April 18, 2008 8:00 AM |
[Save the Robot is a biweekly column from Chris Dahlen crafted specially for GameSetWatch, dealing with gaming as pop culture and cult media.]
In the gaming press, everybody's looking for new games: this week's big hit, next quarter's big buzzmaker, the most hyped, the most indie, the longest-awaited sequels and the most likely flops. We're swimming in new product.
But in the real world, many people don't care about what's coming out this week, or the next. They're fine spending their time with just one game.
In my circle of friends, there's a guy who plays Rock Band. He's been playing it since before Christmas, owns all the downloadable content, and uses practice mode to get himself to expert level on drums.
Another guy, who used to be in the habit of trying every new game and then selling it on half.com, has gotten stuck on Call of Duty 4. I lent him Devil May Cry 4 last month; it's still collecting dust under his couch. And I know a woman who never played games until she discovered World of Warcraft. She's still playing it, to the exclusion of anything else.
We all know that some gamers need more variety than others. But what if these friends I’ve mentioned – who are happily living on a one-game diet – have the right idea?
A $60 game purchase can either be the best value for your entertainment dollar, or the worst. On the one hand, we have games that are disposable entertainment - an experience that can be consumed in 8-10 hours and set aside.
While bonus achievements or a token multiplayer mode might extend the short lives of Dark Sector or Condemned 2: Bloodshot, you’re really supposed to treat them like this week’s Hollywood blockbuster: catch it on opening night, forget about it by the next morning. As a critic, I see plenty of these disposable games. Vampire Rain. Viking: Battle for Asgard. Bullet Witch. In the crit biz, we call these "rentals."
But let’s look at the other extreme, where a new game isn’t like a movie, but a sport. You can obsess over Rock Band or Warcraft the same way that a golfer keeps hitting the links. Yes, you’re shelling out for the sequels, the expansions, the online fees and other add-ons, but at heart you could play the same game and stick with it for months – all while finding new partners and competitors to challenge and fuel your rise to dominance. Isn't that the mark of a great game?
And what if the industry focused more on one-game players? Instead of jumping on the next big thing and finding out it’s Heavenly Sword, or worshipping the graphics of an E3 demo only to find out you’ve been drooling over Assassin’s Creed, or wasting even an inch of copy on the latest movie tie-in game – what if the biggest factor in how we judge a game was its durability?
We would also need fewer titles. The next gen consoles have brought us a peculiar super-resistant strain of disposable games that sport multi-million dollar budgets, high-def animated cut-scenes, meticulously-rended environments, and at least cursory community and multiplayer support – and still, none of them is good for more than a weekend. Condemned 2 will be filling the resale bins while the kids at my local library are still playing checkers.
There’ll always be room for a quick new fix, but in my dream scenario, it would be faster, cheaper, and out of control – a $10 indie game that more than compensates the half-a-dozen people who made it, or dare I dream, more $20 titles like Portal, and far fewer of the $60 AAA titles whose rapturous previews in the games press lead to a hangover as soon as people get their hands on it.
Meanwhile, there are signs the market already knows what it’s doing: browse the top-selling games of 2007, and you’ll see that titles with legs, like Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Madden, and both Guitar Hero II and III top the list, while only one full-priced, high-budget quickie cracked the top 10: Assassin’s Creed, a fun game, but not one you would take to a desert island.
Personally, if I didn’t write reviews every week, I know what I would play: an MMOG (maybe Pirates of the Burning Sea - always wanted to check that out); an online shooter (after a bad day); Rock Band (I’d always secretly wanted to play expert drums, too); and sure, some indie titles, just to stay hip with the kids.
I would pour more time into games that increase my skills and keep up with my need to compete. Games that reward your commitment instead of exhausting your attention. I’d be like a kid learning card games for the first time, instead of a jaded adult learning another set of combo moves. And I know what I wouldn’t do: I would never drop $60 on a cinematic eight-hour experience. I’d rather just watch the movie.
[Chris Dahlen reviews games for The Onion AV Club, writes about music and technology for Pitchforkmedia.com, and blogs at savetherobot.wordpress.com. He is currently trying to beat his kid at Puppy Pals Bingo. Contact him at chris at savetherobot dot com.]
Categories: Column: Save The Robot