Stupid Crap About the Gaming Industry

A year ago, everyone knew what the best-selling game of 2012 would be. Every Call of Duty game receives more pre-orders than the previous, each one breaks new records, and each one is forgotten in a few months when advertisements for the next one start showing up. It’s a cycle of consumerism and appeasement that will continue until the series is no longer profitable. But for some reason we’re supposed to be surprised every year when records break again and the previous Call of Duty ends up in the bargain bin.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t dislike the Call of Duty series merely because it’s popular. That would be petty and hipsterish of me, and if you ever catch me doing it I want you to insult me in the comments of one of my articles until I get better. Most of my favorite games are highly regarded by the mainstream. I wrote an article earlier this year about how great a game Half-Life is, and that game received near-universal praise. There are plenty of good games and some of them are even made by giant corporations. It’s not wrong to like things that are popular as long as they are good popular things. Popularity shouldn’t even be relevant, though my pretensions towards iconoclasm sometimes get the better of me.

First-person shooters have generally decreased in creativity and complexity since Doom in 1993. Even Halo, for all of its faults, was a more fulfilling game than any Call of Duty. At least they would change things up slightly between iterations of that series; every Call of Duty title can be counted on to be functionally identical to the previous entry. Much like with the film industry, the gaming industry is highly risk-averse. Trying something untested, something innovative, is strongly discouraged. The banality and the huge financial success of Black Ops 2 is just a symptom of this myopic attitude. Black Ops 2 may be stupid, but it’s not the source of the blandness of major video game titles, it’s the result of it.

I’ve heard it suggested that we’re headed for another video game industry crash, much like the one of 1983. However, even if that were to occur, even if billionaire corporations stopped making games entirely, there would still be internet nerds to pick up the slack. Yes, the indie game makers that I waste so much time griping about would be there to keep creating games, many of them for free. They would probably only be marginally more creative than what they were replacing, but there is no danger of the medium suddenly disappearing like there appeared to be when Atari went bust. There are too many gamers now, even if most of the world’s gamers are 50-year-old soccer moms playing Angry Birds.

Interestingly, it was not merely a glut of bad games that caused the aforementioned gaming industry crash, but a huge disparity between the quality of big-name games and the expectations for them. They put up with terrible games based on Quaker Oats and General Custer’s fictional raping sprees but it took pissing all over their beloved mawkish Steven Spielberg movie before they started complaining. It turns out that even the masses can only withstand so many terrible ports based on hugely successful franchises before they stop buying that trash. I might be totally wrong on this and it was some other factor to blame for the 1983 crash, but this is how I interpret these past events.

But regardless, video gaming will not die. There will always be clueless parents and grandparents buying SpongeBob games for their children and their grandchildren, but that’s not going to kill the industry. Some of the big-name sequels will be good and some of the indie games will be good. And I’m really looking forward to the Steam console and the Ouya.

Ouya: Think different, like, actually different

About Lee

Lee Laughead writes stuff about video games. Read his Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mesarphelous even though Twitter sucks.
First-Person, Ramblings, Video Gaming

3 comments


  1. Paul

    You say that it would be hispterish to just hate Call of Duty just because it is popular, yet you give no reason to as why it is so bad. All you have said is that COD is the product of stagnation and not the cause of it. Perhaps you can expand on why COD is so banal, less fulfilling than other FPSs, and creatively bankrupt.

    The idea that FPSs today are more homogeneous than 10 years ago may be the case, but the past was not that rosy either. There were many copy cats back then also: Rise of the Triad, Rebel Moon, Quiver, Redneck Rampage, ect. One major issue today is that games are incredibly expense thus companies are more risk-adverse. There has also been a few great sleeper in the last few years such as STALKER, METRO 2033, and Mirrors Edge.

    It seems that you are being too dismissive of the creativity and complexity of Halo and Call of Duty. When Halo came out in 2001 there was nothing like that game, heck I remember being wowed by the game when it was Mac exclusive in 1999. Halo was revolutionary with its regenerative health (yes there was that X-Men game for the Genesis), excellent AI (in expressing and differentiating the role of each species in the hierarchy of the Covenant), on hand melee and grenades, and excellent level design that made vehicles a meaningful part of the game. COD 1 and 4 were excellent games, more evolutionary than revolutionary though. COD 1 was the first FPS that gave a sense that you were in large battles with numerous other combatants. It also was the first AAA FPS to make use of iron sights/hip fire mechanic (this mechanic was partially in a few other games/mods, but COD 1 is the game that perfected it). COD 4 was innovative with the multiplayer (perks, killstreaks, weapon attachments), did some interesting things with the narrative, and is one the best constructed linear FPS to date.

