Game developers desert their devoted fanbases


Adam Schoelz

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Though some may see the ugly release of “SimCity 2013” as an isolated incident, it’s another example in a long line of recent and weird anti-consumer trends in the games industry. And it comes from the company voted the worst in the United States two years in a row in The Consumerist poll.
“SimCity” has had a whole heap of trouble since its release March 5. Overloaded servers prevented folks from playing the first week; early mods showing that Electronic Arts’ claim the game depended on server-side calculations was demonstrably false, and the fanbase realization of the many broken underlying systems in the game made us forget about “Aliens: Colonial Marines.” It also laid bare a near-systemic problem with the gaming industry: seeming contempt for gamers themselves.
Why else would Maxis lie to their fanbase about the viability of online play? The efficacy and intelligence of the Sim agents within each city? The pathfinding system that’s worse than “Starcraft 1” (that may be slightly hyperbolic)? And from EA so soon after the disappointment of “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” and “Mass Effect 3” before that and “Dragon Age 2” before that. Beyond EA, “Aliens: Colonial Marines” disappointed anyone with a pulse, but at least its Metacritic score reflects that.
This shows an underlying and disturbing problem with the current gaming industry: the shallowing of established Intellectual Properties. Though it would be easy to blame EA as its reputation is, mildly, Voldemort, the answer is much more depressingly sensible.
To examine current trends in the game industry that have delivered disappointing sales for numerous shooters and strategy games and even more theme park MMOs, we must remember that publishers such as EA are out to make money, not necessarily quality games. In good economic times, this brought us the original “Dead Space,” “Mirror’s Edge” and “Braid.” They might not have sold as well as, say, “Call of Duty 4,” which came out around the same time, but it didn’t matter. They were experiments, and great ones at that.
Our economic climate now is decidedly more dour than mid-2000’s. The economy drove off a bridge into a pit of despair in 2009, and even now we’re just barely reaching the lip. Suddenly, experiments with new IPs such as “Mirror’s Edge” and “Dead Space” were unthinkable — every game needed to sell enough to keep the company afloat. So those projects were put on hold, and sequels to popular IPs were rushed out the door as quickly as possible to make money. The games themselves became safer in content, often emulating the most popular shooters in a certain category — “Call of Duty” in the FPS market, “Gears of War” in third-person action, “Zelda” otherwise, and they rapidly became lobotomized, repetitive rehashings of such classics.
This leaves us where we are today: the market is flooded with games of some quality that are all the same to the point that it has become meta — the game “Spec Ops: The Line” comes to mind. It’s ugly. Real ugly, and the bright spots from AAAs, such as “Far Cry 3,” are few and far between. Indies thrive, of course.
Luckily, the solution to this problem is quite simple: vote with your dollar. Support indie developers — Bastion, Cave Story, FTL, Natural Selection 2, ARMA 3, DayZ — and high quality AAA titles to show EA and other huge game companies that a safe game does not necessarily mean a shallow and lame one, and help save the industry from itself. You could even say as you pay the cashier, “It’s dangerous out there; take this!”
By Adam Schoelz