By Adam Rolf
Once upon a time, video games created memories that would last a lifetime.
What better way to spend your weekends as a kid than with your three best friends huddled over the Nintendo 64 with your fridge stocked full of Mountain Dew and two large pizzas delivered to your door?
Back then we were so blissfully ignorant to the fact that this would be our golden age of gaming. A room of roaring children playing what would become iconic games of nostalgia. Games that would be embroidered into history such as Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Turok, Golden Eye, Duke Nukem 64 and Wave Race 64 – I had ‘em all.
Could it be the “new-new” effect of simply being a kid making these experiences so ecstatic? Perhaps it was something else.
Maybe it was the design of these very video games and what they stood for that allowed for such magical moments to exist.
The Dark Age
To profit, or to fun, that is the question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to profit from fun
Or to take focus to the focus of profit
For years video games were about the experience.
Developers cared about producing the best possible video game they could. This was an age where Q&A forums, polls, and the general interests of the players were most important. This was an age before computer-generated algorithms that honed in on our impulses and weaknesses as consumers rather than our desires and ideas as players.
However, in 2006 the gaming industry experienced a dark shift within the accepted business model as Bethesda released its first mainstream microtransaction – Horse Armor DLC.
Let it be known, EA might be most notorious, but Bethesda did it first.
For $2.50, players could purchase stylish armor for their in-game horses in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
Initially, players were fine with the idea of making direct purchases for extra items or features they may want rather than paying a lot of money for bundles of junk. But when it was announced that the armor would cost $2.50 in a time when you could rent a new game for a week for $5, players were outraged.
Despite the backlash, Bethesda doubled down.
“We’re not going to make any knee-jerk decisions based on it [the armor] being available for five hours,”said Pete Hines, Bethesda’s vice president of PR marketing. “We’ll see what folks think and put out a few others we have planned and figure out where to go from there, . . . Some folks seem excited and are already using it, others don’t want it. Maybe those folks will really want the Orrery, or the Wizard’s Tower. We’ll see when they come out and use that info to determine what we put out.”
The result – Horse Armor DLC became one of Xbox 360’s top 10 Oblivion downloads from Xbox live.
We had officially shifted from a golden age into a new dark age and microtransactions spread like the bubonic plague.
Soon companies like EA joined in on the cash grab, implementing online passes and one-time use activation codes to deal a hefty blow to the used video game market and ending the days of “trade-borrowing” games with friends.
Soon after, Riot unveiled their free-to-play business model, charging only for cosmetics and utilities. This effectively changed the business model of pretty much every free-to-play game (especially MOBAs).
Loot box strategies also became popular, implemented in games such as 0verwatch and even Magic the Gathering Online.
At that point, it had been years since Horse Armor DLC released, and due to low odds of quality content within loot boxes, players actually started to prefer the direct purchases they had once rejected.
Stockholm syndrome had kicked in and microtransactions were here to stay.
With that, the worst of the microtransaction models were upon us– the ultimate fuck you to the gaming community – purchasable weapons and equipment.
Lost in profit
I feel like we’ve all seen a game or two featuring purchasable “pay-to-win” features. For me the worst was Destiny.
The Destiny series boomed its way onto the platforms with nearly prophetic approval from the gaming community.
It was a unique MMO/FPS with roleplaying elements. It offered PVE, PVP, missions, and character development, which captured players from all sorts of demographics.
A good friend of mine played it religiously often bragging of his well-earned gear and how long he had grinded to acquire it – then, one day he quit.
With bitter resentment in his voice, he explained how Destiny started releasing gear in the game’s store that could be purchased with real money – the same top-tier gear he had spent hours grinding to earn.
Now suddenly, every Youngster Joey with momma’s credit card had the same gear.
Unfortunately, Destiny isn’t the only game to take this approach. The Call of Duty series is also infamous for committing the very same atrocities. In Warzone, players can outright purchase optimized weapon blueprints for guns they’d otherwise have to unlock and level up through grinding to earn.
Some of these guns, such as the GRAU 5.56, actually take a considerable amount of time to unlock normally. So if you’re not willing to spend roughly $11 (over four times the cost of the Horse Armor DLC), enjoy the grind!
