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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Need a Revolution in Gaming

The Steam summer sale is over. I bought nothing, even though there are games on my wish list. I just wasn't enticed enough to throw down some money. I've been quite content playing Elite: Dangerous (a non-steam game,) and while my X52 Pro throttle was out of commission Kerbal Space Program (KSP, a Steam purchase.)

Evidently I was not the only one suffering from this lack of enthusiasm. I was reading through my blog roll on Monday and came across GW2 and Heart of Thorns: Has Steam Devaluation Finally Hit MMOs? by Herding Cats and Steam, What Have You Wrought? by The Ancient Gaming Noob (TAGN.) They too saw the Steam summer sale come and go and noted there was a difference this year. As TAGN put it,

So I ended up here, at the end of the sale, having purchased nothing. Which is fine… I hardly needed any more unplayed games in my library. But it is amusing to consider how things have changed, how the Steam Summer Sale used to be such a big deal and how I would buy things just because they were priced so damn attractively. Steam has trained me over the years to hold off and only buy things that I am sure I will play.

Herding Cats had a slightly different take on the lack of enthusiasm, but likewise spent less than in previous years. Here's what Herding Cats had to say,

It’s a problem that I can sympathize with, although I too am part of the plague of deal-seeking buyers. The Steam Summer Sale just ended, and I spent less than I have in years. In past sales I’ve felt frustrated by a lack of fresh, new games to buy, but that wasn’t the problem this time. This year, I just can’t make myself pay more than $9.99 for a game.

As I read each post though, what I saw between the lines, and what I feel in my own heart, is it's not really a cost issue or a Steam devaluation issue. Herding cats gives an impressive list of purchased expansions costing a minimum of $40. I myself gladly shoveled out $50 to buy Elite: Dangerous (E:D,) and I still pay CCP $15 a month to keep my EVE Online account active. I don't think money is the real issue here, at least for me.

What I see going on here is, to put it simply, boredom. I personally have this intense feeling of "been there, done that" whenever I see a new title come out. About the only thing that has me spending my money right now are state of the art graphics and, to a lesser degree, curiosity about the reboots of some of my old favorites. Those are exactly why I purchased E:D and Mortal Kombat X (MKX.) They are amazingly beautiful in their own rights, and I wanted to see what the game looked like brought into the 21st century.

But guess what? I haven't picked up my controller for MKX in over a month now. When my HOTAS went down I switched to the newly released version of KSP to pass the hours. Fight games are fine, but there are only so many times you can press the same buttons at insane speed before my hand and brain get tired of it.

I feel the same way about first person shooters (FPS.) When Doom first released I played the hell out of it. And I will buy the reboot when it releases. But make no mistake, I'll be buying it for the awesome modern graphics where no two chainsaw cuts are the same. And I can almost guarantee you I'll put the controller down after a month and become a very infrequent visitor thereafter.

The only thing I can think of that might make me hang with it more than a month is if the Oculus Rift is released by then. I do intend to purchase one unless they are stupid expensive. I like 3D a lot, but two of my three regular movie partners can't do it so I'm going to have to get my 3D fix somehow else. If the new Doom is fully 3D, which I'm certain it will be, the experience will be different enough to increase the length of my play time. But sooner rather than later, I will put Doom down because I'll run out of things to do and the thrill will evaporate.

And that, that right there, is what I think the real underlying issue is with the Steam summer sale and the general apathy that's been pointed out. But if the thrill is gone, why is it gone? This is something that's haunted the back of my mind for a couple of years now. I'm finding the time I'm playing games dwindling. I used to spend hours upon hours playing each day. Now I play a couple of hours every other day or so. I am generally not excited to log in. I used to have this great anticipation about getting home so I could fire up my latest adventure and continue the saga. Now there is a lot of meh in me, even for Elite: Dangerous.

After giving it careful consideration, I know what the problem is. Back when I bought KSP years ago, it was new. I'd not played a game like it before. I sank 300+ hours into it in much less than a year. KSP excited me because it was not the evolution of an old title but something entirely different. It was science (a passion of mine) meets gaming (another passion of mine.) It was personally new and exciting because it combined two things I love and they were from the opposite side of the fence to some ways for thinking. My real world knowledge of physics met my avatar and I was thrilled!

But today all we seem to get are reboots and they are not KSP. The gaming industry seems to be caught in the same rut as the movie industry. Just look at the title of the most popular release last month: Grand Theft Auto (GTA) V. There is no revolution there, only an evolution and a minor one at that. Elite: Dangerous is in the same position, though it's a larger evolutionary jump from the original than GTA V is from even GTA I. Still, it is only an evolution. It does nothing all that different from the original, or any other game of its genre. It's Internet spaceships but without the player politics.

