Some video games appear to jump platforms, a la Minecraft. Others, like GTA, or EA’s machine, Terminator – sorry, I mean Fifa – split the money between red and black. That is, between Red 3, Red 4, Black 360, Black One, and Tamagotchi. But something sticks; multi-platforming is bigger now than the time when jumping between multiple platforms was the cool new thing. Fifteen years later, has preference attended elocution lessons, or is it all just a load of old binary – ones and zeroes (and dollar bills)?
It’s a bit too easy to assess the situation through rose-tinted glasses, so let’s not forget that Nintendo’s once-dominant stranglehold on the videogame software industry yielded anything but an equal share between the big game developers. This was the NES era, around 25 years, and Nintendo were the exclusive manufacturer and distributer of their game cartridges. These featured ‘lockout chips’ to ensure that no unlicensed (pirated) games worked on their console and to regulate ‘third-party’ companies from saturating the market (besides Nintendo themselves). Even the big names – the likes of Capcom, Konami and Namco – were necessitated to comply with Nintendo’s rigid policies in order to get their hands on those oh-so-valuable chips, which were dished out like silver service at a North Korean food bank.
But with time comes rebellion, and with rebellion there’s creative freedom. Now, it’s open season. Smaller, independent developers are ever more able to voice their imaginations through free or low-priced downloads on smartphones and tablets, and retro games can be updated, rebranded, and rereleased through console download services (for those too overwhelmed or principled to torrent whatever the hell they want). What this does, however, is provide an inevitable level of ‘shovelware’: from kids in bedrooms with no vocational experience looking for a quick quadrillion quid or brisk billion bucks, or more worryingly (albeit hypothetically) from brands such as McDonalds moonlighting Ronald via the Angry Birds-famed, data-nabbing (and NSA-canoodling?) Rovio Entertainment Limited.
The problem is this reduction in high-quality, thoughtfully designed and thoroughly developed IPs (Intellectual Properties, e.g. Halo) as movie tie-ins, and Ubisoft’s own biennial motion pictures like Assassin’s Creed and Watchdogs (give it time), jostle over hype but are ultimately outlasted by a Coronation Street omnibus. What’s more, COD seems to be catching – a series currently centred around the premise of training for the marines: sitting by yourself, four feet from your television, and picking off people on the other side of the world with the nonchalance of a fly-swatter. Worse still, every ‘game’ trailer seems to be acted by Kevin Spacey, and everyone’s favourite television meth addict can only relive that drooling high through his XBOX One’s split-screen capabilities. The seal-of-approval has been sealed away. Nintendo have declared a rejection of the Sony and Microsoft method of flashing GPU and CASH as their back-catalogues expand with the same noncommittal third-party developers. Through their nurtured, yet depleted, second-party devs, and their own consistent franchises, Nintendo have been drawing a divide between themselves and their competitors for what’s nearing two decades.
Weekly perusing of the UK top 40 game charts suggests that not only do publishers not really care about the games they release, but, of greater concern, neither do the public. Gamers can always buy the next incarnation, or wait for the inevitable spiritual sequel. I don’t remember ever having played ‘the first-person in the sandbox is a rotten egg’ in my younger years, but seemingly those old enough to play ESRB 18+ games – ‘adults’ – are more interested in short-lived rages and their image-conscious macho visage than simpler, ‘childish’ pleasures. Go, logic of youth! That’s longevity and fun.
If the current industry is a representation of an open market, why are the charts being monopolised by the same banal franchises by the same companies?? Buy the same marketing teams? It might help Nintendo’s sales. If the GTA series is as good as your word, Rockstar, change its name, don’t market it, and only release it on one bloody console.