Much like an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon, as gaming progresses the same set pieces pass by over and over. While the illusion of forward progress remains, a closer examination shows that it really is just the same themes, settings, and gimmicks. While it is unrealistic to expect every game to offer new and exciting takes on old themes. All too often, major releases are nothing more than rehashes of previously seen ideas. What follows is ten of the worst trends that gaming has to offer, from marketing speak to game settings that just need to go away.
1. Exclusive Pre-Order Bonuses
Let's kick things off before the game is even released. A major marketing trend for video games is to offer bonuses for buying the game before it is released. I don't have a major problem with this on the surface. What I do have a problem with is exclusive pre-order bonuses. I have a few methods of obtaining games that I prefer. However, if I want the extra content I may have to deal with certain shops that I much rather not walk into let alone patronize. It gets even worse when several stores offer competing pre-order bonuses. This recently popped up just prior to the launch of Star Trek Online. If you wanted all the pre-order goodies you would have to buy the game six times from various retailers and on-line distributors. Just insane if you ask me.
2. Selling Beta Access
Another marketing tactic which is meant to drive sales is the selling of access to the beta testing of a game. For those who don't know about beta testing, it is the second phase of testing that a game goes through before its release. Typically, it is a time in which game balance is addressed as well as final touches being put into place. It is very typical to see a particular style of play go from dominating to no longer viable in just one build. My problem with selling access to beta testing is two fold. One, it brings in players who may not know what to expect from beta. As such, they will give either poor or no input on gameplay and balance issues. Secondly, they may see beta not as testing but as a preview of a finished game. Beta can be many things, but a finished product is not one of them. Players looking at beta as a preview may be sorely disappointed in the game and cancel the pre-order which got them into the beta over an issue that would be corrected before release.
3. Poor Console Ports
As a PC gamer, it pains me to see major release after release pass me by. I just haven't had much interest in the current generation of consoles. When games are finally brought to my system of choice, I sometimes find myself stuck with a rather poor port of a console game. What makes console ports so bad you ask? Oh, where to start? There is nothing like buying a first person shooter only to find out that there isn't an option for dedicated server support. To play on-line I must either host a game from my computer or be hosted by a fellow player. While this doesn't sound bad on the surface, less scrupulous gamers use this system to cheat and make their fellow gamers' experience as poor as possible. That is assuming that the game runs well at all. Poor optimization runs rampant in ports. Even surpassing the recommended specifications of a game may not make the game run smoothly. If that is the case, the best I can hope to do is to pawn it off on another sucker and recoup some of my loss.
4. Using Multiplayer Focus to Excuse a Poor Single Player Experience
There are two types of multiplayer games in modern times. There are games in which multiplayer is the icing on the cake of a superb single player experience and rich gameplay. But, it is the second type of game which is a problem. The game which focuses on multiplayer and either throws in a token single player experience or no single player content at all. While some games can pull off such a move. Others appear worse for it. A game shouldn't have to make an excuse that it is designed to be played with friends when confronted about shallow gameplay. Playing with friends is supposed to boost a good game into a great game; not make a mediocre game bearable.
5. Motion Control
While motion control in and of itself isn't something particularity new. It has seen a resurgence of interest since the release of the Nintendo Wii. The problem with motion control is that it lacks any sort of feedback. While a controller can be made that will offer resistance or give other sorts of feedback to the gamer, motion control cannot. Games that require a great deal of feedback, such as sword fighting or other high impact combat, suffer due to the lack of feedback to the player. Because of this, I still see motion controls as nothing more than a gimmick. With Sony and Microsoft quick to jump onto the bandwagon, I do not see this trend dying off anytime soon. If either company could address the problem of feedback, I would revise my ideas on motion controls. But, until then they must be stopped.
6. World War II games
For many genres of game, nothing drives gameplay like action. What has more action in it than war? Over my two and a half decades of playing video games, I've seen one war more so many times that I almost cringe when I hear it is a setting for an upcoming video game. I can honestly say, I am sick of replaying World War II. I've flown through the skies while anti-aircraft guns pepper my plane with flak, cruised silently under the waves while I stalk my next kill in a submarine, stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima countless times, and everything in between. Perhaps developers focuses so much on World War II because it has a bit of a mystique about it. It has captured the minds of people in classic films such as Casablanca and Schindler's List. With a setting so rich, game developers cannot help but to want to be part of it. Even if it means dying on Omaha Beach countless times.
7. Style Over Substance
Style over substance is something that is a threat in every medium. From shallow, mass produced reality TV shows to pop hits that sound much like the next one on the radio station. For gamers, style over substance typically refers to the age old battle of graphics vs gameplay. It should be rather clear how I come down on this argument. Without compelling, fun gameplay graphics are meaningless. It doesn't matter how beautifully the scenery is rendered if there is no depth to it. Do not fall for style when you can have substance as well in other games. You buy games to have fun, not to just look at the pretty pictures. You do remember fun, right?
8. Zero-Day Downloadable Content (DLC)
DLC has been something of a hot button issue for years now. Depending on who you talk to, it can either be the greatest thing since sliced bread or a blight upon humanity. As for myself, it really depends on what the content does. But, there is one type of content that draws my ire no matter what it offers. Zero-day DLC is content that is either on the game disk, but has to be unlocked via code or purchase, or it is sold day of release by the developer. While it is sometimes given away for buying a new copy of the game, this isn't always the case. There is no reason to sell DLC, which is meant prolong the life of a game, before a majority of pre-orders have yet to be filled.
9. Carbon-Copy Sequel
I have nothing against the idea of a sequel. When done right, they are a great boon to a franchise. However, it is the sequel that offers nothing new that needs to stop. While not solely confined to the sports genre, sports games are guilty of this far more than any other. The major difference between one installment of a sport's game to the next can be mostly contained in how up to date its rosters are. While there may be a limit to what can be added to a particular sport's game, that shouldn't limit a sequel's progress to a roster update and a spit-shine of the graphics engine. Take a year off and add something of substance of the game other than a roster update.
10. Restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Bringing up DRM often brings chuckles from the console crowd. Yes, in general it is still a PC problem. From Ubisoft's insane requirement of being on-line for a single player game to misadventures with SecruRom, PC gamers have had to deal with DRM for years. However, console gamers are not immune to DRM. Region lockouts are a form of DRM that gamers accept. But, EA has brought the question of DRM to the forefront on the consoles. In order to access the on-line component of a majority of the publisher's sports games, a special code is required. While it is included in each game, if the game is resold after the code is used the new owner of the game has to buy a new code for ten dollars. While this is a single showing of DRM in an area that many consider free of oppressive DRM schemes, it highlights that nowhere is safe when DRM stupidity is left to its own. That's why it must be stopped here and now.