This phenomenon has baffled me for quite a while now and it is that it seems to me that nowadays most people seem to prefer to play games that are of inferior quality, which seems very illogical to me.
In the past when I was a child it was just the time when video games began to arise and develop rapidly to improve further and further, which also lead to them becoming more and more popular. So lets summarize this: Video games get better which leads to them becoming more popular, very logical. The primary goal was to make video games more realistic, since old computers had limited resources and abstract vector graphics and ascii art were not very appealing to the average customer, so it was absolutely essential to achieve some form of high quality realism to get people to play the games.
Before some people now argue that it is not about realism, let me explain why most people play video games: People play video games to do things there, they cannot do in real life. It is that simple and for that to function it is absolutely essential to have some form of realism and the primary source of realism is realistic high quality graphics.
I even remember being subscribed to a physical copy of a gaming magazine, so I can always be up to date about the newest games. Those magazines had real jounalists and real game testers that would rate games on real criteria like graphics, sound, controls, gameplay etc, so you had professionals rating the games on real criteria so you had some form of metrics to see which game is better and people would want to play the best games obviously. Game development progressed that fast that almost every year new games came out that were significantly better than the older ones and if you were a serious gamer you could also upgrade your hardware every year, since the hardware as well improved rapidly.
Let's switch to our "modern" time now, where things seem to have changed, there is still progress in hardware and games getting better, but it is no longer that fast and most amazingly, most developers seem to not even be trying to improve their games anymore in terms of quality, realism, gameplay etc, they just stick with what they have, make some slight modifications and claim it is the new thing. First I was wanting to blame the developers for this that it is them who are doing it wrong, but now as I'm a developer myself, the viewpoint has shifted a bit and I noticed it is actually the customers demanding inferior products, at least most of them and if not directly, then at least indirectly.
How I know that most people prefer inferior games? Well I looked at some statistics at what the most played games are and in 90% of the cases it is not one of the newest, best, high quality or most fun games, but instead some old mediocre, but "popular" game that refuses to die. I always wondered why those fanboys of old games refuses to upgrade to the new stuff. Well I can answer the question myself, since I was like that as well for some time, before I got back into game development I was already fed up with video games and I no longer cared to get the newest and best games to play and I just sticked to what I already knew from the past, so it is probably a combination of idleness, ignorance, fanboyism and maybe being poor. Even though I was ignorant myself I was not all ignorant, just occasionally and therefore I occasionally checked the progress of modern games and tested some of the latest technological developments and while doing so often I instantly thought "Wow this is so much better than the old stuff, I wonder why anybody can be so stupid to keep playing the old inferior games"
Well this is probably only because of my unusually level of self awareness and most likely 90% or more of the general population will never overcome their ignorance and will stick with what they know from the past or from their friends from the past. In german we have a saying that translates roughly like that "What the peasant does not know, he will not eat" and this seems to apply to gaming as well, people will only play what they already know and new things are suspicious to them and they will not touch it. So the developers are partly forced to make their "new" games look like the old games in order to get the customers to play them and therefore stopping technological progress.
It is a weird situation we are in now, since in the past I was convinced that technological progress is going further and further until games become totally realistic and we maybe even get some kind of holodeck or so, but seems I was wrong and it looks like technological progress has halted for over a decade or so. Of course technological progress has not halted for real at least not totally, maybe just slowed down, but in the perception of most consumers it does not exist, since they keep using their old products. Sure there are big companies that spend a lot of money developing better and better gaming technology, but they never seem to be able to beat the classics in popularity, no matter how much better they are.
The absolute worst offenders in this are probably the open source gaming community or game developers in case they exist, since those people seem to ignore any progress that is made in video game technology and stick to their Quake based games to eternity, never caring to make actually technical progress, they just pretend nothing else exists and they still live in 1999 or so and damn, their ripoff products are still relatively popular, lets just hope the fanboys from the old days will retire soon.
Let me give you an example as a game developer why old Quake based game engine technology is inferior and unusable. I started with making my own levels for Half-Life1 based mods mostly, it was the first engine with a decent enough level editor and realistic enough graphics for me to care to do something with it. For the time back then it was okay, but I quickly realized how extremely limited the engine technology is, for example a level could just be 200x200meters in size maximum due to some engine limitation and how it was designed. 200x200m sounds relatively large, but you have to consider that this was the absolute maximum in general levels were much smaller and further levels consisted of corridors and rooms and you could not design the whole level to be visible at once because of performance reasons. Yes you can achieve a lot with design tricks to create decent looking levels, but for me this inferior technology was out of question for me to ever use again and it was not just the level size, but also the inability to create realistic looking outdoor areas with vegetation and some more issues including that it is not developed anymore by anyone, so no matter how you turn it, it is an evolutionary dead end, technologically speaking. These facts however are completely ignored by many gamers and basically the whole open source gaming and developer scene and they build everything on this old inferior technology.
You have to consider that I could figure out these obvious issues very easily as a teenager, while nowadays almost the whole world of grown adults cannot figure this out. With modern game engine I can create almost any virtual world I can imagine now, I can create landscapes of many square kilometers in size with hundreds or thousands of trees with millions of polygons with no problem, then why should I limit myself to a few corridors and rooms on 200meters? To put it in perspective 200x200m are 0.04 square kilometers and now I can create 2x2km levels which are 4 square kilometers which leaves us with a game world 100 times larger on average and I can even make it 4x4 or 8x8. Of course I chose the engine that can give me 100 times more power, total no brainer, but not to insane people from today, they seem to love inferior technology, just because it is inferior, maybe they think superior things are evil in nature, similar when people hear the name "Uebergame", which already makes them freak out, since they cannot handle things being superior, for them everything seems to be equal, even if it is obviously not.
Originally I wanted to theorize about why most people prefer inferior quality games, but this again lead to a more deeper philosophy round and digging deep into human psychology and mental illness. It is probably because we live in a holographic universe, which means everything reflects everything, which means you can figure out the issues of human society, by analyzing one aspect of it, which is in this case video games. I remember having an internet friend long ago who used to do the same, but based on some cartoon he liked, pretty crazy, but also he was often amazingly spot on with his analysis.
To not further drift away from the topic I will try to make a short summary why most people now prefer inferior quality games:
The first and main reason is probably ignorance, like I already explained in taking me as an example, the second reason is probably the fanboy phenomenon and social pressure, since you have to play what everyone else plays otherwise you are not cool, I remember that from my childhood as well, the third reason is the more complicated philosophical and psychological stuff I explained here. Before I forget it, the problem today is that we have now mostly mob rule and in the past it was ruled by experts, like the example with the gaming magazine I bought which had real experts on judging the quality of games, while nowadays every peasant thinks he is an expert and rates everything based on his opinion even though having no actual knowledge or skill, which leads to low quality products becoming popular and the good ones being ignored, but this is probably enough material again for a new article.