Mainstream gaming is not a nice place to be any more. The once fertile landscape - blue sky and emerald green grass – has been replaced by a muddy, grey battlefield in which blood soaked accountants devise new online monetisation strategies. So we’re finding new places to get our digital kicks. Places where creativity and innovation still exist and where you’re not required to fork out £40 for a disc in a box. What mainstream gaming needs is a bloody revolution. Heads must roll. Statues must topple. The unthinkable must be thunk.
So here’s a pocket guide on how to save the industry and make games good again. Wahoo!
1. Prohibit people who love games from making games
This seems harsh but it has to be done. What we need is the games equivalent of Year Zero. Thousands of middle-aged men with ponytails need to be prised away from their desks and dragged out of development studios. Hundreds of thousands of plastic Star Wars figurines and Pokémon toys need to be removed from work surfaces and safely incinerated. Because people who love games represent the gaming Taliban - they are enemies of change. They love games just the way they are. They love the orcs and the spaceships and the fart jokes and the expansion packs. They love them so much that they will work daft hours on low pay to make them. And the games they make are loved by people like them. It’s a human caterpillar style loop which needs to be broken. They will be replaced with people whose CVs demonstrate a healthy disdain for gaming: pensioners, aristocrats, lower league football manager. It’s a new beginning.
2. Stop inventing new controllers
A man is stood is stood in the middle of a room. He looks agitated. He is frantically waving his arms up and down. He is not in need of medical assistance - he is trying to play an Xbox Kinect game. In doing so he is starting to realise that new controllers don’t solve any fundamental problems with games – they just create new ones.
Shooting people in the head can be fun. But there comes a time when the joy of shooting infinite zombies/terrorists/street scum starts to fade.
3. Stop trying to be likes movies
The games industry has a creepy obsession with movies. They’re not just inspired by them – they want to be them. It’s like a horse who wants to be a penguin. They are two fundamentally different things. Films are good at telling linear stories. Games are good at allowing interactivity. They’re moving in different directions. So to make a game like LA Noire which replaces interactivity with a linear story is just bats - like the horse using a traffic cone as a makeshift beak. Unless this obsession is treated we will soon reach a point where games become so brilliantly cinematic that our only input will be to press the play button.
4. Be more like reality TV
Loads can be learnt from the makers of reality TV. They have developed the knack of taking seemingly boring and mundane aspects of life and formatting them into successful entertainment: attending a job interview, holding a dinner party, bidding for investment. And the most popular PC game in history, The Sims, is essentially a game version of Big Brother.
5. Hold a weapons amnesty
Shooting people in the head can be fun. But there comes a time when the joy of shooting infinite zombies/terrorists/street scum starts to fade. For some this will take minutes, for others it may take 30 or 40 years. When it happens you will find yourself a stranger in games town – a weirdo, an outsider. You will spend your days forlornly searching for games which don’t involve shooting heads off and aren’t aimed at toddlers or teenage girls. Because the shooting mechanic in games, particularly first-person-shooters, has become the Japanese knotweed of game design - stifling the chances of alternative types of gameplay from emerging. It needs hacking back. Developers will be invited to hand over their digital stockpiles of machine guns, rocket launchers and sniper rifles. The ones who refuse – will be shot in the head.
6. Make smaller games
Games are too big. They take too long to make, it takes too many people to make them, which means they cost too much. Make smaller games.
7. Force Nintendo to make software
Nintendo has moved over to the dark side. They used to make beautiful and inspiring games; now they just flog gimmicky consoles. The company’s legacy is not Mario or Zelda but the millions of little white boxes and nunchuks which gather dust in the garages, cupboards and attics of the world. The Nintendo Wii was a classic bait and switch scam - lure people in with aspirational lifestyle ads and then dump them in a sea of incredibly shit third party software. They are currently pulling the same scam with the Nintendo 3DS. They should be arrested by Watchdog and forced back into making masterful games.
How great would it be if they could make games based on the world outside their office – games which use the Edinburgh worlds of Irvine Welsh or Ian Rankin as their inspiration?
8. British games for British workers
It’s hard to not sound like an EDL type here but... back in the Spectrum days we used to have British games made for British people. A Sheffield based company could make a successful game like Wanted: Monty Mole, which used the miner’s strike as its backdrop. But then things all went global and talented developers like Rockstar Games - with studios in Edinburgh and Leeds - are forced to make games about cities which are 3,000 miles away. How great would it be if they could make games based on the world outside their office – games which use the Edinburgh worlds of Irvine Welsh or Ian Rankin as their inspiration? It could have happened. Before getting elected the Tories promised they would give subsidies to UK developers who made British based games – then they got elected.
9. Ban the use of the plasma effects
Back in the 1980’s Top of the Pops would often use clouds of dry ice to add romance and mystery to the stage performances of Yazoo, Feargal Sharkey et al. After a while they stopped using it because it looked a bit shit and had become a naff cliché. Games have been happily using plasma effects for the past 20 years.
10. Destroy the publishing companies
The publishers have created a system which is designed to produce mediocre and boring games. They need exploding. The way it works is that a developer comes up with an idea for a space elf survival horror FPS. They hawk it around the various publishers until one bites. The publisher hands the developer millions of quid to get it made. The developer then spends the next five years dicking around - discussing Battlestar Galactica and posting snarky messages on internet forums. Towards the end of the development period the publisher asks for their game. The developer panics and force its staff to work 78 hour days before eventually throwing something out onto the shelves. The game is invariably rubbish, gamers feel ripped off and the publisher loses lots of money.
So the publishers have become ultra conservative in what they choose to fund – mostly first person shooters, movie-licenses or sequels. The developers have no option but to feed the beast. Which is where we find ourselves now. By blowing up the publishers the developers will have to to stop dicking around and start using digital distribution to publish their own games. And all will be right with the world.
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