The recent release of Halo: Infinite is a stark reminder of what video games used to be and where they’re headed.
Halo: Infinite is the latest sequel to the Halo video game trilogy, following the story of Master Chief. The campaign mode is remarkably simple and tells an easy-to-understand story compared to other iterations of the Halo franchise.
The game is free, which makes it an easy download for Halo fans or those in search for a new video game. The multiplayer mode allows you to connect with friends across the globe and compete in many maps and different game modes.
For me, it was a stark reminder of what video games used to be and a sign of what video games have become since the original Halo games made their debut.
Halo then vs. Halo now — a change in gaming
Let’s flashback to 2004 with Halo 2. This was the first Halo video game I played, and I only decided to do it because one of my friends said it was the hot new game. From there, it became one of the few games I ever played. My friends and I would build custom maps with creative game modes and spent hours playing. We would look up game modes online and play them on our own. We spent many hours competing online, fighting for dominance and supremacy in a world without esports, video game competitions or rewards systems.
Flash forward to 2021 and the video game landscape is much different. More and more video games can be played for free. That said, there’s a cost within the game. Several popular games now have season-based reward systems, where the more you play, the more rewards you can earn. Many more games have microtransactions, where you can use real money to buy different cosmetics, characters and character skins. Fortnite was the leader of this idea, allowing gamers to buy new costumes based on real-life celebrities, fictional characters or people who fit the game’s ongoing storyline. For $20, you could buy a character skin to customize your character’s appearance.
Halo: Infinite doesn’t shy away from that trend. The game has a new rewards system where you earn points that can be cashed in for rewards. Like Fornite, only some of the rewards are available through a battle pass, which you can buy for $8.99. But you can also buy more costumes and character designs using real money. Some cost close to $18 — just to change the color of your armor. One gamer estimated it would cost more than $1,000 to unlock everything in the game.
That’s where gaming has gone and where it is now. Games are free, sure, and that’s great for those who don’t want to pay $50 to $60. But to unlock everything, you need to pay. Playing the game can help — if you earn enough experience points you can unlock some items, but not everything.
As a casual gamer, I can come home, log in to Halo and play a few games with my mates. But when I earn 50 points a game and new levels unlock at every 1,000 points, it’s hard to get any new costumes. Without paying real money, I’m stuck with the normal outfit.
So to truly experience everything in a game, I’d have to either pay hundreds of dollars or spend hours and hours grinding, something that I don’t have the time for.
Video games are no longer for you or me. They’re for the big spenders, the longtime grinder
Video games and the difficulty of the modern era
I played NBA 2K20 and NBA 2K21 throughout much of the pandemic, focusing on the MyTeam mode that allows you to build fantasy lineups using digital cards. I started the game and played it for a while. But in recent weeks, it has become too difficult. The game mode has increased the difficulty levels for any games that can earn you top rewards.
This isn’t uncommon for the series. In NBA 2K21, the game released “gauntlet challenges” where you had to compete on the hardest difficulty. In one game, you had to use the worst-rated cards against the best-rated cards to win.
I understand why a video game would want to improve the mechanics of the computer. You want the game to simulate real-life circumstances as much as possible. Defenders should cover the corners so Kevin Durant can’t shoot a wide-open 3-pointer. Tall centers like Rudy Gobert should have blocks that make him worthy of Defensive Player of the Year.
But a video game mode where you can collect player cards and compete with your favorites with a fantasy team should not be too competitive and too hard to play for casual gamers. More than anything, you should have a chance to win. You shouldn’t need the best players, the greatest teams and the supreme skills of a money-making competitive player in order to win a game.
I’ve been a fan of NBA 2K for years — ever since NBA 2K9. In NBA 2K20, I had fun competing with my squad. The following year, I found it difficult to get victories because every shot went in. You could score upward of 80 or 90 points, but the computer would nail about 110. At least you scored, and losing didn’t feel like you failed.
NBA 2K22 makes you feel like you failed. You can’t get the shots to go in. The defense is too tight. The rewards system is too hard to crack. Competitors and YouTube players make it seem easy. For the common folk, it’s nearly impossible.
The game is made for competitive play. It’s not made for you anymore. It’s made for those who want to make content online or who spend hours playing. A normal teenager coming home from school can’t complete these modes at all.
The rise of casual gaming
Casual gaming has erupted across the United States. These are the games you play on your phone, like mobile versions of pool, bowling, solitaire, baseball, Candy Crush and more.
The Mobile Premier League is a new gaming company that looks to offer these games to everyone in one single arena. The MPL — Asia’s biggest mobile gaming platform with 45 million casual gamers and a $2.3 billion valuation — looks to blend casual and competitive gaming, offering casuals gamers and competitors a simple platform where they can interact.
The platform involves aspects of casual gaming. It is available in Utah but the casual gaming aspects of the platform cannot be used due to Utah’s restrictions on gaming and wagering.
Naman Jhawar, SVP of Strategy and Operations at MPL, told me that the MPL wants to bring casual and competitive players into one platform, allowing them to compete in games for fun or for competitiveness if they want to.
Some games, he said, are often complex where they offer competitive and casual modes. Some offer a natively offline experience that people can play from home without much fear for difficulty levels. Then again, there are other games with heavy complexity that make it more likely to be featured in esports competitions, like League of Legends.
The MPL does have its eyes set on hosting competitions and generating titles that can be used for esports competitions. But, at the same time, the platform hopes to popularize those more casual games that we play every day.
“We are reaching out to both casual and professional game gamers,” Jhawar said.
Correction: This article previously said we spoke with MPL CEO Sai Srinivas. We spoke with Naman Jhawar, SVP of Strategy and Operations at MPL.