Even the long-awaited and highly ambitious plans for Star Citizen can't be called revolutionary. It'll simply be a FPS/MMORPG/Internet spaceship game. There's nothing revolutionary in any of that, and tying them together in one universe isn't even evolutionary as far as game design goes. It's merely ambitious. It speaks more to the power of modern computing than it does to the merits of the game design. Yes, it is something players of Internet spaceships have wanted for years, but it is not revolutionary.

Yeah, I hear you. You want to know what is revolutionary if a game like Star Citizen, which I have supported BTW, isn't. FFS people, if I knew that I'd be working on the game and doing everything I could to keep it secret. I sure as hell wouldn't blog about it. But I'm not a game designer, I'm a game player. Sure, I've got some ideas but they could be half-baked for all I really know. But I do have a vision in my mind of something that would be revolutionary to my way of thinking.

I reviewed a book some months ago called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. You can click the link to read that review. In this book was the O.A.S.I.S., short for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. If you took the Internet and slaved it to a 3D system complete with haptic feedback suits, and allowed people to do anything while logged in short of eating and defecating, you would have the O.A.S.I.S. That would be a revolution.

But it doesn't have to be completely immersive. There are people earning a living as game players/broadcasters. Markiplier isn't so popular because he's a great game player. It's because he's entertaining. I don't consider what he does as revolutionary. It's really just an evolution of broadcast media. But if there was a way where others could interact with his gameplay directly, helping or hindering as it happened, and earn prestige/loot/earn a living themselves - well, that might just be revolutionary too.

One thing preventing this sort of online interaction is we spend so much of our time worrying about our privacy. Will such interaction compromise it? Really, we never had any privacy to begin with; it's just faster to get your information now or easier to peak over the fence with a Go-Pro on a selfie-stick (drones anyone?) than it was 20 years ago. Still, people are very uncomfortable with a world like Ready Player One, where half the world's population earns a living in a virtual job and everyone is online. There is a huge loss of control when your world extends beyond your fingertips, and humans have always feared that loss of control. But I think what I'm waiting for is that world. So much of my job is done via remote access now, taking the additional step to provide virtual interaction wouldn't really affect it. It would actually put a friendly avatar face on the line. A presence more than a disembodied voice coming out of the phone.

And when are game companies going to realize that awarding RL loot to those who pay to play, like some giant lottery, is a win-win proposition. I'm not talking about awarding virtual items. That already happens and it isn't enough to be revolutionary. I'm talking about a chance to win a flat screen television, or a gourmet BBQ grill, or a Tesla X for being a paid up member of the Frontier Pilot's Association! Would you buy into a game developer subscription program that gave you real world rewards for playing? Would you pay $50 a month if you had it for the chance to win a Tesla X? Why not? I would. I'm going to probably play the game regardless, but without such rewards I will certainly be curtailing how much I spend. Linking on going real rewards to the game might just be the ticket to reignite enthusiasm. If it's run properly it'd be profitable. Just look at how many people buy Powerball tickets, and how that number sky rockets when the payout is 300 million dollars.

In the end, I think I can sum up how I'm feeling by stating I yearn for a game that mixes my real life with my virtual life in a more meaningful way. Some people will think I need my head examined for having such thoughts. They may be correct. But without that very personal connection, I can see a day coming when I just won't log in any more. The people who want me to see a shrink now will no doubt say that is for the best. That I should do "real" things and not "virtual" things. They don't understand that anything I do is real to me, whether it's online in a game or on the line I've dropped from a charter boat. It's time to stop pretending otherwise - or go back to the table top.


  1. What annoys me most about reboots is that they recycle the name. Don't make a 2016 game and call it DOOM. Call it Doom 4 or even better, Doom 2016. Same with the announced Master of Orion game.

    Received Ready Player One last week and taking it with me on vacation, ordered Skin Game but left out on the three-body problem for now since it's hardcover and I have to think before shelling out € 25,- for a book if there are others on my wish list available for only € 15,-

    Gave a try and liked the first one enough to buy the second one and will now quickly order the rest :)

  2. Something along the lines of ? I've not tried it but it reminded me of Halting State by Charles Stross. Worth a read if you haven't already.

  3. A local friend showed this to me on his phone and it did look intriguing. I'm still trying to decide if I'll give it a try. He only had a few minutes to show me the game and it gave me more questions than answers. But yes, something a bit like this. :)


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