At some point in the aging process, people just stop caring about new stuff, which includes games. It happens with music, for sure. In every generation, there comes a point when the people from the previous one stop liking the music of the current one. We call it noise. We make fun of the lyrics. We point to “real” music, from “back in the day”. It’s a thing. It happens.
For example, I’ve been playing RPGs since there were RPGs. I live and breathe fantastical settings and cryptic dice rolls. I’ve played every major computer RPG and franchise that has come along. Every Ultima. Every Wizardry. Might and Magic. Hell, I even (in)famously played through the Gates Baldur, both 1 and 2. But do I really care about the latest Bioware shoebox RPG, or the newest open world busywork from Ubisoft? Nah.
I just don’t. I mean, I want to care. I want to get excited about an open-world RPG with fancy polygonal tower climbing and an intricate crafting system I can speed up with microtransactions, or a tightly-contained game with a focus on narrative that takes place in a series of self-contained shoebox with limited to no interactivity, but I just can’t. Not when they’re new (which means something different to me than it might to you.)
For now, I’m more interested in old games. Or new games that are really just old games that no one has played yet because they weren’t made until just now. Games like Technobabylon (or anything from Wadjet Eye, really) or Ron Gilbert’s Thimbleweed Park are good examples. Pillars of Eternity is another great one. These are all games that are happening today as if the intervening years between THEN and NOW never really happened.
Doom never happened, and the FPS never took over the market.
Quake never happened, and 3D, polygonal everything never came to power.
Open world sandbox Everything Is The Same, Thanks Ubisoft design philosophy never happened.
Free to play never happened.
DLC never happened.
These are games that are continuing the design and visual aesthetics from classic games as if all the trends that led to the shitty shitty shit shit games of today never took over to dominate the industry.
Technobabylon is a great point and click adventure, complete with crunchy pixels and driven by a compelling narrative.
Thimbleweed Park is Maniac Mansion 2.0. And really, that’s all you need to know. (Ok, maybe 3.0, if we count Day of the Tentacle. Shut up, smart ass.)
Pillars of Eternity took the ideas behind the Infinity Engine and actually made them good. (Although I’ve slowly come to realize that I never hated the Infinity Engine itself, just anything Bioware ever did with it.)
Old games made today. Same design philosophies. Same aesthetics. Same small teams. Same focus on narrative and experience. Brilliant, all the way around.
The problem with keeping the radio dial set to the oldies station is that there are only so many old songs to listen to. There’s a finite number of classic records, just like there are only so many classic games to play and replay. Eventually you run out, and then you’re either forced to just continue replaying the same ones over and over, or abandon the hobby altogether since you can’t stand the boneheaded, DLC and DRM and microtransaction nature of modern gaming.
So I play a lot of old games, and I’m always looking out for new old games. Or new new games that do something daring and completely different, which almost always happens in the Indie scene. Basically, I spend a lot of time on GOG.com, grabbing old games and new indie titles from small, risk-taking studios that just don’t give a shit about what makes a “good” game.
Speaking of GOG…
I see that Steam has started its annual Summer Sale again, which always has incredibly good deals on a lot of great games. And I don’t care.
It also has really bad deals on a lot of really awful games, the majority of which are almost always “Early Access Roguelikes”. Really, there are so many of the damn things on that platform that it should really be classified as its own genre. Darkest Dungeon is good. It’s fun. It’s worth it. But buying enough crappy games to finally find that one glimmering needle in a shitstack the size of Kentucky isn’t.
And then there’s the DRM problem. Digital Rights Management is stupid, and it’s invading every corner of the world. Non-entertainment (movies, music, games) DRM started with Keurig’s coffee pod copy protection, which was so easily defeated by cutting the RFID tag off of an approved pod and then gluing it next to the sensor in the machine, that Keurig backpedaled on the whole thing. But it’ll come back, in some form or another, just as soon as they figure out something even more horrible. Then there are cars with their proprietary computer systems and everything in between. Recently, even farm tractors – yes, FARM TRACTORS – got their own version of DRM to prevent Farmer Joe and Cousin Jed from tinkering with, fixing, or otherwise doing anything with or to their tractors that was not officially sanctioned and approved by the John Deere company. It’s madness, and I’ll have nothing to do with any of it.
Especially with my games.
