I think it’s fair to say that most gamers today have at least some feeling of like/love for technology. I can code a little bit, build a PC from scratch, troubleshoot most normal level computer issues, and have fixed more than one broken console. I’ve owned every Nintendo and SONY home console (not counting Switch) as well as two of the three Microsoft home consoles and every Sega home console except the Saturn. I’ve owned several handhelds, multiple tablets, multiple mp3 players, and I literally work for a computer component manufacturing company. It is not a ridiculous statement to say that I like technology. Yet it seems to me that as we, by which I mean consumers who call themselves gamers, are forcibly offered “better” technology with each passing generation of consoles, that playing video games has become more expensive and less convenient.
The first console I ever owned was the NES. Many people today don’t even know what that is. When I was a kid, this is what purchasing and playing a video game looked like. You went to the store. You gave the store money and you took home a game (cartridge or disc depending on what console) and a console to play that game on. If you already had the console then you just took home a game obviously. You put that game in said console, turned it on, and then you played it. That was the end of the process. If it was a multiplayer game then you plugged in a second controller, handed that to the other person who wanted to play, and then you played it. That was end of the process. Today we have all this technology which was supposedly invented and implemented to make gaming better, but recently it seems that every time I try to play a game and make use of these new “upgrades” my gaming experience is made considerably worse, more irritating, and more costly.
When you want to play a game today (on home console), you have a number of options. You can purchase a physical or a digital copy for starters. Now it makes perfect sense that if you purchase a digital copy that you’re gonna have to wait until it’s downloaded to be able to play it. But today it seems that it doesn’t matter what version of a game you buy. No matter what, you can’t play it until you’ve let your console run for several hours to download a bunch of updates and patches. Recently I purchased a new physical copy of Star Wars: Battlefront Ultimate Edition. My friend, who also recently purchased it and had already been playing it, sent me a message asking me if I had time to play. It being a Saturday night and me being a gamer, of course I did. He was already playing. I told him I’d start it up. I put the disc in and without even activating the season pass code, I was told I’d have to wait several hours before I can play the game for a 23GB update. That’s 23GB of data I have to store on my HDD even though I intentionally purchased a physical copy of the game. And again, that doesn’t include any of the four expansion packs that come with the Ultimate Edition season pass. That’s just to play the base game. Suffice it to say that I did not get to play Battlefront with my friend that night. What I did get to do was leave my PS4 on all night so it could finish that download during a time that I didn’t want to play it, costing me extra electricity and adding use hours to my console.
The big problem here is the fact that I purchased a game to play with a friend, but was unable to play with my friend the day I opened the game or play the game at all because of a so called technological improvement. Developers and publishers have always sold patches and by extension DLC as an improvement over old gaming. But that’s a load of crap when you think about it. All patches and DLC do is allow developers to release incomplete or broken games at full cost and then fix them later when and if people notice the problems. DLC allows them to chop their games up into pieces and then charge you extra for the full experience. Before the advent of DLC and patches, these things basically never happened. When you bought a game it worked. And it had to work because if it didn’t the review would tell you that and you wouldn’t buy it. Developers didn’t have the option of releasing unfinished goods. They also couldn’t sell you a portion of a game. Sure they could release physical expansion packs, but the cost of doing so made it unprofitable except in the most extreme cases where people would almost assuredly purchase them at top dollar. The last expansion pack I saw that was this valuable was the DLC for The Witcher 3 (2015). In fact this additional content is so legit that they actually did do a physical release of the content. Before that you have to go all the way back to Dragon Age: Origins (2009) with the Awakening (2010) expansion pack, which also had a physical release. Most of the time, additional content isn’t good enough to warrant a physical release and developers know that. That’s why they had to just put everything in the release version or make a sequel. Now they can just over charge you for bread crumbs of content whenever they want. And the worst part is that it’s not even being done with additional content anymore. They’re literally pulling content out of the game and then charging you for it on release day as if it was created in addition to the base game.
Not only are developers charging us for not really additional content, but they’re forcing us to pay for it in advance of release with season passes. This is the greatest of cons because you never really know what you’re going to get because they don’t tell you in advance. They just throw out a pre-order price for a code that promises you access to content that will supposedly be released in the future. Then, more often than not, the content is crap that you don’t want that affects aesthetics and adds a few guns. Sometimes you also get additional maps. The worst thing is when they only release multiplayer DLC and then end up making it available to everyone. You basically gave them money for nothing in return. Looking at you God of War: Ascension collector’s edition, which I preordered. Now the season passes don’t even give you all the content. I purchased the not so “Ultimate Edition” of Battlefront believing I was getting everything. Turns out EA bent me over again because when you do activate the season pass you are shown that actually that season pass which promised all the additional content when they were first selling it really only gives you four new maps/modes. What it doesn’t give you is five $5 weapons packs which must be purchased in addition to the season pass. You can also purchase these as a lump sum pack for $20, saving you $5 in the process. Now to be fair these packs contain weapons that can be earned for no money in game. That’s better than most developers today, but it doesn’t change the fact that as a season pass holder I was promised everything.
