A.C. "Mac" MacKenzie, Opinions Editor
October 20, 2011
Filed under Opinion
Just as film fanatics keep their schedules open for impressive, “Oscar-bait” flicks in the closing months of each year, video game fans (“gamers”) hold the month of November to be near and dear as well. As the consumer frenzied winter holidays approach, video game developers push out more and more big name titles.
Just a few short days ago, the first of these — “Batman: Arkham City” — arrived. Other big names include wartime shooters “Battlefield 3” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” (the eighth entry overall in the runaway hit “Call of Duty” franchise), as well as the adventure title, “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” and new entries in two of Nintendo Co.’s biggest franchises, “Super Mario 3D Land” and “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.” Some of the other most successful games of 2011 include “Portal 2,” “Madden NFL 12” and, most recently, “Gears of War 3.”
An obvious similarity among these titles is that they are all sequels and continuations of preexisting intellectual properties (“IPs”). Much like the film industry — of which it is often complained that too few original films populate a sea of remakes, “reboots” and sequels — the far younger video gaming industry is suffering from a stagnation of creativity and a lack of new ideas.
The video gaming industry isn’t doing itself any favors by conducting itself this way. A very small collection of games hold the vast majority of public attention and fledgling developers with unique visions simply don’t have the room to grow. Some of the most iconic series of this era are mass produced yearly, these are good — even great — games, but their constant presence is a detriment.
The key example of this is Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise which, since the release of the series’ second entry in 2006, has become an annual release, taking in heaps of cash year after year. This drives other developers to create similar, competing titles like “Battlefield” and “Medal of Honor” until store shelves are saturated with nothing but World War II-based shooters and their offshoots. Those not in the business of turning out yet another WWII game are those creating sci-fi titles like “Gears of War” and “Halo.” Another very popular type of game is the “survival horror” shooter, like “Resident Evil,” “Dead Space” and “Left 4 Dead.”
The theme is that most popular games on the market are “shooter” titles. The most variation between which is “first person” or “third person,” and whether or not the game features enemy Nazis, enemy aliens or enemy zombies. Nowadays, there are even hybrids of these three archetypal foes (“Call of Duty,” for instance, features Nazi zombies… which may be slaughtered on the moon).
Some genres show even less variation than these shooters. Most racing titles are indistinguishable from one another, and all fighting games operate identically to fighting titles from the early ‘90s such as “Super Street Fighter II” or “Mortal Kombat.” There has been zero creativity within the fighting genre for well over a decade, regardless of how many comic book crossovers and DLC characters they chose to produce.
One of the most successful IPs out there is the “Madden NFL” license, another property that repackages a similar product with only minor alterations year after year. This model has proven unsustainable, as over the last half-decade, gamers have seen the rise and fall of the “Guitar Hero” (and associated “Rock Band”) franchise, evolving from a truly unique David into a bloated, clumsy, peripheral-heavy Goliath. This veritable “Scarface” of the video gaming industry proves that even the most creative ideas can be cursed by “too much of a good thing.”
The few great, original titles that do get produced are often overlooked and sometimes don’t even see future releases. More and more often, these aren’t even fully priced titles, but bargain-oriented downloadable content. “Bastion,” a download-only action-RPG, is without a doubt this year’s most unique title. It is also an incredibly fun journey that can be downloaded for a mere $15, yet I’ve hardly met anyone whose played it. Many people don’t even realize that they could purchase the ambitious “Catherine” at their local GameStop because it’s “too Japanese.”
There is some hope. The incredible “Okami,” a unique game that garnered critical acclaim half a decade ago, saw a sequel on the Nintendo DS earlier this year, “Okamiden.” Likewise, the success of “Portal 2,” the sequel to the most-talked-about surprise of 2007, indicates that a game doesn’t need to involve salvos of AK-47 fire for fans to fall in love with it. Due to the growth of social networking, people are always sharing and suggesting their favorites, like “Psychonauts,” “Beyond Good & Evil,” “Katamari Damacy” or “Meteos” to friends…Jussayin’.