It seems Kuato took Fat Bastard too literally.
Anyway, where was I? Easter eggs. Remember those? Saints Row IV is probably one of the very last games I played that contained a classic hidden room.
What's that you ask?
Well, let's pretend you don't know. Easter eggs are pieces of the game that were hidden by developers for you, the player to find them.
Here, I consider two types of Easter Eggs and how the evolved over the years.
1) Sometimes they were hidden rooms like the one above that completely broke the fourth wall*, referenced another product of culture (game, book, tv show, film). Usually you had to try to find them, search for cracks in walls and break them down to find silly stuff such as the famous Hall of Fame in the last level of Quake 2.
2) Hidden pieces of content that become playable in some way (a hidden weapon, character, game mode which can only be unlocked by doing something in a certain way).
It was actually one of the first easter eggs I've found myself around '98.
However, let me get to my main point after this longish intro. I think that Easter Eggs are going the way of the dodo. It seems that very few games have them any more, and apart from a few shooters (Borderlands 2, Aliens: Colonial Marines) there just aren't that many to be found in newer games.
It seems that in today's world of streamlining, standarisation, obsession with telemetrics gathering, and achievements (let's call those gamification** trends) the thrill of finding something that is not officially 'labelled' as a secret is disappearing.
We like to keep track of things and with that, secrets and eater eggs are now usually a stat that you can measure in a game. Sure, even Quake had a "secrets found" stat at the end of each level nevertheless, the difference was, it wasn't measured globally (so that you could brag about your % of completion) and most of those secrets were hidden rooms with guns you got to use early, unless it was a whole hidden level, a secret character, secret car or track or a weapon you couldn't find anywhere else. Most notably, many easter eggs are a bit out of place in terms of flavour and atmosphere, perhaps that is what makes them so fun..
Nowadays a fully fledged hidden level would most likely be unthinkable, the sheer amount of work needed to make one is too big, budgets are too bloated, schedules are too tight and risks too high. The gaming industry, at least the AAA gaming industry almost entirely lost any creative spark. It's especially visible in games made by Ubisoft and to a lesser extent EA. Most multimillion dollar productsmstici to the same formula with changing very little between sequels. With a huge, multimillion product, one cannot just do things on a whim. If Easter-eggs are to be in the game, they need need to be included in the budget and pre-planned, there is no room for improvisation.
Old games that were the AAA tier in the late 90s and early 00s were still mostly author driven; development teams were smaller and outsourcing was not as prevalent as it is today. It's harder to work in something that is just the mapmaker's whim. John Romero made a lot of maps for the original DOOM, but having one person work on entire game levels is no longer a viable way to work.
Another problem is that if the content had already been laid out in the budget most of the things that used to be easter eggs were turned into unlockables (sometimes they gave access to concept art) and artificially inflated the time to complete a game (this wasn't all bad) but then there was the growing temptation (probably on the end of the publisher) to lock that content out and sell it as DLC.
There is the growing tendency of games having less and less unlockables, secret weapons are few and far between and lots of things that would have been unlockables or Easter Eggs are sold as DLC. Another thing I find somewhat problematic is that after the DLC is bought, it is given instantly and in some cases works at a disadvantage in the game's progression and story, getting a powerful weapon and vehicles at the start of the game because we'd bought a piece of dlc may feel like cheating. ThereforeTherefore it's no surprise that selling cheats is the industry standard now. Some games have even incentivized players to buy those by lowering cash/experience rewards after launch (the recent example of Mortal Kombat X).
The newest trend in managing what is unlockable is introducing companion apps. It doesn't matter how well you play, you need to use a companion app to unlock alternate costumes or weapon parts (like in Far Cry 3). They are usually designed in such a way to make progression cumbersome and long (to make you buy another cheat).
In my opinion, this is not the only thing that is responsible for the disappearance of Easter Eggs. And while changing business practices have a strong bearing on what is happening I think this is something bigger. It is a growing tendency of the desire to know more which is partly related to the trends of information society the gaming community is part of.
The growing need of constant flow of information such as revealing new snippets via weekly livestreams to keep the potential customers interested (hyped) renders hiding content obsolete. Furthermore, with most gamers having constant access to the internet, most Easter Eggs, unlockables (if there are any) are found within hours, and the results are posted almost instantly on the internet. The joy of finding is replaced with the joy of sharing but is also accompanied by the desire to know which is manifested in the slew of game specific wikipedias. Almost all of the findings are usually harvested and posted on to the games' respective wikis within weeks of them releasing.
I feel that because of trend whose popularity we are partly to blame for (WE WANT TO KNOW MORE), we deprive ourselves of the surprises games hold (can we blame the industry which spoils the game's ending or important plot points in trailers?). Rarely was a fighting game's character- or a racing game's car roster fully revealed before it launched and you (maybe) read about it in a review in your favourite magazine.
While this short post feels apocalyptic. I don't think Easter Eggs will fully disappear. They may be less common and definitely less content packed. I believe the nature of Easter Eggs has changed and most of what used to be free hidden content you didn't know about before playing is now either discovered and shared publicly by other players which may deprive the fun of exploration, or purposefully cut out*** and sold as DLC which in turn is revealed by developers before the game is even released. There is one solution, however, the player who wants to experience the joy of discovering a game's secrets has to avoid reading any information about it apart from crucial things such as reviews or system specs..
*It's hard to speak about breaking the fourth wall with Saints Row IV - that game brought it down with a bulldozer and made Paul walk all over it).
**When writing an essay, for anything using wikipedia is frowned upon, I know. But this is a videogame site blogpost not an academic paper.
***It is quite possible that the procedure used to look this way at the early phases of introducing DLC. Nowadays, skins, weapons, levels, cars and characters as DLC are considered a given both by the players and the publishers.