Let me clarify what EA DICE has done here with the Star Wars: Battlefront franchise. If you purchased the original game in 2004 on PC, PS2, or XBOX at release for $60, you got the entire game which included a story campaign, online multiplayer, and all content. If you purchased this latest installment of the franchise at release in 2015 to get the exact same thing: a single player mode, online multiplayer mode, and all content (maps, gameplay modes, weapons). Then you were asked to pay a total of $60 for the base game plus the season pass for $30 which didn’t have all the content available at the time of release. Then they added in another set of weapons which cost you an additional $20 or a shit ton of hours to unlock. But at least they made them unlockable for free, unlike many other games today. That means that playing Battlefront today at the same level of content will cost you $110 (technically $90 if you don’t want to put any dollar value on time). And really saying it’s the same level of content is a false statement in all actuality because the single player mode isn’t really a campaign in this one. It’s just a few missions for practice that was added later because people were extremely unhappy with EA for releasing a multiplayer only game. The irony being the success of Overwatch just a year later. That’s up to an 83% markup for less content. And all of that was made possible thanks to technological “upgrades”.
Not only does the content cost more and deliver less, but the accessibility and management of that content has only gotten worse with each generation. Back in the PS2 era you could purchase a game (disc) and save your data on a memory card. Then you could take that disc and memory card to any other PS2 anywhere in the same region as yours and continue playing that game exactly where you left off. Today that is not possible. You cannot play your file on someone else’s console. Now what you can do is login to your profile on another console, download the permissions, risk your account security, and play the game and your save file by pulling it from the cloud or a usb drive, but it will take you quite a while to set it all up and then when you leave you’ll have to make sure to copy that file to the cloud or usb because it won’t save automatically. And by the way, you can’t use your data to help your friend. Back in the day if your friend got stuck in a game, you could copy your file for him/her and then they could take that file on their memory card home and play the game past where he/she was stuck. Can’t do that anymore. At best you can actually take the time to beat whatever your friend is stuck at on their profile and then let them go from there. The convenience is all gone. But what’s even more sad to have lost than helping people when they’re stuck is that no longer can you salvage saves through other people.
Saves have been getting corrupted since the dawn of save files. It’s a problem that has happened to pretty much everyone at least once and it’s a shit deal every time. But what was nice before all these “improvements” was that if your save got corrupted or erased you could just copy one from a friend that was near where you were. Then you wouldn’t have to start the whole game over. That’s gone. Now when your save gets corrupted or lost you have no hope. You either start the game over or quit altogether. Saves are now locked to accounts and you cannot pass saves to other players. Other players can play your saves in certain situations for certain games, but they can’t save progress. Essentially they can just demo the game from where you left off and unless they can beat the entire thing in one sitting, they won’t be able to use your file to salvage their gameplay experience. And even if they do manage to use your save to finish the game, they won’t get any trophies for it. Sounds like a net loss to me.
A lot of people are bringing up the cloud in their heads right now. Yes you can save to the cloud. But that assumes you’re a PlayStation plus or Xbox Live gold subscriber. The cloud isn’t there for everyone who spent a large sum of money to purchase a console. It’s only for those who spent a large sum of money and pay a protection fee to the mob every year on top of the price of games. Which brings me to my next point. Who would have ever thought that it would become common practice to have to pay a fee to play games you already purchased? Having to now pay for multiplayer on literally all three platforms is just sad. And to top it all off they’re slowly killing off local multiplayer altogether as well. Fathers and sons, siblings, couples, best friends, and any other people who traditionally played games together in the same room now are forced to own two consoles, two copies of the same game, and two online subscriptions to play games together. They can’t use the same TV. They probably aren’t gonna be in the same room. And there’s a good chance they won’t even be in the same house because why travel all the way to somewhere else when you can’t directly play with that other person anyway? You might as well just talk to them via headset from your own place. What was once a pass time that brought people together has now forced everyone apart.
On the PS3 there was tons of DLC in the form of add-ons. When you accessed the PSN store through the game you could access all these add-ons in a very convenient screen that listed out all the content in simple blocks with descriptions and prices in a well-organized and efficient manner. Not so on the PS4. Finding content on the PS4 is difficult even when you do want to pay extra for it. The days of properly organized blocks are gone. Now you have to scroll through a bunch of dramatic looking pages and compare content in your head or take notes to make sure you’re purchasing the correct add-on because so many of them overlap and sell you the same thing but at different prices and bundle prices and so on. Some games won’t even let you purchase the DLC through the game’s menus anymore. Battlefront has one of the worst DLC management systems I’ve ever seen.