On any DRM-friendly platform, you can buy all the games you want, but you don’t really own them. Not in the traditional sense. Lose your net access because you got laid off and can’t afford the luxury of clicking around the world wide web at 2 am in your underwear anymore? Say goodbye to your games, bucko. You need to stay connected, because you have to check in with Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo/Steam/etc… whenever you want to play something you own, just to make sure you’re still you. Or something. (And yes, I know you can “Go offline” in one form or another on most DRM platforms, but you still have to check in with the servers every so often, or you’re out of luck.)
Never mind that every DRM game (and movie, and song, and anything else) is usually available on the seedier side of the Internet the same day it’s available to honest customers. Often, it’s available to the pirates even sooner. Because DRM doesn’t work. Copy protection doesn’t work. Never has, never will. Unless, of course, companies can convince people that needing always-on Internet connections to constantly poll some server in Nebraska every few seconds is a good idea. Which they kind of already have.
But people want to be honest. Why take a risk of some law enforcement raid to your basement, when you could just buy the game and keep everything legit? Make your games available, affordable, and fair, and people will buy them. Some asshats will still copy them, but they were probably never going to buy them anyway. Because they’re asshats.
Another problem with DRM and not really owning your games has to do with what you can do with them after you’ve bought them. Enjoyed the game and now you’re done with it? Hated the game, but think your friend might like it? Having a garage sale because your unemployment has run out and you need to sell some shit to avoid eating lukewarm grits for the rest of your life?
In all of these scenarios, you can do exactly nothing with all the games you’ve purchased on a DRM platform. Let your friend borrow a game? Can’t. Give a game away to someone else? Sorry. Sell your used games? HAHAHAHAHAHA! NOPE.
That’s why I love GOG.com – because I actually own the games I buy there. I can download all of them and stick them on a backup drive someplace, so if I ever lose my net connectivity for any reason, I’ll still have my entire library of games to play whenever I want. But that’s just the most obvious reason.
The other one has to do with sharing. Now, this one can be a touchy subject – but it’s meaningful. When I say “sharing” and the year is a post-Napster 2015, I need to clarify that I don’t mean Torrenting my games out to the world. I mean something much smaller, and much more personal. And sensible.
Let’s say I go to the Redbox and rent a movie. Or hell, let’s pretend it’s 1995 and I go to Circuit City and buy a DVD. Then, I come home and sit down with the family, whip up some snacks and pop Jurassic Park in the old DVD player and…enjoy the movie. Together.
Now let’s time warp back to 2015 and let me try that with a game. Let’s say I go to the Redox and rent a game. I can play it on my Xbox. My kid can take it in his room and play it on his. Everything’s fine. If I go to Best Buy and buy a game, it’s the same thing (minus any Ubisoft U-Play bullshit “functionality,” of course). But what if I buy a game on a DRM platform?
Sure, you can kinda/sorta “share” games on most platforms. Steam even has a family sharing option, which is nice. But two people can’t be playing the same game at the same time, because then the universe would collapse in on itself and everyone would die or something.
But you know what I can do with GOG.com? I can buy a game, then I can install it on my kid’s computer and he can play it, too. Just as if I’d handed him the DVD or the CD or a giant stack of floppies, depending on the era. No need for multiple copies. No need for multiple platform accounts. No need for any of the bullshit. I’m not out distributing my GOG games on the street corners of the internet or anything, but I am exposing my kid to the classics without having to re-buy another copy of a game I’ve already re-bought on a digital platform because have you tried installing from floppies in 2017?
I don’t know why we think games should be any different from everything else.
Do we have to buy multiple copies of the same album to listen to music together in the car on a long road trip? Nope.
Should I need to buy two copies of the book I read to my kid at bedtime, since two people are experiencing it at the same time? Nope.
Is there a limit to how many family eyeballs can watch the same copy of the same movie at the same time? Nope. (Well, actually…Microsoft is working on that one.)
My point is, I’m not out there throwing free copies of my games into the ether for every spotty-faced kid on the net to ravenously download off Pirate Bay or whatever. And neither are most people who buy DRM-free games.
But I do sometimes want to share the games I enjoy with members of my own family, and I should be able to do that. They’re my games now. I bought them. I paid for them. I downloaded them. I shouldn’t have to worry about my account getting hacked or accidentally violating some arcane bit of a 500,000 word EULA I never read, so that my account gets locked and I lose access to my entire library. I shouldn’t have to worry that one day, whatever platform I’ve gone with will shut down and take all my games with it.
- Want it.
- Buy it.
- Own it.
That’s the only business model I want to follow. And I’m not going to help companies try to insert a whole bunch of clauses and dependencies into any of those three steps.
© 2017, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.