Monday, May 2, 2011

General Gaming Rant - Gaming Gluttony

I've been thinking lately, which is a change from my normal routine of staring at my shoes and falling asleep while I'm driving. It doesn't happen very often, but now and then I find it refreshing to mix it up and use my head for more than a paperweight (which is not that useful anyway, because my drool keeps smearing the ink).

And my latest epiphany is that there are too many games. That may sound like heresy, especially when this site survives because people send me lots of games, but I swear I'll try to make some sense before I go back to blowing bubbles in a glass of milk.

First off, unless you have a hell of a lot more free time than your average office drone, there's no way you can play every new game that comes out. There are hundreds of games coming out every year, and even if you had the budget to buy every single one without dipping deep into your budget for Vietnamese call-girls, the only way you could read all those rulebooks and play every single game is if you had absolutely nothing else to do. We don't need all those games because you can't actually play them.

"But wait!" I can hear you saying that, which is weird because I wrote this way before you were even able to read it. "I don't have to play them all! Just the ones I like!"

"Aha!" is my response, which is a little silly again, because you haven't actually said your part yet. I'm getting a little confused, actually. I'm going to need a Delorean and a British phone booth just to have this conversation. Anyway, my part continues like this:

"That's my point! You only need the fun games! We don't need the bad ones!"

In fact, people are buying so many games just to keep up with the insane number of releases every month that gaming clubs have changed how they work. It used to be that you showed up with your friends, all of you having read the rules to the game, and spent several hours playing one game. Now you show up, there are a dozen people all playing something different, and there's this crazed urgency where you want to try everything. Only the game owners read the rules, and then they teach everyone else, so nobody even completely grasps the thing. They decide whether they like it, give it a quick thumbs-up-or-down, and hustle off to the next one. They don't play anything twice, even if they liked it the first time, because they have to try a new one to justify buying another dozen games next month.

And that is stupid, because if you only play a game once, then your entertainment actually cost more than your Vietnamese hookers, on a per-hour basis. Seriously, if you pay sixty bucks for a game and only play it once, and you finish in 45 minutes, then you paid eighty dollars an hour for your entertainment. I'm flat-out opposed to paying that much for anything that doesn't result in an orgasm, or at least one hell of an adrenaline rush.

Let's pretend you can get past the problem of time and budget. Let's pretend you actually have the time and financial resources to buy all these games and play them, and you don't mind paying more for games than you would have to pay for oral sex. You are still hosed, because you can't have as much fun.

If you play a lot of games, then you know all about the comparison game. This is where you play a game and go, 'this is a lot like that other game,' and decide which is better. If the new game is better, then you are stuck with an old game that's not as much fun. If the old game is better, then you just got screwed by playing a clone of another game that is inferior. Either way, the world did not need both games. It needed just one of them.

Also, there's no way you had fun with every game you ever played. You may have enjoyed the company, but if you play a lot of games, then you know damned well that at some point, you couldn't wait for the game to end. Which means that you're paying more for games than you would for hookers, and having less fun than you would have had if you had just gone to the movies. Plus at the movies, you might have been able to score a handjob in the back of the theater (although it probably would have cost more than a board game).

I know those first two arguments have holes in them. There are generalizations and assumptions that may not apply to you. I don't care, because for one thing, they do apply to an awful lot of people, and for another thing, I have more points.

To really get the most out of a game, you need to play it several times. If a game reveals all its awesome factor after just one play, then it could not have much awesome factor. If you figure out how best to play on your first try, it's not going to get better. And that happens far too often, which is a damned shame. And it happens because the market supports so many games that crappy games get published and even sell, when a leaner market would dictate that those crappy games go where they belong - the recycle bin.

If publishers spent more time focusing on quality and less time focusing on quantity, the games that did make it out the door would be better. They would spend more time in development and playtesting, and actual professionals would be hired to see to things like marketing and graphic design and editing. As it is, too much of the production in many games is handled by blind mole rats and retarded dachsunds, with occasional help from the odd Vietnamese hooker. Look at Earth Reborn. This blockbuster miniatures game is an absolute blast to play, but visually, it's like someone grabbed your eyeballs and tied them together with razor wire. Cull the market, and Earth Reborn could have spent another six months in editing and design, resulting in a much better game.

