Gaming today is just awful. Most games now either lack effort and are just buggy cash grabs, or are just made for nothing but micro-transactions. Question is how did we get here? When did gaming start to turn like this? After digging around, I found that the decline took place in the late 2000’s to early 2010’s, but it took place in phases rather than a specific point in time, with two side effects coming from a root cause for this gilded age.
If you ever played a game like Skyrim, Fallout, or any game with a quest system you know what this is, as it is the guide that leads you to place, but it does so in a way that it removes the depth and character of a world. In a game like Thief: The Dark Project (T:DP), you have no markers to tell you where to go instead you only have a map, as to how detailed it is that depends on where you are going to rob. You have to explore the area on your own and go to places where the item(s) you are stealing would logically be, and maybe learn more about the world you are in as you over hear people talking. With this beeline like movement you casually and slowly learn more the world without even knowing it. I could go into the details of how power ups are applied, the storytelling, and other smaller items, but Dom Giuca’s video (Youtube) (Invidious) goes into more detail for T:DP than I could as someone who has yet to play it.
However in a game with a quest marker system, you go in a straight line to the marker, only going off that path if you see something that catches your eye, or are forced to take another route to get around something. You are prevented from truly understanding and learning about the world around you. Sure you may find that ammo cache under the stairs or that one rare item in a small nook or that easter egg hidden in a select fire place, but other than that, you get nothing other than a nice feeling for a short time or maybe a special item, but nothing that gives real world building.
Now you may be asking ‘When did this system start to come into gaming?’, and the answer may surprise you. Crazy Taxi (1999) is the earliest game to feature this system, however, given it was a fast paced racing game, it was justified though it didn’t make it popular in gaming, that goes to GTA3 (Late 2001). Games started to take on this quest marker system that made GTA3 easier to play slowly over the years. Games like GTA:SA, TES4: Oblivion, and other major games started to put this system in, or an equivalent that ruined world depth. By doing so the developers lost the reason to give world depth through NPCs or environmental, and made games a task of ‘Going to point x, then y, then come back to z.’ with little environmental depth and a lack of NPCs to give places character as a side effect from this.
Here is a question for you. When did micro-transactions start in the gaming industry? You may point to CS:GO in 2013 or TF2 in 2011, but it started way earlier than you think. Try 2004 in the Japanese version of MapleStory (Note: the article is in Korean, so I had to go off what I heard about it from digging around), the second major game to do so was a Chinese MMO called ZT Online back in 2006. As to when micro-transactions started to place in America can be debated. A possible starting point is with TES4: Oblivion since a lot of micro DLCs were added to it, many over selling Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine, the game’s expansion DLCs. Over the years more games started to add cosmetics as a form a micro-transactions. Valve started this in 2011 with TF2, and two years later game a similar system to CS:GO. No longer do you have to grind in a game for a skin, now you can pay even more money for a game you likely already paid money for, while issues with the game are ignored because why would devs want to invest more time to fix the game if it gets them money for doing nothing? For the end of this section, I’ll list games that have a major focus on micro-transactions, as writing paragraphs would be redundant for this.
CS:GO - Major focus is now on profiting on customization. Want to use a spray? Have to pay for it, and it has limited uses. Sticker on your gun? Pay for it, and can’t be reused. Gun skins? Pay for it. Gloves, Knifes, Character Models? Pay for them. Want to increase your inventory space? Pay for it! That’s right instead of just giving everyone more inventory space, they make you have to PAY for more!
TF2 - Similar profiting scheme as CS:GO but the vast majority of items you can buy give the players stat boots/debuffs depending on the item, and are likely better than the ones you can get for free by playing. It’s now a sudo pay to win at this point.
FIFA series - Have to use loot boxes to unlock good characters, can’t move them over to the next game, and now the latest one has ads in the loading screen!
Pokemon - Back in the old days with the DS and Gameboy, you could transfer your Pokemon to the next generation of games for free, assuming you had another DS or Gameboy or you could borrow one. However with Pokebank and now Pokemon Home, you have to pay annually to trade and store Pokemon online, and if you don’t renew your subscription, you may lose all Pokemon stored online.
MMOs - Listing every MMO that has micro-transactions would make this list too long, though nowadays most MMOs have some form of micro-transactions.
Overwatch - This game is what got loot boxes to become noticed by mainstream media, and made a $60 sequel for a new game mode. Now over half of all profits from Activision Blizzard are from micro-transactions!
Candy Crush - The whole point of that game is to sell you extra lives, moves, and other things for no real goal. Likely one of the worst offenders of this.
You’re now wondering what is the cause of these two things? Well here it is, though the answer is rather surprising.
Yep, the thing that is making gaming grow and become advanced is ironically harming video games by making them simpler. I could list on examples in text on how older games have more details and other tidbits, but Youtuber CrowbCat (Youtube) (Invidious) has made several videos showing how while modern games have better graphics, they are less detailed in gameplay and mechanics than in older games. The best examples of this are in his video comparing GTA4 with GTA5, Crackdown 1 with Crackdown 3, Far Cry 2 with Far Cry 5, and a comparison between the trailers Ubisoft released for their games with how they turned out. Other examples are releasing remastered versions of games that are buggy or have graphic issues so bad that the original version looks better. This happened with Halo: Combat Evolved when it being ported to the Master Chief Collection. (Youtube) (Invidious)
Assuming you watched at least one of those videos, you are wondering how does graphics affect this? Back 15+ years ago when hardware for PC and Consoles were much less powerful developers knew that graphics wouldn’t be enough to convince people to keep playing their game until the next one came out, so they had to invest more effort into smaller details, story, and gameplay to keep people coming back. However as graphical technology grew and more details could be rendered, companies began to focus more on showing graphics in trailers and in the game to get it to sell more by gilding the game’s poor quality with good graphics. They don’t want to make the game too hard since they could ruin people from enjoying it, so they use simple but damaging systems like quest markers or if gameplay isn’t something the developers aren’t concerned about, they can make the gameplay a low quality but add micro-transactions to keep people in and to give them money for doing nothing. Developer attitudes have also changed with the goal of making money instead of making something fun for people to play with, which has led to the state where relationships and communication between gamer and developer is strained or doesn’t exist.
From the PS4 and Xbox One’s release in late 2013, almost all AAA studio games released 2014 onward are part of a gilded age in gaming where low quality games, “remastered” releases, and online games are made just to be a cash grab. Gamers complain about some of these games, while they gladly buy up the others despite them having the same problems. If you want change to happen, vote with your money. Refuse to buy the game or pirate it if you want to show the developers that you don’t approve of their methods and ethics.