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Great Isn't Good Enough


There are a lot of journalists and game developers out there trying to figure out how to keep the market profitable for everyone, especially in the triple A market. Games are selling millions of copies yet still showing losses; something that doesnít even seem to make sense yet still happens. Naturally, everyone wants to know why, and point to things like rampant spending by developers, the rise of smartphone games (and Facebook games, and the Wii, and Zynga, andÖ), the homogenizaton of games, lackluster DLC, and many other excuses. I know many of those things are affecting game sales, but Iím wondering if one of the biggest problems is also one of the most simple: Are there too many good games?

I have had a serious problem with my backlog since the PS2 days. As I hit the job market, I was able to afford more games, and suddenly found myself in a position where I could get anything I had an interest in. So I did, buying up anything and everything I thought Iíd ever want to play, quickly building up a pile of games I didnít have the time to play. Considering I used to play every game I owned to utter completion, this was pretty weird for me, but the appeal of being able to get everything I wanted was too hard to pass up. It never stopped, eventually reaching the point where there wasnít anything else on last gen systems that I could conceivably want, as Iíd bought everything I had even a passing interest in. The shame is that there are games I bought back in 2003 that I still havenít found time to play by 2013. I simply have too many games.

Still, I found the time to play the biggest stuff that I wanted to play. I picked up every new Mario game at launch, just the same as I did for Final Fantasy X and X-2. Most of the stuff I didnít get around to were things that I only wanted to play a little bit, though, so no big loss. Itís fine that Iím a bit of a gaming pack rat, although at times I feel guilty that Iím sitting on copies of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne just in case I ever find the time to play them. I like having it in my collection waiting for a time when I can give it the attention it deserves, even if that means itís just collecting dust now. Iíd get around to it some day when I wasnít already swamped with the hot new release that I needed to play.

The time I have to play games seems to have dwindled more and more over the years, though, as every game in my backlog gets pushed back further and further by the new release schedule. It got much worse when I started doing game reviews for a few different places over the years, as it cut my available play time down to almost nothing other than what I could dedicate to the newest games. Still, every once in a while Iíd get an afternoon free that I could spend playing through whatever obscure PS1 horror game I happened to have been daydreaming about. Alone in the Dark: One Eyed Jackís Revenge doesnít exactly make for riveting gameplay, but still, that was one game from the backlog down, right? Progress. That required there to be a lull in the new release schedule, though, something that happened frequently during the summer or post-holiday season. There were times I could count on for a break.

Those days donít seem too frequent any more since I got a gaming PC. Itís not that Iím even getting the newest games that push it to its limits, either, as I seem to be spending all day, every day, playing indie games. Iím new to gaming on PC, but the growth and prevalence Iíve seen in the indie gaming market has been staggering, and there is new stuff coming out almost every single day that I am dying to play. This isnít just stuff I kind of want to get to someday like most of my PS2 backlog, but games I feel like I NEED to play. Two Brothers, The Stanley Parable, and The Wolf Among Usall hit me just within the last few weeks, and this was during a time that I was determined to enjoy Batman: Arkham Origins. This was after I did my best to carve out a few minutes every day for Pokemon Y, which was what followed Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, but the two of them were shunted aside so I could play the next chapter of The Last Door, the incredible horror game Knock Knock, and the surreal Luxuria Superbia. Even now, as I swear Iíll find time for poor old Batman, I have a copy of Slender: The Arrival beckoning to me, and a huge update to Soda Drinker Pro just waiting for my input. It never, ever stops.

These are just the games I manage to find time for, and the criteria for getting on my to-play list is getting stranger and more random by the day. Games I really want to play are getting shuffled aside so I can take a few minutes with other games I think Iíd love, and a lot of the time, I never get back to something once I walk away from it. If I donít take the time away from my initial game, something tends to come out just as itís finishing that I want to play, and whatever came out in between gets left aside forever. It seems to come down to whatever can grab my attention the hardest and fastest, and everything else just falls by the wayside. There is just so much good stuff thatís either coming out or about to come out that itís brutally hard to keep up with them all. Thereís just not enough time in my life, and even during a few months I spent unemployed there still wasnít enough time.

Itís brought me to a strange place, as I have to acknowledge that there are just too many quality games coming out for me to give them all the attention I want to. Itís always been a problem, as my backlog will indicate, but itís one thatís been growing more and more out-of-control as Iíve gotten older. I used to be able to keep up with the current releases at least, but now there are too many of them to even try to play everything I want. I just have to reach out and grab onto the games that Iím dying to play the most, and then hope that I donít miss out on some hidden gem while my attentionís elsewhere.

I typically do, though. Even while I talk about all of the new releases coming out through Triple A development and the indie space, there are even more little experimental titles coming out on sites like gamejolt.com, newgrounds.com, and dozens of other similar sites. Hundreds of new games are coming out each and every single day, games that explore crazy new themes and gameplay styles, but I still donít have any more time in my day to play them all. Not even close, especially considering Iíd want to write about the ones I liked, too. There is just too much stuff for me to keep up with it all, and I love far too many games to limit myself to any one particular gaming space. I might have to for my own sanityís sake at some point, but I wonít want to.

I think this is actually becoming a larger issue for the industry and games as a whole. There are just too many games all fighting for the same finite amounts of time in peopleís lives. Take a look at any given day on the iOS game database and see how many new games pop up. Even if you were only to play most of them for a few minutes, I doubt you could even come close to playing every single new release. Thatís just on iOS, too, as thatís not counting the new games that pop up every hour on Game Jolt for free, or the ones hosted on private sites that somehow manage to glide across my path. The stream of new stuff is endless, a far cry from the days when Nintendo Power could cover almost every single licensed release with its monthly opinion sections.

