Successful business or Creative freedom? That is a choice most developers face. Few try to combine them. But, the current trend shows where most of them have their affinity towards.
I’ve been gaming on my PC ever since I got one in the tenth grade. I was actually good at studies till the time. But, I had always been fascinated by video games, and somehow I knew that my topping days were nearing an end when I bought a computer. The first game I played was Empire Earth. Compared to the other strategy games of that time, it was alright, but it was my very first game, and I loved it. The ability to go from stone age, right up to the future had me by the throat, and the eventual high I got from it showed no signs of subsiding. What followed was an inevitable path of career destruction. And the games didn’t help either. Mario, Legend of Zelda, Prince of persia : The sands of time, Starcraft, Half life, Half life 2, Halo, Grim Fandago, Far Cry, Doom 3, Gran Turismo, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, I tried them all, old and new. And I loved them, each and every single one of them.
Eight years and many downfalls later, the fascination for gaming still remains. Although i’ve taken into doing many other things such as socializing(!!), programming, getting out of the house and staying out, I still find time to play games. And I still follow gaming news religiously. I sign up for beta testing now and then, and try and complete the hell out of most game demos of interest. The only thing that seems to have changed at all over the years is the quality of gaming. The gaming industry is booming. More and more people are buying new systems to buy the latest and greatest games, and the gaming companies are trying to capitalize on this sudden rush to success. The competition has become so fierce, that if you manage to start a successful franchise, the only viable profit option is making sequels and prequels based on the same brand name. Likes movies, music, books, and countless other products, its the brand that sells and not what it offers. And this is probably gaming’s biggest downfall.
Nowadays, you get to hear a lot of developers trying to “streamline” their games so as to be friendly to both, newcomers and veterans alike. Gaming is an ever expanding phenomenon. The gaming industry now is bigger than the music industry. Hence, its obvious that all the companies will try and gain the goodwill and trust of the people who have just started off with gaming. As a result, we see more games being released with the casual gamer in mind. Gameplay is more simplified, easier, and movie-inspired than it ever was. After-all, a casual gamer wouldn’t like the story to take center stage, or wouldn’t like the game to be a bit challenging, right? Wrong! A casual gamer is one who does not play games often, and not one who likes to play casual games. And the very interpretation of a casual game is flawed. It’s meant to be something which one can play for a while and then leave without any attachments or continuation. And this can be done with sacrificing gameplay elements or the story. Look at a game like World of Goo; it falls under the category of a casual game. But, it has very complex mechanisms and actually required you to think. No gamer in the right frame of mind would like to play a game which is as simplistic as possible, with very little features. But, some developers do not understand this. Hence, we have so many of the highly deceptive “Epic 5 hour campaigns”. I’d rather have a good 10-15 hours of sustained, well distributed fun than a game that gets over in a heartbeat.
Another thing that bothers me is the lack of new, original titles, and the overabundance of sequels and prequels. Seeing as money is the most important concern of a game developer, it makes sense from their perspective to make sequels for successful games. But, from a gamers point of view, it’s just beating round the same bush for the nth time. Trilogies are fine; they’re part of a story, and each part has to play its part in the narrative. But releasing 10 to 15 iterations of the same franchise is just plain stupid, no matter how great each of those games might be. Call of duty, once one of the best military shooter franchises, has now just become a money making machine for Activision. Even though the franchise sells millions of copies every year, still the cracks are showing in the minds of the gamers, and they’re more visible now than ever. You can put in more destruction, more voice acting, more story elements, but the core gameplay will always get the flak for being monotonous, which it rightfully deserves. And that is why its no wonder why many people are excited about Battlefield 3; It’s not as exploited as the Call of duty franchise, and offers a different kind of experience when compared to your run of the mill shooter. The Need for Speed and Final Fantasy franchises are other classic examples of the same phenomenon.
Before, gaming was divided into a lot of different categories. You had first person shooters, third person shooters, role playing games, isometric RPGs, turn based strategy games, adventure games, action games, real time strategy games, survival horror games and many other small subsections of each genre. And each of them had certain distinguishing factors that made them unique. These days, no matter what the name, every game will have an ‘action’ tag associated with it. The basic difference between many games these days is just the name; they employ mostly the same elements, just in a different coating. I still remember the first time I played Prince of Persia : The sands of time; the puzzles in the game were mind blowing, and actually had me thinking for a while before attempting them, rather than failing and trying again and again like we do in most games. It is this ability to make the gamer think that made the game so great, and the eventual success after completing a puzzle so rewarding. The same goes for strategy games, and games like Deux Ex and half life 2, which added some unique elements to make the experience special. Nowadays, these moments are few and far between. All we see are developers trying to fuel the adrenaline rush of the gamers to make them feel empowering. Even the survival horror genre, which once strived on fear, has just become a case of “Blow that F*$$&^& Zombie’s head off earn 2000 points”. The strategy and adventure genres are on the decline, and only FPS and action oriented games rule the world today. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with that; there are many great shooters and action games coming out today, but if you’re looking for something different, then your choices are depleting, and depleting fast.
After such a big rant, let me tell you that there are exceptions to all the points I have laid down. Games like Demon’s souls, From Dust, Starcraft 2, The Portal Series, Bioshock all give me hope that there will always be developers who try and think differently. With platforms like steam, indie devs finally can reach out to the mainstream gamer and showcase their creativity. With promising games like Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite and Dark Souls on the horizon, we still have a lot to gaming left. But the paradigm is definitely shifting, which is worrying indeed. But as long as there is that one game in a year that surprises and awes me, I don’t care how many Need for speeds, Call of Duties and Assassins creeds they manage to shell out of their monotonous development cycles. And how many developers does it take to screw up the gaming industry you ask? Just one; one who starts earning so much money from a game that he forgets that gaming is primarily a hobby and a platform to showcase your creativity, and then a business!