Video Games Stomp on Recession, Kick its Shell Across Screen, Grab Mushroom

Posted by | December 31, 2008

A mushroom made of pure, uncut, 100% raw cash. Gamers this year gave the falling economy, likened by experts to a “black pit where no hope or light can reach,” only a passing glance as they marched merrily out to stock up on sequels and some truly unique games. So long as the electricity stays on, the gaming community has remained quite content to do without other luxuries, such as heat, light, and food that wasn’t extruded from a noodle machine in China.

While sales of other products sunk into the clinging tar of the recession’s bubbling caldera, video games remained stable, even rising. This strange insulation from economic woe has been linked to several factors, chief among them that games offer very cheap entertainment for the price, a great incentive for those who are staring down the barrel of a jobless rent day. Also, in some kind of obvious mistake, the gaming industry accidentally ejected the good versions of many games from its flatulent orifices, instead of the waste and gruesome viscera that it normally finds fit to vomit out upon us. Fallout 3, LittleBigPlanet, those new Rock Band and Guitar Hero games and expansions, Fable 2, Left 4 Dead, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, and a host of others have championed a kind of resurgence of games that don’t suck.

There’s also that weird little Wii thing pushed gingerly into the world by Nintendo, but without mature and adult games on the console, who plays that thing? Oh, yeah, everyone. Turns out producing a console built around physical immersion and pairing it to a roster of games that focus on simple fun is a winning strategy, to the tune of some ungodly millions of consoles sold.

On the computer gaming scene, the clear winner has been Blizzard, as their Lich King expansion to the unfathomably popular World of Warcraft MMORPG raked in enough green to lay down an executive golf course turfed in dollar bills. This success was possible in part because Blizzard possesses the seemingly unique quality among MMO companies of being able to run a business, but also because the expanded world of Lich King rocks on toast. The loser in this high-dollar lottery was, of course, Funcom, who decided to c-section their Age of Conan MMORPG into the world about six months early, likely to avoid, well, the wrath of the Lich King. The end result looked good from afar, but that glimpse proved to be nothing more than the memento mori of a stillborn corpse. In response, players bailed, and Funcom stock withered to about 10% of its former value in about four months. Watch out for Age of Conan and its expansion on the Xbox any day now!

Warhammer Online has done pretty well for itself as a new MMORPG, I’m told. Although, there does seem to be trouble on the horizon if Mythic doesn’t take steps to concentrate its playerbase on strong servers and spread them out evenly among the rides, er, scenarios and battlegrounds. Also, my favourite class need a buff.

Other info in the gaming scene has begun to show a common trend of gamers growing older, seemly by about one year every year. We here at Vox find that hard to believe, I mean, it couldn’t have been twenty years ago that we were sparring with Mike Tyson or destroying the Mother Brain the mechanical life vein. That was just yesterday, right? Yet, somehow, the prime gaming age these days rose to 35.

Older gamers have more purchasing power, and the popular game titles reflect this. More complex and involving games, say, Fallout 3, are climbing the sales charts like a mountain goat with a tarantula stuck to its tail. Coming in close behind are the casual games, so named because you don’t need to be a caffeine-sucking ADD obsessive-compulsive to play them. Brain Age, Nintendogs, the Sims and such showcase the genre, but even Harvest Moon, that OCD olympics of gaming, has softened its touch so much that you might even make it through the game without planning out every footstep and action in advance with the help of a spreadsheet ganked from a fansite. It’s a brave new world, people.

What does the future hold for gaming? More connectivity, more MMOs, easier controls and gameplay. Look for an increase in the ranks of casual gamers, especially among the “your parents” demographic. Someone’s buying those Wiis, and it couldn’t be us hardcore gamers, right? Expect to see the flash game arena as the next wellspring for cool and interesting concept games. You know, like Portal. More common and thorough beta testing will bring with it a higher population of games that train you as you play, instead of requiring a undergraduate degree in Controller Humping just to get past the starter zone, although some games will be built and sold on the challenge they offer. More games will go online, because after all, what good is a high score if you can’t wear it like a hat around your friends? Quality will rise among the best-selling games, since there’s no reason to play a so-so game these days when you could be fighting a dragon in a mid-air duel a thousand feet above the glacial plains of Northrend.

Even through all this in a changing year, and the years to come, there remains one thing that will stay the same. A single truth that will hold constant not just today, and tomorrow, but for as long as gaming continues as an art in both our hands and our souls. You non-americans? Yeah, you’re still going to get screwed on release dates.

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