It would be easy to just blame publishers for releasing bad games. It's far more comfortable to just waggle a finger at them and say, 'shame on you for wasting my whoring budget.' And you would be accurate in such an accusation, because we depend on them to come up with the awesome stuff we want to play. We don't make the games. We just play them, and we rely on the publishers to do their due diligence, and all we can do is complain when they don't.

But we're the ones who make this glut possible. We're the hapless morons who place $300 orders to save on shipping, and then wind up with a moving box full of games we haven't even unwrapped. We're the ones who show up at game day with twelve games, play each game once, and then put them all on a shelf so we can take pictures of our collections and show them off at BGG. We may not make all those crappy games, but we make them possible, and until we start exercising a little more discretion in our purchasing habits, publishers are going to keep feeding us their untested crap.

At this point, I'm pretty sure someone out there is getting upset. I figure the angry people fall into one of three camps. You're either the wasteful spender with all the self-control of a five-year-old in Toys R Us with a stolen credit card, or you're one of those overly prolific publishers blowing games out your ass like you had cardboard diarrhea, or you're just offended at the number of prostitute references I've made so far tonight. There may be sub-groups, too, like people who wonder why all these hookers have to be from Southeast Asia (I'm not really sure, but I think Norwegian whores are more expensive).

I can't help you if you're angry about the prostitutes. I mean, I suppose I could writer cleaner jokes, but bathroom humor is just a whole lot easier, so I'm sticking with what I know. And if you're testy because I called attention to your needless consumption, then you're welcome. Maybe I'll get you to reconsider all those games you buy, and get more enjoyment for less money.

On the other hand, if you're the publisher, your first rebuttal is going to be that if you don't publish more games, you can't survive. And frankly, I understand. But this cycle has to stop before we're all floating ass-deep in boring retread clones and horrible Knizia reprints. And consider this - the games that sell the best are the games that ARE the best. Make more of those, and fewer of the bad ones. Focus your attention on the quality games. You can make the same sales dollars, because we're going to buy games regardless. We're practically hooked on them. I saw one guy in the corner bobbing back and forth with an IV in his arm, being intravenously fed meeples and dice. We'll buy the games. We'll probably spend the same amount of money. But this way, we get to have more fun. And isn't that what games are for?

OK, so I don't really think publishers are buying that line. They know how to make money, and from where they're sitting, if it ain't broke, they're not planning on fixing it. So as is usually the case in a free market, the change has to come from the consumers. Do you want better games? Quit buying the bad ones. Play every game three times before you buy another one. Stop blazing through them like there was a prize at the bottom of the stack. If you know people who like to brag about the number of games they play, remind them that they are losers.

Play the games you like, and play them a bunch of times. Don't play games just because you want to sample everything once. You'll have more fun and save money. And when the bad games wind up in the landfills of mediocrity, publishers will be forced to make better games, which is an overall win for everyone.

Especially the Vietnamese hookers.


Alan R said...

That story sucks like a, er, I mean it blows like a, well, I mean it rocks like the best monster chord at the best rock show you ever went to with your best girl. Pure fucking awesome genius, if I may say so (may I?). Totally agree, and about time. Best evah.

The word of the day is Lometrus, what's with that?

darkpact said...

I couldn't disagree more.

1. Do you also think there are too many movies coming out? Too many TV Shows? Too many books? Too many Comics? There are a lot of things that come out in numbers higher than one person can consume. But each has their own target group. If anyone thinks they have to get them all, they will fail. You couldn't care less.

2. Can we agree that we need to advance? Do you still want to use a mobile phone that came out ten years ago? That we are were we are with a lot of technical stuff is only possible, as we improve on the stuff that is out there. The more board games release the more we can advance in board games as well. And looking back ten year ago, most games are crap today, but that is not bad, as they were fun at that time. But the games have advanced.

