- Casualization: The Causes and Effects
- Since their invention, video games have been a hot topic. Like almost all other forms of media, they have had a rough initial reception. For reasons such as their potential for allowing players to perform violent acts, avid video game players, popularly known as gamers, have had many stereotypes over the years, ranging from degenerate youth to obese man living in his mother's basement. Recently, however, these stereotypes are disappearing; a rapidly increasing number of people, people that aren't degenerate youths or obese, basement-dwelling men, are playing video games. As video games work their way into mainstream media, the games change along with the types of people who play them, and this could be considered a change for the worse.
- Video games could not shift into mainstream media without sacrifices. In less recent years, video games were not particularly accessible to older audiences, primarily on account of the technology being too foreign, as well as the games themselves. Many older games had complex mechanics and required the player to overcome challenges, both of which required some degree of dedication. It was a step into the unknown that many were not willing to take.
- Because mainstream media needs to be widely accessible, video games had to become more accessible. This was accomplished through motion controls and simple, familiar principles, most noticeably beginning with Nintendo's 2004 handheld, the Nintendo DS, which had a touch screen, and was followed up two years later by the release of the Wii, the first major console with motion controls. In the eyes of many long-time gamers, motion controls were viewed as a pointless gimmick, and games with them were often “dumbed down” so that they could be picked up and easily played by someone with absolutely no previous experience with video games. These games, not all of which even utilize motion controls, generally have relatively high skill floors (how well someone can do with no experience) and low skill ceilings (the point where only minor increases in skill can be made), and provide instant, but somewhat weak, gratification; recent Call of Duty games flashily reward a player for every kill. More recently, many games and game platforms, such as Xbox Live, have begun integrating with websites such as Facebook and Twitter, giving them more mass appeal. By trying to appeal to everyone, these games are almost never considered by long-time gamers to be especially great or memorable. Games like Eidos' Deus Ex and Grasshopper's Killer7 were incredible experiences that would not soon be forgotten by those who played them all the way through; many of today's gamers would stop playing them very quickly because of their complexities and how unusual they are.
- Given these sacrifices, it may seem ridiculous that developers and publishers would want to make this move into mainstream. It is not so ridiculous, however, for as of recently, the video games industry has witnessed a trend of focusing more on profit, and this frequently means that a quantity over quality approach will be taken. A niche game that would strongly appeal to one hundred thousand people would generate far less profit than one that has a weaker but sufficient appeal to a million; one game of greater quality that spends three years in development will often make less money than three games of lesser quality that are released yearly. Developers, and especially their publishers, are aware of this, and make the push towards the larger mainstream, “casual” audiences and away from the smaller “hardcore” audience. Part of this push sometimes includes spending more money on marketing and hiring celebrity voice actors than one the game itself.
- Another effect of this greater focus on profit is a decreasing respect for the consumer, as a result of having more, and therefore expendable, consumers. One of the most notable examples of this is Xbox Live. Of the big three online gaming services, (Xbox Live, Playstation Network, and Steam), it is the only one that requires the user to pay for it, and also the only one that advertises real-world products to the user. Strangely, it is by far the most popular service of the three.
- Also notable is the abundance of DLC, which is downloadable content. Previously, DLC had come in the much less frequent form of expansion packs, which, while more expensive, usually greatly expanded upon the original game. DLC, however, is cheaper, but has much less value. Capcom's Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds was sold for $60 and had more than 30 characters; two more characters were sold as DLC for $5 each, totaling $10, which is a sixth of the price of the game, for a much smaller fraction of the content. Perhaps even more outlandish is the DLC for Capcom's latest iteration of Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, wherein the total price of all DLC (most of which consists of costume packs which have no effects beyond cosmetic ones) is greater than the price of the game itself. While many have spoken out against this practice, it will be perpetuated for as long as people continue to support it.
- Both of these practices, DLC and making games more accessible to wider audiences, would not be such a problem if they were not so prevalent. Three of the most recent successes in the video game industry were Nintendo's DS and Wii, which popularized touch and motion controls respectively, and the Call of Duty series, which, with its fourth installment, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, really got off the ground, with yearly installments and $15 multiplayer map packs. With these, Nintendo and Call of Duty's publisher, Activision, have achieved record-breaking sales, and other companies followed suit. Sony introduced the Playstation Move for their Playstation 3, a motion controller with a design strangely similar to that of the Wii's controller. Microsoft developed Project Natal, which became the Kinect, for their Xbox 360, which, like the Playstation 2's forgotten Eye Toy accessory, allows the player to “use their body as the controller” through the use of a camera. Microsoft especially seems to be putting a great focus on this technology; a very large portion of their press conference at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2011 was centered around the Kinect.
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a huge success because of several factors, including its previously mentioned instant gratification, simple gameplay, and the recent supposed end of Halo another popular first-person shooter series. So, in the quest for profit, many games and even previously established series have attempted to be more like it. Bioware, one of the most famous, and to some people infamous, western role-playing game developers, has even outright stated in an interview with NowGamer, a gaming website, that they wanted to attract Call of Duty's audience with Dragon Age 2, despite the first game in that series being a traditional RPG.
- This is problematic, as it cuts down on variety, and often quality; Visceral Games' Dead Space 2, despite calling itself a survival horror game, was generally considered to be not scary in the least, and was instead based heavily on action, disappointing many of the people who wanted a survival horror game in favor of pleasing the Call of Duty crowd. Bioware made this same mistake with Dragon Age 2, which tremendously disappointed many fans of the first game in the series. These two games are but a small portion of the games and series that have been influenced for the worse by Call of Duty.
- One might say that all of this is irrelevant. They might think that as long as a game is played by more people, it's for the better. These people, however, may be wrong. The gaming industry can be compared to a group of performers. Previously, they all gave solo performances to a smaller, more specific group of people, and greatly entertained them. Soon, they will all be giving performances to the same group of people, and because that group is so diverse, they will not be as entertaining. So these people must ask themselves a question: is it better to astound a few, or amuse many?
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