Audio Games and The Never Ending Cycle of Mediocracy

The Wheels Are Spinning, But We Ain’t Going Anywhere


Stagnant game development is a topic I’ve been preaching about for as long as the blog has been around, and one I wanted to expand on more in this blog post. I’ve never directly come out and dedicated an entire blog post to the topic, but I’ve mentioned it and talked about it more than once. I see this as one of the biggest issues with all audio gaming, and without the community as a whole addressing it audio games will continue to stagnate. I’m sure others have noticed this, but maybe not dedicated much time to thinking about it. I have, and I wanted to put my thoughts down and see if it can push change, get people thinking about it, or just bring it into the thought processes of both gamers and developers.

Thoughts and opinions expressed in a blog post are those of the author. They are not the thoughts and opinions of Black Screen Gaming as a whole.

Expectations Of Mediocracy

We’ve all been seeing this happen for a long time. New games get released, but new ideas are rarely introduced into the creation process. Add in the social rewards a developer receives for releasing a horrible game, and you get the recipe for failure. This results in very similar games being released one after another. Sometimes this is by the same developer, other times it is a new developer working within the same boring mental bounds of other games they have played. Either way this is bad for players and the audio gaming community as a whole.
When a game is similar to another prior release nearly everyone who plays it notices the similarities, but they don’t realize the importance of this fact, or they simply just don’t care and want anything to dull their existence. If a developer releases an overly simplistic pile of poo they are showered with praise, and are told they are the greatest. I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this, I’ve seen others talk about in passing, but never really drill down and call it out for what it is…actively encouraging mediocracy.
We have seen these games, we have played these games, but very few people say anything useful about these games. As a result we will keep getting more of the same, and everyone can continue playing the same game with different sounds. I’m sure there are a small group of people who either enjoy the games no matter what, or who are to narrow minded to realize what’s going on. Either way it is ungood, and this will only lead to a complete stagnation of blind gaming, even more so than we already have.
It is important to point out I am not talking about clones here. I’m talking about a lack of creativity on the part of developers, and a lack of speaking out on the part of the players. Clones are a completely different issue which this blog post will not be going into.

The problems

The root of the problem comes from the developers. Everyone wants to make a game, but a small fraction of that group wants to do the needed work before they write the first line of code. A quick way around this work is to base your game on other similar games already released, maybe games people enjoyed playing. This is the most popular approach taken by many audio game developers. By doing this all you need to do is code and make the game work, no prior thinking, balancing, conceptualizing, or brainstorming is needed. The blueprint is already there, it is based on something which has already proven successful, just change a few things and you have your own branded audio game. This seems to stem partially from laziness, and partially from not being able to think outside of the box. Both of these are ungood, and both have the same effect.
The second most common approach is to skip everything up to coding. You don’t plan, you don’t pre-balance, you don’t conceptualize, and you do the bare minimum forethought. This doesn’t seem to slow anyone down though, they can make a poorly thought out game and release it in a blaze of glory. Smack that baby on the forums and glory in the predictable response, the unashamed groveling at the feet of the developer. This circumstance is more to blame on the players, but still both parties hold part of the responsibility.
From this root then grows the giant tree of buffoonery which is the audio gaming community. We are a giant f-ing buffoonery tree in full bloom…constantly wafting our buffoonery everywhere, and it is invasive as all hell. What do I mean by buffoonery? Well let me explain.
When one of these half-ass games get released the same sad story plays out the same has it has in the past. The developer posts it up on the audio games forum. A bunch of people talk about how great it is, and a few people point out it is the same game with a different wrapper. Those with negative things to say are told to shut up, and normally they do, probably because idiots in large numbers should be feared. This leaves all the buffoons to their own devices, and they then hold hands and sing campfire songs about how great their new game is. The sad thing is they are too short sighted to realize the negative long term impact they are having on the audio gaming community, and no one ever takes the time to explain it to the them.
Dissenting opinions against a game are almost always met with hostility from the other players. This is some form of petty tribalism I don’t fully understand, but one which runs unchecked in the audio gaming community. It is okay to dislike a game, and it is okay to explain the objective things wrong with the game. Well it should be okay, but that assumes you are conversing with reasonable mature adults, this is rarely the case in places where audio games are discussed. The standard reply is you are a hater, you are a trouble maker, or some other wise phrase their grandma read them off a Snapple cap.

