It's a Golden Age for Gaming

By Ryan Winslett in Infinite Ammo
Friday, April 20, 2012 at 10:00 am
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 It's a great time to be a gamer.


Call this a reassurance topic if you like. Or maybe it's just the ravings of a man staring at the world through rose-tinted glasses. Either way, I can't help but feel like much of the negativity surrounding gaming these days is unwarranted.


Keep in mind that I'm not talking about any particular occurrence or current hot topics, but rather the state of gaming as a whole. It seems like no matter where I look, I keep stumbling upon folks claiming that gaming has gone downhill on a fast track this generation; that the hobby is doomed, stale and being run by greedy publishers willing to run the industry into the ground if it'll mean a few more bucks in the pocket.


I, for one, take a look at the gaming landscape of 2012 and can't help but feel like we've never had it so good.

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For starters, video games are everywhere these days. The hobby has never been so widely accepted as a normal part of society and that is largely thanks to the fact that games are so readily available. At present, we've got three major consoles, two major portable devices (not including the various versions of each), streaming services like OnLive and a resurgence of PC gaming thanks to services like Steam. Then there are all of the games that can be played on our phones, iPads, Nooks and even through sites like Google and Facebook. You would have to try pretty hard to put yourself into a space where gaming is not right at your fingertips.


Similarly, all of these platforms means there is a metric ton of games being released every week. We used to be lucky to have a new game or two release every Tuesday. Now, games come out daily. It's easier than ever to put together a studio, fill it with a few hard working friends and produce a game. This has resulted in a boom of creativity and an overabundance of games to dive into.


The quality of games has also gone up. Many, including myself, have bemoaned the "questionable" use of the 10 point review system. At a glance, it seems like more and more games are receiving scores of 8-10 with the remainder of the scale being underutilized. I'd argue that this is partially due to the fact that, on the whole, games are just better these days. People study their whole lives and go to school to design games now. It stands to reason that the majority of games scores would be higher simply because developers have a much stronger grasp of what they're doing.

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And then there's the shrinking cost of maintaining the hobby. While I would argue that $60 still feels a little too steep for a new game on a five-year-old console, my gaming options are no longer limited to the shelves at my local big box store. Digital markets have made it possible to pick up fully featured games from smaller studios at a fraction of the cost. The ridiculously low cost of games on devices like the iPhone have flat-out skewed the market, leading to some consumers griping about paying a whole three dollars for their latest Angry Birds investment. These savings apply to developers, too, who no longer have to come up with thousands upon thousands of dollars just to try and create the next big hit.


As for those who still feel like we're paying too much, the free/freemium model has skyrocketed these past couple of years. From puzzle games to action titles, shooters and MMOs, it's easier than ever to dive into dozens of gaming experiences with little to no money spent. I'm talking about deep, fully featured games that can be had for as little as clicking on the "download" button. And thanks to more social titles and the rise of asynchronous multiplayer options, connecting and playing with friends (or total strangers) is a snap.


And how about this Kickstarter business? While it's too soon to tell if this type of project funding will have legs, several independent games are now being bankrolled (some reaching budgets of a few million dollars) without the need of financial backing from larger studios or publishers. The community is being given a whole new way to get involved in the game-making process and, as a result, games that would otherwise never exist are actually going to see the light of day. If nothing else, these types of success stories give me renewed hope for the future of independent gaming, one where small studios with big dreams can actually operate outside of the box and bring their visions to fruition.

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Even the seemingly negative aspects of modern gaming provide a boatload of positives. Whether or not you like the idea of DLC and patches, the fact of the matter is that these allow developers to update, fix and support their product long after they've been released. These days, finishing a game doesn't always mean you're done with it. Hours of additional content could be waiting just around the bend in the form of a digital download. And in the past, when a game was released with bugs, that meant you would be stuck with the errors forever. Waiting on patches to download can be frustrating, but if it means I'm going to be getting a better experience, I find it hard to complain.


No, the games industry is not perfect. There are issues both big and small popping up on a regular basis to remind us of this fact. And sometimes we hear about Publisher A screwing over Developer B or poor business decisions being made at the cost of the consumer. But in the end, it's hard to deny that the good far outweighs the bad. Gaming has become a fully integrated, accessible and affordable part of everyday life. The hobby has gone from something you hide to something worth celebrating. Our options are vast and the quality has never been this high.


Gaming hasn't been ruined this generation. It's been made better than ever.


Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. Follow his work at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.

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