Video Game Trends; it’s Short but Look it has Multi-player

I was semi-participating in a “round table” (although in reality it is more of a rectangular shape) between Meg and Max and their dissection of what is wrong in the video game industry at the moment.

There were some great insights brought up this morning, mainly because Max has been introduced into the mix. Meg and I tend to re-hash the same ideas, just with a slightly different angle of presentation. The addition of another “player” has allowed us to represent old ideas and discuss new ones.

The main consensus was that most games coming out right now (and last year) are all much shorter in duration than previous games and they seem to be relying upon the addition of multi-player to justify their curtailing of the main game.

A good example of this is the last iteration of Hitman. Fans of the Hitman franchise have been eagerly awaiting the emergence of a PS3 HD version of their favourite assassin for years. The development of the latest chapter in the Hitman verse was given a lot of publicity and updates of the “proposed” game play was on YouTube.

I could not wait to play it. I even paid full price for the collector’s edition (mainly for the Hitman statue) just because I could not wait for the cost to go down. I popped the disc into the PS3, waited for the latest update to load and started playing.

Eight hours later, I was finished. I sat looking at the end credits (which lasted almost as long as the game) feeling disappointed, let down, and yes, cheated. I know that a lot of hype was given to the fact that you could play the game on-line and “take contracts out on your friends and family.”

Yawn.

I do like on-line multi-player games, I play CoD a lot (I’ve clocked a lot of hours on Black Ops II) but some games just don’t “fit” the on-line arena. It just seems that games companies automatically assume that if their game is a “shooter” (either first or third person) it’s suited for a multi-player aspect.

*Of course it’s not just “shooters,” Assassin’s Creed started participating in the on-line experience with Assassin’s Creed II and the protagonist’s generally use sharp implements and only rarely shoots anyone.*

I am sure that a lot of gamers like the interactive concept of competing against their friends and neighbours. Competitive gaming is good, if you like that type of competition. But again, only some games really fit that sort of game play; war games especially fit the multi-player scenario. You’ve probably noticed that I have not mentioned WoW or any of its first or second cousins. That is because that type of game has never interested me and it never will; despite the fact that Felicia Day is a player.

Competitive game playing is fun, but there are different levels of competition. Most games involve competition of some kind even if it is just competing against the actual game and not another person. Of course there are exceptions; Flower, for instance, has no competition at all.

The only problem with on-line gaming is the emergence of players who “cheat” or hack the system. Anyone who has joined a game only to die repeatedly while their weapons don’t even scratch the opposing team members knows the frustration of playing in a match where the odds have been skewed to the other teams favour.

I don’t want to get on a multi-player rant here, so I’ll get back to my original point: actual game play being shortened. I loved the PS2 generation of games that took over 20 to 40 hours to complete and they did not rely on multi-player access to extend the “life” of the game.

The never-ending game…

Admittedly there are some games out there that do have a lot of game play hours. Skyrim, for instance, brags that you could conceivably never finish their open world game. But again, that is not my type of game. I personally do not find games that rely on swordplay and ye olde English dialogue mesmerising.

We all agreed that the new shorter game times were the companies attempt to appease the non-gamer market. The major complaint from this new market demographic is that existing games are too long. “I don’t have time to play a game that is over 20 hours long. I have to: work, clean, cook, iron, take little Timmy to school and pick him up; the excuses list for not having time to play is just about endless.

So the gams companies are, once again, catering to the non-hardcore gamer instead of  developing games that appeal to all gamers equally. Their answer is to tag a multi-player aspect onto every new game in the hopes of getting the real gamers to log on and shoot out. That way they can cut the main game’s running time down enough for the new or casual gamer.

These “new” gamers are an anomaly. Most of them are playing “because everyone is doing it” not unlike the race to lose your virginity when you were in high school (although arguably it appears to be happening much earlier these days) because of peer pressure. Since game companies have shifted their focus onto the “family” gaming market they’ve changed the face of gaming.

Not only have games become shorter, but they’ve become easier. It is a lot harder to get killed or die now-a-days. In fact you kind of have to work at it. In keeping with their new demographic of consumer, game companies don’t want to make the actual game play too difficult, they might lose money.

They will still put out the odd difficult game like Dark Souls where the game play actually seems to be hard just for the sake of it instead of there being a reason for the level of difficulty. They are also changing existing games in the area of genre just to increase their marketability.

Dead Space 3 for example now appears to be more of an action/adventure shooter, losing a lot of its appeal as a horror related shooter. Presumably this shift of focus will allow the more casual gamer to be interested. It is the only explanation for the change of genre that makes any sense.

Gee, all that’s missing is grandma and grandpa…

The introduction of the Xbox Kinect, the Sony Move and all of the Nintendo Wii shows that the game business is all about “family” entertainment now. Presumably every family will participate in fun short games play where everyone from great grandma to little two year old Timmy can spend a limited amount of time playing “group” games. Games that are really last generation arcade type games that used to be playable in the local arcade, bowling alley, or outside Wal-Mart.

I am all right with that whole concept.

But…

Let’s not forget the core of the gaming market. The real gamers who love a long properly challenging game; a lot of these guys are in their 30’s and 40’s (and older) now and unlike the new gamer will make the time to play a longer game. Even if it means only getting to spend a half an hour at a time playing it; because real gamers will not begrudge spending three to four weeks (or longer) getting to the end of their game.

Because real gamers are going to be around a long time yet, long after these new casual gamers have moved on to the next peer pressure driven past time; one that has dictated that family gaming is dead. Hopefully that will mean that game companies will go back to their roots and develop longer games with a bit less emphasis on the multi-player experience.

In the mean time the new casual gamer has all those flash games and Facebook games to keep them busy while we wait for some good “old-fashioned”games with length and difficulty.

Look out for the chainsaw guy and hours of game play…