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Variety Is An Endangered Species

I was watching a 2 part interview that Adam Sessler had with Michael Pachter which discussed various different issues that gaming and the gaming development scene face today. Setting aside the fact that Sessler agrees with a man who has been more incorrect about his predictions than any average person trying to play along with an episode of Jeopardy, I was listening to what Pachter was talking about and thinking about the state of gaming today. For how incorrect Pachter is, he certainly talks a good game. The discussion moved to the Plight of AAA games and how companies like Square-Enix forcast sales numbers they never meet and then consider good numbers to be failures. The interesting part of that is just how these publishers make these predictions, but that's a story for another time. I was thinking about games like Tomb Raider and other high profile games and what possible explanation could be given as to why they don't "meet expectations."

I came to the answer, and of course it's just my own opinion, that variety is seriously lacking in the industry and not only is it lacking but it's highly discouraged. Now, it's easy to blame gamers for this. How often have we heard about how terrible Call of Duty is and yet it sells millions? Is it really the singular fault of gamers though? Here's the thing, Call of Duty is an aberration, it flies in the face of everything core gamers would generally agree makes a good game. It sells because of the climate of gaming today. This entire generation of gaming has been one where priorities are terrible.

Think about games today. Most of the best selling or most high profile games were either sequels or reboots. Old ideas milked over and over again. This was the gen of shooters, Call of Duty clones. The previous gen was the gen of GTA clones but still had much more variety available. Why though? Well you can cite money as a big reason, but I think that there are many reasons.

The Review System: This is a broken system right down to its basics. The stigma of bought reviews will never be undone because they do happen, though not as frequently as many think, but that's not the biggest problem with the review system. The biggest problem is that it's predominately internet based and that allows a site like Metacritic to steer the direction of the industry's creative process. Many publishers use Metacritic to gauge the reception of their games, and Metacritic has a serious problem with which websites carry weight to contribute to their aggregate scores.

Publishers actually care very little about gamer reception unless you have an incident like Mass Effect 3 where they can't ignore it. Publishers are quite content to take review scores to build forecasts on and then judge success from there. There is also no standard present for reviews and, often, the gaming community will completely disagree with the reviewers assessment of some high profile games. I don't have to remind you about Dan Hsu's Gears of War review do I?


So we can see that the entire reviewing system from bloggers to Metacritic have a huge impact on what kind of games are made.

Casual vs. Core Gamers: Publishers LOVE casual gamers. There are varying definitions for casual gamers, ranging from the kind of gamer that plays nothing but facebook/mobile/wii games to the kind of gamer that may play "core" games but does so without any research into them and is doing it just because their friends are. This gen's surge of social aspects, apps, the idea that mobile games are going to dominate and take over the industry over console games, and microtransactions are all a result of the casual gamers. Publishers know they can get away with putting out the most bare bones experiences because the casual gamers won't care and just buy up in droves. Peter Moore explained it perfectly when he mentioned that millions of gamers are paying for microtransactions, so how can they be evil if people are buying them.

Publishers, as has been established, care about numbers. They care about scores, they care about sales, they don't care about reception or perception. Core gamers KNOW that an increase in social aspects can potentially mean a decrease in substance. Core gamers KNOW that microtransactions have and will continue to be abused. Casual gamers don't know, and don't care, which makes them the perfect audience to target and flood the market with the same types of repetitive and banal experiences that audience loves. With this attitude comes the philosophy of "accessible" games. This philosophy has destroyed franchises, resulted in many instances of backlash from the Core gamers, and yet won't change because Casuals simply don't care. This is philosophy means that variety is a hindrance to profit.

Having a Bark that is worse than our Bite: The final reason variety is so scarce this gen is because of us. We constantly lash out at developers who subscribe to the "accessible gamer" philosophy, or to the greed of publishers, but the numbers show that we don't back up our words as a large group. There are isolated incidents of the Core audience actually backing up their claims (DmC) but the sales of games like Call of Duty, or the Street Fighter 4 expansions, or RE6 aren't ALL casual gamers. They are also core gamers who will whine about it, but still buy the game because they are a slave to multiplayer or the hope that their favourite franchise hasn't been ruined. Gamers are a highly unstable community, nearly impossible to gauge a common perception from, so it should be no wonder that Publishers will trust numbers more than words. How many times have there been complaints about how cookie cutter experiences this gen only to have those games see 6 million sales? We need to reward the developers that take risks and stop feeding into this mentality of milked sequels, annual releases, and all of the other decisions that kill variety.

A new gen is coming up. Sony claims that they are all about games and gamers first, everything else second. Nintendo has no focus right now it seems, and Microsoft is looking to be more all-around entertainment than just gaming. We have an opportunity to remove Metacritic's power, reward the devs putting out unique and innovative games, and bring gaming back to the kind of variety it enjoyed during the SNES to PS2 days. Let's not have another gen of graphics over substance, shooters trying to hybrid with every known genre under the sun, shoehorned multiplayer or single player modes, and developers casualizing games. Let's strive for variety. Look passed photo-realism and towards artistic value, and finally stick it to greedy publishers like EA or Activision. I don't think any of us want a repeat of the worst aspects of this gen do we?

