The Current State of Gaming

Video games. We know them. We love them. Some of us cannot live without them. Some just don’t see the point. Whatever your feelings about video games, it is an undeniable fact that they are not only here to stay, but are becoming more and more interwoven into our every day lives. Whether you spend your time playing games on a personal computer, a console, or a mobile phone or hand device, video games are everywhere and always accessible. Video gaming culture has skyrocketed the net worth of the industry into the billions. Medical News Today states studies show that over 150 million people in the United States alone play video games regularly. So what does that say about the current state of these digital wonders?

With every generation, developers are pushing the limits of video games beyond our wildest dreams. One of the most deliberate ways to display how advanced technology has come today is through video games. Today they not only entertain us, but teach us and even rehabilitate us. Video games have penetrated the world of education and mental health in many ways. Many developers and publishers create gaming content with the ability to teach and improve reading skills, math skills, and even science. But not all video games are designed to improve the human condition. As technology advances, so do video games. Each new generation of consoles are more expensive than the last, but also more powerful. But the buck doesn’t stop there. With the rise of mobile gaming, came the rise of micro-transactions, the ability to make purchases with real money to further your gaming experience, and even gain an advantage. When developers caught wind of the potential profit, they began implementing micro-transactions in console and PC games. Such a concept was unheard of until now. Before the micro-transaction, players of any game had to put in the time, effort and dedication in order to gain any advantage over others. Now, if you have the disposable cash, you can make leaps and bounds beyond gamers without in a matter of seconds. One can only imagine, the gaming community as a whole was not very pleased.

Frustration spreads quickly when gamers learn of the requirements to unlock their favorite characters.

Micro-transactions have only appeared to hinder their video game hosts, even when that was never the developer’s intention. In 2017, EA released Star Wars Battlefront 2, a very highly anticipated video game. Upon it’s release, players almost immediately cried out in disappointment over when they met the requirements for unlocking the two most popular characters in the franchise, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. In order to clash sabers and use the force as the best, players either had to grind for at least 48 hours of in-game time to earn enough in-game currency or spend real cash to obtain it immediately. For those with the disposable income, this is clearly a no-brainer. However, for the many that either do not have the money on hand or like me, prefer to earn my gaming prizes, time is the investment of choice. This makes for long hours of PVP, usually against those who had no problem throwing down the bread to jump ahead. For my non-gaming readers (if there are any), PVP means player versus player. Via the internet or local connections, players can play video games competitively against one another. This has it’s own pitfalls which we will get into a little later. The inclusion of micro-transactions caused EA’s new release to be all but boycotted. The rectified the situation as best they could but some would say it was a little too late for them. This just goes to show that even while consoles cost hundreds and video games themselves not far behind, some developers still look for even more ways to profit off the every day gamer. It does not mean that people will stand for it. Enough bad press has caused other developers to pull micro-transactions from their big name titles or prevent them from including them at all.

Fortnite’s customization options have proven to be a more positive avenue for micro-transactions.

Some developers have figured out a work-around here. A way to include micro-transactions without hindering the gaming experience for everyone. This comes in the form of cosmetics. In games like Fortnite, you can spend your own money to customize the appearance of your favorite characters and weapons. This seems to be more widely acceptable since it does not affect gameplay in any way, other than maybe distracting other players with how cool or crazy your avatar may look.