I hear a lot of talk every couple of years that a certain type of game platform is taking over, and that everyone should worry about it. It was Facebook games a while ago, and the Wii before that. Now phones are supposed to be the way of the future, but even there, thousands of good games get ignored and left to rot just because the most popular games bury everything else. A new game releasing on phones has a lousy chance of being able to penetrate a public awareness that seems content just to focus on the newest Angry Birds or Bejeweled clone, and this is where all the growth is supposed to be. Sorry guys, but phones are the definition of shaky ground right now.

Even then, theyíre still contributing to the torrents of talented developers making good games that are having no luck finding success in a market where excellent games come out almost every hour. Iíd argue that weíre well beyond the point of saturation, reaching a point where thereís just no way that there are enough gamers on the planet to sustain every single game in the way it deserves to be supported. Thereís not enough time, not enough attention, and not enough money within the market to support all of the kind, brilliant people who are working in it, an issue far bigger than problems with DLC or next-gen graphics.

Forget about whether phones will kill the console market or some such garbage. Forget about developers dropping millions into games that just donít see the returns. Forget about how hard it is for a new indie developer to gain the attention it needs. The main problem that everyone is having is the fight over the finite amount of spare time that the gaming public has to offer. It sounds crazy, doesnít it? With millions of people on the planet all playing games, youíd think there would be time for all of us to pick up and support the best and brightest games coming out. Despite that, everywhere I turn, friends talk about their growing backlogs of games, the things they bought on Steam sales but havenít played, and the list of games they want to play but just canít find time for. As insane as it sounds, one of the biggest threats to video games now is the amount of solid, quality games being released.

You donít have to wait for the next quality game to roll around on your console any more. Even on PC, youíre not just picking up great mods for games you already own, but fully-realized unique experiences made by passionate people working out of their basements. You donít need to rely on a handful of companies and people for your great gaming experiences any more. I took a quick look at November to see if I wanted to play anything that was coming out and felt safe in saying there was nothing I wanted to play. I even felt safe during the week Batman: Arkham Origins came out, but sure enough, new games cropped up right under my feet. The next great game experience isnít a month out or even a day out. I really feel that Iím at a point where something good I want to play comes out two or three times a day, and it kills me not to be able to give these games and their developers the attention and funds they deserve.

Itís sad, but this is a problem that will resolve itself over time. Many big companies have tried to take steps to rectify it through DLC, cracking down on game lending and trading, and any of several other myriad methods, but the problem still persists. I truly love the games that I enjoy and am willing to support them as much as I can, buying absurd collectorís editions and merchandise as fast as I can, but often, something else captures my imagination and time before that can happen. This has been especially hard on RPGs, as I donít feel comfortable picking up many of them just from knowing how much time Iíd have to dedicate to them.

On the opposite spectrum, this seems to be where the big push for phone games has appeared. Concise and quick gameplay experiences seem to be all the rage since people can pick them up for next to nothing and play a few minutes for a few days before getting tired of them and moving on. For someone with limited to no gaming time, a few minutes on the toilet playing Angry Birds is a godsend, allowing for quick relaxation without having to worry too much about hours of cutscenes, cinematics, skill building, and personal involvement. Also, who cares if you only play them a few times? It only cost a dollar. You can drop them and grab them without feeling anything even close to guilt.

I donít want those experiences, though. I want something I can immerse myself in, even if itís only for a little while. I want difficulty curves that make me feel good when I overcome them; I want stories that touch on humanity, and I want experiences that teach or show me something new about the world. I play games to escape and go on adventures, to feel things Iíve never felt before, and not just because I need to kill a few minutes while Iím trapped in the bathroom. Thereís nothing wrong with those kinds of games, but theyíre not what Iím looking for.

Even if they were, even they are feeling the crunch. Again, how many games released on the iOS store actually show something even close to success? How many games show any kind of success at all these days? Itís not because everything is terrible like it was before the Atari crash (Although youíre screwed if you do release a bad game in this market. Itís not big on second chances these days), but rather a market where there is just so much good stuff every single day that there isnít enough time to play it all.

But as I said, this will resolve itself. How many people are willing to stick with this industry given its current state? How many of the big boys can even afford to anymore? When companies like Capcom are so out-of-touch with the modern market, releasing heaps of junk, how can they even hope to continue when good games canít even hold my attention? When the game you slave away on for months releases to rave reviews but no sales due to scams, piracy, or customer indifference, how long before you give up and walk away? How many great minds will leave this industry just because thereís no room left?

Itís not all as bad as I feel. My attention isnít the only way to grade how the industry is doing, but I do feel that this is an existing problem, albeit one that there might not be much anyone can do anything about. This is just one of those things that will sort itself out, although a lot of talented people might end up falling by the wayside before itís done. I feel that itís a shame that many great developers donít get the attention they deserve when I want to give it to them, and that people I want to supportgo without it.

Iím sorry, guys and gals. I wish I could play everything, but Iím just one man.
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About JoelCoutureone of us since 11:26 PM on 05.27.2013

Contributing Editor for mashthosebuttons.com, destitute but determined fantasy novelist & short story writer at joelcouture.com. I wish I was paid for either of those jobs.

I love horror games. If you scare me, I will give you money. I also love terrible games, as it's a lot harder to make a game that's so bad it's hilarious than it is to make something that is just bad.

For some reason I'm not super clear on, I am obsessed with J. Jonah Jameson.