Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 10, 2014
I’ve been a fan of computer role-playing games since the days when they were not known by that name, and weren’t much more than a mid-week substitute for a weekend Dungeons & Dragons game with friends. Some of my fondest gaming memories involve me sinking my teeth into a massive, meaty RPG, getting lost for hours at a time in a world of massive underworld complexes, fearsome monsters, dastardly puzzles, twisted plots (sometimes), and lots of loot.
Yeah, not every moment was great. Some of the fights in Pool of Radiance were tedious beyond belief, especially when you didn’t have a large area effect spell like Stinking Cloud or Fireball handy. But I was young and had time on my hands – more time than money, at least. I could only afford a new game every month or two, so patience came easy. As a student, games were expensive, but time was plentiful.
Flash forward to today. Between Steam, Desura, GOG, direct-purchases, and a handful from Gamer’s Gate and Gamestop, I don’t want to think about how many games I have in my “backlog.” That’s becoming true for a lot of PC gamers – we’re deluged with cheap less-recent and indie titles, constant sales and bundle deals. It’s even worse (in some ways) for the less mature but even more saturated mobile market.
Although perhaps things haven’t changed that much. When I was a kid, I’d go to the arcade and rarely put more than two or three quarters into the same machine at a visit. There were too many games, and too little time (or quarters)! I was something of a game browser, rather than specializing in one or two favorites and mastering them. I find myself falling into the same patterns today. It takes discipline and a good game for me to stick with it for more than an hour or two. There are too many games for me to try!
If I do stick with it, and it’s quick and replayable, it may become a “go-to” game for those moments I’m seeking a short distraction.
The thing is – RPGs, by and large, require a commitment. They are a favorite genre and I love it when I am fully immersed in these worlds and can play for hours without realizing how much time has passed. But getting to that point can take some effort, and when I’m tired and cranky and seeking a quick distraction, it can be daunting. It’s hard to see how much fun you will be having seven or eight hours down the road.
RPGs should not be the wallflower genre of the PC in this day and age. In theory, it should be a wonderful, golden age of awesomeness for RPG fans. After being declared dead at least twice, the genre is back with a vengeance, from high-budget AAA spectacles to spartan indie experiments. We’ve got Bioware and Bethesda blockbusters, middle-tier love-letters to genre fans like Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, and Legend of Grimrock, so many games in the style of 16-bit console JRPGs that people complain about it, experiments in the genre like Defender’s Quest and Heroes of a Broken Land, and an incredible variety of new, indie takes on classic RPG styles. Seriously, it’s better than I could have dreamed of ten years ago.
But a lot of these games are languishing undiscovered – or, shockingly, purchased unplayed (or even uninstalled). I have a few of ’em myself. Genre fans are becoming collectors – hoarders. This is true of all game types to a degree, but RPGs seem to suffer more than most. (As an aside… I think I have more untried strategy games in my backlog than RPGs. They have some of the same problems, including a perceived large up-front learning curve).
I did some informal polling of friends, twitter folks, forums, and a little bit of a self-assessment. While there are definitely some things that game developers can do in general, my question was more of why computer role-playing games, in this era of plenty (or “glut” if we’re feeling less charitable) end up unfinished… or even untried. The results were unsurprising, but worth discussion. That will be tomorrow’s post.
One of the problems for me is that I wouldn’t want to mess up the core nature of the role-playing game to make it easier-to-consume. There’s a reason, when I finally allow myself to get drawn into a good RPG, that the hours fly. I am vehemently against the AAA trend to make RPGs more like action games because action games are more accessible (not to mention a lot easier to make). But I do think there are some modifications to the core structure that can make RPGs more inviting, easier to get into, and easier to stick with to the end.
More next time. But in the meantime, I’ll keep asking the same questions. CRPG fans: Do you have a glut of unfinished (or unplayed / uninstalled) role-playing games? Is it any better / worse than other game genres? What held you back from trying / completing the game? Have your gaming habits changed, and have RPGs failed to keep up?
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