Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gaming and the challenge factor

We all have heard it being brought up in several gaming-related discussions: games today aren't as challenging as they used to be. Rarely, though, do people stop for a moment and try to think about what happened along the way. 

During the mid 80's games were mostly played on arcade machines, and were only a rough prototype of what they are today, but that's where the culture of "challenge" began. Since the games weren't very long and quite limited, it was a common habit for the early game developers to make them... hard. Once you ran out of lives, you had to "buy" your continue with real money, so as long as it was within reason, the harder the game was, the more profitable it would turn out being. 

In the early 90's 8-bit consoles were released, and a few years later, 16-bit. People would start waiting for their favorite games to be released for their own consoles instead of arcade machines, and that's where the "challenge factor" stopped being a necessity, but rather a tool to increase the longevity of a game. In short, that's how games turned from "Very challenging" to "Mildly challenging", and that's also when the save feature was invented (with the very first chapter of The Legend of Zelda) and the use of passwords started becoming much more widespread. 

While there were still many arcade-ish games on 8-bit consoles, you could say that from the 16-bit generation on games became "user friendly", and they started to appeal to wider masses. With the evolution of technology the developers started having much more freedom and some were able to tell real stories through their games, sometimes making them a main feature of the product (I'm talking about you, Metal Gear Solid) while before the plot of a game was only a rough sketch, if there was any. 
Metal Gear Solid for the PSX was one
of the first games with a complex
plot, albeit linear. The game was still fairly
hard for new players, even on
the easier settings.

So, games turned 3D, had more realistic graphics, many had a real plot, and they finally became widespread. It is rare today to find an individual living in the Western world who has never played one at least once, and almost impossible if we're talking about the recent generations. With such a wide audience, it is only natural, business-wise, that those products must be enjoyable for the majority of customers.

Many of said customers, as of today, do not come from what many call the "hardcore" gaming generation though, or simply were already born but didn't care about games at all, and more often than not they don't have so much time to dedicate to games. How do you solve the problem?  

Remember when I told you about how challenge was one of the main means to make a game last longer? Well, many, many companies dropped that philosophy. The focus of successful games now is different, be it a great plot, possibly with branching consequences depending on our actions, or beautiful graphics, or unique gameplay, or even top-notch multiplayer features. As you can see, all those factors are enjoyable for both the "old-hardcore" audience and the "young-casual" one.  
Modern Bioware games such as the Dragon Age series are
famous for their quality storytelling. Players can often choose to
play their games on the easiest possible mode without
missing any content. 

The problem with people who often whine about games being easy "so that the companies can gain more profit from casuals" is that they don't understand that games used to be challenging for the very same reason back then. Games are a product, and companies make them first and foremost because they want money. 

So, my proposal is this: stop for a while and enjoy the good aspects of today's games. Don't buy and start playing a game with the expectations you used to have 15, 20 years ago. There is still much good to be enjoyed in most of the more recent ones, but they have changed. Time changes things, and you can either adapt, or be left behind. 

CV, over and out. 

Game on!

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