We are at a unique period of the video game industry right now. Really kicking off at the beginning of this current console generation was the rise of the casual game market. Nintendo proved that there was a sizable audience that wasn't really being tapped into, and they really profited from their foresight. Along with Nintendo's movement into this new casual market, mobile gaming also blew up with the introduction of the iPhone and its popular app store. What does this whole casual/mobile game market mean to game companies? Well it means money, it means being able to produce a game with a substantially meager budget and being able to make as much money as some triple A games make. Now what this kind of environment creates is, well, what we saw when the Wii launched. Developers jumped aboard to cram their shovelware onto the system. With no real 'seal of approval' to be obtained, the quality didn't really matter, and still doesn't. Looking over to the mobile market you won't find one either. Sure, your game has to be approved, but not really for gameplay quality.
What this leaves us with is an open floodgate for games to be made and put to market with no regard for actual quality. The barrier of entry is also much smaller in the case of mobile games, and with so many people learning to make mobile games and apps in this modern day gold rush the problem only accelerates. What is the problem you ask? People are making money and there're more games than ever for gamers. Well, I don't want to make any extreme statements, but I want to draw some parallels with the state of the game industry today and in '83 when the entire industry collapsed. First, I want to go back to the money making part of casual games and point out that this whole market has helped quell one chronic problem. Every console cycle games have become more and more expensive to create, making any triple A game that isn't a sequel a huge risk. With companies being able to make cheap casual games and make a decent profit, I can't help but think that this has helped diminish the risk of putting out original new ip's as a big budget game.
The casual market has been a double-edged sword when it comes to indie support. On one hand, its brought about many new avenues for aspiring developers to make their games a reality. Some of the XBLA games come to mind immediately and make me really appreciate that there is a space for those games. The other edge to having these opportunities is that there are, of course, many games put out that pretty damn shitty. As I type that Xbox's indie game section jumps to mind. What's the problem with some bad games? They can just be ignored, I mean we have countless gaming blogs to tell us what we need to know to make informed decisions before plunking down our hard-earned cash right? Well, yes of course, for many gamers this is the case, and the deluge of crappy games we've seen this console generation is just an annoyance. More-so that the bigger developers are putting resources towards shovelware when it could be directed into the big budget titles we're looking forward to.
Going back to when I said we'd draw some parallels, here's where we start. If you look back to when the industry crashed, there was a lack of quality control, coupled with the fact that gaming was becoming more and more popular which resulted in the deluge of shitty games which helped push the industry into a down-spiral. Of course, as I mentioned, we have constant updates from thousands of blogs to make sure we don't waste our money on shitty games so it doesn't matter too much to us. But for casual gamers, visiting gaming blogs might not be part of their daily routine and having so many shitty games can really hurt this audiences loyalty to the industry. Between consoles, handhelds, cell phones and a myriad of other mobile devices, the hardware market for casual gaming is becoming increasingly saturated as well. With the consumer mindset of always wanting the newest gadgets, having to re-buy the same games across multiple platforms is another thing that maybe is a nice money maker for game companies but not so much for the casual consumer.
So, where is the industry headed, and where should it be headed? Well, lets look at Nintendo, they helped start this casual revolution with the gimmicky Wii. I'm a big fan of Nintendo games and have enjoyed some games on Wii, but the whole motion thing is a gimmick in gaming. Just as 3D is to the TV and soon gaming market. For the most part it didn't improve gamers' experience and is more of a tool to attract non-gamers, who don't find the traditional method of playing very enticing. I mention the whole motion thing because of the new 3DS Nintendo is releasing. The 3D effect seems like yet another tool to draw casual gamers to the handheld system. We need to abandon these tools and really look at what makes the gaming experience great and expand on that. If Nintendo released a new handheld with great visuals, a killer library of launch titles, and made it a great value, then regular gamers would be thrilled. In that scenario there wouldn't be much to entice an audience of non-gamers or casual gamers who are looking for cool toys like an iPad, not a dedicated gaming device. I can see how Nintendo feels it needs to tack on 3D to make it a unique gadget instead of just a gaming system, but it really only benefits them and not their loyal consumers.
In any case, this isn't meant to be a rant about Nintendo, its about the state of video games and where we should be going in relation to the casual market. A huge market has been attracted to gaming lately, we don't need to keep with the gimmicks and shovelware. More developers need to take this new audience and give them a deeper, more satisfying experience. The closer developers align the casual market with the classic market of gamers who have played games since they were kids, the easier it will be for them to satisfy both markets. The worst case scenario I doubt is anything close to what we saw in '83, but if the casual market falls through for lack of quality and the other reasons I stated above, and a lot of the larger companies have adjusted their budgets for triple A games with that casual money in mind, then that could deal a big blow to the entire industry. I know it might sound crazy now, but when you look at the past, whenever there's a gold rush (dot coms in 90's/…gold mines, etc) it's usually followed up by a crash (hotornot/ghost towns).