Failing Video Game Industry
Is No Man's Sky An Indicator of a Failing Video Game Industry?

Is No Man’s Sky An Indicator of a Failing Video Game Industry?

The Video Game Crash of 1983 saw the end of the 2nd generation of consoles caused by a failing game industry.  It took a huge chunk out of the market for games in the United States, nearly bankrupting the entire industry.  It was caused by many factors that include, but not limited to, poor quality control on games, lack of buyer confidence towards new game releases, and a saturated market.  Is No Man’s Sky an indicator of a failing game industry like we saw in 1983?

In the early 1980s, games were released with minimal story-line or refinement.  Many were chock full of game-demolishing bugs.  Granted, at the time, the depth of a game wasn’t anywhere near what it could potentially be today.  Even for the early 80s the bulk of games being released were shallow, repetitive, and lacking gameplay .  Game developers hopped onto the video game bandwagon to make a quick buck from consumers that would blindly purchase games without actually looking into what they were purchasing.

BYTE magazine stated in December 1982 that “in 1982 few games broke new ground in either design or format … If the really likes an idea, it is milked for all it’s worth, and numerous clones of a different color soon crowd the shelves. That is, until the stops buying or something better comes along. Companies who believe that microcomputer games are the hula hoop of the 1980s only want to play Quick Profit.”

Looking Back at the ’83 Crash

The crash of ’83 led to many video game developers to include developers of console hardware to file for bankruptcy.  Many stores tried to return hardware and games for a refund but the manufacturers were unable to provide refunds.  Denied a refund, most games and hardware found themselves in bargain bins. This was the stores’ hopeless attempt to recuperate some of the funds spent initially to stock the shelves.  Eventually, the games migrated from the bargain bins to the trash when they weren’t selling.

The crash of ’83 wasn’t gradual.  It came quickly and suddenly.  Many say the tipping point was the failure of the Atari 2600 game titled “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” which absolutely tanked and is considered one of the biggest commercial failures of all time.  It’s on the list of other commercial gaming failures that includes Battlecruiser 3000AD and Duke Nukem Forever.  Unlike those two titles, however, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released into a market with a cracked and soft foundation where the buyers and investors were already lacking confidence in the industry’s ability to produce quality product.

The game was so full of technical flaws that it was nearly impossible to complete the game.  In addition to the technical issues, the gameplay mechanics were very shallow, poorly thought-out, and many critics labeled the game “boring” or “for the children”.  Due to overproduction and returns, nearly 1 million copies of the game were buried in a New Mexico landfill on September 26th, 1983.  (That’s more copies than were sold of No Man’s Sky on …)

Let that sink in for a minute.

Could No Man’s Sky be the new E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial?

Failing Video Game Industry
The number of daily players of No Man’s Sky dropped significantly proving that the game had a shallow design and lacked replay value.

No Man’s Sky released at hype-speed and quickly ran into a brick wall.  Ars Technica reported that the game was full of bugs that destroys the game’s playability and if you get past the bugs the game itself isn’t well-designed and there isn’t much to do.  The player base is largely upset about this and I know I’ve been hard-pressed to find even a single player that like the game.  (I’ve literally only found one, who has declined to be interviewed.)

No Man’s Sky had barely any extended gameplay footage released prior to the game’s release in August of 2016.  This left a lot of players to feed their hype by speculation… this speculation was passed on as a he said she said fact that further fed the hype and speculation train that pushed the game to the steaming pile of shit situation that it is in now.  The hype and speculation didn’t match the end product.  Sony did absolutely nothing to pump the brakes on the hype train for No Man’s Sky – zero expectation management.  It also didn’t help that the list of release features don’t even come close to the official list of features confirmed to be promised by the game developersHere’s a compilation of features promised by the developer that didn’t make it in.  (Watching him make those claims made me cringe, too.)

