I’m not going to go into another rant about how disappointed I am with Square-Enix’s behavior as far as the DRM and general money-grubbing customer unfriendliness is concerned, but suffice it to say that the amount of money they received from me in 2016 was much less than I gave them in 2015, and that experience led me to make a promise with myself that I wouldn’t allow them to have a single cent from me in 2017. Now that 2018 has begun, it’s nice to no longer feel bound by that restriction, though there were definitely some major positives that came out of the experience. Also, I don’t think that I spent any money on Ubisoft or EA either, but that wasn’t the result of a personal boycott. They just made nothing good or interesting in 2017.
Used games are the best
Early in 2017, I played through and subsequently reviewed Final Fantasy 15. Consider this a disclaimer that I purchased it used; the best thing about consoles is that you can always find used games, and spending the same amount (or sometimes even more) is absolutely worth being able to play through a game without supporting the company behind it. Outside of that, however, I didn’t cover or purchase a single game developed or published by Square-Enix in 2017.
Lesson 1: There are a lot of other games
Most sites post “best and worst of [YEAR]” lists around this point of the year, but that’s never really appealed to me; there are far too many games for any one reviewer to play through in a year, and reconciling multiple reviewers’ subjective tastes is bound to result in something entirely meaningless. That means that most lists are either entirely fluff, focused solely around big-budget AAA games, or have a similarly narrow indie focus. If I were to make such a list, it’d definitely end up being the latter type, as my time away from Square-Enix, Ubisoft, and EA has given me time to focus pretty heavily on indie titles and other games destined to fly under the radar by virtue of the fact that people only have a certain amount of time and tend to focus on games with large marketing budgets. Case in point: the two games I enjoyed the most in 2017 were Gravity Rush 2 and Cosmic Star Heroine, with the former being an underrated PS4 gem that’s about to be gutted by having its online servers turned off, and the latter being a game that captures a lot of what made Chrono Trigger special and didn’t receive as many sales as it truly deserved.
Lesson 2: Game-on-game violence
It’s easy to see a lot of AAA games raking in tons of cash with microtransactions and loot boxes (and various other things that my time away from big publishers has allowed me to entirely avoid) and draw the conclusion that gaming is more profitable than ever, but not everyone has a $100 million marketing budget or a franchise with 30 years of brand recognition behind it. Things suck for the little guys right now. I’m not going to call out any particular games because that wouldn’t be very nice, but there are numerous indie games that have received sequels, and looking up sales numbers highlights a simple truth: it’s much more difficult to get people to buy your game than it was in, say, 2013-2014. Steam has since opened up the floodgates and allowed a veritable flood of competition that’s quickly suffocated many smaller games and made it much harder to be noticed. Basically, if you’re not immediately recognizable/unique in a quick video montage like Cuphead was, you can’t expect the same hype and sales indie games were once capable of. And even those guys had Microsoft going to bat for them to a certain extent with commercials and the like.
Lesson 3: Gamers can be frustratingly myopic
All of these lessons kind of bleed into one another, but I suppose this part could function as a kind of “what can we do about the current state of things” closing paragraph. For the most part, the answer is nothing—big, established developers/publishers are gaming for a lot of people, and these gamers simply can’t see outside of that bubble because doing so requires spending time looking for the next great experience rather than simply having it served up to them on a silver platter. Gaming is an extraordinarily large place that multi-million dollar marketing budgets have made small again by monopolizing the attention of gamers, but it can be uniquely rewarding finding great games that are/were/probably will be overlooked. My suggestion, then, is that everyone considers taking a year off from all of the big guys to look for those overlooked gems most people would miss out on otherwise. And Steam definitely needs to get their act together and enforce some kind of quality control, because the asset flips certainly aren’t helping any.