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dedicatedtogamers1807d ago

Excellent blog (as usual)! I disagree in only the slightest bit: I do not think variety is lacking. I think talent is lacking. Variety is abundant, both in terms of gameplay styles and in the content. We have all sorts of bizarre and unique games on the market, both AAA games and indie games. It's easy to look at Call of Duty's popularity and say "the FPS genre lack variety". But what about Dishonored, Portal 1 and 2, or Bioshock? All of those have done well critically as well as commerically. However, they all have a more fundamental thing in common: they're all high-quality products made by very talented people. They are polished to a mirror sheen. And so is Call of Duty, especially the multiplayer.

As a PC gamer who saw the rise of indies long before they came to consoles, what I have noticed is that when there is a lack of talent, the developer falls back on a quirky gimmick or a unique art style to stand out in the crowd. If you lament the lack of variety (or at least, you're sad that unique games don't usually sell very well), you can blame indie devs for that. For the last decade, indie devs have been abusing the "quirky, unique" trope to push sales when the quality wasn't really there. Now, a lot of people just want a good game, so they see the quirky, unique style and they assume the developer was trying to be "creative" to compensate for weak graphics, weak gameplay mechanics, etc.

Ducky1807d ago (Edited 1807d ago )

" If you lament the lack of variety (or at least, you're sad that unique games don't usually sell very well), you can blame indie devs for that."

Indie devs have been the ones providing variety. Some fail, some succeed, but they're not having that adverse of an affect on people's views on games.

DragonKnight1807d ago

Thanks. I have to slightly disagree with you as well though. I would say, and I don't think I'm alone in this, that this gen was defined by shooters and sequels. The most successful games were shooters, or sequels, or shooter sequels. Shooters were the easy success for the most part but they weren't the only guilty culprit. Sure there plenty of unique experiences like Journey, Heavy Rain, etc; but if you look at the gen as a whole, many fewer risks were taken.

I can partly understand why, games are more expensive than ever to make, but I think that most gamers would support good games without the need for heavy production values that drive up costs so long as the game warrants support. The problem is that the idea that games have to be as close to photorealistic as possible and must have multiplayer results in either many games are made to be clones of the first game to merge both aspects successfully, or the quality takes a huge dive and no one likes it.

Then there's the Japanese development scene. They don't care about HD graphics and photorealism for the most part, and they are far behind in multiplayer, but they are capable of making some very unique experiences that don't get received as well in the West partly because the Western media constantly hammers them for not joining the HD gaming era as much as Western devs.

I just really think that priorities need to shift immensely for the new gen.

PopRocks3591807d ago

This was a pretty solid assessment. The reason the "cookie-cutter" stuff persists is because people keep buying them. Those are the games that make the most profit and that is a driving force in how our industry moves.

Nowadays I opt to avoid certain experiences (for example, I don't think I will pick up the next Call of Duty) and focus on others (Indie, WayForward, Nintendo, Double Fine, Valve, etc.). Basically I choose to support what I want to keep seeing more of, not what I don't want to see anymore (CoD, DmC, etc.).

Not everyone follows this same philosophy. I remember there was a huge boycott group on Steam for CoD: Modern Warfare 2 and after the game came out, a screencap was released showing most of them having paid their $60 and were playing the game post launch. Perhaps it's part of how online multiplayer dominates the industry as well; how the media will hype up certain gamers and the public will dive right into them.

Until more consumers take more initiative, just as you eloquently put out in this little piece, the trends we keep seeing are only going to remain the same or even worsen.

DragonKnight1807d ago

Completely agreed. Too many times gamers have proven to be hypocrites with no will power to stop supporting the bare minimum creative effort and instead opt to buy whatever their friends are buying. We won't get better gaming experiences by telling publishers and developers that their lack of effort will be rewarded even if we cry about it.

JohnApocalypse1807d ago

"This was the gen of shooters, Call of Duty clones"

The only COD clones I can only think of is Homefront and the last two Medal of Honors

DragonKnight1807d ago

Clone isn't necessarily in the strictest sense in this case. Many have attempted to follow aspects of CoD as well. In fact Killzone 3 was slammed by many for this, as were other shooters.

coolbeans1807d ago

I lol'd at the Jeopardy comparison. An interesting blog noting problems I don't want to see repeated next generation (or at the very least to the same extent).

"Here's the thing, Call of Duty is an aberration, it flies in the face of everything core gamers would generally agree makes a good game."

I must be one of the "other" core gamers then.

DragonKnight1807d ago

It's fine to consider any of the CoD games to be good (I don't think there's anyone that considers them ALL to be good games, but I wouldn't know) but what I meant by "it flies in the face of everything core gamers would generally agree makes a good game" is that, when it's brought up, the usual consensus is that CoD is consistently the same experience over and over with no real advancement and little to no actual challenge. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that that kind of description doesn't sound like a good game.

Bear in mind that that's just the opinion I've seen/heard and is in no way indicative of literally every gamer.

coolbeans1806d ago

You didn't really need to clarify. I understood your statement, which is why I made mine, meant as an off-hand comment. Sure, if including spin-offs and one or two main ones, no one will say they're all good, but I honestly can't say I wouldn't recommend any of the main entries to a majority of people. My "other core gamer" portion is specifically talking about going against consensus' opinion of no real advancement, which I've talked about in previous CoD reviews.

memots1807d ago

Thanks for a great read.

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