Ever since the Wii U came out to underwhelming sales figures, people have been talking about the imminent fall of the Nintendo empire. Even more common are those trying to discern why this supposed collapse of one of the longest standing game companies is happening. Personally, I don’t think that the state of affairs is quite so dramatic. Nintendo is on a current decline, yes, but there are still many, many talented people working there. As well, they carry the type of brand loyalty from fans that only comes from being around for nearly half a century. Such momentum is a double-edged sword, however, which is what brings me to the statement that many may feel is not only heretical, but flat out nuts: I believe the reason that Nintendo is flagging, is that Nintendo sucks at branding.
Ever since video games became something even resembling mainstream, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether they’re bad for the people who play them. Games have been blamed for everything from poor eyesight, to ADD, and even rises in gun violence. Anyone who’s gamed for any significant period dismisses these concerns outright.
However, games don’t exist in a vacuum. They, like other forms of art and entertainment, are part of a give-and-take conversation we have with society. One often overlooked aspect of this conversation is the one non-Native people have about the First Peoples of North America.
Last time on Geek Spiel I talked about the problem that a lot of games are having. Namely, that despite being stuffed with enough side quests and collectibles to keep a gamer occupied ’til doomsday, they lack the internal structure to incite a desire in the player to complete everything. Today, we’ll take a look at how some development companies (and even publishers!) are turning the tide to create lasting, compelling gameplay experiences.
It’s The Journey, Not The Destination
It seems evident to me that a lot of designers take a goal-oriented approach to their projects. However, despite the obsessive worship that the pursuit of goals seems to be get these days, it may not be the best tact to take in putting together a game. Don’t get me wrong; there’s something to be said for the satisfying feeling of accomplishment that comes from defeating a particular boss, or finding a hidden collectible, but if the actual process of doing so isn’t fun and engaging, why should someone persist long enough to reach the end point? In actuality, there’s a considerable body of scientific literature about how focusing too much on the reward for a task can actually diminish the intrinsic sense of enjoyment from that task.
Despite huge sales, AAA game developers and publishers continue to struggle to turn a consistent profit. Between the used game market, rental services, and piracy chipping away at the bottom line, huge budgets and years of time investment make it difficult to earn money back,. Some publishers have taken draconian measures (such as Microsoft’s infamous DRM decisions for the upcoming Xbox One; since being rescinded), but others have taken a more gamer friendly approach by cramming their games with enough content that even the most frugal of players can feel that they’re getting their money’s worth when they drop $60 on a game.
The quality of this content, however, is greatly variable. The quest to extend the amount of gameplay as much as possible has led to many halfhearted multiplayer modes, poorly realized open worlds, and an abundance of uninspired “go here, kill this”/fetch quests. It’s not to say that any of these chosen mechanics are bad in and of themselves when done well, but that they have become shorthand for “we can make our game last longer by doing this.” Such a quantity over quality gameplay approach is easily noticed by players, and soon developers are left scratching their heads as to why their games aren’t selling as well as they could.
I know the world’s in jeopardy and all, but I’m REEEEEALLY gonna need you to get me those 50 bear asses.