Materialism: Play Games & Get Stuff

Posted by imelda sovzky on Monday, February 20, 2012

This was a topic that's been on my mind and now I have time to share.  What is it that the most popular games have in common?  Check it out.

Back in the 70's during the Atari/old funky arcade era, gaming was so pathetically simple.  You got the cartridge or the quarters, played a few rounds, and then quit.  That was it.  There was hardly anything to accrue from these games other than the simple satisfaction of playing for a high score or just for simple entertainment.  Then something came along and changed everything:


Legend of Zelda on the NES was one of the first (if not, the first) games to have save states.  Oh wow, so I have something to "gain" from playing the game.  Games became longer and more structured.  You didn't just play the game aimlessly--there was always something to do.  If you didn't know what to do, the game basically told you what to do.  It's nice for advancing a story and for those who don't like to think.

Now, fast forward 30+ years in today's age.  Take a look at this selection of popular games and tell me what they have in common:

Call of Duty
World of Warcraft
Forza Motorsport
Grand Theft Auto
Xbox Achievement Points
Cow Clicker (???)


So what is it?  They all have seemingly infinite content (from game features to just measly points) to unlock and/or play around with.  I tell you the truth--there's a reason why people are addicted to the +100 XP of a Call of Duty kill, the Xbox Live *badonk* of the achievement, or a stupid farm because you can always go up.  The sky's the limit and thus people really invest a lot of time into these just because of the euphoria of getting something new.  Even better is that it's not a zero-sum game so no matter how "poorly" you play, you always get something.

It's (usually) that's easy.

Hey, people like making money and buying lots of stuff in real life.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing--the Declaration of Independence permits private property and the pursuit of it which fuels capitalism and economic progress.  But in gaming, it can become a serious problem.

Lately, when I had the chance, I would dabble in Forza 4.  Now I know the game's not made by Sega but the game has an overwhelming amount of cars and stuff to unlock.  So it's really fun to buy a car, pimp it out, win a race, then go repeat the cycle over and over again.  Also, I have reached Level 15 prestige in CoD: Black Ops and have over 67,000 XBL Achievement Points.  I also have 1200+ Rock Band songs to play (that's a lot of money).  Not bad.

But this is where things start to get troubling, with an emphasis on Forza vs. Sega Racers.  Now, don't get me wrong--in a head-to-head match, Daytona USA is more fun than Forza.  But Forza has so much more stuff in it.  Even I find this hard to compete with a 2011 Triple-A title with massive amounts of production value.  And that really sucks.

In Daytona USA, there's nothing to "gain" other than the thrill of just playing the game.  Yes, there's fast times to beat, but there's never any guarantee that you'll actually beat it.  And thus, if you need a game to tell you what to do (i.e. a campaign/mission mode), then you're out of the loop.  On the other hand, Forza just throws money at you to buy more cars, race online with a much broader audience, buy/design decals, etc.

What do little arcade games like these have on bigger, next-gen titles?  No wonder arcades are dying here--you can pick up something like Halo or Skyrim and play for days.  On the other hand, with something like OutRun or Daytona USA, once you've played through a few hours, that's it--not much else to see.  As a matter of fact, businesses thrive off of our "greedy" sides with "gamification"--turning non-gaming things into games to get points or unlock stuff that really doesn't mean anything, all for the sake of lucrative advertising.

Is there something wrong with gamers nowadays if we're sucked in the allure of more stuff = better game?  I still think there's the elegant simplicity of arcade racers like Daytona/OutRun/Scud Race in that you pick a track, car, transmission and you go race.  On the other hand, something like Forza (or even Initial D) you have to wade through about a minute's worth of menus and it really sucks if you want to jump into the action.

I'll leave you with this quote by Yu Suzuki (Dec. 2010 interview with 1-Up)...I already mentioned it before but here you go:

JM: How do you feel the gamer has changed? The industry is still very young -- only 35 years-old or so -- but 15 years ago you created Daytona USA. Look at how much has changed in that time. In Hang-On you have only one motorcycle. Games like Daytona you only have two or three cars to choose from. Now, Gran Turismo 5 is out and it has over a thousand cars in the game. Personally, I'll never use 1,000 cars, maybe only 6 of them. Do you think people have now mistaken quantity for quality? Is there such a thing as too much?

YS: Yeah, user expectations are to blame, too. If given the option of 1000 cars and 10 cars in a game, the user will most likely take the game with 1,000 cars. Games with fewer options can't compete on the same level because the user will always choose the game with more cars.

So basically, as long as the industry continues to skew in favor of these big-ass games with lots of stuff, then those "middle" games that aren't AAA-quality or super-cheap are in serious jeopardy.  And Daytona is in the crosshairs.  I can't be arsed into talking about this further since I don't have a good response.  I mean, I want a new Daytona game with more cars & tracks in it (well duh) but I don't know if that means I'm taking the original Daytona 1/2 for granted in the process.  Just something to think about, that's all.

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