Remember when gaming used to be about the art, and not about the money?! No. No I do not.

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stealydan

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#1  Edited By stealydan

I see this sort of "hot take" all the time online and it rubs me the wrong way every time.

Video games are like any other art form that can be heavily monetized and advertised to a large audience. Large game publishers will, in the same vein as movie studios or book publishers, decide to place their investor's funds in the places where it makes the most sense from a business perspective within the current economic climate. I would assume this ought to be obvious to most people, but alas...I simply cannot understand those who compare the current AAA industry offerings to some kind of mythical "good old days".

"Do you remember when a team of a couple people could produce a game, and it didn't require any patches, and it was both amazing and sold like gangbusters?" No, I don't. Console games simply remained busted, while PC gamers had to go way out of their way to get sometimes-necessary patches. Marketing, as with any other industry, is what moves product. Of course, there have always been exceptions that prove the rule (Stardew Valley is the first thing to come to mind).

However, there currently exist so many avenues for games that don't meet the metrics for "AAA status" (whatever that means, not the point of this argument) to put themselves out there.

I've always agreed with Vinny's statement that now (whenever now is) is the best time to be playing games, and I think this sentiment depends upon two factors: (1) game creation is more accessible than ever, therefore the indie space has relatively unlimited possibilities as compared to years past, even when judged within the same "generation"; and (2) given the efforts of modders on PC and MS on consoles, playing older games has never been easier (see PCGamingWiki, Gamepass etc.).

This can probably be categorized as a rant, but I wonder if anyone else recoils at the idea that large-scale game publishing used to somehow be more pure (ie, divorced from economic forces).

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bigsocrates

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This is right and wrong. Games have always been commercial, at least since after the very beginning when some grad students were just messing with their computers and created the medium. Certainly by the time of the Atari 2600 we were seeing things like a rushed Pac Man port and the 5 week ET game where the company was forcing programmers to make subpar product to hit commercial deadlines.

On the other hand, games used to be much cheaper to make so companies were much more experimental. Companies also didn't really know what worked so they didn't have formulas the way that Ubisoft did now. When you look at a game like Doom you see a lot more passion and a lot less corporate interference. This was also, of course, true for the early days of film and other media. The beginning when things are cheaper and there's less market research there's always more artistic license and experimentation until companies find out what works and the financial arms race makes experiments extremely costly.

Games were a lot weirder in the past, and had a lot more variety (at least in the AAA space.) That's not necessarily because the companies cared more about the art, it's that they knew less about the commerce and could afford to take fewer risks.

It is weird that people don't recognize that games have always been a commercial medium, though. I mean where did they think that bad licensed games came from?

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cikame

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#4  Edited By cikame

I typed out a huge response to this but deleted it because i wasn't happy i understood the context of the op, i think it's mostly directed at publishers.

At the core of most games are individuals who want to create something really cool, creative artists and engineers who want to put together a video game, publishers want to watch numbers go up, and while like the music industry there have been small scale publishers who do it to support the medium, those have mostly been shut down over time, Annapurna is one of those that's surviving on creative small games which is a bigger market now that before.

On the developer side i completely disagree, i've been playing mostly old games for the last 2 years and what strikes me most about them is how honest they are, there were some brilliant artists and engineers defining and redefining what games could be in the past, and while some innovations are held back by flaws inherent to doing something for the first time, they are evidence of honest attempts and genuine effort. I think of GTA3 because i finished playing through it again a couple days ago, i'm sure Rockstar were very excited about the potential for GTA3 to make money but the contents of the game scream of care and attention from the developers, the amout of small details, references to other games and movies, voice acting, cutscenes and the silly ending gives me the feeling everyone did what they could with the chance they were given, not to mention all the obvious innovations.

I'm not saying "things were better back in the day" there's loads of new games people should play, there's just... not as many, in the AAA space at least.

The big publishers have discovered various golden ticket games with much more appealing cost to profit ratios, whether that's photographs of footballers on digital cards, loot boxes (now mostly illegal), or monetising various other aspects of proven gameplay formulas and not giving developers the chance to take risks or innovate. I don't need to name names and plenty of people like these games otherwise they wouldn't be successful, but for people who have been watching this industry for 20+ years it's easy to look back at all the amazing things that were created with a sense of awe, it was less driven by the demands of publishers back then, but i guess that's bound to change as a market grows and grows.

