Insta-gaming: A Gaming Epidemic?

I very vividly remember the days when I would get a game for my SNES and play it for months on end. The normal period of time between game purchases – well, between my parents’ purchases – was easily five to six months, and possibly even longer in some cases. I would play a game so much I knew how to finish any level without losing any lives, uncover any and all secrets, and pick up all the collectibles that were available.

As time went on, my gaming “need” began to change. I can’t pinpoint exactly where it changed, or whether it changed suddenly or gradually, but it did change. I began getting games more frequently; instead of every five to six months, the time period dropped to every three to four months. Once I moved out of the house and became completely independent, initially my purchases were few and far between – as I had little money to spend with all the added expenses. After I had established myself, however, my game purchases became even more frequent than they had before: almost once a month I purchased a new title (whether it was brand new, or just new to me).

I stopped completing games 100% and playing through only one to two times, then moved on to the next title that interested me. The only exception to this were games that truly interested me and had me hyped – games such as Metal Gear Solid 3, Wind Waker, and Dead Space. My attention span had drastically decreased with gaming, and I hadn’t even realized it.

I’m a bit OCD with a few different things: I like having a neat workspace, I enjoy keeping things fairly clean, and I am a perfectionist with many activities I take part in. Once I realized I had become less likely to finish a game completely, I was baffled that I had become this way, being the perfectionist I’ve come to love and hate.

Why don’t I fully complete games anymore? Can I complete them anymore? Why do I lose interest so quickly after I “beat” a game?

I started asking these questions towards the end of last year, when I had just finished AC IV, and had completed it fully – the first game I had since Dead Space 2, which is a span of a couple years. For a time, achievements had reinvigorated my desire to complete games fully, but that was short-lived, as I soon fell back into my old single play-through habit. When December rolled around, I had my first chance to play Wii U, even though I didn’t really want to and thought the hardware was utter junk. I played Super Mario 3D World with my wife and brother-in-law for a solid hour, and realized I had been mistaken about the latest Nintendo home console.

Fast forward to the present: I have fully completed various Wii U titles, and want to fully complete almost every single title I own. Super Mario 3D World? 100%. Deus Ex: Human Revolution DC? Almost 100% (working on it). DKC: Tropical Freeze? Plowing through the “Hard Mode” because 100% wasn’t enough for me. You get the point.

I’ve put countless hours into every single one of my titles; the least played one (New Super Mario Bros. U) still managed to get 10 hours of gameplay out of me – I finished it 100%. The average play time per game I currently have is about 25-30 hours. Yet, these are from “little kid” games that have no depth to them, right? I recently started Hyrule Warriors – which is excellent, by the way – and saw that a completionist who puts videos up on YouTube beat the game fully, which took him roughly 240 hours. Yes, you read that correctly; 240 hours! Since I’ve had my Wii U, my interest in completing games fully has gone up drastically, and I’ve come to find that multiple AAA games released in the same month is nice, but perhaps it’s a little much.

You probably just read that statement and completely disagreed with me, which is completely fine, but hear me out. I think that we, as gamers, have subtly adopted an “insta-gaming” mindset in which we view and judge consoles/games with. For instance, did you know that within the past year, the Wii U has had more exclusives and true next-gen games (cannot play them on the Wii, Xbox 360, or PS3) than the PS4 and Xbox One? But many don’t see that; they see the “drought” and that Wii U isn’t selling well. Most can’t get past the initial [terrible] job Nintendo did within the first nine months after the launch of the Wii U, instantly equating it with Wii U somehow not having enough games. Don’t believe me? What games have we had that couldn’t be bought on last-gen systems? inFamous: Second Son, Ryse…there are a couple more coming this year, like the Halo Collection Remaster, Sunset Overdrive, and Forza Horizon 2. All other games for the next-gen systems are either available for last-gen consoles or delayed until 2015. Since September, around the time the PS4 and One released, Nintendo has released Wonderful 101, Super Mario 3D World, DKC: Tropical Freeze, Mariokart 8, and Hyrule Warriors – all games that cannot be played on anything outside the Wii U.

We don’t see those statistics though. What we see is “not enough new games,” which does hold some merit, but it isn’t directed in the properly. All the systems fall into this argument, yet, because of marketing it doesn’t show – this is definitely one of Nintendo’s weakest points, though they’ve made huge progress in 2014. We are so focused on the newest title, the latest game to play, that we move on from the games we just purchased within the last three to four weeks. This makes me think there is somewhat of an “epidemic” of sorts within gaming culture: this is where I coin the term insta-gamer.