The fact is, developers milk these games and lose sight of their original purpose. They are lost in profit. How can we squeeze the ever-living shit out of this game to make-mo-monay!
Perhaps this is the world we live in now. Perhaps this is the end – the inescapable omega of late-stage capitalism bleeding into our personal forms of enjoyment and escapism and no longer can we escape it.
Nothing personal kid, it’s just business.
Now that I’m older and I have more responsibilities to the world, I find the little downtime I now have to be more and more precious.
It seemed that every time I fired up my Xbox or logged into a computer game, half my gaming time was spent waiting on some meaningless update.
Once the updates have finished I can finally play, but it’s just not the same anymore.
Even after waiting on the update, in-game purchases are then shoved in my face.
It would seem the golden age of video games had long since passed and I was becoming tired, tired of the heartless capitalistic corporate bullshit that took over my favorite hobby.
A New Hope
For a period of six months, it felt I had lost my passion for video games. Is there a videogame that still puts fun before profit? Well … short answer (and to my surprise) YES!
I soon discovered fun again in the most unlikely of games, Minecraft Java Edition – one of the last few frontiers of fun first, profits second.
Never did I imagine I’d one day be spending hours delving into the randomly generated worlds of Minecraft. To me, Minecraft seemed so childish especially being 90% of gameplay videos I’d seen were literally just that – children playing the game.
Then one night, Alex (my editor and fellow writer for GYG) dropped a hilarious video of The Spiffing Brit into our group chat.
In the video, Spiffing Brit had gathered 100+ Minecraft players onto a custom server and carried out a pseudo feudal age monarchy by establishing towns, player professions, a class system, and even a book of laws along with punishments and rewards for his followers.
When one player died, they were immediately banned from the server and a new player eagerly took their spot.
This seemed so fun and everyone was having a good time. You could even tell Spiffing Brit was struggling to not break character as followers would surprise him in this ever-evolving world they were creating.
I watched the 30-minute video without stopping because it was genuinely hilarious, and there seemed to be no mention of add-ons or expansions you had to pay for to enjoy the full game. This was just good ol’ vanilla game play.
I decided to give it a try.
After a little research, I found out Microsoft bought the game and there were now two primary versions for the PC: Bedrock Edition, the money-grubbing version stained by Microsoft’s need to milk everything they put their hands on; and Java Edition, the original free-to-mod version that made the game so popular in the first place.
I toyed around in a single-player world and quickly became hooked before looking for a multiplayer server. I eventually found a small but active server where I was quickly adopted into a player-built town.
It only took me a few days before I was chopping down trees, mining diamonds, and building awesome structures with new friends on the server.
Hours went by each day and not a single DLC, update or “LoOtbOx” was shoved down my throat.
No ad interruptions, no random server kicks or toxic players – just an endless world of exploration, creative building and good people to talk to from all walks of life.
Surprisingly the majority of the people on the server were at least 16 with a good amount in their 20’s and some in their 30’s.
Minecraft at first glance seemed simple – almost too simple, but after playing for only a few minutes I quickly realized looks can be deceiving. The soundtrack is soothingly captivating and as I got used to the blocky environment, I learned to appreciate its design.
As for gameplay, it can get pretty intense.
Anyone who’s heard the sizzle of an unseen Creeper or the teleporting of an attacking Enderman knows true anxiety!
Heck, it took me over two months before I found out you can actually beat Minecraft and not just endlessly explore and build to the limits of your imagination. Everything is well balanced and thought out.
For a game over 10 years old, I was pleasantly surprised in the quality and its active community. Perhaps more than that though, I realized there are still developers out there that will put fun before profit – the way it’s supposed to be.
If your game is THE best, people will buy it time and time again. Players will venture outside their preferred genres whether it takes a few days or a few years. And when it comes time to drop that tasty (and probably identical) remastered version, they’ll buy it again.
Sure, every titan deserves an expansion pack but if more games were made to be the best, then the profits would drive themselves.
No more would companies need to invest massive resources into profit driving the same game for 5 years – games like Minecraft do it themselves.
So with that said, thank you Mojang, not only was it the best $27 I spent this year, but you renewed my interest in video games as a whole.
I’ve since started looking into indie games with a new perspective as I seek out my next great game.