For fun and profit?

A decade ago, the video games industry was something I wanted to be involved in. I spent my childhood as a serious gamer (albeit, one who focused on the Pokémon and Sonic the Hedgehog games), and I wanted to make my own video games based on my own creative ideas. As I got older, I developed my ideas further, and begun seeing the artistic potential of video games. This, however, is not what the video games industry had in mind. It turned out that the video games industry is not a good environment for creative people, and doesn’t seem to be interested in new ideas. It’s perhaps because of this that the mainstream video games industry is stagnating as it continues prioritizing triple-A games that look better than they actually are.

triple a

This is what the video games industry looks like today.

The games industry is in a pretty sorry state to say the least. Like all entertainment industries, the bottom line for the video games industry is profit, and thus it is compelled to appeal to its strongest demographic, the average gamer. Unfortunately, the average gamer demographic consists principally of grown men in their mid-late 30’s (the average age of a gamer today is 35-37 years old), and in trying to appeal to them, they keep churning out “new” titles that in reality are nothing more than rehashes of previous games, just that these titles happen to have flashy, big-budget visuals and plots that almost mirror Hollywood movies, and unsurprisingly enough, it’s getting old.

Because of this lack of innovation, the mainstream games industry is becoming a lazy, boring, and jaded enterprise, alienating younger customers and angering older customers. However, what’s even more worrying is what it means for young people aspiring to make their own games. They’ll enter the industry (or a game design course) with a creative mindset, but then the harsh truths of the video game industry will put out the fires of their creative passion very quickly, mainly because game design students are taught that the games industry is oriented towards the client, and that artistic expression is not important. Since the majority of jobs and game design courses are geared towards the mainstream games industry, it seems like the games industry has no room for the creative thinker, and nobody has bothered to change that perception.

The problem with focusing on the mainstream video games industry is that it’s a lumbering dinosaur. Since 2010, video game sales have been progressively falling, and games on disc have been sharply declining ever since downloadable titles have become more prevalent (the fact that Steam hasn’t killed the console market yet is quite a surprise in itself). The traditional console market may also be in decline as well, as fewer and fewer consoles are being sold as of recent. Meanwhile, in Japan, the traditional gaming market is being overwhelmed by the up-and-coming smartphone market. Meanwhile, the games industry in general is suffering the same problem that hard rock suffered in the mid-1970’s – it’s become bloated, pompous, and way too mass-produced to have any credibility left.

Also, I find that working in the video games industry has become a less attractive prospect. From what I hear, you’re only working on an idea that the company you work for wants you to, which is obviously bad for somebody with his own ideas in mind. If that’s not enough, you might also have deal with a lot of pressure from your employer, and then there’s the dreaded “crunch time”. If you know anything about game design, those words will be two of the most dreaded, since you have to work at a much faster pace in the months leading up to the deadline, but with no increase in pay to speak of. This was the subject of the EA Spouse controversy in 2004, but I highly doubt that the video games industry cares to change its habits, not while its kicking back in the billions of dollars it still makes.

So here’s the big picture. The video games industry today, at its current rate, is in a state of slow decline, and it continues to stifle artistic potential and new ideas in favour of appealing to a jaded audience of ageing gamers, and continues to make life hell for employees. Meanwhile, not only do we give the games industry a free pass as though none of that exists, but we also seem to keep putting a positive spin on the games industry solely because of its status as a huge cultural force. I’ll admit that this doesn’t make video games themselves any worse, but as someone who wants to create, I think it would be ludicrous to consider a career path that devalues artistic expression.

For me, the video games industry is not the yellow brick road it once was, and as I find new ways of pursuing the storytelling route, it’s become clear that the video games industry is more about simple entertainment and profit, as illustrated by the fact that the more artistic games are always beaten in the market by more mainstream titles (partially due to them getting more promotion). However, one has to wonder how long this can go on for. Eventually, the video games industry will be put into a position that a shift in paradigm will be absolutely necessary if it hopes to survive. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the next video game crash for that to happen.


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