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Gaming Age: Survival

When you look at the general gaming zeitgeist, it’s clear that it goes through distinct ages.

  • RPG-elements
  • MMO
  • Battle Royale
  • F2P
  • Open world
  • Survival

We are currently in an age of survival. Not literally (OK, also literally), but of survival games. Which is good news to me as it is clearly one of my favorite genres, but even I have been surprised at the recent volume and game companies involved. Let’s take a look of what’s coming up according to PC Gamer.

Retreat to Enen (Aug 2022) is about becoming one with nature rather than chopping down all the trees. Forever Skies (Early Access late 2022) is survival and exploration in a blimp base above the ruins of Earth. I Am Future (2022) is another sort of “skyscrapers above the mist” setting but is supposedly more jolly in perhaps a My Time at Portia sort of way. Above Snakes (2023) is isometric survival with Native Americans in which you place down your own tiles to explore. Derelicts (TBA) is a 1-man developed survival game that looks like Satisfactory with actual survival elements. Sons of the Forest (Oct 2022) is a sequel to The Forest, ’nuff said. Nightingale (Early Access late 2022) is described as “Victorian gaslamp fantasy” and certainly looks cool, although it strikes me as less survival and more adventure/story progression.

That article was focusing on new survivals games that weren’t “chop wood, mine ore, repeat” though.

In the pipeline is an open-world Terminator survival game. Ubisoft is making Skull & Bones, which is Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag + survival. Wild West Dynasty is the next game from the publisher of Medieval Dynasty. Jagex is working on an open-world survival game based on RuneScape. ARK 2 is coming, featuring in-game Vin Diesel. My Time at Sandrock is a thing.

What kind of inspired the post though, was Square Enix announcing Harvestella, a “life sim farming game.” I know that farming sims aren’t technically survival games, but it’s kind of a wolf vs dog situation.

[Edit] I cannot believe I forgot the other example: Blizzard’s unnamed survival game.

The thing that I am discovering about myself through all this is that my tastes and predilections have not shifted much. That in of itself is not an epiphany, of course. But 11 years ago I wrote a post about Bean Counting and how I recognized that as the sort of root of fun I dig at in every game I play. For a long time, MMOs satisfied that desire. And regular RPGs like the Witcher, and several F2P games, and Open World games, and so on.

With Survival (and farming) games, I feel I have come to perhaps the purest Form of Bean Counting.

Of course, Novelty is also important… otherwise I would be playing Minecraft and calling it a day. And so I feel it rather fortuitous that I happen to be living through this age, and its embarrassment of survival riches. If you don’t like punching trees or watering plants, well, I’m sorry. I’ll just have to horde crafting supplies enough for the both of us.

Bean Counters

So once again, Gevlon accidentally makes a compelling argument in the midst of a pompous rant:

“Work ethic”, “hamstering”, “completionalism”: I don’t have a good name for this skill, but I’m completely sure it exists. The lack of it provides the lazy bum, and we all know the good feeling of  “Well done!”. The ancient hunter who went out hunting when he wasn’t hungry had better chance of survival than the guy who started hunting when he was starving. The guy who felt fun from watching his pot filling up with beans had much better chances during winter than the guy who foraged just for today. We are descendants of hard working people and we inherited the genes that give the fun feeling when we see our stockpiles filling. The traditional MMO use this form of fun. […]

Now let’s analyze the glorious rise and then the shameful stagnation and fall of WoW. Vanilla WoW was a pure “hard working” game. Your progress depended on how much and how effectively you worked. There were action in the game, but due to the GCD and cast times, it demanded dexterity that vast majority of people easily had. Of course you had to understand the game, but for non-retards it wasn’t a challenge. So you could concentrate on one form of skill: “hard working”.

People completely wrongfully assume that WoW beaten EverQuest because it was “less grindy” or because it had smaller death penalty. No. It won because EverQuest had forced grouping, making the game mixed “hard working”-“social skills”. WoW was pure “hard working” until the endgame, where raid organization needed social skills which did not belong to the game. No wonder everyone referred it as “the organizational nightmare”.

As someone who still has a Light of Elune in his paladin‘s bags, I really enjoy the bean counter metaphor. It is a concept I was musing on while playing hour 37 of The Witcher. Why was I looting every house and making several trips across town to the one vendor I know will buy damn near everything in my bags? The gold is undoubtedly superfluous at this point, especially as I now how enough ingredients and in-game knowledge to steam-roll whatever is coming my way. Then I peeled one more layer down, and wondered why gaining experience points was still fun, when The Witcher is likely my 75th+ RPG. If gaining XP is fun, then why am I not just playing Xenogears forever? It was with that thought in mind that I commented a rebuttal to Gevlon:

The “shameful stagnation and fall of WoW” has nothing to do with undermining the hardworking element, which is alive and well even now; it has everything to do with the natural reduction in the novelty of the experience.

The guy having fun “watching his pot filling up with beans” will NOT have fun filling up an infinitely large pot. There has to be an end-point – the reward of a survived winter – in order for the fun of collecting beans to be realized. Those beans also meant he could relax in his tent instead of scrounging around in the snow. The guy would have less fun filling up a pot with beans as a slave, even if the survival benefit of a full pot is the same. Why? For this guy knows that, as a slave, his task is never-ending.

As Morhaime has commented, the WoW market is saturated: there are more ex-WoW players than WoW players. The people who enjoy hardworking in games have picked up WoW, enjoyed it for many winters, and are now moving on to pick beans in new fields. It has nothing to do with anything WoW has or hasn’t done. Frequent gear resets, at most, act as more frequent winters. After so many winters in one place, it is time to move on regardless of whatever other claims of quality the game has. The novelty of gathering beans fade, and slave-like, rote gathering sets in.

In any case, a WoW that was simply building on vanilla for the last seven years would still experience a “shameful stagnation and fall.” Unlike sports/chess/etc, which have the benefits of tens of thousands of years of iteration, there will always be better, more novel iterations of videogames on the horizon.