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bigsocrates

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@cikame: One of the problems with playing mostly old games as a way of understanding the industry is that you have many more games to pick and choose from so you pick the best ones. Have you gone back to play NHL '97 or crappy movie tie in games from the mid 2000s? Probably not. The crap of the industry is much more visible when you're focusing on the relatively few games coming out now then when you're delving back through the sea of the past.

GTA 3 had incredible levels of detail, but GTA V had more. Red Dead Redemption 2 is also packed with the same level of care. The problem is that those games have always been rare. GTA 3 stood out so much at the time because it came out at a time when there were a lot of bad games being released. That's always been true.

The AAA space has gotten more expensive so there are fewer games overall. There have been a lot more games in the last 20 years so it's harder to innovate because much of the potential innovation has already been done. It's a mature medium now. Games are also much more expensive to make and have to sell a lot more to be profitable.

If you look at the Game Awards Game of the Year candidates you still see big publishers doing some pretty creative things. Psychonauts 2 is a sequel but it's very creative from a narrative perspective, and Tim Schaefer has said that Microsoft left the team alone to do their thing. Deathloop has some innovative mechanics and ideas. It Takes Two is a pretty innovative co-op game that's polished, incredibly fun, and really interesting from an aesthetic perspective. Resident Evil Village is a sequel, but RE 7 really shook the series up and had VR to boot.

I guess what I'm saying is...it's hard not to see the past with rose tinted glasses because we don't see the ugly parts when we go back. Nobody fires up their old consoles to play M&M's Kart Racing or World Gone Sour. There is some truth to the idea that there were more risks in the past because those risks were lower because costs were lower, but there's still cool stuff happening now even in the AAA space. And the junk and franchises and licensed crap has always been with us.

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constantk

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I think what we're seeing is the exponential growth of a medium, which brings along with it increased commercial interest that, in a capitalist society, is going to result in some portion of the medium being reduced to low-overhead cash grabs. Do the passionate, creative developers still exist and are there still good exemplars of the medium, sure, you just have to know where to look.

It's super easy to get all old man shouting at clouds about this, but I really think being in a community like this helps with this very problem. You can more easily sort through the cruft and end up on games with aesthetics and mechanics that appeal to you. There are more games being made now than there ever have been. That means there's more garbage, yes, but also more of the gems and the weird experimental stuff, you just might have to go to itch.io or some corner of a mobile marketplace or something to find it.

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cikame

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@bigsocrates: It's true i try to only play good old games but i started playing games in 1996, so they were all new to me at some point, on the flip side i also try to only play good new games, so my perspective is skewed either way :P.
I used GTA3 as an example because i just finished playing it, earlier this year i played C-12 Final Resistance and Project Eden which both got mixed reviews, not groundbreaking games but they both give me the warm and fuzzies with their fun ideas, apparently C-12 was made by the MediEvil guys i just found out :S.

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brian_

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#8  Edited By brian_

Yes. There has always been someone looking to make money off of video games. Undeniable. But when I think about "Remember when video games used to be art?", and what people usually refer to when they say that about "AAA games", I think it was a lot easier to ignore the bad, licensed game, rush job of that era, as opposed to the cooperate over reach, and need to make money of the big tentpole releases of today effecting a game's development.

There is just a hell of a lot more money wrapped up in video games now. We didn't even have "AAA games" prior to a little over a decade or so ago. And with all that money, comes more pressure on cooperate to make that money back, on top of pressure from investors to make even more money. That pressure will a lot of the time lead to stuff like gross monetization mechanics, or a game being released before it's in an acceptable state. And again that stuff has totally existed in the past. Whether it was shitty licensed games, or intentionally difficult arcade games designed to suck quarters. I think the difference now is that all those shitty licensed and arcade games died off, but people looking to make money off that stuff haven't. So now that stuff is happening in the more "traditional video game" space and it's harder to spot immediately.