    I would also make the argument that generally COD is not trash (many of wannabes are MOH reboots, Homefront,ect). COD 1,2,4 are all excellent games, MW2 is near greatness with some major faults, BO2 is above average (tries some major changes but fails), and the rest of them (BO1,COD3, MW3, and WAW) are average. Though I do think Activision and the rest of the big players in the industry have created the current cynical attitude towards MMS by pumping out title after title, charging $15 for map packs, monetizing unlocks, and even destroying/burning out the developers (2015->IW->Respawn).

    I do not think the trend of sequel after sequel in the industry is going to cause a crash, the companies today are far more adaptive, have better distribution, are slowly getting production costs in check, have a much larger and more secure base of players than 30 years ago, and truthfully the sequels are not ripoffs. I have doubts about Ouya, it just seem too weak, I doubt it can do much more than the 360 with XNA. Though I do think the Steambox is going to change things in big ways, it may open self publishing to big budget games.

    • Lee

      I think the Halo games are technically well made and very good-looking but not so interesting. You spoke of enjoying the level designs but I found them to be rather schizophrenic. For every cool wide-open canyon or layered multiplayer map, there was a dreary indoors level as monotonous as pulling nose hairs. The Halo games do offer a good variety of weapons that are all useful in their own way, but they’re lacking in creativity compared to the bonkers fun of those found in something like Unreal Tournament, plus the player should be allowed to hold more than two of them at a time.

      Maybe I’m just blindly nostalgic for the likes of Doom and Half-Life but I don’t see the Call of Duty games as much more than interactive movies designed to increase US army recruitment numbers. My main complaint about the Call of Duty series and many other modern first/third-person shooters is the element of regenerating health. Much of the difficulty is mitigated when you can Rambo into hordes of enemies and duck behind a concrete wall for four seconds to completely regenerate as many times as you like. If the damage you take actually has an effect, you have to more intelligently gauge challenges and approach them cautiously.

      I do admit that I enjoyed playing Nazi Zombies, whether alone or with a friend. They force the players to manage threats from multiple fronts while conserving ammo and attempting to accomplish various objectives, kind of similarly to the Left 4 Dead games. I’d probably play a self-contained game based on that mode if it had plenty of maps available.

      One method of compromise in regard to the regenerating health deal is the way that Ninja Gaiden II did it. In that game, enemy attacks deal both temporary and permanent damage. The temporary heals after all the enemies are gone from the screen, but the rest sticks to you until you use a new save point. This gives the player some leeway while also punishing mistakes. I can’t think of any other games that did something similar unless you count Halo‘s health and shields.

      Stalker and Far Cry are good examples of recent shooters that break the mold of simply railroading the player through a series of linear encounters. And I really wanted to like Mirror’s Edge but I thought that the shootout sequences detracted from the game’s main draw: climbing stuff, dodging gunfire, and running around rooftops. A sequel could definitely refine it into something excellent.

      You offer strong arguments and I must admit that the article is lacking in details and cohesion. Thanks for the input.

    • Obs

      I liked your comment, I agreed with some of it and disagreed with other parts. I believe that the COD and MW games deserve the criticism they get because there’s no excuse to be going completely backwards in level design and then justify that lack of attention with how many millions were spent on movie quality visuals and sound. I can’t argue with its commercial success, but it’s because these games and their marketing are expertly crafted to make the most flash. I like that you went into detail about what you liked about the games, but those things just didn’t do it for me, personally and I admit that I don’t see them with the level of detail that you do. I agreed with what you said about Halo though. I have fallen into the trap of badmouthing Halo just because it’s popular. I don’t think its all that great either, but it’s a good game that deserves to be recognized as such.

      I think you’re right about the Ouya, sort of. Where I think it’s going to help is that it’s going to move some of the democratization of the market of the mobile device app stores into the living room entertainment center. If they do it right, meaning yeah they must have a pretty open app store, since it’s not going to be Google Play. Steam is going to drastically overshadow it, but what makes me happy is that the existence of another major console no longer means something like the Ouya can’t exist and be successful. And I never feel ripped off if I get a dollar game that gives me at least a few hours of fun.

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