Right now it is 8.42pm on Monday night. I was supposed to be playing a video game.
An exercise game to be precise. Using Kinect on the Xbox One. I put the disc in. Another day one update: 2.1 GB. Of course. I should be used to this by now. How long is this going to take? Difficult to say with my internet connection.
Oh, wait. Great. Just great. Now the Xbox One won't let me download the update for some reason. Now I can't download the update or play the game. A hard reset doesn't fix the problem. Just another great night in with Xbox One.
And the PS4? The PS4 isn't that much better, but once in a while I have managed to turn it on and play a video game within 30 minutes. That happens every once in a while. The Xbox One? Someone should set a stopwatch: time from 'on' to 'want to launch through nearest window' – roughly 30 seconds. No console before or since has managed to consistently frustrate me on the same level.
Here is my current situation. I can't play the video games I want to play. I can't play Halo: The Master Chief Collection, for example, because it won't let me download the update. Now I can't play the exercise game for the same reason (turns out a whole bunch of people are having the same issue – read here).
Friends, kindly allow me a tangent. Last night, on Sunday, I attended a wedding. This wedding was like any other you can imagine. You know the drill: you sit at a table, you talk to strangers. "What do you do?"
Eventually, because of my job the conversation would occasionally turn to video games.
"Oh, I used to play video games, but now I don't."
I heard that exact same quote from two separate people. Their stories were remarkably similar. They used to play games, now they don't. One complained about the fragmentation of PC gaming – the need to have Origin to play EA Games when he just wanted to play on Steam, issues with Ubisoft's uPlay. "How am I supposed to remember all those usernames and passwords? I can't even remember my pin number."
The second person: he didn't have time essentially. But complained that when he did have time he always had to download updates on his PS3. Then the games required updates. Most of you understand the quandary: when you only have a spare hour of leisure time in your day, every second counts. A series of updates might actually ruin your planned night of gaming.
I'm not really sure that Microsoft, and to a lesser extent Sony, understands that.
"Remember when you just put a cartridge in your SNES and you were playing within seconds?"
I hear that phrase a lot and usually it rankles. Video games have irrevocably changed. We can never go back to the 'good old days' and I'm not sure I'd want to. Video games are productions on a grander scale, and updates are often a good thing. Don't get me wrong: I like online gaming, I like being able to purchase and stream content from online stores and these are services that require constant maintenance. I understand that.
But a 2.1 GB update for a bloody exercise game? The kind of game aimed at a generalist, mainstream audience? We're starting to cross a line here. We have a video game console that, in my experience, seems to be constantly making it difficult to play actual video games. We have fragmented PC services that are more concerned with servicing the needs of specific publishers instead of consumers.
As an industry, video games are creating more and more obstacles for players when we should be harnessing the power of technology to remove them.
And conversely, as an audience we're getting older. As a result life is throwing obstacles in our way and we're constantly fighting to remove them. As adults with responsibilities free time is at a premium. We're working long hours, we're looking after children, we have exams, we have houses to clean, lawns to mow, assignments to complete. We're no longer children dilly dallying with our legs under the table with an entire day's worth of time to kill.
Our free time is a valuable commodity. Does the games industry not understand that it has to fight for that free time? That it has to compete? Currently the games industry is treating its consumer base like it has nothing better to do except sit around and wait. That is not the case: we could be watching incredible television, we could be playing cheap mobile games, we could be messing around on Facebook, we could be exercising.
Think of the audience video games could have.
Have we ever had a more computer literate, video game literate population than we have at this precise time, in this precise moment? We have droves of people just waiting to graduate from mobile/facebook games to consoles, but the current situation is not a welcoming one. It's a brutally difficult, frustrating experience and it's driving people away. It's driving existing gamers away, people like my friends from the wedding:
"I used to play video games, but now I don't."
Once upon a time I thought that phrase was the result of a false perception — a marketing hangover, basically — the idea that games were for children. Now I wonder if gaming has pushed players away and in the process stopped itself from growing as an industry.
It's now 10.15pm. I've given up on the update. I've tried everything and it just won't download. My wife is now watching television. I'm on YouTube. I am not playing video games.