For the past few years, I’ve noticed an issue which seems to be cyclical for gamers and games writers, many of whom have at one point or another thrown their hands up in frustration at the realisation that, to paraphrase Newman from Seinfeld, “the games never stop, they just keep coming and coming and coming!” Titles are released, marketing departments do what they do best and at the end of the day you have a shelf full of games and no free time to play them.
This is a topic I’ve touched on before, and it’s one that keeps creeping into my mind, especially around 11 o’clock at night when I’m telling myself that sleep actually IS more important than progress on whatever handheld game I’m inching my way through. The phrase ‘respecting players’ time’ keeps getting bandied about – the notion that developers should refrain from including elements such as RNG, fetch quests, and a whole host of mechanics that seem like relics of a bygone era.
I intended to approach this article in a particular way until I sat down to write it and, as so often happens when we least suspect it, I had an epiphany. At the ripe old age of 29, I’ve suddenly decided that it is not a developers job or a marketing departments job to ensure that I invest my money and limited gaming time wisely, but myself. Who knew? Allow me to explain this thought process with some back story, and apologies to those who expected an angry rant or have already come to this sage conclusion.
I have been approaching games in the wrong way. I think many people do, which is understandable given recent shifts in the media landscape. When I began to compare my consumption habits of different media, an interesting picture emerged. When it comes to reading books, there are titles I’ve blazed through and others that I’ve slowly digested over 12 months or more. In terms of television watching, I tend to binge on things I’ve watched previously and stick to the episodic schedule for new releases, although Netflix may end up putting a wrinkle in this. However, for most of my life I have binged on games the same way a large number of people now choose to binge on television series’, which is a relatively recent phenomenon when I think back to the first DVD box set I purchased in 2002 (Futurama Season 1, if you’re curious).
As a teenager, this practice of game-bingeing didn’t phase me – my main drug of choice was the JRPG, which thoroughly rewards this practice. Being a time rich/cash poor teenager, bang for my buck was all that worried me regardless of the quality of an experience. As I got older, the money/time balance began to shift in the opposite direction, yet my approach to gaming did not. I fell into the same trap I see so many of my friends in – I buy games I don’t have to time to play, fearful that I’ll miss out on something, scared that my ‘gamer credibility’ will somehow diminish if I haven’t sampled all the wares available or worse yet, worried that I might not be able to offer up an opinion on the latest AAA release when asked by those who perceive me as ‘in the know’. As if that somehow matters.
While I have no doubt this has been bubbling in my sub-conscious for some time, the release of Batman: Arkham Knight, its numerous DLC offerings and the promise to myself that I would wait for the GOTY release seems to have crystallised this whole way of thinking for me. It’s quite simple, really: stop buying games. Stop buying new games when you have a perfectly good game to finish sitting in your disc tray. Stop fooling yourself that the prices won’t be this good again and that you can somehow cram another title into your already busy schedule. Stop buying into the marketing hype that every game is a transformative experience, some kind of zeitgeist that will only exist for a small window of time after release (OK, I admit that this last one might actually apply to multiplayer heavy titles).
I have always spent rather carelessly, a habit I’ve been working hard to mend since combining finances with my wife, who before we’d met had managed to travel the world solo on her own dime for 8 months with money she saved working part-time at McDonalds. Her golden saving rules are simple – Don’t buy things you don’t need and avoid the temptation to buy. For gamers, this might mean you have to avoid your local game stores all together. After all, they’re designed to entice you to buy things, to override your sense of rationality with sale signs, bright colours and loud music.
Forget about asking developers and publishers and marketers to respect your time – start respecting yourself and taking responsibility for your own choices. Don’t buy into the hype, and wait at least a few days after release for solid reviews to come out. Setting yourself a price limit can also help – I had been wanting to try out The Order: 1886 since release, but the reviews I read convinced me to wait until it was around the $30 mark before I picked it up. Heck, borrow games from friends – for some reason, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t really do this anymore. Isn’t this the very reason Sony were able to take their well-timed jab at Microsoft about game sharing at E3 2013?
At the end of the day, the only person you can change is yourself, but it takes conscious effort. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve ignored my own advice over the past few weeks to stare longingly at the case of Arkham Knight in store, comparing prices online and working through some serious mental gymnastics in a desperate attempt to justify a purchase. But I’ve dug my heels in – I said GOTY Edition, and GOTY Edition it will be.
I’d love to hear some comments on this piece, whether it’s validated something you’ve been considering for a while or you vehemently refute my ideas with every fibre of your being.
Stephen del Prado