Last week along with the rest of the gaming world, I was glued to my pc watching E3 ( the Electronic Entertainment Expo). As I stayed up into the late hours of the night (I’m in Germany) to make sure I catch all the conferences and to not miss a detail. I watched announcement after announcement and realized that much of the titles were sequels, remakes or spin-offs of older games. This is by no means a complaint. I get as excited about new titles and ideas as I do seeing a new chapter or iteration of great franchises from the past. I watched with joy many of the great announcements/gameplay of titles such as Rare Replay, FF VII remake, Starfox, Rise of the Tomb Raider and many, many more.
After wiping the drool from my face and forcing myself to quit smiling like a smug Baraka, I questioned why these older titles had such importance. Was the quality of games better back then? This couldn’t be I mean FF7 had dated graphics almost instantly. Did older games have more soul? Nah, So many newer franchises have been able to create amazing connections to characters the same way the movie industry has and the story telling of such studios as Naughty Dog and Bioware could be the best that the industry has seen. Well then it must be that in my old age I am just falling victim to nostalgia and that must be why I feel that older games have some unidentifiable advantage over what is being released today. While this one could play a lage factor, my ego says that can”t be the case so it must be something else.
Then it hit me as I thought about the newest tomb raider trailer shown at E3 where Lara is sitting with her therapist which is narrating the events that lead to Lara having PTSD from being chased by a bear. Wait, what? Lara croft needs therapy after a bear attack? This is the same Lara that went on her 1stcamping trip and ended up shooting a T-rex in the face with an Uzi isn’t it?
What I realized is that neither today’s games nor today’s Lara Croft are willing to embrace a difficult challenge.
Ok, so if that is the case then why are games today easier? If anything games should get harder given that average players are getting better and better each year. Below is my hopefully short look at why I think the difficulty has been dialed down from the once “nightmare” setting.
In an economic perspective it would seem that the change in difficulty could be a result of market saturation along with a supply of available alternatives to the consumer. Ok enough of macroeconomics. Remember when you were a kid and you would sit in front of your console (anything before ps3 mainly) and think what game to play. If you were like me then you didn’t have many choices to choose from to play on the newest console you owned.
In my case it was around the NES & SNES era. At this time the average gamer was a minor. Today the average player is 35 ( theESA.com/industry-facts). Since the average gamer was a minor the parents were purchasing all of the games and most parents wouldn’t buy a new game every month, you were lucky if you got more than 3 per year.
This means kids didn’t have an option to play another game no matter how hard a game was and no matter how many times the screen said game over. Your choice would always be to stop playing, play an older game that you have finished, or try again until you got past the challenge.
Today the amount of substitutions available to the average player are at an all-time high which means that it wouldn’t be business savvy to make a game to difficult or the player can put it down and buy another game to play on another platform or choose to play one of the thousands of great free to play games available. Today people have options and a lot of them.
The difficulty in games such as Battletoads, Tomb Raider, Mike Tyson Punch-Out, and Contra was not just a setting or characteristic of a game it was a game mechanic to make a game last longer and to add replay-ability. Can you imagine how long it would take to beat Punch-out if it had a casual setting for “players that want to focus on the experience”?
The more you played the old games the more value they had. After sinking hours and hours getting killed by the same boss or falling in the same stupid hole you became invested and felt it would be a waste of your time and efforts to leave the game unfinished.
At the same time this repetition of seeing the same levels and characters while being lobotomized by the same background music creates a very deep memory of where and who we were when we were experiencing this for the first time and this is what pulls the nostalgia strings on so many gamers.
Sense of Achievement
This is a big thing for many gamers. Many people are passionate about the industry for many reasons, creative expression, a fun past-time, social interactions, storytelling, technical interests, etc. For me an important factor is that I get a sense of achievement from a game and this has a direct connection with difficulty. There have only been a few times that I have felt I have achieved something that had little to no challenge.
For me a big game mechanic that can interfere with a sense of achievement is in-game tutorials. I love tutorials they are helpful, informative and immediately showcase most of the game mechanics within a few minutes. Unfortunately, this spoils the micro achievements that most 1st level/mission/stage/puzzle tend to reward. Without a tutorial most people immediately start pressing buttons to see what they are allowed to do; run, jump, shoot etc.
The micro achievements come in when the player solves a first stage challenge that they didn’t know the game mechanic for, such as realizing you can wall run after falling in a pit a million times. Yes, time could be saved by a simple tutorial to show you all the tools to complete the tasks but for me a great part of it is learning this for yourself.
Some titles and genres will always need a tutorial and without would be damn need unplayable or at least remembering the button layout would.
Side thought: Okey this may not directly tie in but I thought I would just throw this in here..Today it seems that many people, including myself tend to confuse spending a large amount of time playing a game, with overcoming a challenge or achievement within a game.
Many times I have caught myself boasting about having X number of hours playing a certain title or maxing out a certain character’s level as if I have overcome a challenge or achieved something. In reality all the rights to boast go to the developer that made a game that I am willing to put so much time into.
While in my view games have gotten a lot easier, it would be unfair to generalize in that manner so it is important to mention some relatively recent releases that are crazy difficult.
- Arma series
- Ninja Gaiden series
- Dark souls ( of course )
- The impossible game
Also, it isn’t necessarily a negative thing that games are easier. The target market has aged and have other things to do and aren’t as satisfied with games that are challenging until the point of frustration.
Either way whether a game is super easy or ridiculously difficult, there is a group of player who will be the perfect match. Happy post-E3 everyone! – JB