Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Advancements in technology mean a step back for gaming

Technology is in a perpetual state of forward motion, making useful everyday items smaller, faster and stronger with each iteration. By the time these products make it to market, a bug, glitch or misstep occasionally occurs. For the most part, though, I think it’s safe to say technology usually gets better with age.

Not so with the current generation of videogames and consoles.

With the exception of the appropriately named Wii, modern gaming machines are a mammoth testament to the horsepower crammed under the hood. The problem is, all those electronic whozzits and whatsadoos are supposed to make the gaming experience better, but they’ve accomplished the exact opposite. When the result of all this new technology provides a plethora of hindrances to the end user, what’s the point?

I remember a simpler time in gaming when the only fear involving a console was that, years down the road, your Nintendo Entertainment System might burnout from overuse. And over the past couple of generations, the only lasting technological problem was having a jerk for a roommate who constantly overrode your save files.

Simpler machines made for fewer problems and, without the internet injected into every facet of the process, there was no such thing as lag, patches, system updates, crashes, etc.

Nowadays, red rings of death plague countless Xbox 360 users (some several times over), Playstation 3 fans have to sit through long software and system updates seemingly every other week and Wii users have next to nothing to play. That last bit has nothing to do with my main argument, I just like bringing up the fact the Wii sold out quicker than bargain flannel shirts at a Wal-Mart in Georgia.

Last gen, if a terrible game came out, it was doomed to make a quick move to the bargain bin where it would most likely remain ignored even at the low-low price of $2.99. If a title was plagued by bugs or horribly constructed, it usually resulted in the failure of its creators and the loss of jobs for developers who didn’t care enough to do it right the first time. And when it came to the price, it was on the freaking package. Pay $39 and the whole thing is yours, good to go, no take-backs or add-ons.

Today, broken titles make it to market all the time with the promise of “don’t worry, we’ll fix it later.” Content that used to be included on-disc now comes with a charge and, sometimes, that extra ten dollars just goes to unlocking something that was already included on the disc in the first place.

Scan message boards for any big title featuring online (just about every game these days) and chances are the first few months following launch will see an overabundance of posts complaining about glitches, hackers, crashes, the inability to even connect and more.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the real problem here is the gamers. We let this stuff happen by laying down our dollars time and time again. If you think $15 is too much for two multiplayer maps and a couple skins, refuse to pay it. If you waited half a year for co-op to be playable, don’t buy the companies next game until you hear everything has been fixed. Better yet, get over the feeling of “but I’m not playing what the cool kids are,” have some self respect and move on to a title that's actually earned your time and money.

It would take one time for a Call of Duty (just picking a big title, so don’t hate) to release and suffer poor first quarter sales for companies to realize they simply can’t release unfinished, untested or gimped products. Development periods would extend to allow for proper testing and nobody would be afraid of pushing a title back to make sure the product they spent so much time making is actually ready to be enjoyed by the masses.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a brighter future anywhere ahead. Gamers have allowed these practices to continue and, as a result, we’re going to continue to be taken for a ride. Every few months we hear about which evil publisher is doing something sinister to cash-in or sell out and, though we’ll complain about it for hours on end, you better believe we'll be first in line to pick up their next title day one. And who cares if I had to send in my console five times for repairs, three of which ended up costing me money due to an expired warranty, I will absolutely camp out overnight for that next system and cross my fingers they got it right this time. I can't think of another industry where such practices allow companies to not only survive, but flourish.

As for the next batch of consoles, while I’m sure we’ll be tinkering with cloud technology or terabyte hard drives by then, my guess is that we’ll be looking at all these current problems with a fresh batch of new hassals tacked on courtesy of the latest and not-so-greatest advancements we just have to have crammed down our throats.

I’m not going to say I don’t enjoy these new machines, features and applications. But usually that enjoyment comes at the cost of months of frustration, multiple downloads and wasted time.

It’s too late to go back to a simpler time in gaming, but man do I miss those days when all I had to do was pop the disc in, push the power button and enjoy my game. No distractions. No downloads. No patches. No extra cost. No crashes. No questionable business practices. Just gaming.

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