Break The Loop

How can this seemingly never ending loop of the same thing be broken? It is really quite simple, but one I don’t see working for a large enough group of people. If a cigar is a cigar then call it a cigar. If a game is a bad game, then it should be okay to call it a bad game. Of course there are tactful ways to do this, and staying constructive is the best way to help everyone while also getting your point across. Being an ass isn’t helpful…unless you write on your own blog then you can say what ever the hell you want however you want with no overlords to stop you. This will be more clear as I continue to talk about poo as this post continues.
Developers are not going to change what they are doing, and the reason is obvious. They get rewarded for releasing polished turds, so why should they do anything else? If a developer can recycle someone else’s old idea and call it their own, all it takes is enough loud mouthed people to play and say “good” things about their newly released “game”. It has been proven time and time again this works, so if it keeps working why should they change? Others see it worked, and If it works for them then why wouldn’t it work for one, two, or six other people. When everyone realizes how well it works, they decide to make the same thing, and the cycle continues. Before you know it there’s a flood of the same thing being released where the only difference between any of them are sounds and names. If people don’t make their voices heard then this will never stop, and the cycle of mediocracy will continue on forever. All it takes is for one original person to release something new once every couple years, then the circle shifts ever so slightly but continues on the same path with everyone making different versions of someone else’s original idea. The problem is, eventually this will stop working, and I feel we are getting close to reaching this point now, hence why I’m writing this blog post.
The second biggest issue is us, those who play audio games, and how easily we’ll settle for bad games. Just because there is a small selection of games does not mean we need to accept trash. There’s a large amount of games out there that are objectively bad, and there are going to continue to be bad games until something changes. It is important to point out that I’m not talking about a developer’s first release, but rather continued dumps of trash into the audio gaming world. I’m not naming names here, but everyone knows there are developers out there who make bad games, games that are either over simplified, flat, one dimensional, or so easy they are comical. Why do we put up with this? I can only assume it is because there is such a small amount of games, and everyone is grateful for the smallest addition to the scene. This is fine on the surface, but what happens when this gratefulness is interpreted as praise and encouragement? Well everyone already knows, the developer gets positive reinforcement and continues to create the same thing over and over because it worked once, so why won’t it work a dozen more times. They can’t even be blamed, the players are making it happen, they are ruining the scene for themselves, and they don’t even seem to realize they are doing it.
To break the loop people need to find their voice and speak out positively and negatively about games. I’m not encouraging being an ass, I mean adding to the discussion while also being constructive.
First everyone needs to stop treating developers like they are demigods among us, this is so unnecessary, and it makes me cringe every time I see it, sadly 95+% of audio game players do it. If you are reading this you do it, even if you say you aren’t, well guess what…you do. A developer is just someone who has a skill they can use to make something, no different than a basket weaver, or a carpenter. They are making a product, and this product is being put into the public market. If the consumers don’t give honest opinions and thoughts about the product than the creator won’t know where to go next. Give honest opinions, and don’t settle for mediocracy. Is it better to have 20 good games, or 500 horrible games? I know I’d choose 20 good games any day, and I’d like to hope most others would as well. This starts with being honest, but yet constructive, and letting people know what you think about releases without being rude, but while also not settling for sub-par games.
Just as important is for the players of audio games to stop settling for less. When possible vote with your wallet…or purse if you are a lady, or a feminine man. Even if a game is free, vote with your opinions, don’t give them away for free. Just because something exists, doesn’t mean it should be praised. Too often people will be fine with a sub-par game simply because it is something new, and they are interested in seeing what it is. Have standards the same way you do with so many other things in life, don’t settle for any ordinary boring audio game that passes along. This can become hard to realize after so long. When a bunch of poop is flooded into the gaming market it can skew how you look at future games. When something new that looks like a polished poop comes out, it looks good when compared to the unpolished poops all over the place.
As a side note: There are good and bad games, even games you want to like, or who are made by a developer you fan boy over, all of this is aside the point. So many people are willing to make fun of apple fan boys, or android fan boys, but they’ll turn around and fan boy over a developer. A good person can release a bad game, don’t lower your standards for that person or group of developers just because you want them to like you back.

