Tim Eisen: A Relationship with Gaming, 2018 Edition
While I've taken greater efforts to produce more honed work I feel this format is necessary once a year, generally at the beginning. Call it a digital fire-side chat if you will. One in which I can remove the mask of professionalism and have a bit of a heart-to-heart with the readers that enable me to have what was and is an enjoyable job. New years are always an especially challenging time. It's hard to separate the visceral emotions from the cerebral ones. The concern is a column wrought with thoughts and opinions on things that are blinded by my emotions rather than emotional reactions obtained through observations.
First the darkness. Over the last year, there were times when I debated putting the keyboard and mouse in their holsters and hanging up my gun belt. Every day it seems like reality loses ground as the free range internet of old becomes the theme park of new. I said theme park for all the worst reasons. Time and again we heard honest voices fade as "influencers" gaslit digital reality to get consumers to kneel down; wallets out in an offering. To kneel rather than question is a genetic weakness that's toppled all great eras of human progress. Passivity breeds compliance breeds ignorance and so my keyboard and mouse remain unholstered, for now.
Gaming itself has progressed in directions I hoped it never would. Pay to play, pay to win, pay to loot. Pay to walk? Pay to run? The first time I said that several years ago people felt I was being dramatic. Since then we "evolved" from pay to win to the more ominous pay to loot. Loot crates are a capitalistic abomination. Kids aren't playing games anymore, they play digital casinos. More dangerous than the adult versions these casinos make their own currency with zero oversight. While I support the legalization of gambling for adults, for kids? That's dangerous.
I keep waiting for the digital conversion currencies to be reigned in but based on my monthly book club "credit" we've only just begun. This virus has jumped from games to every digital store. Why do they do it? Because their data shows it's easier to get consumers to spend money when its converted to a less emotionally charged term. MMORPG's used to try replicating the real world, now the real world is replicating MMORPGs!
Speaking of, if DAOC, UO or SWG launched today would they succeed? It's hard to retain us in the digital shill and kneel era. There's always a new product your influencer is telling you to buy even before you got sick of your old one! That works against MMORPGs the most. Launching a game that requires growth when consumers have never been less loyal to your company, and more loyal to their new gods is harder yet. It will be interesting to see how that changes our games going forward.
Over the last year, I found my taste for crowdfunding MMOs sour to the point of being unpalatable. There's a column in that line, but if I wrote it I'd worry it would be my last! Despite a few small launches/betas/head starts/early access's (or whatever they are selling them as tomorrow), our genre felt especially sparse. The few games we have are stale, the games we want were due out years ago and the games we get still feel early despite the excessive delay between the crowdfunding campaign and launch. MMORPG terms of the year? Its a tie between minimum viable product and soft launch!
If I get one wish for our genre in 2019 it's that a triple-A MMORPG succeeds so other large publishers will see money in producing them again. That last line should tell you exactly where my current view of the genre stands. From being firmly against big publishers to praying they return. I guess you either live long enough to see yourself become the villain, or die waiting for the game you funded ten years ago to launch.
Then there was the light. I spent much of this year in a deeply satisfying relationship with my Nintendo Switch. Once again I was humbled by my own foolishness. On the surface, I saw it as the latest Nintendo gimmick. She didn't have the power, the graphics or the hardcore audience of her peers but she taught me two invaluable lessons. One about gaming and one about myself. I learned a console is only as good as it's games and Nintendo has been on an absolute tear with the quality of games they have produced for the Switch.
The second lesson is one I had learned but forgotten, I am no longer a hardcore audience member. I lack the time and the sleep to make that commitment. It's no small coincidence that the position you assume when holding a Switch resembles both channeling a Kamekameha and a prayer. Snuggling up with the Switch fondly sandwiched between my hands as I escaped to digital worlds like it was 1998 again. My faith in the art of gaming restored! The fact that it was the descendant of the device that raised me? Poetic.
While Nintendo had me feeling optimistic I was frustrated with the lack of quality beyond its narrow borders. I tried multiple games claiming they were open-world and left within hours, disgusted and dejected. That's when Rockstar walked up and gave me a Superman punch to the soul in the form of Red Dead Redemption II!
I've said it elsewhere but I don't generally like Rockstar's gameplay format. I love Jeremiah Johnson and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly but don't especially love westerns. The main character annoyed me as did his lazy "family" members and I didn't like the first game either. With all that working against it this game was transportive. Red Dead II has one of the single finest digital worlds ever created. Never before have I spent so much time walking slowly just admiring nature as it reacted in front of me. I feel for the hunting game market because Red Dead II just beat the brakes off of you and it's just a candle on the cake. It turns out even a stubbornly MMORPG exclusivist can be brought out of their dark cave if you use quality as bait. It's left me feeling oddly grateful. Grateful for the now and for the chance to experience such high art as it emerges. 2018 was good times, and bad times, and everything in between which is to say it was life and living it, both realistically and in the used to be we called digital worlds.