Now let’s back up a little and move in a different direction. Yes, video games are pushing the boundaries of modern technology and developers are competing the make their next game one more leap into new territory. Unfortunately, no matter how much they want that game to be the perfect herald of a new gaming era, it isn’t always the case. The vast sea of competition can put a great deal of stress on developers and publishers to release their new products before they are entirely ready for use by the consumer. Developers will showcase a new game with the hopes up driving up anticipation and pre-order sales and then deliver a game that does not meet, not only the gamer’s expectations, but even the creator’s promises. One prime example is No Man’s Sky by Hello Games, a game putting the player in a an ever-expanding, random world generating universe ripe for exploration. One could fly about this universe discovering planets, their inhabiting flora and fauna, and even going so far as to naming their new discoveries. Sadly this was not the case upon release. Now, Hello Games is a considerably small company compared to some of the behemoths currently dominating the industry. But, is that a valid excuse for them to release a game that consumers called “unfinished”? I should hope not. Head of Hello Games, Sean Murray presented this game on a number of platforms prior to release with an array of features promised to be there upon the game’s release. What gamers got was a boring, barren, and repetitive space to walk, swim or fly around in. After a considerably high rate of returns and complaints, Hello Games took advantage of another technologically advanced feat in the gaming world. Via the internet, No Man’s Sky was able to deliver digital “patches” to all copies of the game, fixing broken content and adding a great deal more.

No Man’s Sky by Hello Games, a game putting the player in a an ever-expanding, random world generating universe ripe for exploration.

Now patching digital content is by no means a new feat, but that doesn’t mean it isnt still fascinating. It was evident that Hello Games worked tirelessly to roll out numerous patches to make No Man’s Sky the game they promised. It is well known that they found great success afterward. No Man’s Sky quickly met the expectations of the gamer world but soon exceeded them thereafter. The real beauty has to be in the ability to even accomplish such a feat. The fact that we have the ability to distribute a product, physically or digitally, and then create content to add to said product and distribute it through the internet to every single individual copy sold, is nothing short of a modern miracle. In late 1958, Physicist William Higinbotham created what is arguably the first video game, a simple tennis game called Tennis for Two, which played very similar to the game Pong, which wouldn’t come into existence for another 14 years. The level and rate of evolution the gaming industry has undergone would make Charles Darwin’s head spin.

Sure, you could state that the advancements we’ve made in science and medicine would overshadow video games any day but keep in mind those discoveries were made out of necessity for the preservation and extension of human life. Video games are purely entertainment. The fact that there is so much stock in this one form of entertainment that it is advancing technology all by itself is something to be admired, and maybe even feared. It shouldn’t be lost on you that Virtual Reality gaming is also picking up steam and horror games in virtual reality are some of the most popular to choose from.

Now earlier, I briefly mentioned PVP and the effect micro-transactions can have on competitive gameplay. Let’s take a closer look at PVP gaming overall. Video games have been competitive since the birth of Pong. Two players pitted against one another to see who’s reflexes were better and who could last longer (no pun intended). With each new generation of gaming came more advanced forms of head-to-head games. Since the days of Pong, we have seen the rise of classic competitive genres such as fighting, sports, and eventually the FPS (first-person shooter). The 70’s and 80’s brought us fighting games such as Heavyweight Champ, Karate Champ, and the legendary franchise, Street Fighter. These 2-D beat-em up games paved the way for mega hits like the Super Smash Bros franchise.

Sports games evolved from the aforementioned Tennis for Two to the widely acclaimed Madden series, a billion dollar franchise spanning decades of American football. Few titles could be considered a rival to the Madden games, but its birth came from the humblest of beginnings. John Madden Football was introduced in 1988. By 1990, it already resembled the current Madden game we know today. American football isn’t the only sport to take off in the digital world. Soccer has the FIFA and PES franchises and the NBA has excelled in bother the 2K and Live franchises. Video games have infiltrated virtually every sport imaginable, but they didn’t stop there.

Many games with zero ties to the sports world have pierced that veil in recent years. Games like Halo, Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros. and more have all held global tournaments with real sponsors and very real prizes. Everyday gamers became celebrities after winning tournaments of their favorite games.

All in all it can be said that the current state of video games is anything but current. It is ahead of its time and does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. It is one of the few industries that can be considered “recession-proof” because what else are people going to do when they aren’t working or are short on cash but still want to spend their time doing something interactive and engaging (Yes, sex is also a viable means to spend one’s downtime but that’s besides the point, plus many gamers aren’t even of consenting age for such adult activities. Get your mind out of the gutter.). It is clear video games aren’t going anywhere and I for one am excited to see what new limits are reached and exceeded in the coming future.

Jay Floyd