Grandpas always like to say “In my day…” about how it was better when they were growing up. Well I do think certain aspects of games were better in the old days. In the early days of gaming, there really was not much money to make. The people making games were not doing it for money. They were doing out of passion. They loved playing games, and they wanted others to experience that addictive fun. Their dreams were to make a game so good it created a legacy in the gaming world. Think Super Mario Bros. or Final Fantasy even. These games were so much better than the other games at the time, they became instant classics.
Eventually, of course, gaming became more popular. More popular meant more money. For a while developers resisted this by staying as independent as they could, but just like music and movies the big businesses and their money eventually won out. Most of the creative developers were bought out. Developers had money to do more risky games that might end up legendary. For some time that worked out great, resulting in the golden gaming era of the mid to late 1990s. Once the big businesses saw how much money could be made, they through all that out the window.
Why spend so much money on risky ideas and games that could last for years when they could just re-release the same game with a few small changes every year?
If there is one thing I have learned about big businesses, it is that they only care about money. If they have any way to increase profit they will do it. Their goal is to make money, not make great games. And so these days most of the big budget games are all very similar to already released games. They have their developers make a few small changes to the established formula and re-release it for huge profit.
Chief among these is the Call of Duty series by Activision. For a while it was a pretty good series. Every few years they would come out with a new game with a lot of advancements over the previous one. This ended with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Since then they have released Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops, and Modern Warfare 3. Each one gets a few small patches and a few DLC packs. Then, it is on to the next one.
It seems like more and more the big publishers and their developers are literally designing their games to be replaced. There is no longer any goal to make lasting game that people will talk about for years as the gold standard. All they care about is making the most money. The players are having to pay more and more to keep up with all the new releases. It used to be you would buy the game, maybe an expansion too, and be good for two to three years. This is a similar idea to planned obsolescence, the idea that manufacturers deliberately make products to fail after a certain number of years to increase sales and profit.
The new games are not very creative either. They might make a few refinements to the gameplay, but that is about it. When you sit down to play one of these new games, they just do not have the same impact. You have already done this before. Of course it is not as exciting as it was last year or the year before. When the sequel didn’t come out for two, three, four years, there developers had time to make huge advancements. It really felt like a new game with new gameplay. This is a problem the game industry needs to solve. There is some promise with indie games on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam, but indie games are still missing certain things required to have that lasting appeal.
I feel like games have three major aspects: technical, artistic, and consumer. The technical aspect of games are the graphics, sound, and other things that facilitate a good game. The artistic aspect is mostly where the creativity is. New game mechanics, new twists on old mechanics, the story, the characters, and more are all the artistic aspect. Finally, we have the consumer aspect. This is basically what you get for your time and money, so things like how much the game costs, how long the game lasts, replay value, and more. The best games perform all three of these aspects superbly.
Right now, we have the mainstream games (mostly console but some PC) and indie games. Mainstream games have the technical aspect down. They usually have excellent graphics and sound, smooth framerates and a number of other good things. However, they really lack when it comes to the artistic aspect. The same game mechanics are reused over and over with few changes. Even the story-lines are very similar. Mainstream games are uneven when it comes to the consumer aspect. Some of them give you a lot of gameplay for your money with a long, 40-hour campaign with branching player choices and a huge open world, but others might just give you a short, linear, 5-hour campaign and a very restricted game world.
The indie games have the artistic aspect down. They are always really creative with a lot of new ideas you have never seen before. News quickly spreads around the gaming world of the fun gameplay, and they can many times become viral. Indie games do miss some of the technical aspect. They usually do not have the budget for amazing graphics and sound. They have to cut corners with that and focus more on the gameplay. For the consumer aspect, indie games are also uneven. Some of them are way too short for the asking price while others give tons of gameplay at a steal of a price.
For the most part, neither one of those has the golden package of excellent technical, artistic, and consumer aspects. There is the rare gem of a game that succeeds in all areas, but it does not happen enough. There needs to be a lot more games released that have that golden package. I think there are a few games each year that do meet this, but the game industry could do so much more. In the coming weeks I will make a couple posts related to this. One will be my year-in-review where I list some of the big events of the year as well as what I thought were the big releases of the year. I will also make a post specifically about this golden package idea and checking some of the 2011 games to see if any of them do well in all three aspects.