The Death of Video Games

I read a great piece yesterday about the death of video games. If you’re a gamer, relax – games aren’t going anywhere any time soon (I don’t think). However, this article is something you should be paying attention to.

The article’s main focus was “casual” online games that have some kind of monetization strategy built around purchasing in-game currency with real dollars (think: Zynga). In addition to being entertaining and insightful, it paints a pretty grim picture in which the future of gaming is decided in the board room by suits who don’t give a shit about making entertainig games. These games that cater exclusively to “gamers” that have been conditioned to understand “games” as this type of microtransaction-based drivel. It’s more-or-less an insidious sort of psychological manipulation that says “How can I addict people to my game as much as possible to ensure that they’re going to continue to play and, perhaps some day, pay me $5 or $10 for what is essentially nothing.”

Now I’ll admit that I’ve played these kinds of games. I was into Mafia Wars for a while, as well as a handful of nerdier variants that involved swords and spells and whatnot. (Note that I never played fucking Farmville.) …and then one day I gave them all up. Just quit cold turkey, deleted all my accounts, and never looked back. I understand the obsessive sort of time suck that these games can be. …but that’s not what I think the real problem here is. The real problem is the “conditioned” part that I mentioned above. The real danger – at least for anyone who enjoys playing genuinely enjoyable games – is when the market for the real games ends up being impacted by these pseduo-games because the players every game to be “like what I play on Facebook.” In short, it is training gamers to like shitty games. And that just won’t do.

Now, you may say “But how is this different from any other game? They don’t give you anything in return for your money, either. This seems a bit like splitting hairs…” Well, if you’re saying that then you aren’t a gamer, so let’s break this down into something that might hit a little closer to the mark for you: movies. Or sports. Or, perhaps, ballet. None of these things gives a direct return on investment. However, I don’t think I need to argue very hard to make the point that entertainment – in whatever form – does have value. Now suppose that instead of the entertainment you’d come to expect, someone decided that it would be better monetized by breaking it up into small chunks that only take a minute or so to “enjoy” and adding some form of hook that makes it maximally addictive. For the movie example, suppose you can watch it on your iPhone in 2 minute increments, each of which ends in a cliffhanger…and you can’t watch the next part until you’ve either (a) waited 5 minutes, (b) payed a dollar, or (c) texted all your friends and told them to watch the “movie”, too.

Now suppose that a huge amount of people – say, everyone on Facebook – started getting hooked on “mini-movies” by Mynga, Inc. Suppose it’s enough to sway the motion picture industry to start thinking “Hey, let’s start making all our movies that way – these Mynga guys are making a killing!”

Yeah. This is what they’re doing to games.

Update: Oops! Forgot to thank Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing for pointing this article out.

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