3. Saying there should be not bad games can't work. We need bad games, as we need bad movies and bad commercials. How do we even mark something as good or bad without comparing them. If you stop doing all the games which are called bad today, a lot of the games which are good today are bad tomorrow. The bad ones give us the knowledge to chose the good ones. And it helps to show who advanced, and who did not.

It's all evolution. And the board games move in the correct direction imho.

Guido said...

I think Matt is right. We have far too many games which will ultimatively lead to a collapse. In my experience, some publishers produce new games like it's an evolutionary process: Bad games die, good games survive. And maybe you get the golden pot by winning Spiel des Jahres. But that's a view from the hard-fought german market.

Alas, this seems to work well and be a viable strategy to test a games' impact on the market. If it sells: Keep and reprint it, if not, dump it and go on.

Enrique said...

We need bad games, comics, movies? That's stupid. We put up with them, sure, we use them for bad jokes and memes, but the world WOULD be better without the crap.

Matt, I almost want to pay for your Viet call girls this month for this great entry, but I have to buy three Dominion expansions and the new Cosmic Encounter. Sorry bud, guess you're on your own.

Matt N said...

Thanks for the post Matt. I think you're right - publishers aren't going to try very hard to fix something that isn't broken (from their perspective.) I'm right there with you wondering how some games make it to production.

Consumers apparently are the key, like you said. Personally, my purchasing of new games has slowed to a trickle because I feel like I already have enough great games. I don't want to spend more money - I want to spend more time playing the games I already own and enjoy!

Thanks for taking the time to play different (and sometimes subpar) stuff and give us your opinions. May you always have time to bust out your favorite games after slogging through the "carboard diarrhea."

Matt Drake said...

"Do you also think there are too many movies coming out? Too many TV Shows? Too many books? Too many Comics?"

Sorta, yeah. Spend more time making good TV, and less resources on Dancing with the Real Housewives of Jersey Shore, and we could have better television. Hell, even if you leave those really popular but really stupid shows, there are still absolutely worthless TV shows that have a miniscule viewing audience and yet still drain resources off programs that could have been better with a little more scrutiny and oversight. They eventually wither and die, but consider this - if Fox had spent less money on crappy sitcoms that got canceled halfway through the season, maybe they could have had more Firefly.

"Can we agree that we need to advance?"

Sure, and if a game adds something interesting to the market, then I'm all for it. But for every game that does something new and cool and progressive, there are 50 that add absolutely nothing. At this point, we don't need another Agricola clone. Hell, Twilight Creations is responsible for a regular release schedule full of retread, boring, incomprehensible garbage that brings no innovation or professionalism to the market. We don't need that. That's not evolution. That's not advance. That's just dragging along on the coattails of people who are advancing, and by purchasing their games, we simply encourage them to NOT evolve.

Your comparison to cell phones is actually very apt. Do we need 25 different touch-screen smart phones? I say no. The innovation came from Apple. The rest are just playing catchup. If nobody bought their crappy clone phones, those companies would be forced to come up with something interesting if they wanted to survive. Instead these copycats get by because everyone has to have a phone these days, and there's some market somewhere for nearly anything.

"Saying there should be not bad games can't work. We need bad games, as we need bad movies and bad commercials."

On this point, I tend to agree. Steinbeck once said, "what is warmth, without cold to make it sweet?" So I take your point, and concede that without the ugly, we cannot appreciate the beautiful.

The problem is, because so many gamers are simply rabid consumers, the bad games don't fail like they should. Nearly any game can sell, because people get excited about absolute garbage and buy it regardless of whether it has any redeeming value. They toss it into their humongous bi-monthly gaming order and play it once at their Thursday night gaming club in the book store before taking a picture of it stored on a shelf for bragging rights and then trying to trade it away.

