Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics or random stuff they've been thinking about, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. Today, Tom talks about why this is the greatest era of gaming. So stop complaining, ok?
I'm just about old enough that, when I was four years old we used
horse-drawn carriages instead of cars actual cassettes to run games. You'd put a cassette in a player, in my case with a very British and shonky gaming system called the ZX Spectrum, you'd wait for 4 minutes while it screeched bloody murder and flashed colours on the screen, then it would crash. You'd rewind the tape, pray to whatever gods would listen, and the game would eventually load. The adventure could then finally begin.
[On the Spectrum] you'd wait for 4 minutes while it screeched bloody murder and flashed colours on the screen, then it would crash
In my household we were experimental types in the early days of consoles, SEGA and Nintendo. It may be strange for anyone based in North America to read, too, but the NES was not a big deal in the UK, at least in my neck of the woods; I wasn't even aware the thing existed when I was a little kid. Yet we did upgrade from the poor old Spectrum to the SEGA Mega Drive / Genesis when it arrived and my young eyes popped out of my head, as the leap was rather like going from an old TV in standard definition to an IMAX screen. That explains my continued devotion to Sonic the Hedgehog, even if that love hasn't always been reciprocated.
But here's the thing, in that pre-internet age buying games was a punt, and we were largely reliant on my older brother who I assume got his tips from the school playground and any magazines he could find. Our Mega Drive collection, to his credit, is full of gems, but good grief it was expensive, and when I got older I was frankly amazed at how many games our parents had bought for us. We lived quite well when I grew up, I wanted for nothing, but we also didn't do expensive things like go on foreign holidays or do fancy decorating in the house just for the heck of it. We got by, so my parents no doubt budgeted smartly to stretch funds and satisfy our gaming habit.
To give an idea of prices, my copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 still has its receipt inside and it was £39.99; my brother spent more than that on just the cartridge for one of the Street Fighter 2 versions (I honestly forget which). This is in the early-to-mid '90s, I plugged that Sonic 3 price into an official inflation calculator and it came out at over £80; as I suggested we weren't a wealthy family, I can imagine this felt like a lot of money at the time.
Now, not withstanding Sony's current efforts to bring up the price of current first-party games to £70 here in the UK, game prices for big first-party titles from Nintendo have stayed remarkably steady. But there's more to it, of course. In the old days you had retail games, and that was it, and I understand the nostalgia people have for their favourites in the old days. But in this modern era of gaming, we really are living in the best of times.
Anyone with a computer and the passion, imagination and talent can make a game
It's the passage of time and technology that has changed everything, primarily the internet and the eventual evolution of download stores and games. Development tools have transformed too - this article from Kate gives a really good perspective on this - that have greatly enhanced the development community. Making games used to be the preserve of licensed companies with employees in an office. Such is the power and accessibility of tools now, anyone with a computer and the passion, imagination and talent can make a game. And, if that game's good, there are routes to releasing games for free or reasonable prices on PC, phones, and pretty much all of the consoles on the market.
Yes, this democratisation of game development and publishing means we also have quite a lot of dross to wade through on stores, but it's a price worth paying. When I think back to the Wii / DSi era, through the generations to the current-day Switch, I'm amazed how many of my favourite gaming experiences are downloads, particularly from small teams. On top of that big companies use their resources and advances in technology to do some stunning things in the AAA market. I sit playing the latest from Nintendo, or some sparkly retail title on a new 'next-gen' console, and the quality is remarkable.
On top of that, gaming has never been more affordable, which again makes it more accessible. That's a good cycle - the more people play games, the more will be inspired to be the game makers of the future.
Retail prices have largely held steady, there are big-budget free-to-play titles, storefronts like the eShop are packed with amazing games that are $20 and less. There are also subscription services of course, with Nintendo Switch Online focused on retro games and '99' titles, PS Plus still giving out monthly games, and then there's Game Pass. Microsoft is disrupting the market with Game Pass, and developers on board seem happy with what it does for them. Between Switch pick-ups and Game Pass, I'm staggered at the quality and variety of games I can enjoy every week, all at a far lower cost than in the 'good old days'.
And if you're more of a retro gamer, and you don't want to deal with season passes, microtransactions and so on (which are mainly optional, with games like FIFA giving a bad rep to DLC and add-ons that can actually be fun) then you have options. There are creative hardware products out there that either let you play your old games in convenient ways, or like the Evercade have their own little ecosystem of cartridges and classics. Then there are official download options, such as collections from the likes of Konami, Arcade Archives and more besides. If you want to get your retro on, go for it, the options are there.
So we're in the best of both worlds, and sometimes I think we're so obsessed with rightly bemoaning FIFA Ultimate Team, or complaining about how long Metroid Prime 4 is taking, that we forget to stop and smell the roses. It's good to challenge the games industry when it falls short, that's what makes it better, but sometimes we should just stand back, smile and say "wow, that's a lot of awesome games".
Gaming has never been of a higher quality, has never been more varied, has never had so many options for playing games new and old, and has never been more accessible and affordable. There's room for improvement in all these areas, and there always will be, but I find it hard to listen to anyone talk about the 'good old days' and keep a straight face. These are the good days.
So, just for one day, let's unequivocally marvel at how far games have come. These are the golden days of gaming.