Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Is the AAA Console Games Market Heading for a Crash?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 12 Aug 2014 12:00
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So last week in Zero Punctuation, we explored a little bit of an important event in the history of video gaming, namely the 80's crash brought on by, amongst other things, ET for the Atari 2600 being really shit. But there was one question from that video that I deliberately left open: do I think that the video game industry is heading for another crash?

Honestly, I kinda wish it was. I think I've said before that there is a lot of idiocy in the industry that only exists because of a lack of critical thought, and which would not be included if gaming was invented today. Feels like a lot of chaff would disappear all at once if we just burned the whole thing to the ground and started again, concentrating only on the core element of making fun things for people to pass the time with. Ultimately the 80's crash was caused by the industry being unable to support the weight of shit it had piled up, and cleared the way for Nintendo to rise from the ashes. Nobody learned shit and the exact same events may yet take place.

But the industry is not what it was in the 80's. For one thing, it's far less centralized. Back then, there was a rather harsh and clearly defined limit as to what a home video game was. Consoles were about capable of rendering 16 colors and 12 pixels on screen at any one time and couldn't cope with a control system more complicated than one joystick with a button. There is only a finite amount you can do with parameters like those. A creative industry demanded innovation where no more was possible. A few decent games were managed, then the market was flooded by rip-offs of those. The very concept of video games was tainted because this, in the popular view, was all that video games were.

But now? 'Video gaming' covers a wide spectrum serving a huge variety of demographics. First there's platforms: consoles, PCs, tablets and mobiles. Then you can split each platform's games between triple-A and indie. Then those can be split even further into a whole textbook's worth of gameplay types, visual styles and story genres. Technology has reached the point now that there is virtually no limit to the worlds that video game creators can realize, and, most importantly, the on-screen game actually resembles the game being displayed on the fucking box cover art.

So a crash that brings the entire industry down is virtually impossible, since its roots have coiled into so many things. Hard to imagine loss of consumer faith in, say, triple-A action adventures also bringing down free-to-play mobile color matching games and indie RPGs. When you look at the individual factors that led to the 80's crash, you can see that different facets of the industry are already doing the same things fairly blatantly. Triple-A publishers already spend way too much money on building too much anticipation for mediocre games, and dedicated indie and mobile platforms suffer from being flooded by too many derivative games by inexperienced developers. But they both seem to be muddling along.

You'll often hear me bemoan that interesting indie games are ignored by the general public in favor of bland next-gen same-again hogging all the advertising space, but it seems that sectioning off aspects of the industry might be good for the general health. It's like having an anti-virus program: you can always quarantine the dodgy parts.

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