The other day I was reading about and laughing at FATAL, the horrible tabletop RPG for sociopathic lunatics, because I like to search out the worst things on the internet. I noticed that their website had lapsed and has since been replaced by a company that churns out piles of moronic games programmed in Shockwave. (!) Not only do the games suck, but most of the ones I tried didn’t work. They either ceased to function while in game or wouldn’t start up at all, even after changing settings and trying multiple browsers. Fatal Games probably makes enough money on ads that they don’t even need basic amenities like games that run or artwork superior to Sonic the Hedgehog fanart on DeviantArt. I also noticed that many of them give instructions to play a game that should be dirt simple but they still manage to make it so that the instructions are worthless and the game is hard to figure out. How bad do you have to be to fail to explain a game that is almost nothing?
There are thousands of cheap game creators like Fatal Games. Crank out something extremely derivative (even something that literally does not function), throw in some brainless sex appeal, and you make a profit. I can’t say that I don’t understand why people waste their time on terrible Facebook games and whatnot because I know exactly why people enjoy them. That doesn’t make them any good but merely profitable.
It would be easy for a programmer to get in on this racket. Can’t come up with anything good? You don’t have to come up with anything and it doesn’t have to be good. Take an idea that’s been proven to make money and change just enough things to keep lawyers off your back. You can even openly infringe on copyrighted characters like with the Sonic in the Hedgehog game in the slideshow above. If you feel dirty appealing to the unwashed masses of Zynga fans, you can make a dreary pointless art game with incredibly basic mechanics, say it’s about the loss of childhood innocence, and instantly gain unwarranted critical acclaim.
Can’t draw? People won’t care; the average man mistakenly believes that paintings from a no-talent hack whose assistants did all the work anyway are worth over a hundred million dollars (not that I wouldn’t sell one to some conspicuous consumer if I got my hands on it). I’d rather let Goldman-Sachs manage my mortgage than care about what kind of art is popular. So I wouldn’t worry; people who play Flash games would be perfectly satisfied with my childish, unskilled scribbles. If my intent is to make money, the bare minimum of effort to draw something comprehensible is enough. Just look at Andrew Hussie. His great comics with their captivating strangeness garnered little notice but the one people can’t shut up about was some lazy balderdash literally done in Microsoft Paint. Unfortunately, the majority of the time, effort is not rewarded.
Despite my negative attitude, I don’t necessarily feel absolute contempt for all the people responsible for these games. Many of them are poor artists and programmers who just want to eat. It’s entirely possible that they want to create good games but deadlines, lack of funding, and executive meddling prevent them from doing so. It’s just a shame that their final products are junk.
Let’s take a look a game that doesn’t completely suck. Burrito Bison Revenge is a very simple game with one button that controls everything. I remember playing Japanese Flash games similar to it in the early 00s. You launch a roided up Mexican Luchador through the sky and have little control over events. You move a small distance at first, gain in-game money, and purchase upgrades. At least I have more options than most games of this sort, and I kind of like the art style. And much like a slot machine, the lack of control is what makes it addictive to the average player. Having too many options is too confusing, too reliant on skill, too much like… like a video game.
Why play chess when there’s Chutes and Ladders, which removes all skill from the equation and reduces the game to banal chance? People love the feeling that fate has chosen them to succeed, not their own hard work or creative thinking. It makes them feel special without having to do anything. This is similar but not identical to the marketing strategy used to keep people grinding in JRPGs and MMOs. Performing repetitive tasks to watch numbers slowly increase is addictive, but it’s peanuts compared to the money to be found in randomness, in that feeling of something for nothing.
Kongregate has the best Flash games in my experience. They’re mostly junk too, but they have occasional good ones. I particularly enjoyed the Gemcraft series of tower defense games and the mocking Achievement Unlocked satires. Avoid Newgrounds and anything with the word “fun” or “free” in the title. The internet has given us unlimited supply and unlimited demand for games, but have some standards, please.