Editorial: The state of games

I would describe myself as an 'avid' gamer. Lately, not so much, due to time constraints, but given some time I like to sit down with a good title and try it out. Something that I've noticed, however, is that recently I find games not delivering that true feeling of 'fun'. Fun is unique to each person, in the sense that what I find fun may not be what others find fun, but I know many that could agree with me here: I see less and less games that are innovating.

Innovation is one of the keys to making a successful game, but I've noticed over the past year or two that it has been pushed aside for remakes and rehashes of current titles, purely for corporate profit. The way that I see it, this is what is going to diminish gaming in the long run. Yesterday, my friend said to me something interesting; "You know...for the first time in a very long time, there are no games I'm actually looking forward to." And strangely, I agreed with him. I mean, sure, there's some games with potential coming up, like BioShock 2, but there's nothing (again, in my opinion) that's really going to knock the socks off reviewers.

The big problem is that, for game makers (and because of the current economy), it's a lot safer to stick with the 'tried and trusted' method. Make a nice FPS, and people will probably buy it. Make an RTS based on a successful franchise, it'll be sold. But if you lay down millions of dollars on a game that's both a new genre and a new franchise, then you're really gambling.

I can think of a recent title that got everyone's attention because it aimed to innovate: you guessed it, Spore. Spore got a vast amount of people, including me, excited. The promise of having your own virtual petri dish in which you customize your creature from a single cell organism to a space faring enterprise sounded amazing. And after watching Will Wright's videos demonstrating early builds, it sounded possible. A long time, trusted, developer making a game of that scale was bound to be a milestone in gaming history. But was it? Short answer, no. The final build seemed watered down from the early videos, and EA's draconic DRM hampered the games sales significantly. That, and to most people (myself included), the game just wasn't really that good. The important thing with Spore, I think, was the fact that it was new and it got people talking. Everybody I would talk to would say, "Hey, man, have you seen that 'Spore' game coming out?". Even non-gamers were interested, as I saw, and that was key. So Spore proved that innovating has great potential, going by the amount of excitement generated, and maybe a Spore 2 will be a real gem. Who knows. But why aren't more developers innovating a bit higher?

Well, again, financial risk. Also, almost every big developer I can think of currently has a franchise they're working on. I believe it would take a new developer, with employees well trained in the industry and lead by people who are well-known within gaming circles, to deliver something spectacular. Additionally, game publishers don't want to take risks either, so the new developer would have to be self publishing, or have their title pre-approved by one. If somebody can really prove that innovation is a great thing for games, it'll benefit not only companies, but us consumers too. I tried Halo Wars a week ago. It was fun, and everything, but I didn't see any breakthrough features that made me get excited. It felt familiar, but that's not always a good thing. I felt the same with Red alert 3...I wasn't compelled enough to play it. This may be just me, though, although a couple people I know agree that they weren't the best games around. StarCraft 2 and Diablo 3 are generating huge amount of excitement, and that (I believe) is because they were so successful and because they haven't seen sequels in a long time. If you begin pumping out a title a year (read: Guitar Hero) then you'll begin losing interest until you do something drastic.

So that's my opinion. But what about the opposite? Do you think it's better to have things they way they are? I say this because maybe it's better for developers to stick with popular franchises and successful genres, as they would get very skilled in that region and deliver high quality titles. Look at Call of Duty; that franchise has been around for years, but it's an extremely fun franchise, as well as high quality. Call of Duty 4 shows just that. By the end of the year, there'll be a range of new Need for Speed games out, and maybe they'll show that old doesn't necessarily mean bad. I can think of a bunch of games from way back that have had new titles added recently/in development that are successful, so maybe innovation isn't key after all. There's arguments for each side. But, what do you think? Take risks and bring on the innovation, or keep getting better at what you're doing?

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