I am not saying diversity is bad. I am not saying 3rd party support is bad. I am not sticking up for Nintendo’s recent collapse of 3rd party relationships. I am simply saying that we, as gamers, seem to have picked up the idea that if there isn’t a new AAA, high profile game every few weeks, there is a game drought. The industry has changed since I was young, and will continue to change in coming years, but that doesn’t justify this mindset. There are a couple key things to look at when it comes to insta-gaming.

1.) We pay roughly $60 for a brand new title: Shouldn’t we “get our money’s worth?” Costs for video games has gone up drastically with the rise (and possible fall) of AAA games being released constantly. When I pay $60 for a title, I want to enjoy the game for some time; I want enough content to keep me satisfied, since I’m not made of money. I’m willing to bet that you, reader, are in the same boat. You do not have unlimited financial resources, nor unlimited time to play. So, when I purchase a game (let’s use Hyrule Warriors as an example, since it just launched and that is the latest on my play list), I want a full experience. Right now, I expect Hyrule Warriors to keep me content long after the next Nintendo releases I have in my wish list (Smash 3DS, Bayonetta 1 & 2, Fantasy Life, Smash U, Sonic Boom). But think about that: I just named six games in the next 3 months! I’m going to have a tremendous backlog, right? This leads me to my next point…

2.) If we have a back log of games, that should be a good thing; it isn’t seen that way though, as initial sales have become the focus. This is another symptom of insta-gaming: if a game does not sell 1 million copies the first week it is released, it is generally considered by many game “journalists” as a failure. But, if I have a back log, and have limited finances, so how will I purchase every single new AAA game released? Recent news of Bayonetta 2 selling “poorly” swept a lot of gaming news posts last week. There were some key facts not considered or highlighted by many, though: roughly 40,000 copies in one day, in one region, in a market known for being a mobile market is not bad at all. I would call that a decent start. But, because of high profile, next-huge-game-of-the-year mentality, this becomes a failure and creates negative press. I not only want multiple games a month now, I want my sales now. This doesn’t take into consideration titles that are “slow-burning;” essentially gathering massive amounts of sales over their entire lifespan. An example of this type of game is DKC: Returns on the Nintendo Wii. The game sold well at first, but it’s overall lifetime sales were superb: it didn’t come instantly.

3.) When we jump from game to game so quickly, it skews our perspective on having fun with our games. Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you find a game that you genuinely have fun with, don’t you play it extensively? One of my favorite franchises of all time, the Dead Space series (specifically Dead Space 1 & 2), is an example of this for me. I’ve logged in countless hours into these two games, completing each one 100%, and enjoying the story multiple times. I must have played through each game at least five to six times. In fact, as I write this, I want to go back and replay them, and maybe even purchase the third installment, since it is cheap enough now. However, will you be able to enjoy Destiny fully if you jump to the next game a week later? Will you enjoy Forza Horizon 2 completely if you move on to the Halo Collection Remaster within a month? Will you enjoy the massive amount of content in Hyrule Warriors if you move on to Smash a week later? A steady stream of releases is great for any console, but they are meant to reach a broad audience since not all gamers have the same tastes; you can pick and choose which games to purchase immediately, and which ones to purchase later on when you’ve moved through your initial play list.

So, have we become insta-gamers? Is this necessarily a bad thing? What kind of repercussions will follow in the years to come, and will this possibly affect gaming culture in general? Will we become proverbial jacks of all trade, but masters of none – speaking in a gaming context? I believe this insta-gaming mindset will cause an implosion in the gaming industry; in fact, I believe it is already happening. We want games now, so developers need to create games faster. But we also want them to be good quality, have massive amounts of content, and they have to sell well in order to be successful in our eyes. This has caused many large developers to go bankrupt (look at THQ, Irrational Games, and the recent issues with Crytek not paying employees), and it puts added stress to sell massive amounts of copies immediately. This is a recipe for an implosion, and maybe it is “needed,” but I don’t want to see people losing jobs because of insta-gaming. With this demand for games, quality also lessens. A perfect example is the Call of Duty series; they cash in but have lost the quality and innovation that even put the games on the map. Heck, look at Ubisoft lately: how good do you think the three (yes, THREE) Assassin’s Creed games will be that are all being released within the same year?

Perhaps I am alone in thinking this, and maybe I’m just being idiotic – which happens regularly with me, so I would understand – but this mindset is sweeping gaming culture. What happened to the days that we took our time with games, mastering them completely, and finding full enjoyment in a full-priced retail title? Is there a solution to this problem? Is it even a problem to begin with, or simply the ravings of a madman?

All I know is that I’ve become aware, and from here on out I am enjoying every game that I purchase to the absolute fullest.

~Michael

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