Published on March 18th, 2012 | by Jack Stocker0
The Forgotten Gamers
This is a feature by guest contributor Jack Stocker.
I was recently presented with a copy of Mass Effect 3 (our own Andrew Scott was good enough to lend me his copy). I promptly did what any of us would do in such a situation, which was to stare at it in awe for a few minutes, and then blank out the world as I put it into the disc tray.
For a short time, everything not on that screen was simply white noise.
After about ten minutes, I started to feel like I was missing something. Why was the Normandy grounded? Where had my crew got to? Why is Cerberus pointing the business ends of those rather large guns at me?
Following some frantic and extremely careful Googling, I discovered that I had missed a bit of Mass Effect’s plot – it had been released in the DLC pack Arrival. This irritated me. I do not have Xbox Live. As far as I am aware, I am one of a very small percentage of Xbox users in this position. Contrary to what Microsoft apparently believes, there are still some people who do not have the time, money, or quite simply the willingness to secure it. This was quite a clever attempt by the industry to attempt to push me towards getting it, and this inspires a Pavlovian response in me. (Unfortunately site guidelines prevent me from going into the details of this response, but it’s not a positive one.)
Now, Mass Effect is one of my favourite series of games, mainly because it’s heavily story-oriented. Naturally, like most fans of the series, I wouldn’t want to miss a thing. But apparently, just buying the games isn’t good enough for Microsoft or developers anymore. They want more. They want your Xbox hooked up to the internet, and unless it is, they’re making it increasingly clear to consumers that they will be abandoned.
Of course, previously, this hadn’t been a problem. For example, it was perfectly possible to play the Halo games in your bedroom, shut off from the world, without paying for subscriptions and internet connections and cables. Sure, you could miss out on the multiplayer experience, but it was optional. The individual gamer was the focus; the ‘multiplayers’ were a secondary market. In the years that followed, as the graphics and technology advanced, the multiplayers became ever more significant in the industry’s eyes. Team play in games like Left 4 Dead was heavily encouraged. Designers found ever more innovative ways for gamers to interact with each other, and most of them revolved very heavily around the usage of the internet. Online console gaming, once an almost futuristic idea, has become standard in the gaming world.
The changes that the industry has undergone in recent years have been dramatic, and some of them are not always positive. Consider, for example, that Xbox Live consumers are constantly playing, constantly updating – and constantly shelling out for the service. Hold the phone – from a manufacturer’s point of view, the industry suddenly just got a lot more lucrative. Gone are the days when you paid your money and played your game, and that was it. Nowadays, the average gamer can blow £100 on a single game in a year, simply by paying the store price, the Xbox Live subscription and a few add-ons.
It might not seem like much now, but take a second and look at your stack of Xbox games. I’m guessing you have maybe four or five at the very least. Just think – it’s not a stretch at the moment to spend £150 in twelve months, on just on two or three of those.
This trend, I confidently predict, will only escalate over time. Developers always want more money, and they will always be changing, updating and adding to their games. It’s not just DLC either. Gamers are already getting more subtle hints about where their priorities should lie. Battlefield 3, for example, while featuring a respectable single-player campaign, is relatively short. It’s the online play that has been truly lauded, and it is yet another pointer – Xbox Live is where it’s at.
Personally, I don’t like the way the industry is heading. I can foresee a future in gaming that is extremely costly for consumers, as it inevitably will be when discs go out of fashion and games are released solely by means of Xbox Live. Then, you will have to pay over and over again with each passing year, just to continue to play them.
Perhaps I’m being melodramatic. Perhaps I’ve been reading a bit of Marx recently. Maybe I’m a little upset about that the fact that my respect for the Illusive Man and his awesome cigar clearly wasn’t mutual.
But even if the future I’ve described isn’t exactly on the money, you can bet that the reality in its place will be frighteningly close. For gamers, the message is becoming loud and clear. You will be assimilated, or you will be left behind.