On Media Oversaturation, How The Past Is Competing With The Present.

I’m an easy mark, I’ll be honest with you. If you’re a games publisher, and want me to throw my money at you hand over fist, the most reliable ways is to a) be Japanese, and b) port your older titles to PC, because I will slap you upside the face with a wad of cash before you can blink. I have had a tremendously good time in recent years with certain Japanese titles coming to Steam, with the absolute highlight of E3 this year being the announcement of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami for PC. I immediately purchased Yakuza 0. The other day, I got a notification on Steam that Onimusha: Warlords was available for pre-purchase, and I don’t need to tell you what happened then, do I?

This current trend has been an absolute godsend, not only are the games themselves terrific, they’re priced almost universally at a reasonable €20, which is a price point that’s quite affordable for me, and there’s no hidden extras or microtransactions like a lot of modern AAA games. I have been absolutely thrilled with remasters of Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Okami, as well as PC audiences seeing modern Japanese titles like Nioh. But in taking a step back to look at the broader picture, this also presents a problem. Let’s talk about oversaturation.

Across nearly all media, it feels harder and harder to keep up with everything coming out. I find myself only taking in new seasons of the Netflix shows I enjoy months after they’ve debuted, I’ve not yet seen the new Doctor Who, and to my own surprise I have still not found the time to watch the latest season of Venture Bros, I feel behind on everything. And that hasn’t even taken into account gaming, because my Steam library seems to be steadily climbing towards 500 games. There’s titles in there that I bought years ago with every intention of playing, yet having never touched them!

Even within relatively niche genres I have felt this saturation happening. I’m quite a fan of Metroidvanias, a little genre that’s been having a somewhat renaissance in the last few years. Dust: An Elysian Tale reignited that passion, and to my absolute glee, titles like Momodora: Reverie Under Moonlight, Salt and Sanctuary, and Headlander have been delighting me, with last year’s Hollow Knight perhaps setting the bar for all to come. This year, there’s been so many that I’ve just had to skip over them, even though Iconoclasts, Steamworld Dig 2, Guacamelee 2, and Unworthy all look terrific. I did pick up Death’s Gambit, but only played a few hours, deciding instead to pick Hollow Knight back up with the intention of actually finishing it, as my library is littered with just started or half finished games.

I’ve suggested jokingly that the games industry should just stop for a year, and let us all catch up! A sentiment that honestly betrays my sense of exasperation with gaming at the moment. “There’s too many good games!” is indeed a strange complaint, but one I’m going to make the case for regardless. According to my Steam profile, I’ve been playing games for about 26 hours in the past 2 weeks, which is just shy of 2 hours a day on average. That feels about right to me, and although I don’t want to extrapolate too far from my own experience, I’d hazard a guess that’s a relatable amount of time to spend playing for many adults who game regularly.

But that’s an amount of time set aside for gaming that can be easily eaten up by “lifestyle games” that demand all of a player’s attention, titles that encourage compulsive play with daily quests and chores and regular stream of content, types of games that have been likened by some to having a second job. Therein lies the conundrum, gaming as an industry seems to want customers to buy games on a regular basis, while producing games that are designed to consume all of a customer’s free time. I try to avoid games like that, having previously spoken about my experiences of compulsive play burnout, and resentment in a previous article.

Even ignoring those games that boast hundreds of hours of gameplay, plenty of more traditionally paced games ask for quite a time commitment from their players. A 30 to 40 hour experience can easily take me a month or more to complete under ideal circumstances, when I’m determined to finish it. One of the games I hope I get to finish this year is Yakuza 0, I’m already 30 hours into it yet still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. With the “coming soon” release of Yakuza Kiwami looming, I am hoping to see Kiryu and Majima’s tale from 0 through to the end, because I am absolutely eating every bit of it up! Kiwami will be another instant buy.

The ‘problem’, if you could call it a problem, is that now it’s not just new titles that are vying for our attention, but also older properties given new life; PC ports, HD remakes and remasters, all demanding to be chosen alongside their contemporary counterparts. Upcoming titles I’m excited about such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (which, given that I played the original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on the PS1 back in the day, I am legitimately hyped about) will be competing with titles like Onimusha for those scant few hours a day I have for gaming. That’s not even accounting for indie titles that’ll crop up, because god knows after the impressive demo, Indivisible is looking mighty splendid.

Now, I solely game on PC, but this is something I can see potentially happening elsewhere too. Let’s take a look at the Nintendo Switch for example, and how many folks have lauded is a fantastic platform for indie titles who are seeing a wider audience than they did on Steam’s currently oversaturated marketplace. But I’d be hesitant to say the Switch is necessarily a better platform, rather having just launched last year, one that is in relative infancy where titles lucky enough to get in on ground level stand out without the crippling paralysis of choice that presents itself on Steam’s store front. More and more developers are bringing their must play indie classics to switch, so again we’ll see newer titles competing against older ones that are new to the platform. Are upcoming indies going to stand out against the proven “must play” titles like Hollow Knight and Dust: An Elysian Tale?

Of course, none of this is a bad thing in isolation, or arguably at all. It is unambiguously fantastic that classic games are getting a new lease of life, being made more readily accessible to new audiences who would not have had a chance to experience them otherwise. After all, how would I get to play Onimusha without tracking down a used copy and borrowing a PS2 from a friend to play it on? And even though they’re not for me, kids (and adults) getting introduced to Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot for the first time? It warms my heart with a nostalgic buzz. So you’re probably wondering, if none of this is bad, what exactly is the problem?

Well, this isn’t as much a complaint as it is an observation: Gaming has changed. Release lineups are dotted with remakes/remasters and ports. The old is now competing with the new. I am happier to be paying €15 to €20 for either a classic game or new indie title, rather than €60 for a game that demands I open my wallet further for DLC, microtransactions, or other ingame purchases. None of that is bad individually, in isolation. Taken as a whole though, it exacerbates the sense of being overwhelmed with too many titles that I want to play, but simply don’t have the time to. My Steam library is filled with unplayed games that I desperately want to get around to playing, like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice or Furi, yet still haven’t.

You see, I may have lied. I said I would throw my money at older Japanese titles being re-released on PC. Well, that’s mostly been the case, but I’m already starting to feel the fatigue there too. I skipped over the Devil May Cry HD collection, something I feel that had it been released a year previous, I wouldn’t have hesitated buying. But this year? I’m overburdened. Likewise with Killer 7 and Shenmue. And while I have already preordered Onimusha, there’s upcoming releases of Katamari Damacy and Phoenix Wright that I think I’m just going to have to skip entirely. Media as a whole is oversaturated, there’s too many games, and I find myself lamenting once more:

“I wish games would stop for a year and let me catch up.”