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When it comes down to it, gaming is one of the most expensive forms of entertainment for a single user. Movie tickets may be pretty pricey, and a DVD for a series rather exorbitant, but gaming is probably still one of the most expensive ways to pass a few hours and experience a story. Not only are the games increasing in price rapidly, but the initial outlay of money for a console or gaming-worthy PC/laptop is a major factor.
Part of the problem with this is that, for a lower income gamer, it can become impossible to keep up with the industry. As I’ve said before, my laptop has run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, and I only have a PS2. And I’m one of the lucky ones, still.
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I don’t mean to sound like a raving Marxist, but the economic challenges to gamers are a serious elephant in the room within reporting on gaming. The industry, and news about it, is inherently aimed at a middle class, and relatively wealthy, market. Now, I know this makes sense from a business perspective; after all, the amount of work and money that has to go into producing a game like BioShock Infinite necessitates the pricing – at least in the US. However, compound that with the various duties, taxes and levies elsewhere in the world, and suddenly gaming becomes a vastly more expensive exercise. Far be it from me, a definite layperson when it comes to economics, to poke holes in the business model of multinational entertainment corporations and distributors. What I do feel legitimate in raising, are concerns about the future direction of the industry.
The “Always Online” next-gen X-Box has certainly been discussed at length. Gamers are naturally upset at having to deal with intrusive, forced social networking, and issues regarding servers and connectivity as seen with the latest Sim City and Diablo 3, for example. However, an issue that hasn’t really been mentioned is the exclusivity of such a feature. Not only would a consumer of means similar to my own be locked out by the initial sale price of console and games, but he or she would also be required to have a fast, reliable internet connection, even to play the simplest of games. Yes, in highly-developed countries where internet penetration is almost ubiquitous this complaint is barely even evident, never mind considered by gaming journos. But what about in a developing country, where internet penetration is limited to a relatively small elite? Is the answer fossilized consoles and outdated games, or piracy?
Maybe I’m naïve, but I would like to see companies producing excellent games on a platform that was accessible to people beyond the West and the top economic brackets of markets around the world. For this reason, I’m falling more and more into the indie game market. The accessibility of indie games makes them a wonderful alternative. Rewarding and exciting games are available for a fraction of the cost of triple-A titles, launching with ever-increasing frequency. The artwork and gameplay in the indie market are also areas of rapid development, and these developments often don’t require the latest PC hardware to run.
By no means am I suggesting we cancel our interest in the latest big name game. I am also not saying developers shouldn’t be pushing the boundaries of what the best technology has to offer. The visuals of the biggest games coming out at the moment are simply jaw-dropping. In order to keep this up, naturally more expensive and complex consoles and PC hardware must become necessary.
All I ask is that these consoles include things like backwards compatibility, the ability to play second-hand games, and to be offline where necessary. Surely these features cannot damage the bottom line so significantly that they are untenable in the next and next-next generation of consoles?