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Is Next-Gen Gaming Bad for Gamers?

We’re just a couple of weeks away from the final two next-gen systems, PlayStation 3 and Wii, making their appearance on store shelves. For many gamers, the wait so far has been nigh unbearable, and these last two weeks will prove even worse. But should we really be all that excited? With all the talk about “next-gen games,” what has next-gen gaming gotten us so far? Before the launch of the Xbox 360, and even leading up to the launch of the PS3 and Wii, we were (and have been) promised the world. But a quick review of next-gen gaming so far shows that we’ve been handed not the world on a platter, but a small dirt clod on a paper plate. In fact, dare I say it, next-gen gaming might actually be bad for gamers.
The list of broken promises is as long as a spoiled kid’s Christmas list: no load times, more features, more innovative games, user-created content. But let’s go down that list carefully. Whoever promised the elimination of loading must’ve been half dog and had no sense of time. The Xbox 360 version of Splinter Cell Double Agent is a prime example: There’s a loading screen when you go from the intro screen to the game menu. A loading screen when you click on “single-player” or “multiplayer” to get to the appropriate mode’s menu. An excruciating load time when you actually fire-up your single-player progress. And then, depending on the size of the level, a mid-mission loading screen as you get the latest checkpoint. And this is a second-generation Xbox 360 game.
Don’t think it’s just the Xbox 360, though; the PS3 will have more than its share of load times. With all that data on those much-touted Blu-Ray Disks, something will have to give, and I highly doubt it’s going to be content. What’s ironic is that the only thing to deliver on the next-gen promise of no load times is Xbox Live Arcade. And forgive me for pointing out that Microsoft probably didn’t have Frogger in mind when it talked about a world without delay.
Must be all those new features causing the load times, right? Sure, champ. And what was the last next-gen game you played? Sure wasn’t Madden NFL. Aside from the price to play on a next-gen system, the most derided aspect of next-gen gaming is the lack of features and modes. EA used the excuse last year that Madden NFL was a bare-bones version because the Xbox 360 was a new system. What’s the excuse this fall? There isn’t one. But don’t think EA and Madden are alone; aside from the 2K Sports games, nearly every next-gen title released so far has had something — or some things — missing when compared to its current-gen counterpart. Must’ve been a marketing typo before the next-gen systems launched: publishers meant “fewer” rather than “more” features. Simple mistake.
Maybe it’s just the fallout of developers spending so much time pushing the envelope with innovative games. You know, like “Hallway Shooter 743” and “Aliens Take Over the World…Again.” Last I heard, the faster hardware was supposed to open doors for developers to create the games, AI and gameplay mechanics they’d always envisioned. Looks like those powerful devkits should’ve come with a next-gen prescription, because these visions look really familiar.
Aha! I’ve got it: it’s the fact that the publishers don’t want to overshadow all that user-created content we’ve been able to make and share with friends. I don’t know about you, but if I see one more piece of content from that Velocity Girl person, I’m going to … oh wait, she hasn’t created a T-shirt for Tony Hawk’s Underground 2? I thought she was going to be able to do that–even though she didn’t own the game. Hmm, scratch that. In reality, the only significant downloadable content outside of a few games with map editors has been “microtransactioned” to the point that we’re paying $4 for horse armor. Dudes, I don’t even have a horse! I’ve said all along that gamers don’t have to buy any content they don’t want to pay for, and I’ll stick by that. But the minute we start seeing half-baked games that nickel and dime us for content that should’ve been there in the first place, it’s time for all of us to load up MAME and go back to the nickel arcades.
The sad part of all these broken promises is that going back to MAME and nickel arcades is where we already are, it’s not a place we’re going. Xbox Live Arcade games are fun diversions, but didn’t we play them 10 or more years ago? And now we’re paying for them again? What next-gen gaming has done is damage the psyche of your everyday gamer. First they pay more for a game that has fewer features, then they suffer through loading screens at least as long as current-gen ones, then they go online to pay for content that should’ve been in the game in the first place, and then they scale back their gaming because these next-gen tactics have raped any sense of videogame nostalgia left in them.
So I ask again: what has next-gen gaming done for you lately? Has it made you more excited to come home and play? Has it delivered the type of games you never thought imaginable? Has it enabled you to tap your inner developer and share content with friends? Or has it made you a cynical, poor, I-hate-the-big-publishers-and-their- accountants kind of person? Because if you find yourself enjoying videogames less and less, if you wonder why you’re not as interested in games as you used to be, it’s probably not your fault. In fact, it’s most likely the fault of next-gen gaming and all the broken promises that came along with it. Which makes me wonder: why are we looking forward to two more next-gen systems? Are we just hopeless optimists who insist that things will improve, or are we so gullible that we believe whatever marketing people tell us? I’d like to believe the former, but if the PS3 and Wii fail to deliver, we might have to re-examine whether “gamer” is really spelled “F-O-O-L.”
— Jonas Allen

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