No Man’s Sky’s public reception

The fallout from all this has been massive demands for refunds.  Unlike in 1983 where the stores bought the products and then went to the manufacturer for refunds, many gamers bought the game digitally.  Steam, where the game has a review score of less than 15%, has begun refunding the game regardless of hours played or time owned, disregarding their 2 hour/2 week rule.  Players on the Playstation Network have been able to receive refunds, despite Sony’s no refund policy.  Amazon is also issuing refunds.

So yes, No Man’s Sky is very much like E.T. The Extra-terrestrial in that the gameplay design is very shallow, it is full of design flaws, and it is receiving a poor reception.  In it’s second week on the market, sales have plummeted by 81%.  The Steam player data isn’t good either, with only 8,600 players logging on to play on September 4th, down from nearly 330,000 on the day of release just 3 weeks prior.  Over the past week, on Steam, the number of refunds has exceeded the number of purchases of the title as the number of owners of the title has been dropping. It is safe to say that the game is a flop that took many gamers on a wild hype train ride.

Not just No Man’s Sky

This poor performance isn’t limited to just No Man’s Sky.  Many other titles have been grossly subpar.  It seems the standard to be labelled as a triple-A title has dropped considerably in the past decade.  Couple that with money-mongering marketing techniques and game-design practices.  Here are a few examples.

Series

Now consider a game series I love to harp on, Call of Duty.  Does the quote from BYTE magazine relate to what Activision has done with Call of Duty and all of its offshoots to include Black Ops and Modern Warfare?  The point is, my example: Call of Duty, hasn’t done much of anything new besides add some new maps, skins, and weapons and then subsequently charge gamers $60 for what should be a $5-10 expansion pack.  In an older article I wrote in 2014, titled The Elder World of Guildcraft I hit on the fact that the industry, as a whole, is obviously cloning game ideas that the public likes… milking the public for all we are worth with regurgitated game content and concepts.

Survival Games

The survival genre is suffering terribly.  We’ve seen a rash of every single possible type of zombie or disaster survival that my imagination will let me imagine.  Many of the survival titles are clones of each other, easily confused with each other, and the entire genre appears to have stagnated.  Many titles are stuck in an eternal “Early Access” market model, which I’ll get into more later.

Recently, Square Enix decided last minute to throw in a micro-transaction system into Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on top of a variety of other issues surrounding the development and release of that title.  Many of those issues all easily stem from corporate leadership that are milking the title for all it is worth knowing that the mindless drones that gamers have become will buy the game without putting much thought into it.

and Evolve

Buyer confidence is definitely being shaken.  Remember Titanfall and Evolve?  Do you know anyone who still plays those games?  Both of those games had a ton of hype surrounding them and the publishers played wonderful marketing mind games on potential buyers before release that drummed up even more hype.  At release, everyone was talking about those games, everyone was playing them.  Then about 2-3 weeks later, it was as if nobody was playing those games… because they weren’t.  No Man’s Sky had the same course, but a lot more media coverage.  In May, a trailer for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare became the least liked/most hated video on , and still is.

Current indicators of a failing video game industry

Let’s have another look at a quote that was in the first section of this article:

BYTE magazine stated in December 1982 that “in 1982 few games broke new ground in either design or format … If the public really likes an idea, it is milked for all it’s worth, and numerous clones of a different color soon crowd the shelves. That is, until the public stops buying or something better comes along. Companies who believe that microcomputer games are the hula hoop of the 1980s only want to play Quick Profit.”

What’s causing all of this?

Just like the crash of 1983 we are seeing a culmination of issues.  In 1983, a crowded market coupled with lack of buyer confidence was largely to blame.  We still have a crowded market, except instead of being crowded by options in console hardware we are crowded by developers.  We have some market model issues that favor making money over making quality games.  It’s also easier than ever to make video games due to digital downloads.

Oceans of substandard AAA titles

The market is saturated with clones upon clones of various types of games – none of which are truly ground-breaking in idea, genre, or concept – and the number of “game developers” also saturate the market of job seekers in that field that are all trying to be relevant.  There’s no doubt about that.  The publishers know that the industry, as a whole, is churning out low quality games that don’t even hold a candle to the quality of game content that was released in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  In light of that fact, many publishers are using marketing and hype-spawning gimmicks to turn their crappy titles into a smash-and-grab for cash before the public realizes the game is of poor quality.  This isn’t limited to budget games, AAA titles have been affected by these practices, too.

