Friday, 30 September 2011

Stagnation in Gaming - What we’re Asking for vs. What we Want

I don’t necessarily think that this is completely true, but one of the complaints that I hear made over and over about this generation in particular is that the games have gone stagnant. I already touched upon why sequels aren’t a bad thing, but when as Yahtzee says in his Resistance 3 review that, “there’s Gears of War 3, Serious Sam 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3...” that there might be a, you know, tiny bit of recycling going on outback.

When we see so many sequels, movie based games, and games that are “just like x” in that they ripped x off wholesale, it does become worrying that the market is kind of just spinning its wheels. The thing is that it’s easy to blame the industry for this, to say “well, they aren’t coming up with anything new” but really, even though it’s a tough question to ask, shouldn’t we also be asking what parts we play in all of this?

We do see people complaining, but when it comes time to take home the tally these sequels always end up being the most popular games that sell the most units and make the most profit for the companies involved. We all talk about how we want something new, but when the time comes to put our money where our mouths are, we tend to get a little gun-shy. Plenty of critics and gamers praise games like Ico, Psychonauts, Shadow of the Colossus, and indie games like Trine, but when you compare sales of these games to the ones that everyone complains about being unoriginal, there’s really no contest. It’s almost not even fair to compare these games side by side, but really, if this is what we’re asking for vs. what we’re actually buying, then where’s the disconnect coming from?

I’m not trying to blame anyone for why game stagnation might be occurring. The thing is that most of us like to play it safe, and really when it comes to a hobby that costs $40 to $60 bucks a pop, it’s often times that you simply don’t want to take a risk, even if the game that is being hailed as new and innovative is being lauded by all comers. In the back of your mind you just can’t help but think “what if I don’t like this? What happens if I’m disappointed, or I feel like I’ve wasted my money?” So rather than go for a potentially high risk/high reward scenario, you just shrug your shoulders and buy the latest copy of the latest series that you know you’ll enjoy, even if it is just a rehash of every game that the series has done up to that point. Of course, when you buy the game, you end up saying something like “it’s good, but I wish that they’d have done something else with it for a change.”

Yet, companies are just as afraid to innovate because they don’t want to drive away a lucrative fan base by giving them too wide a divergence from what they’ve come to expect. Look at Square Enix’s bungles with Final Fantasies XI and XIV. Trying to take the series online has been disastrous for Square -- even though the ultimately lacklustre showing of XIV is also their fault due to a seeming rush to release it that caused it to be buggy as hell -- because among other reasons it alienates those that played the Final Fantasy series for their stories and enjoyed it being a single player experience.

To boil it down to basics, we can’t really have our cake without eating it. If we want games that push the boundaries and actually bring innovation to the medium, we’re going to have to shell out the money for those games once they actually get made, not just say “there, that’s what I wanted” give a satisfied sigh and walk away without investing anything. Not every game is going to be gold, but if you do the research you can at least generally be sure that what you’re buying will be worth going through once. I know it’s not the best solution, since as before affordability is a major issue, but at the same time the almighty dollar speaks volumes more than all the dissent in the world at times, and right now it’s basically saying “play it safe, we want what we’ve had before” and it will take effort to change that to “show us something new, and get rewarded for it”.

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