It seems like more and more often, I’m reading about the video game industry crashing again. My initial reaction to these reports was the shrug them off by pointing to the record profits, hardcore fanbase, and the apparently recession-proof nature of the medium. But lately, having thought about this more often, I’ve started to come around and realize that the current business model may no longer be viable and appears to be hanging on to remnants of the past while branching out in the wrong directions. But given these observations, would another industry apocalypse be a bad thing?
To those who may not be familiar with the history of the medium, the Crash of 1983 ended the first generation of video gaming in devastating fashion. The fledgling industry over saturated the market without regard for quality and brought about its own demise by overextending itself in a rush to maximize profits too fast and too soon. Nintendo single-handedly saved gaming with the NES a couple years later, but 1983 remains a warning that it could all come crashing down again if companies are not careful.
Over thirty years after the big crash, video games are taking over as a dominant entertainment medium. The biggest earners in any given year are typically gaming staples like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto and the culture that has risen up around gaming is a combination of massive and passionate that film, television, and literature fans can’t touch. We’ve reached a sweet spot where artistic interactive storytelling, astonishing visuals, excellent soundtracks, and genuine fun have all come together to make it a something for everyone catch-all entertainment behemoth.
So why is it going to crash? Well hardware prices are going up, more companies are trying to throw their hats into the ring, budgets are becoming more and more inflated, companies are becoming less and less consumer friendly, and set price points for games coupled with tough economic times for the middle and lower classes are leading to more people buying used and pirating. Even with massive sales, companies are often losing money due to the immense budgets of their products.
This leads me to believe that Nintendo may actually have the leg up on Sony and Microsoft, in spite of appearances. For all of the mockery the Wii-U has endured for not being high-tech enough and not having enough awe-inspiring games, this conservative approach could be in anticipation of some economic calamity that they foresee. Nintendo is not dumb. For all intents and purposes, they built this house out of the rubble of the Atari age. And they may well be poised to clean up again after the Xbox and PlayStation brands implode under their own weight.
Which brings me to my next point: where will we as gamers be with our hardcore gaming brands out of commission? Well, there is no possibility of video games not making an immediate comeback. We may lose some of the biggest companies, but we will not lose the medium. It’s part of who we are as a generation now. There will always be interactive digital adventures to be had, with or without the Microsofts and EAs of the world.
But how, you crazy bastard, you say. How will we survive without a new Call of Duty and Madden every single year or a stack of unplayed games that we reflexively bought because they looked awesome but never got a chance to play because were too busy playing new Call of Duty and Madden every year? Well, you know what they say: less is more. Part of the reason the industry may be dooming itself is because there is just too much out there. I know this is as First World problems as it gets, but there are literally too many games on any one console for any of us to hope to play.
Remember when we used to get a game and play it for years unraveling every secret and replaying the same levels over and over just to get better for its own sake? I don’t know what that feels like anymore. Every time I fire up a new game, I’m already thinking about the next game I’m going to play. There are so many games that I don’t have time for that I feel like I have to rush through every game I play so I can hurry up and get to the next one and the one after that, hoping to get to them all before the next console generation where I start the process all over again while still lamenting the games I never got to play on the last gen.
Maybe my problem in life is that I want to experience too much. Perhaps this is the form of my impending mid-life crisis: to have so many things I want to see, read, watch, play, and do with no time for them all. Again, it’s a good problem to have as far as dilemmas go, but with so much out there and so many people with only so much time and money to go around, it seems like the entertainment industry can’t take much more expansion. Something is going to give and gaming seems to be the industry pushing itself the hardest.
But even if we lose all of the big three and even Valve, gamers will not want for distraction. One of the big stories of the several years has been indie games. From low tech nostalgia-style titles to story-based adventures told in installments, smaller companies are proving that you don’t need big budgets to deliver a good time. If the corporations crumble, these guys will be more than ready to fill their void, and with the extra attention they could potentially become the next generation of mainstream gaming and remake the industry with a completely new paradigm.
Imagine a world without set $60 price points and day one DLC. No more paid corporate shill reviews flooding websites or overpriced special editions, no products rushed to market before their time, and no goddamn console wars either. Imagine all the people living for today. You may say I’m a dreamer, but…wait, what was I talking about?
Oh, right. Let it all burn, then. Thanks for the good times, corporate gaming overlords, but progress marches on. Not that we should start picking out a catchy tombstone epitaph for EA just yet or anything, but given the direction that things appear to be going with new consoles failing to live up to expectations and general consumer malcontent becoming the norm, I could see a return to smaller PC titles in the future.
Whether it happens or not we’ll see, but with gaming cemented in the public’s collective consciousness as primo entertainment we don’t really have much to fear if it does. There’s plenty of talent out there to make sure that the industry will bounce back and chances are a reboot could end up being beneficial to consumers and give a lot of new blood and fresh ideas a chance without being gobbled up by the sharks. And to that I say, why the hell not. The last one cleared out the crap and gave us some of the most definitive years in gaming history. I’m definitely interested in what could be in store for the next cycle.