I like to see all of the content. I like to explore every little icon on the map, and get all of the things. I paid for this game, I should see it all…right?
I don’t always play a game on every difficulty, but I enjoy feeling like I’ve seen everything that the developers have made for me. They made that stuff, it’s my job as the player to see it.
The modern game development world has heard players like me. A little bit too well.
It feels like every big and mid budget game is now a vast world full of content. Or a live service with continual updates so you can just play the thing forever.
Nintendo took Zelda and Mario into open worlds, with piles of additional content over their previous entries. Warframe has added two open world zones and space adventures. Fortnite figured out how to make the Battle Royale genre into a living, evolving thing with constant new surprises. And Assassin’s Creed is now a full-blown story driven action RPG with random loot, thousands of places to explore, and a branching dialogue system with multiple story paths.
It’s all a bit…overwhelming for someone like me. And it’s left me uncertain about how my old habits fit into the new space.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love video games. But it’s created this phenomenon where I play ten hours of a game before being distracted by a different boundless world.
Instead of exploring different icons on a map, I’m now exploring different games. I no longer complete things. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I used to complete them, and about how it would be nice to do that again.
The level of polish on display in the modern gaming industry is such that, as games borrow from each other and refine and iterate ideas…they’re all kind of becoming the same thing. “You can play it forever, we have these icons, and when you finish there will be DLC and microtransactions, or a sequel.”
In the early days of the Xbox 360, the hardcore userbase would infamously leapfrog from big game to big game, about once every three and a half weeks. Marquee titles hit the system with an even pace, and the spaces in-between were filled with arcade releases that all had free demos, so they could be quickly evaluated and digested.
The speed of releases was basically perfect. Watching my friends list jump from Call of Duty 2, to Chromehounds, to Oblivion, to Gears of War was an entertaining thing. The zeitgeist was always centered around that month’s big game.
Sure, the Xbox 360 had plenty of big open world games…but the timing of releases was long enough that completionist gamers had enough room to finish one thing before moving on to the next.
During that time, I was also a professional game reviewer for a small local computer magazine here in my town. It was my job to pick two or three big releases across all platforms, consume them for articles, and move on.
I liked this cycle.
Now, it’s complete bedlam.
New games are coming out at a faster pace than ever before, across all tiers of budget, price, and platform. There’s enough demand for new content that several companies are launching full scale competition against Steam, which has long been the most-entrenched platform in digital game sales.
It’s tremendously hard to be a completionist in this environment, especially if you want to have any sort of other life to speak of, or perhaps a job.
I liked chewing through a new game every few weeks, trading it in to Gamestop, and moving on to the next one. Now we have weeks where three big open world games come out the same day. On February 15th of next year, Far Cry New Dawn, Crackdown 3, and Metro Exodus are all launching.
Each one probably has more than enough content to satisfy all but the hardest of hardcore appetites for at least a month. If not much more.
This is a stupid thing to complain about, I realize, and I’ve talked about it before. But it’s such a different gaming world from the one that I got really comfortable with my playing habits in, and I’ve done a bad job of adapting.
Most recently, I fell victim to Dynasty Warriors 9. The Warriors franchise is filled with big games, but none so nearly as colossal as Dynasty Warriors 9. The game went open world, and added fully unique storylines and endings for all 90 of its playable characters. The game’s director said that if you just do the main content, and you want to see all those endings, it would take well over 100 hours.
I’ve spent about 150 hours and seen the endings for less than a third of the characters, because I kept getting lost in exploring the world and taking over random bases. It’s not even great side content. It almost feels like it’s supposed to be a backdrop.
But I still did it, because it was there.
No Man’s Sky has a literal endless amount of content to explore…and in a way, that was freeing. There’s a specific ending to the story, sort of, but having an infinite amount of planets to explore meant that my brain stopped caring about it after a while and I could just focus on enjoying the game.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey took some flak from its community recently because some big story content is hidden in entirely optional side missions that you’d never see doing just the main quest. I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, it makes sense that all of the important story content should be, you know, actually in the story.
On the other hand, how awesome is it when side quests actually have real thought put into them? When they aren’t just arbitrary collection missions or bases to blow up?
Part of my brain loves the endless flood of endless content. I’ve put thousands of hours into Diablo III, and I love the idea of a gaming world that I can just get lost in forever, to the exclusion of all others.
But novelty is undeniably attractive, and games can get old after 10 hours of meandering around a well-produced but similar to all the rest open world…let alone 100.
I often miss the days of those weird PS2 mid-budget action titles that had linear stories with endings. Or cartoon platformers. Or point-and-click adventures that didn’t have to stretch out their business strategy with episodic releases.
Content bloat is the inevitable result of democratized access to technology and the passage of time. It’s all my fault that I’ve developed a habit of wanting to see all the things on the map, and my fault that I’ve gotten into the habit of jumping from game to game as if they were all side missions rather than something I want to dive in to.
I still finish something every once in a while, but it’s no longer the procession of completion that I used to achieve…even though I still want to be doing that.
As games get longer, more involved, and more into the idea of being “played forever,” it’s harder and harder for them to maintain player investment after the novelty wears off. At some point, I think we’re going to hit a peak where both developers and players are done.
We will see a whole new wave of smaller experiences that are produced at a high level of production. Games like Hellblade, or the recent Spyro remakes.
Maybe I’m wrong, but for the sake of my get-all-the-things-addled brain, I hope I’m not.