The Direction of Media

6 06 2010

On May 18, 2010, a video game  I’ve personally been waiting since mid-2005 for came out. It’s named for it’s main character, a fiction writer named Alan Wake. While the game has been a joy for me to play, it’s represented a major shift in gaming. I began playing games over 15 years ago and the delivery method of content itself has gone through several iterations.

Alan Wake comes packaged with six ‘episodes’, all of which are around two hours long. This makes for a short game (which only touts single player, I might add) with the promise of more content – three more episodes for 2010. Alan Wake is the first game I can think of, besides music games, which will rely on consumers buying the initial product and sticking around for the add-ons. Yes, this has been done before in more vague terms; most notably, in my mind, being Borderlands, which uses a similar principle. But I feel that Alan Wake is difference because it’s not going to be ‘bonus’ material, the future downloadable content will effect the plot of the game – to a large extent. In past years (especially the 2000’s), gamers have been met with oodles of sequels, which in reality is that era’s reaction to systems and delivery method in general (now you can download updates on your console). We are getting to a point where we don’t need to add a number to the end of a game to continue the story, we just have to connect to the internet then spend some arbitrarily dedicated “points”/money on new content.

In just five years (2005-2010), the gaming industry (as well as music) has begun to change from traditional long forms to instant, short forms. Where will things be in another five?

Think of how much music format has changed in the last five/ten years (and feel free to go back further if you want). Originally, you had to buy a full album – whether you wanted all the songs or not; now you can purchase single songs – and some artists have stated they’ll only release singles in the future (One of the Jacksons, in fact). There are pros and cons to this new movement towards minimalism.

Beneficially, rate structures for purchasing music have shifted – I know on Amazon and iTunes you can typically find albums for cheaper than in stores and cheaper than buying all tracks separately, mainly to persuade us to buy a whole album in digital format and rather than only 5 or the 12 tracks. This is also great for (us to consume) those one-hit-wonders; I mean, who doesn’t have Baha Men’s ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ for honestly, one track. Now we can save a little bit of money for albums we may really would enjoy.

On the negative side, albums won’t feature as much art:  the mediums of liner notes, album covers, and ‘Thanks to…” sections will fade away. While I can live without some of them (I don’t need to know who Britney Spears is thankful for) there are others that require those quirks to make them well-rounded and enjoyable. Really think of any concept album or ‘story’ album, don’t those physical packages add to the feeling/effect as a whole? Personally, Ryan Adams & The Cardinal’s Cardinology (and it’s comic book, which uses the lyrics as dialog,) is something I love to read through and listen to. While this is something that some can over look (and I do for albums I don’t feel would have decent physical content), it’s a nicety that might be lost. I know with some digital albums come ‘digital booklets’, but I think there will be a decline in interesting case features.

Artists may also find themselves falling into a trend of indifference towards really spending time fleshing out a concept; this may mean the end of truly original albums and a shift towards rushed-out-the door singles. [And it’s my personal feeling that we’re already in this decline simply due to the (relative success) comparison of hard working, wonderful unknowns, to well known, underwhelming music giants… *insert a link to any uber-popular artist*]

There may be yet another conclusion from this new form of entertainment. The movement towards shorter, bite sized bits of things allows us to access more things and it accepts anyone into the light as well. Nintendo’s transition to casual game-play has allowed nearly anyone to play video games (Thank you, YouTube…) and most of the games they put out don’t require oodles of skills. [For those hardcore gamers out there, we now have old-school “Nintendo-hard” and new-school “Nintendo-easy”] While this can be seen as a good thing for most: now everyone can play together, for others this change is drastically lowering the relative difficulty of games.

I wonder if this transition will expand further: Books are already available for e-readers… will there be a day where an author can release blocks of chapters or even singular chapters to a story?

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