A little while ago, I had the tremendous realization that no one could tell me how to spend my money and therefore I could spend it on the things I wanted with absolute impunity. I decided the time had come to buy all the game consoles that I'd always wanted as a kid, but could never have.
A few weekends of driving all over creation later, I had a pretty complete collection with most of the games I wanted.
A lot of gaming realities have changed drastically since then. For one thing, there's the expectation that most of a game is online play. Online play's great fun, but it requires that somewhere, someone's running a server to handle the connections and handle you playing with someone else. As time goes on, it's likely that companies will decide to turn those servers off. More damning, it's likely that companies won't want to release the code to allow a public implementation. The end result is that someone will have to want to play the game so badly that they go to the trouble of reverse engineering it so that they can run a system. It's likely that a lot of games won't have the benefit of the interest of someone who also happens to be that talented.
(Sony & Microsoft might mitigate this problem *if* they retain backwards compatibility. But it's probably just a matter of time before they disappear off the face of the planet and render those portions of those games inaccessible)
Another thing: There's the terrible habit of patching a game after the fact. I notice this a lot in the EA's NHL series. You''ll work out a good strategy and then a patch comes along to fix a problem with the AI that you've been exploiting and you have to work the whole thing out again. The biggest problem is that those patches are not always beneficial. Sometimes they remove something that you think should belong in the game. The end result is that beacuse each patch has the potential to affect game mechanics, they have the potential to create different games. And you just might spend time talking to your grandkids about how version 1.2 was WAY better than version 1.63, but you'll never find a copy of 1.2.
This was prompted by THQ's announcement that online play will only be available to people who buy their games new vs. pre-owned. That move isn't so bad. It's annoying.and remarkably similar to forms of copy protection, but that's their choice and the market will likely bear it, so it's hard to complain. In modern economic terms, it makes sense and they'll likely see some cents added to their bottom line at the end of the year.
In terms of the future, it's a decision that guarantees that our children and grandchildren won't be playing their games. Consider my example: What's the chance of finding an unopened copy of a game from 20 years ago? Pretty slim, especially as time goes on. Eventually, that probability will reach nil.
Moreover, there's the mechanisms to unlock them. Some of that data might be on your hard disk. And when your hard disk goes bad? Well, you can call support. And if the company doesn't exist anymore?
Even DLC has this problem. It won't be offered forever and it won't be available forever. In the end, games like The Sims which have a great deal of fan support will lose content with time. How will you find "Return to Ostagar" for Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening two decades from now?
Yet, I can go home, pick up a copy of Dragon Warrior, slip it into the NES, and play it. It's exactly the same as it's always been and always will be. Oh sure -- not everyone has a copy, but even at that point, there's a great community for ROMs. Don't have an NES? There's MAME and other emulators. There's tons of ways that fans have found to preserve their favorite games because companies didn't really know how to work around it. And the lifetime of those open-source solutions isn't tied to the existence of just one person or one company.
Ultimately, this confirms what I've thought about modern gaming for a while: Gaming is actively denying its history. Consider G4 which styles itself as a gaming channel. In their station identifications, they have snapshots of Atari joysticks. But have they ever talked about a 2600 on their flagship production, Attack of the Show? No. The move by THQ destroys the possibility of a legacy for their games. Everyone in the industry glorifies the newest and the best, turning it from a pastime into a weird sort of competition for who will spend the most money for the least benefit.
And it's not just businesses, it's also gamers. The things that define Mario and Luigi were born from graphical inadequacy. The moustache was added to show which direction they were facing. Do you really believe that your children will sit still and play those games, listen to the square wave music, watch the 8 bit graphics, and enjoy it?
Can you sit down in front of a 2600 and play Berzerk for hours? Can you stand in front of a Centipede cabinet and enjoy it?
In the end, these things force me to agree with Roger Ebert. Modern gaming is not art. And it never can be.