I’ve heard this one more times than I can remember:
What is it with you and old games?
It’s easy to dismiss retro gaming enthusiasts as slaves of the past – giant manbabies retreating into the wood paneled rec-rooms of their happy, awkward teenage years – but resorting to such stereotypes serves very little purpose other than making you look like a jerk. Truthfully, though I’m fond of a large assortment of modern games, you’re more likely to find me with an SNES or Famicom controller in hand than with a DualShock 3 or Wii remote, and there’s a major reason for that that has nothing to do with the vintage of the games themselves: the business of video games has eroded, nearly to Hollywood levels of immorality and rot.
An onion half-black with rot is a rotten onion.
Consider the life cycle of your favorite current generation system:
• The system launches with evolutionary new hardware, promising “immersive new experiences that would have been impossible” on previous generation hardware; a handful of rushed and bug-ridden launch games help justify the ridiculous amount of time and money you spent securing your new favorite t.v. toy.
• Artificial shortages cooked up by marketing teams increase the perceived lustiness of the new must-have system; inflated prices on the secondary market serve only to worsen the situation.
• Decent-to-good games begin to show up on the market 6-8 months after launch as the hoopla dies down and retail channels are flooded with the once-elusive system; the install base begins to justify the expense of creating better games.
• Great games are released at a steady pace within 2-6 years of launch. More and more systems are sold; games begin to overtake films in profitability, drastically increasing development costs as publishers are forced to compete with other forms of entertainment – in addition to their own record-breaking profit margins.
• Former “stars” like Ice T use video games as a platform for boosting their waning careers; auteurs like Steven Spielberg successfully blur the line between games and film not by creating interactive experiences infused with their signature touch, but by luring confidence-lacking developers into thinking they actually need Hollywood’s help to make great games. It actually works out in some cases – Max von Sydow is a featured voice in one of gaming’s greatest modern classics – and now Hollywood wants an even bigger cut. Roger Ebert declares games can never be art; the rest of us wonder, “can’t games just be games?”
Games are serious business.
• Publishers, now beholden to investors with deeper pockets than Donald Trump, resort to chicanery to ensure maximum profitability: re-packaging the same game with a different title (Modern Warfare, Madden, “New” Super Mario Bros), forcing consumers to pay additional money for “extra” content that’s actually already included on a game disc, or charging a premium for “Special” editions wrapped in environmentally unfriendly packaging and cheap baubles masquerading as collectibles.
• The system goes quietly into its twilight years with drastic price cuts and feature-reduced models, cowering behind the mighty force of $.99 smartphones games – games cooked up as a response to the ever-inflating monstrosity that the console development model has now become.
• A handful of “last great games” show up to remind us what we once loved about the medium.
It may be difficult for some of you young’ns to believe, but it hasn’t always been this way. Sure, video games has always been a business – you can’t make games without money – but it used to be a business in which game publishers competed with other game publishers to make better games. Sega did what Nintendidn’t; Nintendo didn’t care because it had the support of every other publisher out there. And whichever side of the debate they landed on, gamers won, because great games appeared five, six, seven times a month, meaning they never ran out of titles to play or brag about to their friends. Nowadays, there’s so much cross pollination of titles between platforms that the very existence of two platforms as similar as the PS3 and Xbox 360 seems ludicrous; and yet, “serious” gamers continue to break themselves financially just to be able to keep up with the handful of games exclusive to each platform. It’s a ruinous, decrepit addiction, one wholly baked up by the modern business of video games. And I’ve had enough of it.
I still play modern games, and I continue to love the medium as much as I always have. But with very few exceptions, I wait until well after launch to buy new releases…when games cost a little bit less because they’re no longer the must-have title and I can separate them in my mind from all of this nonsense. And so until a game, for me, can once again be just a game – you’ll continue to find me looking backward into gaming’s abundant past, dusting off Demon’s Crest or X-Com or Gimmick! or Super Metroid for yet another go. And for all of the reasons above and more, I’m willing to bet I’ll be having more fun than you.