When I was a kid, in fact, when most of us were kids, our options for games to play were limited. I still remember planning out what game or two I would have for summer break. Final Fantasy VII, XIII (the amazing title from Ubisoft), Final Fantasy VIII. The list was small, always. My gaming as a kid was almost entirely dictated by the money my parents were willing to siphon into my recreational habits, and baseball was expensive. Occasionally a lent disc.
Between the years 2003 and 2004 three online marketplaces for games launched: XBLA, PSN, Steam. Between September 12th, 2003 and December 4th, 2004, those three platforms revolutionized game distribution. Small companies no longer needed to fund physical releases. Instead, they could publish their titles on multiple digital networks. Instant visibility. Instant access. Over the next 15 years the game industry would swing more and more towards digital distribution as a primary means of distribution.
The surge of indie titles over this period was LARGE, and while I have had a hard time tracking down hard data, it isn’t hard to assume in the following years, the number of small market games able to self-publish to these marketplaces skyrocketed. On Steam alone, just 7 games were released in 2004, in 2018 the number sat at 9,050. A nearly 1300% increase in 14 years.
But why am I saying all of this?
When I finally got an Xbox 360, in 2009, there were a lot of titles available. Over the last 10 years, I have learned how to find the games I like. Specifically me. This ability to find content, and tailor your gaming experience based on your preferences, has led to a multitude of diverse and hyper-specialized experiences. You like first-person puzzlers and explorers? Grab Talos Principle, The Witness, Q.U.B.E., or Portal. You prefer retro-style side scrollers or dungeon crawlers? Snatch up Hyperlight Drifter, Below, Katana Zero, or Dead Cells. And those aren’t even the hyper-specific games. Like the retro-RPG feel, music, and XCOM-style strategy games? Try Wargroove. Third-person, focused linear story, cover-based shooters, with a more open world? Try on Spec-Ops: The Line or the Uncharted Series. Love dungeon crawlers and pinball/breakout mechanics? Look no further than Creature in the Well.
Honestly, the categorization and customization of your personal playlist is nearly infinitely wide and unfathomably deep. There is something for everyone out there, it just takes the know how of how to find it.
This abundance isn’t without its setbacks though. As one would assume, the highly specific nature of many games, and the ability to hone specific likes and interests leaves more ample space for disappointment or, what industry professionals and gamers like to call “bouncing off” of a game. As I have developed my tastes I have become very familiar with this feeling.
In 2018, Rare released Sea of Thieves, and open world, sea faring, pirate game giving its players the freedom to do just about anything they wanted. Sail the seas looking for treasure on age-worn maps? Do it. Challenge ancient evils and defeat hordes of Skellys (skeletons) to unlock the vault on the island? Sharpen your blades. Hunt other players down in true buccaneer fashion and sink their ships, making off with their hard earned treasures? Avast! But I had grown more accustomed to being told more story along with my gameplay and Sea of Thieves, when it launched, just didn’t offer what I wanted. I played Sea of Thieves for about 12 hours before I just couldn’t play anymore. My enamor in staring at the beautiful water and unique sailing mechanics just wore off. Instead, traversal between points of interest became dull busywork, and I legitimately began catching myself falling asleep while playing, only to wake right up when I switched to Rocket League.
I ran into the same issue with Elite Dangerous, a space sim which falls into very similar categories as Sea of Thieves. You can do anything, be anything, so long as you take the time to find out how to do it. I needed more. I wanted a few story missions to hold my hand through the core processes and functions, even if just a little. I wanted to be introduced to the games ecosystem and universe. Not to just be dumped into a sandbox with a pile of tools and no instructions. I bounced off of those games hard. I have returned as they have added additional features, sure, but they didn’t become career games like Battlefield or Rocket League did.
I have a long standing feud with my family over Warframe. My uncle and grandmother absolutely love the game, and for good reason. Digital Extremes is unrivaled in their community interaction, feature addition, and bare knuckled persistence. Warframe is deep, and shows no signs of showing down. There is just one problem: I just can’t force myself to like it. The introduction, specifically the portion of the game you have to play before the story really “gets good” takes close to 30 hours. Your time before said moment is spent digging through a series of relatively unremarkable levels, recycling mission objectives, and frequently plowing through enemies like some kind of space Dynasty Warriors game. It is pretty, smooth, and mechanically sound in every way. I just don’t particularly care for the gameplay loop. Give me more substantial rewards. Give me more story. Give me more unique objectives. Give me enemies with consequence.
I don’t want people to see this as a piece solely devoted to bashing Warframe, because it isn’t. What I am trying to point out is, I have tailored my tastes around a few key genres with a more diverse subset of sub-genres mixed in. No matter how hard I try, Warframe just doesn’t click enough of those boxes. Sea of Thieves didn’t originally tick those boxes. Hell, I bounced off of Doom 2016. Something about the speed of player movement and the specific setting didn’t jive with my desired gameplay or sensibilities at the time and I ricocheted hard. Like…I played 4 hours. Tops.
The hardest part, in all of this; the hardest part about bouncing off of a game, in today’s gaming environment, is dealing with the feeling of guilt you get when it happens. Often times for me it is a self inflicted guilt, but the guilt is easily compounded when you have friends who do like the thing you can’t get into. My family’s Warframe feud has largely subsided, but when it was at its peak, I genuinely felt like I had failed them, not being able to get into something they loved so much.
I wanted to speak to those who have found themselves bouncing off of games everyone around them seems to love. It’s ok! Really. There is so much out there to play, so many things to discover, you should never feel like you have to like something. It’s ok if you picked up Red Dead Redemption 2 and just couldn’t stick with the sluggish controls. It’s ok if you tried to dive into Monster Hunter World and just couldn’t fall in love with the hunt (I didn’t either!).
Instead, keep your head up and keep looking. Austin Walker, on Waypoint, said in a podcast recently, “someone out there is making my favorite game.” Maybe its already out there. Keep looking. And don’t feel bad if you bounce off of a game a lot of your friends love (I’m looking at you Destiny). Games are rarely closed books the day they come out. Most of them will continue to add content, and a lot of the content they add is made to bring more people in or win them back. Stick out the bouncy ones for as long as you can, come back if you are intrigued with new content, and in the spaces between those events keep looking for your favorite game. It’s out there somewhere.