Have games gotten easier or are we just better at playing them?
First Person is a new series focusing on our personal experiences and thoughts on video games.
Whether you believe games have become a hand-holding snoozefest, or you believe that the challenge is there for those who seek it, one thing is certain: the experience has changed.
There was a very long wait for Kingdom Hearts III, and some die-hard fans expressed concerns that the game was ‘easier’ than its predecessors, something that isn’t unique to the Disney Square Enix roleplaying game franchise.
Some players blame simplification and decreased game lengths in newer games, comparing recent releases to their older, more substantial predecessors, and I have been looking deeper into what is causing this sentiment.
I asked my 27-year-old brother AJ who has been gaming since he was eight for his thoughts, and he told me it’s all about the nostalgic feeling of remembering the games you played as a kid.
“I think the games that you look back at with a bit of nostalgia … if you go back and play it now, you’d think ‘That was surprisingly easy, easier than I remember,” said AJ.
“These days it’s just so much easier to jump on google and say ‘What’s the fastest way to level up? What’s the fastest way to run through this level?’”
Practice also plays a part, a 23 year-old player has ten years more experience with games than a 13 year-old, giving them the know-how to apply that experience across other games, something AJ called the ‘Practice Effect.’
“You’ve got that experience to predict what’s going to happen and how to counter it.”
Anthony Porter, a professional Twitch streamer who goes by the handle redsnoWAUS and plays competitively, disagreed that games are simpler than they were in the past, and chalked it up to the player.
“I don’t think games are getting easier, I think people are getting slacker,” said Porter.
“Games aren’t getting easier, they’re being marketed for the majority and if they wanted games to be hard, they’d market them as hard, like your Dark Souls and whatnot.”
I found what Anthony said to be true. There are more lower level players wanting to get involved in the gaming community, and developers are tapping into this market to sell more product.
According to the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association's (IGEA) latest report retail sales of video games topped $4 billion in 2018, and put the compound retail growth rate at 15% per annum between 2003 and 2018.
Anthony does believe that there is still challenge in games for players who are willing to attempt them.
“I’m going through the Last of Us now on hard … you get shot once and you’re dead,” he said.
“If you look at sidescrollers, they still have a fanbase, and they are made tricky more by movement patterns than encounter mechanics like Dark Souls.”
The third installment of Kingdom Hearts left many fans disappointed, but you cannot judge today’s games by yesterday’s experience. Games today have to accommodate a much wider range of fans, from a variety of backgrounds and knowledge.
This way, someone jumping into Kingdom Hearts 3 for the first time can enjoy it just as much as someone who broke many controllers over the first iteration, myself included.
I posed this position to the PixelSift Discord channel, and user ‘Ultimaodin’ said that rather than laziness becoming more prevalent, it is more likely that information is easier to obtain.
“A lot of people were lazy back then they just didn't have the means to access the answer as easily as they can now,” he said.
Another factor ‘Ultimaodin’ had me consider was the better technology, he mentioned that lighting and framerates in games can provide a smoother and seemingly easier experience. I found some merit in this, considering not just how aggravating it can be to play a choppy low framerate game, but how hard it can be to cast spells, interact with objects or NPCs and discover hidden objectives that might be in one of the three frames skipped over while moving.
The most common explanation I have heard for games becoming easier is that level design has significantly improved. Aj, ‘Ultimaodin’ and another user ‘JustAFatYeti’ all said that better level design was contributing to a quicker, easier experience.
“Better level design has meant that gamers nowadays don't really need to think too much about where they're going,” ‘JustAFatYeti’ said.
As a casual gamer, I am just grateful that we have so many options these days for everyone to be included in the community, and that no matter what level you play there is always a challenge you can complete. In the past 18 years I have gathered more unfinished games in my cupboard than hours that I have put into placing 43rd in PUBG; more than I should have.