The Echo Chamber

One thing I’ve come to realize is the self filtering that goes on where audio games are discussed. There are a lot of people of the same mindset and personality type who gather and frequent these places. This has the effect of creating an artificial echo chamber which amplifies the message that bad games are okay, and people enjoy them. I’m sure some do actually enjoy poo, but anyone who thinks those who talk the loudest represent the majority are simply mistaken.
There is a large group of audio gamers who refuse to take part in these discussions for their own personal reasons. I haven’t talked to them all, but those I have talked to always bring up how annoying all the people are in these places. Also…going off purely anecdotal experiences, these people are typically the more hardcore gamers who wouldn’t like the sort of games I’m writing about in this blog post. With a big percentage of gamers refusing to take part in the discussion because they can’t stand the sycophants, and the sycophants being so loud in their phrasing of bad games, we are where we are now. If people don’t raise their standards and start thinking about the future of audio games, we will keep spinning our wheels going nowhere.

I Feel Better, Do You Feel Better?

I guess more than anything just be honest, be honest and don’t lower your standards. Once you step back and look at audio gaming inside of any two year window you realize how slow and stagnant the game releases are. The reason is two pronged, both because of the developers and the players. For anything meaningful to happen developers have to start being creative, and players have to stop accepting the same thing over and over again.
I’m a player and I decided to stop accepting half-ass games a long time ago. The only thing holding back developers is their lack of trying. It isn’t money, it isn’t resources, it isn’t knowledge, it is a lack of wanting to make their own well thought out original product. Being original and creative is much harder than reusing someone else’s idea, or skipping the whole process and releasing what should be considered a concept demo in any other gaming community. We the players have accepted this, and because of that acceptance developers have been continually encouraged to keep doing the same thing. All the changes have to start with the players, and from these changes future developers will realize the same thing in a new wrapping won’t work anymore. Quit being a two bit gamer whore, raise your standards and quit settling for less.

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15 Replies to “Audio Games and The Never Ending Cycle of Mediocracy

  1. I’ll say the same thing I said when I just read Hanibal’s article and that is I agree totally.

  2. I’m one of those people who probably has no right to weigh in on this topic, since it’s been forever since I last released a game, and I really don’t play other audio games to have firsthand knowledge of how they are. With that said, I agree with a lot of what was said in this article, but there is also some support I would put on the other side of the divide.

    Younger developers do seem like they want the glory so bad that they’ll release garbage knowing it’s not worth actually playing. That does happen, but I’d bet most of that starts out with good intentions and gets distorted by the community. It’s a perfectly natural process to release junk at first, or copies of other people’s designs because even mimicking is tricky when you’re starting out. What happens in the audio games community, and does Not happen in the mainstream world (that I’ve experienced), is that the public falls over themselves to praise and encourage the new developer. I get why this happens… there are so few active developers that people want to keep this person going at all costs! It reminds me of gardeners who are so worried about their little seedlings that they over babysit them and drown them from over watering. The desperation for new games kicks off a chain reaction that warps new developers’ views of game development. When complimented and encouraged too much, they will believe the hype and stop chasing the improvements they would otherwise be endlessly reaching for with each new project.

