Remember in the first Matrix movie when Neo and Morpheus are discussing the Matrix world? Morpheus says something to the effect of: you know something is wrong with the world, you've felt it for years, it's in the back of your mind, like an itch you can't scratch. That's how I've felt about the video game market. I don't know when I started feeling this way, but something is deeply wrong with the gaming industry.
The word I keep running back to is volatile. The dictionary has multiple definitions but they seem to fit the market perfectly: tending to vary often or wildly, inconsistant, fickle, flighty, and fleeting. I feel as if the market is headed for a crash. The thing is we've been here before. The market crashed in 1983-1984 and took some good companies with it. In case you don't know your history, the main culprit was flooding the market with hardware and software with wildy varying degrees of quality: that is to say, people had no way of knowing what was good or bad. It wasn't like today where we have 3 main companies that are (for the most part) stable. But much like American history, I don't feel like the market will crash as harshly as it did the first time. I believe it will be more like the Great Recession of 2009: a slower decline that could be described as a slump.
So why do I think this? Well I have quite a few reasons, but the biggest of which is how unstable the market is. What I mean by this is there are a lot of practices that you see and don't see in this modern age that we never saw even 10 years ago. When is the last time you saw a AAA game with no DLC, or online play? It's coming to the point where microtransactions are becoming the norm. Why is it that we can't get a physical release of something like a puzzle game? What happened to things like 3D platformers? See there's a lot of things that go into a modern AAA release, but they have all been engineered to take as much money as possible from us as gamers.
One does not simply make a AAA game without DLC
I would have never dreamed of paying $100+ for a single game, but I have, and statistically speaking, you likely have too. It's so easy to justify dropping $10-$15 on a map pack, to play with friends, but why spend more money when you can get all of the content in the season pass? But not everything comes with the season pass, there are skins and other bonuses that you can also purchase. It's amazing how easy it is to get sucked in on all of this.
Whatever happened to making a game and that's it? Why must games be designed this way? It's because these AAA experiences cost big money to develop, and while they could raise the price of the game to compensate, it's a difficult enough task to get people to drop $60, let alone $100+. I partially blame us as consumers, we demand more and more, and want it all delivered without paying a penny more. While developers can make big money from these AAA games, they can also lose their shirts. I don't feel like I need to bring up the developers that have went under in this past generation. I believe if we tempered our expectations and developers tempered their budgets we could see more innovation.
The other problem is perception. Developers believe that because of the success of games like Call of Duty that it is what we as consumers want. While CoD certainly has its audience and I have no qualms with that, it's just that so many other genres have little to no representation. A quick scan through the Xbox 360 dashboard will reveal over 100 different apps available for the system, but searching for a 3D platformer and you'll be very disapointed with what the offerings are. There's something deeply wrong with the status quo. And for far too long we have accepted it.
Thankfully though, there are tides of change about. Yooka-Laylee (a 3D platformer being developed by ex-Rare employees) was put up on Kickstarter met all of it's stretch goals in less than 24 hours. For years, we've just accepted that those kinds of games aren't viable in today's market. This is proof positive there is a strong demand for games like this. Kids shouldn't have to just take the cash grab Skylanders/Disney Infinity, or the cookie cutter Lego games they've been shoveled. They should have vibrant fresh games like we had when we were young. To put it bluntly, I think (outside of Nintendo) kids games suck today, and that needs to change.
Warning: inappropriate for today's gaming industry
And finally, I must come to a point where I know is controversial, I think hardware needs to change. Microsoft and Sony both have their hands in the entertainment industry and it shows on the Xbox One and Playstation 4. These systems are designed to do so much that gaming feels like it's an afterthought. How is it that the PS4 has 8GB of RAM but less than half of that can be used for games? Why is Microsoft pushing for a TV tuner in the Xbox when their OS is still a broken mess? In fact why are they both sitting on their collective assess in terms of new games? Sure they can give us a bunch of prettier versions of last gen games, but frankly disapointed in both of them. I'm not excusing Nintendo for their lackluster third party support and things like region locking, but I find they are in a far better place in terms of my complaints with the market.
It may be easy to dismiss my complaints with the sales of the PS4 and 3DS, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Vita is struggling and will (in all likelyhood) fail because of the encroachment of the mobile market. The 3DS may be the last dedicated handheld Nintendo makes if the NX is indeed the rumored "hybrid system". It would make sense, people are moving away from dedicated handhelds. Wii U only has a small section of the market mainly comprised of the Nintendo loyal, and Xbox One is still feeling the effects of the Don Matrick era. Why do you think the PC gaming market has gotten so big?
I don't mean to sound all doom and gloom. The indie market has proven to be the light at the end of the tunnel. If the market did crash it could very well open the floodgates for a new way to game with less of the bullshit we've come to accept. Imagine a market where we could take developers at their word, where an honest product comes out and actually works. Imagine not being nickeled and dimed to death just to play a video game. I hope it doesn't take a crash for things to change. I hope that the AAA studios start paying attention to the indie market. And I hope all the current gen systems survive, I'm just not entirely sure that will happen.