Every week, I write this column about what I think the future holds in store for the world of gaming, analyzing trends of the past and present to support my crackpot theories. But this week, I have seen the future and it is bleak.
First of all, let me start of by explaining what is perhaps my all-time favorite video game urban legend. I've been told that the game E.T. for the Atari 2600 was so bad that the multitude of unsold copies was buried in a desert somewhere.
Now, I've read this several places, but I've never actually looked into the validity of it. But whether or not a mass desert burial actually took place, the simple fact of the matter is that E.T. was one of the worst video games ever made. In fact, it was so bad that it is still seen by many as the game that almost brought down the entire video game industry in the early 1980s. Of course, this is a bit of an exaggeration; the truth is that the game industry was already failing at this point, and E.T. was such a massive failure in and of itself that it was basically the straw that broke the camel's back, as they say. Had Nintendo not swooped in with the Famicom (which later became the NES in the United States) there might not be a video game industry today.
I've had the misfortune of actually playing E.T. When I was in third grade, my brother was hospitalized for nine days. Me, being the supportive older brother that I am, felt that watching a sick child sleep was completely boring, so I did what any bored third grader would do and began getting into trouble. In order to keep me out of the way, some of the hospital staff set up a TV and an Atari 2600 to keep me occupied. The one game they gave me was E.T. That seemed like a good enough idea to me. After all, E.T. was that movie about the alien who could make bikes fly; a video game about that just had to be cool.
I couldn't have lasted more than ten minutes. The gameplay was so abysmal and depressing that I just couldn't handle it. I handed the controller to a doctor, who looked at me and said, "Had enough?" The smile on his face was a knowing smile, one both patronizing and self-satisfied. To this day, I'm pretty sure he enjoyed watching a little third grade me suffer through the torture of that awful game.
Anyway, E.T. to this day serves as an example of how bad licensed games can be. Yet the industry still hasn't learned from this. Sure, licensed games aren't all bad (you can read about ten of the good ones here). Just this month we've seen the release of Batman: Arkham City, a game lauded by critics for feeling like a true Batman experience while offering incredible gameplay and a great storyline. However, earlier this year we also saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
Part of the problem is the tight release schedules that don't allow for the sort of polish that makes games truly shine in their final stages. Developers are pressed to launch their game simultaneously with the movie, to strike when interest in that franchise is at its peak. I suspect that some developers are stuck with properties they have no interest in either, meaning they just don't have that creative drive to release a fantastic product.
But no matter what the excuse, this practice needs to stop. Otherwise, we'll be looking at filling our deserts with the refuse of the video game world for decades to come. And there's a real problem with that. The pollution from these discarded games will eventually find its way into the groundwater, and we'll have people drinking the stuff of bad licensed games. Now, you know that feeling of lethargy and depression that you get from playing these terrible games? Just imagine that in your drinking water. Surely, when you play a bad game, you know to quit before it becomes dangerous. You have no such luxury when it comes to drinking water. If that lethargy is condensed and magnified via bioaccumulation, it could put a person into a zombified state. That's right, bad licensed games could bring about the zombie apocalypse.
Okay, so that last paragraph was completely hyperbolic. But even without the looming threat of a zombie apocalypse, the video game industry can't thrive on bad licensed games. Sure, they lead to big profits in the short term, targeting that clueless aunt or uncle who wants to be that cool relative and get you the perfect gift, only to wind up gift wrapping something like Dark of the Moon. In the long term, though, this practice could ultimately harm the industry, as it did back in the 80s. Obviously, the industry is large enough at this point that it's not going to completely crash again over a single bad game. But individual mid-sized studios that get swallowed up by larger studios and then tasked with making a licensed game to prove their mettle can find themselves in a nasty predicament when their games launch to scathing reviews.
My prediction: Though licensed games won't bring about the zombie apocalypse, they still have the potential to have a detrimental impact on the game industry as a whole.
Please, developers and publishers, take the time to make and promote a solid product. There are a lot of IPs out there with tons of potential to do cool things (just as Arkham Asylum and Arkham City did with the Batman license, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game did with its respective license). But the fan base that's burned over and over again won't continue to support your crappy games. You can only ride the hype train so far before you need to deliver on your promises. Even if you don't create an army of zombies, you could still wind up making an angry mob of disgruntled fanboys. Frankly, I'm not sure which is worse.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*