The glut of horrible games also leads to a disturbing amount of digging necessary to weed out the bad games from the good. You have to dig through article after article, flipping past countless reviews, and practically become an industry insider just to decide what you want to play. All these bad games make it more difficult for new gamers to enter the market without being immediately put off by having to read confusing rules for a boring game. This results in stagnation, not progress, and a sort of inbreeding that prevents that market from growing, and therefore, from allowing for more innovation.

The overabundance or games also leads to a market in which some really fantastic games end up completely ignored. Nostra City is in my top 20 favorites of all time, and yet almost nobody has heard of it, because there is simply too much noise. That's not the only fantastic game to be drowned out by the constant flow of crappy games, but it's a good example.

Thanks for your comments. While I more-or-less disagree (obviously), intelligent debate is impossible without a dissenting opinion. Your arguments are well-considered and well-stated. Thanks for reading, and thanks for bringing more to the table than was here before.

Anonymous said...

Matt, you're right on as usual. I personally have way too many games and out of all those games only three see action each game day (Cosmic Encounter, Heroscape, Summoner Wars) and maybe another 15 that occasionally come out. So I'm really cutting down on my game purchases this year at the same time I put some up on e-bay.

Of course it would help us unwashed masses turn a blind eye to new games if respected reviewers were a little more critical ;-)


Kingdaddy said...

Funny coincidence, Matt. I just wrote something about this on the I've Been Diced! blog. If the collapse comes, the cause won't be too many games, but too many crappy games. So why do people buy them? Because they're purty. Seriously.

I get a stomach cramp every time I see yet another "I just opened the box, and it looks fantastic!" review at BGG. It's my least favorite thing in this hobby. It leads to a whole lot of games that get opened, played once or twice, and because they're mediocre, shoved to the back of the closet. While failed designs will always happen, a lot of buyers are rewarding companies for focusing on presentation over substance.

darkpact said...

THanks Matt for agreeing or disagreeing. Sometimes it is also hard for me to judge the issue in other countries. Here in Germany we are in country with around 1000 new releases each year. Just from my mental view I ignore 900 of them, and only concentrate on the rest. And even of that rest I buy less than half to test it out.

And then comes the pint where I like around 10 to 20 of these games and the rest are not bad games, bad not worth my time, so they go on the shelf or on eBay.

And then I take my time, having no TV but 3 board game nights a week, give me the luxury to play a lot and a lot of games. Having played so many bad games in my life, also give me the personal feeling to see if a game is bad, I would have found great some years ago.

I never heard of a company like Twilight creation, but I'm sure if they put something awesome out, I will read about it in the Spielbox or the Fairplay.

So I stick to the rule, that I don't care how many bad games come out, the bad companies will not survive or if they survive I don't care. As long as good games come out, I'm happy. And releasing more games give me access to better games.

Can you agree that the number of better games have increased as well?

Matt Drake said...

"While failed designs will always happen, a lot of buyers are rewarding companies for focusing on presentation over substance."

It's even worse than that. We're rewarding quantity of production over quality. Look at the Dice Tower's nominees for best production. Both Horus Heresy and Earth Reborn are in there, and both have strikingly poor production. But both also have a metric assload of plastic, so people think that's quality. It's not. If the physical design of a game makes it more difficult to play, then the production was actually BAD. What are we, third-graders? We don't care if something works, as long as it looks neat? So if we dip a dog turd in chrome and give it a coat of high-sheen car polish, that makes it an award-winning production? Horus Heresy looked amazing, but try to have a battle in the palace, and it turns into Jenga. And the visuals in Earth Reborn were so bad that we frequently found ourselves saying, 'Wait, that was a door?'

Steerpike said...

I agree with everything you said except "At this point, we don't need another Agricola clone"

The truth is we didn't even need Agricola. Derivative dross. The king (or at least the farmer) has no clothes.

100%Blade said...

"And consider this - the games that sell the best are the games that ARE the best"

This isn;t true in any other entertainment genre (books, music, films etc). Why should it be true for games?

wolfie said...

crap, I just wrote a really long comment about the economic sustainability (or lack thereof) of this idea. And when I submitted it, blogger bugged out and the comment didn't go through. Annoying!

wolfie said...

