dated and established systems and mechanics, many of which can be confusing and exclusive to a new player. Hence the existence of tutorials, as annoying as they may be. You’d like to think that, at this stage, the option to forgo the tutorial would exist, you know, for those of us that have played literally any videogame in the last 20 years. After all of the installing, patching and waiting to play, the last thing that anybody wants is to be forced into a lesson on the basics of jumping, crouching and firing a weapon.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Blood Dragon is one of the exceptions to the rule: it has one of the most hilarious tutorial presentations ever, taking the mick out of their obvious failings.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
An example of smart tutorial presentation, Uncharted 4 is so intuitive that it always ensures it teaches you something early before leaning on it later.
In effect, the easiest way would be to stop integrating tutorials into the story altogether (we’re looking at you Ubisoft) or take the Blood Dragon approach and have some real fun with the concept (yes, we’re very much still looking at you Ubi). Tutorials are a necessary evil, but there’s very little reason that veteran gamers should still be punished with the mundanity of it all.
The use of DLC
Videogames are expensive. That cost has never been higher, with publishers looking for any way in which they can help offset the cost of development, release and subsequent support of a product in any way possible. DLC has, for the last decade, largely been the answer – much to the dismay of some of the community. While we don’t have a problem with DLC in theory, there are still some ways to go when it comes to presenting it to the public; too often can a lack of transparency make it look as if content has been cut from the final product only to be resold or re-packaged as a pre-order bonus later.
Supported by a maddening amount of day one DLC and post-launch content, Evolve seemed to be a step too far for gamers losing patience.
Oblivion had its Horse Armour and The Saboteur had its nudity DLC, asking gamers to pay $3 for the opportunity to see some virtual nipples. Yes, this actually happened.
Dragon Age: Origins
Controversial at the time, Origins attempted to sell story content from within the game itself, with NPCs advertising additional content and totally destroying the immersion in the process.
DLC can do wonders for prolonging the lifespan of a game and we’d like to think many publishers will look towards what EA is doing with Titanfall 2’s free content roll-out for inspiration, though we understand the pressures of modern development. Ultimately, the timing and content of DLC packages and pre-order bonuses will be met with less scrutiny if an open discord is had with the community, something that we’ve been desperately in need of for years.