    On the other side of the issue, I’ve dealt first hand with more entitled people than I’ve ever seen in one place. Most people are pretty good, but more people than you’d think will write to me basically laying out the changes they want to see done. I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much. On a paid game this is far more understandable, but I’m talking about people making such demands since I first started making audio games. This was years before I ever put out a commercial product, meaning I owed nothing to these people, but they would get offended or upset if I didn’t do what they asked.

    The reason I’m bringing up the entitled portion of the community is because they would often deliver their demands in the form of “constructive criticism or suggestions”. Perhaps someone would start out saying that they know everything will be more balanced if the dragons on the 3rd dungeon had the ability to fly to any of the game’s towers, and it would stop players from having to waste time traveling on foot. Sure it might sound good, but lets assume the change is not made to the game. The next post might be pushier, talking about how the game battles only last for 4 to 5 minutes yet players are stuck wasting 8 to 10 minutes wandering down a boring road to reach the next tower. If the balance issues in the game aren’t fixed soon, no one is going to waste their time with this game anymore, or a developer who can’t correct easy mistakes. Harsher, but still mostly just trying to push a desired feature while framing it as an objective flaw in the game. Forgive this example for not really being perfect, but I bet most of us have read game criticisms that were Clearly just a push for their own personal desires and not at all thinking of the rest of the players fun.
    Now what non developers don’t see are the messages following this step. When the people who are already this pushy continue to not get their way, they tend to lash out in private messages or email. These are the times when developers, especially newer ones without thick skin, get verbally beat down and loose interest in their projects. It’s an opposite direction to the developers-are-gods mentality, where the developers are the butlers who have finally shown up to serve their masters… who are frustrated and have been ringing their bells loudly trying to get someone’s attention. To some people, they want games and they want specific features, and it’s the world’s responsibility to provide.

    Now what ends up happening is we get 1 bad apple ruining the bunch. In a normal discussion about some brand new, but bad game, everyone criticizing the game could be reasonable people. The problem we have is that others immediately remember times the entitle-tards ruined other new (or not new) developers with their “gimme gimme” harassment. Like mentioned above with desperate users over encouraging new developers, people prepare for the worse and react as though they’re fighting the entitled ones… even if none of these people are. So you could have a situation that requires a level 1 defense of a developer, or a situation that requires a level 4, but in all cases what you get is a level 10.

    A separate but also very real problem is the lack of new ideas or game mechanics, and I agree this is a real thing. Over the years I’ve gone to great lengths to make each of my games different than the ones before it, and ideally featuring some quirky new mechanic that I haven’t heard used in other games yet. It’s a lot more work than just sticking to the tried and true stuff, and it has led me to a pile of unfinished games that had mechanic ideas that frankly sounded good but sucked in practice. I’ve spoken to other audio game devs and it’s really hard to talk them into making those leaps. People here just seem to struggle with new approaches to their games, and I don’t know how to solve that.

  3. This is one reason why I don’t really play any new audio game. I bought Manamon 2, but it really got boring with the random encounters and I could just do those being half asleep. This is why Dissidia Final Fantasy, which no one else besides Brandon the Super Blind Man play, because it isn’t just selecting actions from a menu and mindlessly pressing enter, and it isn’t just doing a super move all the time like Mortal Kombat used to allow for winning, Smoke in MORTAL KOMBAT 3 or so. But people like crap, I guess. That’s just about all I can come up with. Either that or Retroarch hard and PPSSPP with NVDA OCR… not accessible so we play blind games hehe. Something. It’s so frustrating.

    1. All very true things. There are some games I’ve enjoyed for extended periods, but they were all online. When introducing the human element, as long as the mechanics are good, a lot of games are fun. When it i soffline there isn’t ever much to them though. I did enjoy manamon, but it is only because of the puzzels, and I liked 1 more than 2. Now that the new PC is built I’ll be able to get into some more main stream games, and I’m looking forward to that…even if it is a lot on PCX2.

