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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Mauricio Díaz Nissen

The rise of the horrendous horror

This note is a reflection on game design, trends in game development, and the quality of video games we are offered now a days.

I have been following some Let’s Play Youtubers lately. #MrKravin, #JohnWolfe, #SinowBeads, #Zer0Doxy, and #GabSmolders are the ones I watch the most because they are fun and not as annoying as other exaggerated let's-players that cannot stand still a minute to think about a puzzle. I will focus on MrKravin and JohWolfe as they mostly play indie horror games, and as you know, horror games are amongst my favourite game genre.

I know you might be critical or sceptical because I am not playing the game myself, so the game experience is not a first-hand experience, but instead a view on the experience of others. Sadly I do not have the time or the money to play that amount of games that watching YouTube videos allow me to. Fortunately, it saves me money, rage, frustration, and wasting time with the type of games they have been playing and that are the core of this reflection.

Some days ago, after watching a video at JohnWolfe's channel, I let a note saying 'What you are doing there is prototyping user experience, you shouldn’t pay for that game, more than that, you should not get the game for free, they should pay yo to do this work for them!'. The reason: The game I jus saw played was an aberration! A game that is incomplete, it has so many bugs that you do not even know if it is a bug or it is part of the game play, with bad mapping, bad haptics, stock graphics, stock sounds, weird world procedural generation, scenarios that don’t make any sense, no progression or learning curve, and with mostly a (broken) mechanics connecting the game to a previous successful game in the genre.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind stock music and stock graphs, as I know some assets are expensive, and some people are just starting. But following no design principle (or in the worse cases the opposite of what design tells us) is not an excuse for being a beginner. Neither it is to have a poorly programmed game, let alone when both are together.

Now, I wouldn’t be writing this because I saw a game featuring this, but because I see many! Luckily the YouTubers get free keys and donations to play some games; else I would be very angry if I pay €5 for something that is basically stealing space on my PC.

So after following and watching these channels week after week and find more and more of the same games and more and more of the frustrated let’s-players, I started to ask myself: “WTF is happening here!?” There is no design, there is no development, there are no new ideas, there are no new mechanics, there is not even an interesting story! So why are all those people selling these pieces of garbage? It is an insult and a mock not only to the buyer but to all the community of players!”

I have come up with three hypotheses; the first is that the indie developers really need the money to continue, and eventually will update the product so that a more quality product comes to life. The second theory is that some developers do not care about their product, but only about making money. The third is a combination of both, there are indie developers without any experience or education, they want to create something to shine and get some money, and they end up doing poor rip-offs of successful games.

The first hypothesis comes because I have many friends that started studying game design and developed some prototypes they REALLY wanted to develop but they didn’t have enough money, and working, studying, developing, and designing at the same time is not something easy, so they look for money sources so they can eventually fulfil their dream.

The second hypothesis comes because of something I was reading in the YouTubers’ channel, and it was a comment saying that even if the game didn’t sell well, there would be enough YouTubers buying it to make at least 100 bucks, so the cost/earn ratio of the production was good. And it is true, you have models from stock, textures from stock, no level or game design, no story, and some recycled code. You make a broken “game” in some days and then you get 100 bucks in sales to youtubers, neat!

The third hypothesis is because nowadays everybody wants to be famous, and everybody wants to have money; but not everybody has access to an education, specially one that is related to games and/or design. So you try yourself, see that it works just fine, and then take a leap of faith into the market.

As gamers, we need to do something to stop this. Game quality matters, games are art, games are powerful, and games are realities. It is an insult paying for (or even to be offered for free) a broken game that is barely an alpha. We as gamers, and developers and designers as...well... developers and designers, must tend to improve games, to create more fascinating experiences, richer realities, and stronger art. What these developers are doing to games and to the different communities involved in games (creation and play) is insulting and should be stopped.

As an additional note, there are games that are meant to be “bad” either as a form of parody, comedy, or art piece. This reflection is not directed to them as they state clearly their purpose and the (savvy) player (usually) can communicate with the piece at the required level.

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