Okay I'm trying again.

First off, I'm someone who doesn't buy $100s worth of games every month, and I try to play games that I like over and over again because i like them.

That being said, while the idea of "only create good product" is a nice one, it's not realistic, because it's not really economically sustainable.

There are several major problems that inhibit this, most of them coming down to money. The first is this: a company large enough to produce games with the high production quality you demand, market the game so people know it exists, and print enough copies to be available to anyone who wants one, simply cannot afford to produce only 1 game every few months or so. The time needed to bring a game from conception to final product, including mechanic design, testing, graphic design / art, writing, editing, parts design, and finally physical production - would realistically cost more money than the income of a game would provide, unless it sold really, really well. A small company can focus on one game, but these companies tend to have less ability to provide the best in production quality, not to mention producing enough copies to sell to everyone who wants one.

Another thing is risk - if a company pours all its eggs into 1 game a year to make sure that that game is really really good, well... what happens if they get to the end and realize, okay, this game isn't as great as we thought it would be. It's impossible to know at the start if an idea is going to be good, but by the time you get to the point where you realize it's not going to cut the standard, you've already poured a ton of money into it. Do you just abandon the project and start over? You could, but then you not only wasted all the money you spent in developing the product as far as it got, and then you didn't sell any of that product to recoup the cost. Unsustainable.

One tends to forget that there are a lot of people that go into the creation of your favorite games, and those people need to get paid if they're going to spend all their time working on it. For a large company maintaining a team of people dedicated to designing games, its going to require putting out a decently large number of games every year.

Another thing is taste- someone mentioned in a previous comment that they didn't like Agricola. I happen to like Agricola, as do many of my friends. A lot of people like Agricola - so now, how do you determine which games are good or not? If it's up to someone who doesn't like Agricola, Agricola doesn't get made - but then what about the people who want to play Agricola? Just because two people disagree on the quality of a game, doesn't mean one is wrong - they just have different tastes.

It's true that some companies make cheap, bad games just to take advantage of the collector mentality, or to dupe less-informed consumers, but I think this is the exception to the rule.

In general, companies tend to put out a lot of cheaper games with smaller target audiences to sustain the ability to produce their frontline products. It's just not sensible to expect every product to make to sell ridiculously well, and so you can't invest resources into every product you make equally.

It's a nice sentiment to think that game companies (or book publishers, or movie producers, or any kind of product really) should just put out the good stuff. But beyond lazy, dishonest, money-grubbing companies, sometimes you have to put out something of less quality to keep doing the good stuff.

Matt Drake said...

Wolfie, maybe I'm just biased because I see a disproportionate number of bad games. Sometimes people buy bad games, play them and send them to me just so I will review them. That happens a lot, actually. So I know that there are an awful lot of games being produced that never should have existed. I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head.

Like I said, I don't expect publishers to change their ways. Their ways are making money, and let's face it, that's what it's all about. More power to 'em. It's up to consumers to be smart about what they buy, play the games they like, and not churn through games without getting their money out of them.

If consumers made smarter buying decisions, practiced more self-control, and played more of the games they already owned, publishers would have to spend more time making better games.

Publishers haven't always flooded the market with a never-ending release schedule. There was a time when publishers vetted their games more carefully and worked harder to make sure they were making games that people would like. The current gaming market is not typical, historically speaking.

We live in sort of a golden age of hobby games, especially for publishers, and many gamers have bought into it part and parcel. Look at all the people at BGG who post pictures of their game collections, just to brag about how many they own. If you need a moving van to transport your 'collection,' when could you possibly play all of them? Publishers are smart to release dozens of mediocre games instead of three or four good ones, because no matter how pathetic, someone will buy your game.

I'm not really trying to tell publishers to change. I'm trying to tell people to modify their buying habits. Buy what you like, and play what you buy. Get your money out of your games.

Or just spend it on hookers and blow. That would be cheaper.