The reason that update is 23GB is because you’re not actually downloading that many patches. What DICE is really making you do is download the DLC even if you don’t want it. It’s just stored on your console behind a paywall. When you get the season pass, the download is a mere 1.1MB because you already downloaded the content in the update. The season pass merely tells the game that you already purchased access to that content. But even then you still don’t have access to the content. It took me forever to realize that after activating the season pass I still had to manually go back to the PSN store and choose to download each of the four expansion packs. This again only required about 1MB of data each because it was really just more licenses for content that I had already been forced into downloading. But the dumbest part of all is that you can’t even access the add-ons from the game’s menu. There is a button that says go to PSN store to buy additional content, but when you go there it just offers you the option to buy the season pass, which I already had. I was going crazy trying to figure out how to actually access the expansions I had paid for. You actually have to exit the game, go to the PSN store icon, manually search for Star Wars: Battlefront, and then scroll down to the add-ons section where you then can manually choose to download (the license) for each expansion separately. All that to access content that was already stored on my console through a forced “update”. And again all of that was made possible thanks to technological “upgrades”. The “convenience” of online gaming where you are forced to pay a subscription on top of having already purchased a game, console, and internet from a service provider, so that you can waste your time and money paying additional costs for content that you are forced to download whether you want it or not just to play the base game, which you then can’t play because no one else is in the modes you want to play.
Without a doubt I’d have to say the worst thing about the modern era, is the death of bots. A lot of people don’t like bots. I understand this completely and I absolutely agree that the option to play with real people and not bots should always be made available to players in PVP style games. But I equally believe that the option to play with bots should not have been lost in the process. There was an era where you could always choose both. There was an era where bots just filled in the gaps when there weren’t enough people. Today many developers don’t even take the time to program bots any more. I happen to like bots. They’re superior to people in just about every way. They don’t troll. You don’t have to wait for them to start a game. They don’t drop out in the middle of a match. They’re consistent in performance based on the level they’re set at. I genuinely prefer playing with them to humans. Removing them altogether was one of the worst decisions in the history PVP games because now you are required to have a minimum number of players to start a match. For some reason developers still think it’s ok to set minimums instead of just letting players start and then new players come in as the game progresses. And often that minimum is unrealistically high in the later stages of a game’s life span.
I first noticed this problem with a terrible game called Anarchy Reigns back in 2012. This game boasted a number of epic multiplayer modes for several players at a time. In all honesty, many of these modes were fun. I particularly enjoyed the football game. What I didn’t enjoy was the fact that the games wouldn’t start without a minimum of like 12 players which meant waiting for sometimes 15 minutes to be able to start a match. You know how it goes. People get bored and drop out, making the wait take even longer. And if somehow you did manage to get that minimum there was like a 90 second countdown to start which would start over every time another player jumped in. It was horrible. Even after terrible moments like this developers haven’t learned.
I completely regret purchasing Star Wars: Battlefront. The mark of a good game is not how enjoyable it is when it first comes out. It’s how enjoyable it is after people have stopped talking about it. A good game is timeless. Battlefront is not timeless. The worst part about this game is that even though I have access to like ten different modes on several different maps, I can’t play most of them. The only mode that basically always has matches is Walker Assault, which of course happens to be one of my least favorite modes other than the fact that it holds up to 40 players. I just want to play squadron mode. It’s Star Wars after all. It sure would be nice to be able to fight among the stars. But that mode is dead 100% of the time. Since I’ve opened the game I have tried to play squadron mode every single time I’ve logged in and I have never gotten more than three players including myself in a single lobby. Usually I’m by myself and no one ever shows up. So basically I paid for a game and all the expansions, but can’t use about 90% of the content I paid for. The worst part is that there’s not even a squadron mode in the single player missions, which are mostly trash. This whole problem could be easily remedied with bots. Just make the minimum number of players one and fill all the spots with bots. Let players jump in as they come and replace bots in real time. Why would that be such a problem? It’s literally impossible for me to get all the trophies in this game because I can’t actually play all the modes to do so. I’ll probably never get to pilot the Millenium Falcon, which is criminal. But modern technology means you never have to play against the computer again. Except that’s what some of us want to do . . .
Now these are just a few of many examples of how supposedly better technology has made gaming a worse experience for consumers. Some of them are small things that shouldn’t really matter, but the point is they made things worse. And others are huge issues that have monumentally changed the way people are able to enjoy video games. The fact that there are multiplayer games now that actually can’t be played between a father and son in the same room on the same TV says a whole lot about where things have gone and seem to be going. Melvin Kranzberg’s first law of technology states “technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” Developers and publishers have a responsibility to use technology to improve the experience of gamers if they’re going to charge them more money. Better graphics don’t automatically mean better gaming and if that’s the only trade off then I say back to 8-bit.