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tartyron

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#9  Edited By tartyron

I’d like to believe that a pure and utopian concept of making games just for the love of games exists, but it historically never has been. Part of that is due to the realities of distribution that have always been a thing. Arcades cabinets back in the day were made to suck quarters, it’s not so different than micro transactions and loot boxes. Even if a dev team is nothing but a herd of pure unicorns, there aren’t likely to go widespread unless they release for free and stay free, and the time commitment and effort needed for games needs and deserves remuneration, so yo collaborate with the people that can market and distribute so your team can pay rent and keep doing what they do. Then you agree to do a quick licensed game, then you sell the studio and you retire and BioWare goes to crap. I think when it happens on its own terms is the best scenario, ala stardew valley or whatnot, but most of the time people got to pay bills, and that Ends up overshadowing the original goal. And frankly, if it means you got your team the money they needed to live on, it’s not all evil motivation, more just the sorts of things people are forced to do with the worldwide system we live in.

Now, is the greed excessive on publishers and many studios heads part? Probably. Is it worse now than before? Maybe by volume. But I don’t think there was ever a realistic time that it was ever just for the art of it. The money certainly doesn’t distribute the way it ought to, that much is true in games and everything else on earth. I don’t think there was ever an era of purity like some old folks wax nostalgic about, or younger folks speculate the time before their own was like. Games as a concept evolved from gambling, after all. Greed was always part of the equation, artistic expression second.

I went to see Neil Gaiman talk a few years ago with an ex of mine. She went on for hours after about his work, which I also love, as a coda for socialist ideals (debatable.) The tickets cost $100 a pop. I mentioned that even though he tells stories often critical of financial gain as a motivation, he does still take that money. She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the night, and frankly I’m more leftist than she was. I don’t blame people for wanting compensation, but there is a point in every artistic endeavor that is successful where the charge for admission becomes more than perhaps the message of the art would make you think it should be. And then you wonder if the message of anti-capitalism just sells well. Do the corps own the rebels too? Will the Revolution be brought to you by CokaCola?

Anyway, it was always corrupt, but maybe not intentionally, and I don’t think it’s really better or worse now, just bigger by volume.

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BladeOfCreation

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Across time and culture, people are fundamentally the same. They want the same things, and the same types of people want the same things. There are always people making cool art because they want to, and there are always people making money from art.

The mechanisms of monetization and payment have changed, but the desire to make money from video games hasn't. It's like the news. Violent crime is on a decades-long downward trend, but the constant news cycle makes people think otherwise. If a game was broken 25 years ago, we read about it in a magazine, told our friends, and moved on. Now everyone gets to say something about it, we can easily share videos, and we can communicate instantly with others who've had a similar experience.

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tartyron

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#11  Edited By tartyron

@bladeofcreation: all correct except one thing: the constant news cycle doesn’t want to make it seem better, they want it to seem even worse. Fear on any side of the political spectrum gets views more than reality. Don’t get me wrong, we are all still fucked, but those in charge of the message own both sides as the ship goes down, and whichever gives them a better first class than their rich neighbors first class will sell better than actual hope and maybe doom delay of the inevitable on either end for the few decades this planet has left.

TLDR: hopelessness sells better than Hope, we are long past the opiate of the masses when the better selling drug is misery at any angle

Edit: haha, video games, amirite!?!? Fun times with star lord! I love games but I know they are a distraction, but shit, what else do we got, huh? Enjoy earths last sorta normal decade and don’t have kids!

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stealydan

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Well boy howdy, I figured this might have been one of those ill-advised posts that I might be better off deleting due to the fact that my initial premise was more of a rant instead of a well-considered thought, but it seems I inspired some conversation - a level of discourse, it turns out, that I'm not sure I can actually meaningfully contribute to - but that I'm thankful to have been a part of!

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TurtleFish

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Money corrupts. As soon as you crank large amounts of cash into the equation, you attract the type of people that will do anything to make money, and it all goes to hell. So, the whole "couple of people, great game, millions of copies" never existed, except as a nostalgic dream.

However, if you want to look at the history of computer game development, and you lower your sales target from millions of copies to thousands of copies, I think from the late 70s until the late 80s (not the Atari's and Nintendo's, but the Apples and Commodore 64s and the Spectrums and a horde of other computers I'm forgetting) I think you'll find game companies where it was about the game. This is the era of classic Microprose and SSI and even early EA.

Hell, to dip back into console gaming, remember Activision got it's start as a rogue company from Atari -- a bunch of Atari cartridge coders who's big demand was to get credit for the games they wrote.

But all that being said - I don't mind a little nostalgia. It can have its uses as a motivational tool, or as a pleasant distraction from current day issues, as long as you don't get too stuck up on it.