Change: Something to Embrace or Something to Fear?
By Lo-Ping - Tue May 24, 3:49 pm
We find ourselves in controversial times. The gaming industry is maturing and trying to find its place. Nowadays the number of sequels seem to outnumber new IPs. While this only seems logical considering the age of the industry, a quick look at any gaming related forum will tell you that a lot of gamers are unhappy with the industry’s current state. Sequels seem to be a rule rather than be an exception, and many say this is killing innovation. Is this really the case though? Let’s take a look.
Gaming has changed. We’re slowly but surely moving over to digital distribution, and the ‘casual’ market is expanding. Everybody seems to be looking for the next big thing, their own Call of Duty, so to say. So how is this affecting the industry? For starters – sequels. The number of sequels seems to be growing as publishers and developers try to establish their franchises. A franchise that comes to mind is Red Faction. After seven years of absence, the franchise returned to the gaming scene with Red Faction: Guerilla, a game that received positive reviews and spawned another sequel – Red Faction: Armageddon. Armageddon seems to fall more in line with traditional third person shooters while still offering something different: full destructibility.
Another way in which we can see the bigger focus on sales is the addition of multiplayer to games that were traditionally single player experiences, and an overall bigger focus on multiplayer in general. Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed are examples of games that started off as single player only experiences, and have moved on to focus on both. The reasons for this are simple: to expand the target audience, and games with multiplayer simply sell more units. Not all games start off as single player focused games, though. The recently released “Homefront” is an example of a game that focused just as much on its single player as on its multiplayer. Sometimes it happens the other way around. The Battlefield franchise was originally all about the multiplayer experience, and has now moved on to being a single and multiplayer experience.
Another topic of many heated discussions is the streamlining of games. It seems to be happening a lot lately, for better or worse. The latest example here is Dragon Age 2, which received a lot of flak from the PC community for being “dumbed down” and “consolized”. Whether this is the case or not is up for discussion, but the result is the same: a much more streamlined game. Personally, I don’t think consoles are to blame at all. “Dragon Age: Origins” sold very well on consoles, and although the console version wasn’t perfect (neither was the PC version for that matter), its imperfections didn’t justify such a drastic change in gameplay. Crysis 2 is another example of a PC game that, after being released on consoles, received a lot of criticism for being “dumbed down.” And again, although the gameplay on consoles would’ve had to have been modified a little bit, I don’t see a reason for such big changes to the game. What I think is happening is that the games are simply being modified to attract a bigger audience. Games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Dragon Age: Origins showed us that there is definitely a market for more hardcore RPGs on consoles, so “dumbing them down” wouldn’t make much sense. With such a rapidly expanding audience, publishers simply want to sell as many units as possible, and the way to do this is to make the game more accessible.
At this point I haven’t even mentioned the word “innovation” once (well, now I have) and you’re probably wondering why. It’s because I haven’t discussed digital distribution yet. Digital distribution, at least in my eyes, is a great thing. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it opens a large window for developers who don’t have unlimited money and resources: indie developers. One should never look for innovation in big budget titles. Delivering a good game is much more important than delivering something unique when you have a large audience to satisfy. Risks generally aren’t taken with blockbuster titles. This is why indie developers are so important to the industry. Small developers have everything to gain but little to lose. You don’t have to deal with expectations set by previous games when you’re developing a completely new game, and when you’re not putting millions of dollars into your games, you can take a risk or two.
Before this generation, indie games could really only be found on PC. This was the case for several reasons, but this one is definitely the biggest: the PC is an open platform. If you wanted to publish a game on consoles you had to, among other things, print thousands of discs and get the game shipped to retailers. When you’re not even sure the game is going to sell, this is a pretty big risk. That is why digital distribution is so great – anyone can bring out a game on pretty much any platform nowadays. You’ve got PC services like Steam, Direct2Drive and Impulse, and you’ve got the Xbox Live Marketplace, WiiWare and the PSN store. The entry level is significantly lowered for smaller developers, and those smaller developers are the source of many unique games. Games like Flower, Braid and Super Meat Boy would never have seen the light of day in any other generation.
Is innovation dead? Not at all. Perhaps you’re just looking for it in the wrong places. The industry is going through a phase. It’s growing up, stretching its arms and testing the waters. I don’t think we have anything to worry about. As a wise man once put it; “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” (Woodrow T. Wilson, the 28th US president). In today’s gaming industry, this seems more relevant than ever.