The one thing I can say with some confidence about the videogame industry as a whole is that it rarely, if ever, runs in reverse. While trends and fads may resurface from time to time, usually in the context of nostalgia, the industry at large never says things like, “You know what? 3.5-inch floppy discs really were the best medium. We should go back to using them.” Retailers never say, “Blech, consumers really hate us asking for pre-orders. Let’s go back to just stocking a bunch of extra copies of every game.” Publishers never say, “Let’s refocus our marketing strategies back to big, single-player PC games as our flagship titles.”
It’s a burn-the-ships kind of industry, which I think is both one of its great strengths and one of the reasons I find it so often frustrating. The big names in the business strike off for new lands, and when they go crashing haplessly into some pristine beach frontier, first thing they do is break out the torches and sink the boats so they can never go back.
It makes sense in some ways, because technology by its nature is as inexorable as water flowing downhill in its own forward progress. There’s a pretty good and obvious reason no one is ever going back to floppies. Constant movement and change, regardless of who the actual change benefits or hurts, is a cornerstone of the 'gamez biz'. For gamers, that change can be the hardest part of the whole thing to deal with.
There is a part of most gamers, I think, that probably remembers some moment in time, some year or console generation that was formative in the ideas we hold as iconic to games and the gaming business. And, the further away that moment in time is, the more likely that most of what defined that era is long gone, and never to come again.
This is why when gamers talk about companies rolling back initiatives like always-on DRM, microtransactions, DLC and many of the other modern nuisances in gaming, I have polite but firm doubts. I understand and support the decision to vote with your dollar, but realistically, the end result of that is not pressure on the industry to change, but a personal decision to limit your current-generational exposure.
I had a few moments over the past year or so when considering whether to buy games like Diablo 3 and Sim City, games where I came face-to-face with a choice as to how I would engage with the industry. Ultimately, I decided that those things I disliked about the business model were ultimately now just the realities of this and probably a good chunk of the next generation. It’s at the point where I shrug forlorn and click the buy button anyway that I always feel a little bit like a sell-out.
I appreciate people who choose to hold firm to ideals, but my perspective is more that, when it comes to buying games, I don’t really have a lot of those ideals. I have preferences, certainly, and I can be upset and disturbed by corporate greed like anyone else, but I have plenty of areas in my life where I need to have firm lines and a sternly held belief system. Does this entertainment medium really have to be yet another place in my days where I need to be ever vigilant to the abuses of a corrupt system? As long as the major publishers stay firmly out of the domains of human trafficking, genocide, arms dealing and the like, I think I've become comfortable conceding the ground lost and not spend an extraordinary amount of time drawing deep lines in the sand.
Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not because I don’t care at all when confronted with a stupid decision like requiring Diablo III to sign in online before it will let me play single-player or preemptively deciding that every game needs to have microtransactions. I mean, stupid or at least callously inconvenient decisions are still just that. I'm no apologist for this kind of action, but like I think the vast majority of the games buying public, I'm not interested in making a big deal out of it. I have better, bigger things I am firmly busy making a big deal out of these days.
I am also fairly confident that in a few months or years time, the issue, whatever the issue of the day may be today, will be left obsolete or irrelevant soon enough by some change in technology or the business. By the time anyone can work up good momentum for change, no one is usually talking about the issue anymore.
I spend a lot of my days banging my head against walls I’m unlikely to move. I reached a point some number of years ago where I just had to admit I didn’t have enough hours in the day to bang my head on every wall. Even if they were righteous causes and truly unnecessary walls that by all rights should be well and truly head-banged, I was just going to have to let myself off the hook on some of those responsibilities. At some point, the callousness of the videogame industry became one of those walls, and to my delight, I realized that the vast majority of gaming’s walls just ended up knocking themselves down all on their own.
All I had to do was come to terms with the fact that gaming, at least the largest portions of it, was never going to find its way back to 1997. And that’s ok, because its also never going to find its way back to being 2012. Newness will be the constant companion of this business, and that newness will be in many cases something great — and in many others something annoying, selfish and greedy. If all the ills of the business were cured tomorrow and consumer respect became the centerpiece of the industry, it would be nice — but it would also inevitably change again in what would seem a handful of moments.
Here in Minnesota they have a saying about the weather: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change. They probably have this saying in a lot of places, but the point is that the same applies to the games industry. For me that just means that there’s no need spend a lot of time commanding the tides to stop in the meantime.