For the past two years, I’ve floundered as a writer in the games industry. There was once a time when I could sit down for about a half an hour and work out an article that was of due relevance to either myself or my readers, as few and far between as they’ve always been.
Instead, I’ve turned to browsing Reddit for hours on end; watching cat videos and chuckling at memes or what have you. Wow, I’m really making myself sound old as hell. I’ve not played many games recently, either. Sure, I’ll find myself fixated on something here and there, like my current obsession with Minecraft (again) and “training” for the upcoming Nintendo World Championships qualifier in Chicago. My creative juices just haven’t had the will or motivation to flow freely.
Specifically; Why hasn’t there been a Super Monkey Ball game on Wii U yet!?
That really got me thinking. I mean, it really got me worked up to the point where my original two sentence reply turned into this 1000+ word article.
So what, to me, has led to the point where we’ve yet to see a Super Monkey Ball game on the Wii U? Because like another prominent publisher that has been in the news recently, Sega is no longer focused on making games. They’ve switched to a model where they push out “free” apps that are very minimal risk and deviously persuade players to purchase “additional content” in the form of boosts, coins, gems or what have you.
TL;DR: They’ve decided to milk you for every penny you have.
It’s a startling revelation, really; Mobile games are the current boom of the industry. “Games” with very little content or actual gameplay that are addictive and easy to pick up and spend cash on. And now that Sonic Boom’s two incarnations have (predictably) flopped, we’ll likely not see another Sonic game on a system other than mobile for a long time, if ever again. Instead, we’ll get HD “remasters” of remakes of ports of classic titles that have little to no new content, other than whatever scant few articles of artwork or “lost content” someone happened to throw in a closet at Sega HQ and a “fresh coat of paint” that’s really nothing more than anti-aliasing filters and texture smoothing.
The Golden Age of gaming is far behind us, my fellow gamers. Traditional gamers are no longer the target demographic of the industry, and admittedly have not been in the spotlight for a few years now; and it’s really difficult for me to admit that. The number of developers and publishers that adhere to the old ways are few and far between, and even those holdouts are being forced to make changes to their business models in favor of keeping the stockholders, not their consumers, happy.
The following statement may not be inherently true and is centered in my humble opinion, but I still feel it holds weight: The games industry used to be about making and playing games and bringing joy to people. It was the quality of the product itself, and therein the enjoyment of the consumer; not the end profit; that was the ultimate goal of game development.
Developers have always slaved away at their jobs for this cause, and it’s no secret to anyone what happens in the one-to-two month crunch-time before release. The development, marketing and publishing of any particular title has never been all fun and games, but the blood sweat and tears of a title’s team came together to form a complete and enjoyable experience for the consumer. If that goal wasn’t met, then the whole operation was doomed to fail. That bottom line DEPENDED on the success of a product, and the success depended on the consumer’s satisfaction with said product. The business was dependent on a consumer’s level of overall satisfaction.
I refuse to believe that so many of the most famous and well known creators and directors of acclaimed video games do what they do because of that bottom line; It’s a well-known fact that they create these fantastical worlds and scenarios because of the JOY it brings to so many people, themselves included.
Today, that balance that the industry once had is gone thanks to the meteoric rise of mobile gaming and “freemium” titles. Take for example the case of Super Monkey Ball, and why we have yet to see a Monkey Ball title on the Wii U. While one may posit that the platform and it’s features are a perfect fit for a new and fresh title in the series, this journalist is 99% certain it won’t happen.
Why? Because Sega has chosen to focus on the unrealistic standards of a heightened return on investment brought on by the mobile boom. While a Monkey Ball title on Wii U might give the series a fresh breath of air, the installment base of the Wii U console is minuscule in comparison to the install base of mobile users.
Sega could spend the time working on a new Monkey Ball title that has everything gamers of a bygone era crave: simplistic yet captivating and fun gameplay with loads of replayability options, while bucking current industry trends of chopping up a title and selling it’s excess pieces as “DLC”. Sega could then expect to push maybe 600,000 units to people like us at $50 a pop, more if they lower the price $10-$20 per unit.
Or, they can pump out an uninspired freemium title with no real story or gameplay incentives other than pay-to-win content locked behind a random number generator pachislot spinner. All the “game” needs to do is keep an ADHD afflicted tween adolescent with access to a smartphone and a parents’ disposable income sufficiently hooked to make millions a DAY. In fact, Sega did just that when they tapped Three Rings Design to create the latest Monkey Ball game for mobile platforms; Super Monkey Ball Bounce.
Super Monkey Ball Bounce is, like 99% of mobile games on the market, an uninspired and cheap clone of another wildly popular title. In this instance, it’s a blatant knock-off of PopCap Games’ Peggle; a pachinko-style game where you are clearing colored pegs off a vertical board. How is this even remotely similar to the style and gameplay of previous Monkey Ball games? This is Peggle, pure and simple, with Monkey Ball art assets. Sega’s previous mobile titles Sonic Dash (Temple Run), Sonic Jump (Doodle Jump) and Dragon Coins (Puzzle & Dragons) have all followed the same contrived and widely utilized formula; take a stupidly successful title, clone it, and apply a fresh coat of nostalgic paint. The app stores are overflowing with countless clones of clones; nothing is original anymore, especially on mobile.
Maybe mobile is a bubble, akin to the rise of online shopping sites like the infamous Pets.com or the housing boom of the 90s.
Perhaps this will end the same; with some of our most cherished and seasoned games publishing houses petering out in an unimpressive and sad puff of smoke, taking along with them classic IPs we all thought to be timeless. We’ve already lost so many, but many more will undoubtedly follow.
That is my answer to the question asked at the beginning of this article. Honestly though, I’m more afraid of the answer to the question that this line of logic brings to mind next:
Which of our favorite companies and IPs will we lose forever next?