Since the 1980s, when they seemed like a passing fad, video games have evolved to become a cultural touchstone. The entertainment medium is almost universally counted among the likes of music, movies, and books, and many authorities—including Smithsonian—are beginning to recognize some video games as true works of art.
Still, the medium isn’t perfect, and it has a long way to go. Despite more than 30 years of evolution and development, there are still problems that irk gamers, developers, and even the non-gaming general public, preventing the medium from achieving its true potential. So how can video games grow from here? What changes do we need to see?
The Evolution We Need
If video games are going to remain relevant and earn their place in entertainment, they need to change in at least the following ways:
- Less reliance on physical consoles. We’re entering an era of technology without physical tethers, thanks to the emergence of mobile devices and ubiquitous Wi-Fi. According to Dialpad, office workers are no longer confined to their desks, spending 60 percent of their time away from them—so if workers aren’t tied to their desks, why are gamers still tied to their consoles? Mobile games like Pokemon Go and Clash of Clans have taken the world by storm, and handheld devices like the Nintendo DS (and its ancestor, Game Boy) have been around even longer, but most game developers still spend most of their time developing for fixed, physical consoles.
- More focus on innovative storytelling. Tech Time recently reported on how video games are gradually becoming a “perfect” storytelling medium, citing examples like Until Dawn or the Fallout series, where player choices have a profound effect on the narrative they experience. However, not enough games are driving the advancement of these storytelling features. Too many games rely on the same old mechanics and cheap thrills that have, admittedly, kept us entertained for generations. If we want to see progress, we need to see more immersive, storytelling experiences.
- Fewer release bugs. Every gamer knows that most games, at first launch, are broken. Developers rush to meet deadlines, taking shortcuts in the final stages of development, and due to either time or budget constraints, playtests are never as thorough or as effective as they should be. The end result is that video games release full of bugs and glitches, which penalizes the players most excited and willing to spend money on the game.
- More honest, earlier reviews from the press. According to Jason Evangelho, one of the biggest threats to video gaming is the nature of reviews. The relationships between game developers and review publishers are tightly interconnected, which often leads to conflicts of interest and unfoundedly “good” reviews for decent or mediocre games. On top of that, most game developers impose strict review embargos that prevent reviews from getting published until a day or two before the official release—and by that time, it’s too late to cancel preorders or stop the “hype trains” from getting out of control. More honest, earlier reviews could help gamers find better games and encourage developers to come out with better products early.
- Bigger challenges and learning experiences. One of the greatest experiences of video gaming is getting defeated. Facing a challenge, losing, learning from it, and then coming at it again with new information is the key experience for satisfaction in gaming. Those layers of discoverability and learnability add a sense of accomplishment to an otherwise stale adventure, yet many of today’s games make it too easy to breeze through or make challenges that are strictly hard—taking the learning experience out of the equation in favor of adding more raw frustration. Instead, developers should be focusing on new ways to introduce difficulty with achievable paths to overcoming that difficulty. This is the mechanism that gets players hooked, and somehow, it seems more common with older games than modern ones.
How to Drive Change
The unfortunate part is that acknowledging these necessary developments alone will do nothing to encourage their emergence. Unless you’re an integrated part of the video game industry, there isn’t much you can do to drive them to fruition. It’s going to take the demands of gamers everywhere to motivate influencers to change—and that means supporting the games, consoles, and developers who try to make these visions a reality.