Sigh. Lately, I’ve been noticing articles, blog posts and videos popping up everywhere claiming doom and gloom for the video game industry. These people claim that we are heading for another crash like the one in 1983, that the industry is about to pop wide open like a giant water balloon. Well, reader, I feel like it’s my duty as The Optimistic Gamer to give you five good reasons why that is absolutely and completely false. So lets take a look at the most common reasons people give for this imaginary, impending crash and why they’re totally full of it.
1. History is Repeating Itself
A lot of the things I see discussing this topic like to bring up the fact that, at a glance, the market today is beginning to look pretty similar to the way it did shortly before the crash in ’83. They like to cite examples like THQ going bankrupt to illustrate the point that, due to the highly competitive nature of the market, companies are beginning to fall one by one and the entire market is due for a crash. They also like to point out that, like competition from the PC market in the 80s, phones are starting to become real competition for their console and PC counterparts today.
Anybody who has a basic grasp on the history of video games, and any knowledge of where they stand in popular culture today, could understand why comparing what the market is like now to what it was then is apples to oranges. Let’s take a brief look at what the climate was like way back in ’83, when things were most dire: there was a desperate over saturation of games flooding the market. Atari, the then king of the world, felt as though they could do no wrong, but things were looking a little grim for them. With the rise of Activision, the world’s first third party developer, Atari was losing their dominant hold on the games for their console. Outside pressure from the PC was also breathing down their neck. As competition became hotter, companies started pushing out more and more games on lower budgets, meaning there was a huge dip in quality. With games like the infamous E.T. The Extraterrestrial, the market headed for a huge plunge in sales, and it wouldn’t even begin to recover until the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
So does any of that sound familiar? There are obvious parallels to draw in today’s market, for sure. There are certainly tons of games coming out, right? And I’ve heard that cell-phone games are providing plenty of competition for consoles; after all, in 2016 mobile games made up a whopping 37% of the global games market. Well, those things are all true, but we have to consider how different the landscape looks from what it was way back in 1983. First of all, cell phone games and more “traditional” video games are two very different markets. One does pull sales from the other, certainly, but by and large the majority of people who play the one aren’t necessarily interested in the other. On top of that, 59% of Americans play video games. That’s 188 or so million people as of 2014, when that article was written, and that’s in America alone, not accounting for the millions of other people around the world who play games as well. The market today is completely different than it was in ’83 and, while it’s easy to draw parallels between now and then, it’s not entirely useful or accurate.
2. Mid-Level Game Companies Are Going Under
Again looking at the bankruptcy of THQ and companies like it, people posit that, like a weak middle class to a society, a lack of mid-tier companies in the gaming industry poses a huge threat to the longevity of video games as entertainment.
Now, I think this one actually holds some weight, although not in the way you might think. THQ may very well be the symptom of a larger problem, although all signs point to the cause of death being mismanagement, but the larger problem isn’t an impending crash, but rather a radical restructuring of the gaming industry. Interestingly, so called “AA” games have all but disappeared lately. But why is that?
Well, making games that look any good on modern hardware is ridiculously expensive. Indie games have risen through the ranks over the last ten years, and they ate mid-tier games’ lunch. They cost little to make, and can still deliver some truly incredible experiences. With the rise of indie games, it is left to the big guys like EA to make big-budget, AAA games, while smaller studios continue to innovate and experiment on smaller budgets. If there’s any impending crash, it seems entirely possible that the AAA games that we know today just aren’t sustainable; they cost a shitload of money to make, and by all accounts working on them is incredibly difficult. I have to wonder if we will begin to see the big developers struggle; then again, juggernauts like EA seem to be doing quite well.
3. Games Are Coming Out Broken AF
There have been a slough of games recently that have come out completely broken and buggy on release. That is a huge problem, absolutely. Now bear with me, because it’s going to sound like I’m defending developers who release broken games. I assure you, I think it is an issue that plagues the market these days, with games as recent as NieR: Automata, a game I love, releasing with a nearly completely broken PC port. However, a game releasing broken today doesn’t mean the same thing as it once did. A game developer can fix things in a game retroactively, after you have purchased it, in the form of patches. That may seem obvious to you, but it has all sorts of fascinating implications, both good and bad.
On a surface level, though, what it means is that the impact that a broken game would once feel in the form of poor sales can be mitigated by the developer directly. For better or worse, it means a game releasing with some technical issues doesn’t necessarily spell its doom. While this certainly isn’t the best for a consumer, buggy games still sell well, which indicates to me that broken games don’t spell the end of the gaming industry.
4. Innovation Is Dead
I mean, I think this one is what gets me the most riled up. I think it’s a bunch of malarkey. I already touched on this in #2, but I would like to talk about it a bit more in-depth.
Innovation in video games is flourishing.
Over the last few years, even AAA games have been pushing the envelope. Games like the Soulsborne series, The Witcher, DOOM, Persona 5 and many, many more all breathe life into old genres. And even more than that, experimental and interesting indie games are twisting established genres, playing with what reality means, messing with one’s preconceptions about what a video game is about, and creating fascinating new narratives that can only be told through a video game. The last few years have seen some of the best games ever made, one after the other. Innovation isn’t dead, it’s coming back to life.
5. Publishers Are Making It Impossible To Trust Reviews
Here’s another one that may have some merit to it. Bethesda recently adopted the bold policy of not sending out early review copies to journalists, meaning that reviews can’t come out until after the game has released. It’s a decidedly anti-consumer move, and a blatant one, although it arguably hurts Bethesda as much as anyone. This anti-consumer trend means that it’s harder than ever for the consumer to understand what they should and should not buy, right?
Well, not necessarily. The rise of YouTube as a viable entertainment medium has also led to the rise of so-called “influencers,” people like me who aren’t affiliated with a company directly and get copies of games and do reviews/playthroughs on the internet. The benefit of that structure is that it allows someone to find a person who has similar interests to them and go to that person when they aren’t sure about a purchase. It’s not a perfect system; big publishers (like Bethesda, for example) can hold a great deal of sway over these people, and in certain cases publishers (like, again, fucking Bethesda) will only send out “review” copies to influencers they think will paint their game in a positive light.
Still, I think it marks a shift in the way gaming journalism (and perhaps journalism as a whole) functions. Rather than a more traditional review structure, it is becoming more and more about individual personalities, and how you vibe with them. I think that on the whole it’s a positive change, but it has a long way to go.
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No matter how you slice it, things are looking up for the video game industry. I think large changes loom on the horizon, but that is always true; even in the last ten years, the landscape of the gaming industry has changed drastically. Saying video games will crash is like saying film will crash. Both are, at this point, so deeply ingrained in our culture that neither is going anywhere. Things will most certainly shift, that is true, but I can only see video games becoming more and more a part of our regular culture. In fact, I plan on doing a series of videos soon where I interview people from all walks of life about the impact video games have had on their lives, be it big or small. Stay tuned for more news about that. Until then, thank you so much for reading, and Stay Optimistic.