Thursday, March 14, 2013

Digital Doping

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It seems like there has been a lot of conflicting messages in the video game industry as of late.  Over on the Epic Battle Cry podcast, Daniel Kayser made an interesting observation regarding the PS4 press conference.   Specifically, he pointed out that Sony telling its audience about the benefits of connected gameplay, motion sensing cameras and dedicated hardware that does things online without your input, doesn't really jive with games like Infamous: Second Son, in which the entire premise revolves around fighting a "big brother" society.
Another aspect of gaming that is developing a similar conflict of interest is the notion of online play and micro-transactions.  Of course, the most obvious example is competitive multiplayer games where players can pay extra for perks over their fellow players, or at least bypass the time needed to earn upgrades.  It looks great from a business perspective, but has a souring effect on the player base.  Generally speaking, people who play video games want success to come to those who put in the effort, merit over money and skill over hacks.  Then again if we're talking offline gaming then who cares, right?  Well, recently there's been a big shift in the industry to make always online, always connected and always social key features.  The thing about that is I don't think the industry has really considered the way this might work against their revenue models.  Not many people want to play a game were the top dog is ultimately the one who spends the most real world cash.
To me, it feels like the end result of pushing for more and more micro-transactions is the creation of a system that offers a false sense of status.  Do we really want various video game companies to go the route of BMW, Bose, De Beer, Gap and a bunch of other trendy junk manufacturers, targeting the over-privileged and extremely gullible?  At the very least we're going to have to put up with a lot of unwanted design choices.  I don't know about you, but I'm not looking forward to seeing a bunch of Farmville hybrids, nor am I excited by the prospect of  sports games that let players artificially enhance their athletes' performance for the small fee of $X.XX in real world cash made payable to EA and their ilk.  Video game companies want to be a service-based industry, but the question a have to ask is "Who do they really want to serve here?"

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