I can't remember a more promising, or more frustrating time in gaming as right now. I've been obsessed with video games since the days of the Commodore 64, and I've seen a lot of changes. Most of those years were filled with the excitement of seeing technology grow and expand. Going from 8-bit pixel characters to the near photo-realism of today. But my enthusiasm has been sorely tested by several recent trends that seem to be plaguing the gaming industry. Things have changed, and I feel that there are more than a few changes that are definitely for the worse.

Let's start with Hardware. Although video game consoles have always been victim to their own unique issues, the past 5-6 years have been filled with examples of poor manufacturing, poor design, or poor conception from console makers. It would be almost redundant to mention the Xbox 360 and it's numerous red-ring/overheating/disc destroying issues. But the fact remains, Microsoft clearly did not put out the best product they could have. If the 360 was a car, it'd be a late 80's Pontiac Fiero. You want to like it, it looks impressive, but you can't escape the fact that it breaks down too d--- much!

But Microsoft wasn't the only culprit. Sony had overheating PS3's that caused fires while eventually removing backwards compatibility, Nintendo omitted DVD and Blu-Ray playback in both the Gamecube and the Wii. The PSP had dead pixels  and various hardware issues, the Nintendo DS went through 3 revisions before it became the handheld it should have always been.

Even now, though hardware is less an issue, there are always the constant firmware updates that inevitably feature annoying bugs from time to time, and occasionally cause more severe problems before being "patched". What's problematic and immensely frustrating about this is that the all of the major players in the games industry seem less committed to quality controls and more committed to revenue at any cost.

In any other business, if you produce a shoddy product, it very well might be the last product you ever make. But somehow, in the world of video games there is plenty of room for repeat offenders. Like a bad hollywood movie, most game-makers realize that making a crap-game will still make SOME money, especially games based on movies or existing famous IP's. There's more gimmicks now and a lot less genuine thrills.

When does that change? When, if ever will gamers take back the power afforded them by capitalism and stop buying the "crap"? It is not my intention to minimize or discount how much hard work goes into the products created in this business. But there is no reason why consumers shouldn't be able to expect quality when they shell out big bucks for their video game goodies.

My next beef is actually three seperate issues, but I can roll it all into one very easily. Digital rights management, downloadable content and Sony's recent legal waiver strong-arm tactics. All of this boils down to one very nasty issue. Control. Software piracy, as in real life piracy, has got alot of people running scared. Making money in the age of the internet and mass-media is nowhere near as easy as it once used to be, Almost any type of data can be stolen, hacked, and abused. There is no safety from this.

The game industry has tried responding to these issues in much the same way the music industry tried to stamp out music sharing services like Napster and others. And... like the music industry, the games industry will fail. Things are reaching a point where the demands being placed on a gamer to play any new title will perhaps exceed the value of the experience. In other words, it just won't be worth it.

I specifically think of the recent approach where companies have decided to ignore a sizable portion of consumers by demanding that games be perpetually connected to the internet, or even requiring internet registration in the first place. Worse yet are the companies who deliberately omit content from a released product unless the consumer registers online or pays full retail price.

There is a distinct loss of priorities in the games industry. Perhaps it is because of the amount of money generated in the games industry. But making and playing games is about more than money. It's about the pursuit of happiness, at times enlightenment and most definitely--- fun. And you can't have fun if you're worried about you're new game hardware failing or having to download one thing or another, or paying top dollar for product because you don't want to miss out on content that should have been available from the start.

The problem is all about control. In order to protect themselves, all sorts of players in the game biz are seeking ever inventive ways to control EVERYTHING. It's not just about protecting their property anymore. It's about controlling how you use that property, who you use it with, how much you pay for it and whether you should have to pay even more for it. There is a word for this sort of thing. It's called BUREAUCRACY. If you really want to be inflammatory and extreme, you could call it fascism or authoritarianism. But in the end, it's about someone getting to tell you what to do.

As long as capitalism and free-markets are practiced in the majority of the world, consumers will never respond well to control tactics like we've seen in the past 5 years or more. There is a better way for companies to manage and protect intellectual properties while still making a nice profit, but what that way is hasn't become clear to all or even most. I just hope that solutions are found soon before a favorite and beloved past-time/hobby is ruined. I would love to know what your thoughts are.