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Please sir, may I have some more?
Yes, much like Oliver Twist, gamers are clamoring for more substance in the new era of “shorter games, less content -- or else!”
While little Oliver may not have owned an XBOX 360, he sure would be miffed if he had one. There exists an unsightly trend spreading across the most recent next-gen consoles: quantity is being forsaken for quality, when neither of those two things were suffering five years ago. Video games then were crammed with storyline, extras, easter eggs, side quests, mini games, and more. On top of that, they were _good_ games.
That isn’t to say the last couple generations of consoles didn’t have its share of sub-10 hour gems, but after your short journey was completed there was an incentive to replay the game a second, or even third time, with extra goodies. Take Metal Gear Solid -- an intense, tactical espionage action shooter. My first time through MGS took me somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty hours. “But Matt,” you’re probably saying to yourself. “How did you manage to turn a seven hour game into one that took you almost three times that long?”
That’s not important. What is important is the longing sensation for more I felt once I finally escaped from the crumbling warehouse at the end of the game.
Thankfully, MGS delivered -- on my second playthrough I was greeted by a suit granting invisibility, which, in a game where the premise is to be discovered by enemies as little as possible, made me as jolly as Mario on mushrooms (the safe kind). I spent thirty minutes just in the starting area of the game making noises, shooting things, attracting the guard to my position only to have him stand there like a dolt, unable to locate my whereabouts. After twenty hours of getting my butt kicked by these guys, this was a big treat.
Today, however, games are just…solid. The issue is that the average gamer is shelling out 20 to 30% more money per game due to newer, more expensive technology and formats and getting less content per game than several years ago. And as if to pour salt on the wound, developers are capitalizing on each console’s respective online marketplace and charging for content that should already be in the game. Some purchases aren’t necessary -- things like character art packs, “theme” packs (changing the way the game’s interface looks or works) and the like. Other items though, like unlockable characters in fighting games (which can only be unlocked through the marketplace) and harder difficulty settings create a ridiculous standard that developers seem more than happy to live up to and that gamers don’t seem to mind bending over for. The developers of Megaman 9 want me to cough up five bucks so I can work my way through another difficulty level that’s probably already programmed into the game? What, the first eight games weren’t enough to capitalize on? Screw that.
What happened to “more bang for my buck?” I get that the average gamer today doesn’t have dozens of hours to sit in front of a TV and trudge through sixty hours of content, but guess what? Most gamers are doing just that, only spending that time completing and exploring every nook and cranny of many of today’s shorter titles. Systems like the XBOX 360 offer achievements that raise your gamer score -- essentially a list of challenges you can choose to undertake or not. Most often though, these achievements are huge time sinks and only exist for completionists, perfectionists, and crazies.
Take Dead Space, EA’s latest multiplatform survival horror shooter. The game stands at a paltry 12 to 15 hours to complete (more if you want to do all the extras, get the achievements, etc). Granted, it’s one of the best games released in the last few months, but that’s $60 for 12 hours of entertainment and then I’m never touching it again. That averages out to five dollars for every hour of fun I want to have. I’m pretty sure I can spend my money better elsewhere.
Unfortunately for developers, this recurring trend is driving down the sales of new games and increasing used sales and rentals. This drives profits way down since developers often don’t see a dime from used game sales, and corporations like GameStop will often sell newly released used games at a price close enough to the game’s original price (say, $55 instead of $60).
In light of that, I guess I can’t blame developers for whoring out necessary content to its playerbase. But here’s a solution that didn’t cost a dozen people forty hours in a cramped board room: wisen up and stop producing ten hour games at an increasingly higher cost yielding maddeningly decreasing profits.
Still, I feel like developers will just look the other way, instead choosing the path of the curmudgeonly man in the soup line going, “More? More?!” and leaving us to starve.