Electronic Arts engaged in less than honest marketing tactics with Titanfall by running an “open beta” weekend a week before the game released.  This tactic proved effective as it was the talk of the town the following Monday morning and it seemed that Titanfall was the game everyone would be playing for some time.  The problem, however, is that 3 days was not enough time for players to realize that the game was a horribly tedious grind fest and after 2-3 weeks, most players of Titanfall had moved on and forgotten about it and the fact that they spent $60 or more on a game that they barely played.  The damage has been done as many players are wary of Titanfall 2, due out on October 28th, 2016.

Oceans of low quality developers

If you go onto Steam’s store (www.steampowered.com) and browse new releases how many of those games have you even heard about?  How many were made by indie developers that you have never heard of?  Many of these “artists” churn out games that are not far off in gameplay or content from the indie developers to their left and right.  So the problem is, which game do I buy since they are so close to being the same as other indie titles released in the same month?  This is similar to the console saturation we saw in the early 80s but the stores don’t have a problem fitting it all in their limited because of the unlimited amount of shelf provided by digital downloads.

I’m all for independent developers that want to do their own thing.  There are good indie developers out there, but there are a lot of bad ones, too.  The problem really stems from everyone and their mother being an independent developer.  That stems from about 10 years ago when everyone and their mother was a kid sitting in their basement playing video games and aspiring to be a video game developer. Some of those hopefuls in turn attended a game developer puppy mill college.  After college they entered the job market with skills in a very small job market (Reference #2) that was already saturated with game developer hopefuls.  Many folded into other industries but those that remained entered into the game development industry as indie developers, aka unemployed game developers.

Additionally, an indie developer might be amazing at making a video game, but that doesn’t mean that their creation will be successful.  Being amazing at making a game doesn’t make one amazing at managing the development, marketing, and sales of that game.  Earlier this year we saw one independent developer go belly up after some pretty bad mismanagement of project resources and not due to poor development.

Early Access and Digital Download market issues

Digital downloads also brought with it another issue… Early Access…  Steam defines early access as when the game developer sells the game and gives the gamer access to the development version of the game to play before official release.  It sounds great up front, but the problem is that you have games that seem to stall after a certain point.  One perfect example of this is Day Z.  The game was released for Microsoft Windows via early access on Steam on December 16, 2013, and is currently in early alpha testing.  It’s been in early access for nearly 3 years.  Here is a list of games available on Steam that are in early access.

Early Access is supposed to provide developers better debugging data as all of the players also become play-testers that the development teams don’t have to pay for.  However, this has become this eternal stalemate for many titles.  Many developers seem very comfortable with leaving their title in Early Access for eternity.  And even some see it as a way to make more money from their gamers.  Recently, : Survival (another survival game) had some heated controversy over selling DLC while still being in Early Access.  The core game was still in development and behind schedule and despite this, the developers opted to devote development resources into an expansion pack that they then sold for an additional $19.99.

Everyone can be a developer now

The cost of entry to publish via digital distribution is much much lower than with traditional publishers.  This can be seen as a double-edged sword: small and/or independent game developers can compete with the larger game developers and crappy game developers can enter the same marketplaces as good game developers.  Traditionally, game concepts would have to be pushed by a developer and a publisher before they really pushed onward with development… now a crappy game can still get developed and pushed out to the market.

Moving forward and in conclusion, No Man’s Sky should serve as a lesson learned for gamers around the world.  Debacles such as this have been happening for some time now and it has only been getting worse.  Gamers need to be more cautious about the games they pre-order and more jaded about the games they support.  Right now, the blind faith gamers have in the games they pre-order is causing the market to edge ever close to the point of a complete market collapse.  How many times will you buy a crappy game from a company before you decide that the company is crappy and doesn’t deserve your hard-earned money?

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