  4. Connor, you missed out the running to the overlords crying about hurt feelings and being attacked, too.

    Orca, you also forgot the dev rushing the release and other players telling people to STFU about issues because ‘the dev knows bout them’….yet nothing was done
    SmokeJay, great read,and I look forward to your article on overused mechanics. One thing I feel you forgot is the ‘this is a clone of ‘ thrown at any game. If I was to make a game with similar mechanics to MTG, I can be 99% sure I’d get the ‘oh you made a crazy party clone’ post thrown at me. Even if the game was different.

    Also I swear I’ve said it before. I swear I’ve said in various posts not to worship developers, hell, I got told that by somebody who got the fuck outta the audiogames scen that devs are treated like gods for even saying they’ll release a game

    1. I debated with myself on putting in the developer gods bit, mainly because I was afraid it would be read wrong. Turns out I had nothing to fear, everything would be read wrong. 😀
      With clones…that is a topic I didn’t want to get too close to. I’ve wrote about good cloning that needs to happen more, but wwith pure audio game clones it is a cluster fuck. People always get a bit fired up when it is mentioned, and I seem to create enough of that without even trying.
      I think everyone will hate the FPS post. This was a mild post that didn’t get too bad. the FPS post goes much harder in the paint. I’m sure you’ll hear about it when it’s released though, people will be yelling at me.
      Thanks for reading

  5. Hi.

    Oh yes, I fully agree with you on that post, the half ass games released over the last 2 or 3 years really drove me away from audio into video gaming territory. I play the occasional audiogame like the BK series shadow line and older titles, but as you said, all these new games are all first person shooters, if ou can even call them that which you technically can’t, and if a new game comes up the topic sooner or later erupts in flames.
    Look at the Bloodbath topic. the second biggest thing in there, next to the game not working as it should, were people accusing each other of well, what ever, things we don’t know and happened between those people in private.
    The thing is, everyone knows everyone as it seams and things get carried over in every dang little nitsh these guys are in.

    One reason for those bad and half ass games could be the age of most developers here. I’m probably leaning out of the window with that thought process, but I think that for these developers, quick recognition is currently more worth than a polished and fleshed out game which might atract a smaller audience due to complexity the game could involve, the easier, the more masses you appeal, simple concept that anyone understands I guess.
    Yes, also adults produce shitty games, CMR, almost all Blindfold games just to name a few here.
    And I would love to see an article about the same mechanics used over and over again, would be a fun read.

    1. Thanks for actually reading the post. Some people seem to have read it, but replaced all my words with their own words, and they missed the entire point. I wasn’t talking about specific games, and actually avoided that on purpose. I’m sure age can play a role in mediocracy, then again so can a lot of things. I’ve talked about this with folks quite a bit, and this was what I personally boiled it down to. That being said, I think it is complex and there are definitely a lot of reasons for game releases being what they are.

    1. I enjoy crazy party because of how it works. If you took that game and made it offline it wouldn’t have much value, but being online makes it a lot of fun. It is unique though, it was the first to do what it does, and that’s what the blog post is all about. It also shifted the perspective, and without fail there was a flood of CP based games. Two of them were good, Oh Shit and Ah Damn It, but many others were not. Everyone wanted some of that CP rub, and it is easier than thinking up your own idea and making it.

  6. 99% of all current devs will read this and say: “Oh my god how can you say such a thing you don’t even know how to code how dare you hate on my stuff if you don’t shut up right now I will literally stop developing and tell my mommy and the FBI on you because you\’re such a horrible person and you deserve to be purged from the gene pool!”

  7. One thing I wanted to expand on is the tendency for the same half-assed mechanics to be reused over and over without change. Sadly this was already a long post so I chose to cut that bit out. Everyone can just pretend it’s in there. I’m sure everyone knows what I mean…and if not there will be a post all about first person shooters coming soon.

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