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Saturday, April 9, 2011


A Plague on the Game Industry

The acronym “IP” gets thrown around a lot when talking about games. For those that don’t know, IP stands for Intellectual Property and simply refers to a game series, such as Mario or Halo. An original IP, a new game series, is something I feel the game industry is getting afraid of when sequeled titles sell so much more. Looking at 2011’s big releases this year, there are a lot of numbers after those titles: Killzone 3, Resistance 3, Gears of War 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Infamous 2, Mass Effect 3, Oblivion 5, and another Call of Duty… I could go on. As you can see, sequels dominate the releases not only this year, but years prior as well. There’s a lot to be said about sequels. Hell, even I’m inclined to buy more than half of the list I just mentioned. But what are we saying as gamers when we buy sequels? Are developers tricking us by putting out a game with a fresh set of paint? Do we as consumers gobble up sequels regardless of how much of a cash-in they are?

I touched base on this subject a bit in my last article on Pokémon a bit (go check it out!). Although not a numbered sequel, Pokémon Black and White are definitely a continuation of the main Pokémon games and unquestionably feel like the same basic gaming experience we’ve had over the last iterations of the games. This is a call to gamers to start voting with your wallet. If you’re tired of the same mechanics in a game without much revision, don’t buy the game and complain later as the game companies already have your money. Don’t buy the game at all. I skipped out on the last generation of Pokémon (Diamond and Pearl versions) because I felt that there was nothing in it for me. Black and White brought me back into the fold. If those games don’t do it for you, don’t buy them.

We as gamers have the right to demand more from our game companies. We shouldn't be satisfied with all the incremental features that come out year over year. We deserve better than that. The yearly Maddens, Call of Dutys, Guitar Heroes, MLB 2Ks, etc. shouldn’t sell gangbusters if they’re only offering a couple new modes, a new gun, improved stats or whatever nominal feature they put in. This creates stagnation in our games, which is why so many people on message boards complain about the game. Most are usually the loud minority that buys the game anyway, but this crowd does have a point: we shouldn't be satisfied with the same experience again and again.

I realize that Mass Effect 3 along with other games are trilogies that outline a story. I get that. But, how many original IPs are there this year? This generation of consoles? Certainly less than the numbered sequels we have been seeing and certainly not as big, buzz wise or numbers sold. The blame certainly does not fall 100% on our hands. Publishers have just as big, or even bigger, impact upon what gets into store shelves the next year. There are publishers that are just too afraid to take a gamble on an original IP and would rather take the profit of a sure fire game.

One of the worst offenders is Activision and their CEO Bobby Kotick. In 2008, VivendiGames, which owns Blizzard Entertainment and another studio called Sierra, sought to merge with Activision, forming Activison Blizzard. Along the way, key titles Sierra was developing such as Ghostbusters and TimSchafer’s Brutal Legend were dropped. Bobby Kotick claimed they weren’t “annual-izable.” It's as bad as it sounds. Kotick turned down these later critically acclaimed games because he couldn't turn them into a cash cow? That's downright inexcusable. Big Activision mainstays such as Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero are now former shells of themselves because of this word. No one will want to play these games for years because they were pumped out for all they're worth. Do we really want this for our other games? Call of Duty is actively becoming another Guitar Hero with 3 separate studios working on a different iteration: Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Sledgehammer Games which is developing an unreleased action-adventure Call of Duty, whatever that means. Not to mention Raven Software known for their games such as Singularity and the recent Wolfenstein remake are now solely working on DLC for Black Ops and the Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer. The amount of activity around this IP could have been better serviced by making more innovative and more interesting games instead of working on this single IP whose mechanics and gameplay are becoming played out to the point of becoming mundane and contrived.

Graphical technology has only gotten better over the years. Realistic graphics aren’t a thing of the future anymore, they are present day facts. Looking at the engines running Final Fantasy XIII, God of War 3, Crysis 2 and other gaming powerhouses, it’s amazing how far the gaming industry has come since the 8-bit era. No longer are we required to imagine what characters look like. What game developers think of, they can create. Yet with all this power, why aren't we seeing more genres? Why aren’t we seeing any groundbreaking new games? There is so much time, money and man power devoted to all these graphic engines, sometimes developers lose sight of the other aspects of gaming that are important. We should be seeing a renaissance of new games coming. New, unique games that challenge the way we've been playing games. Or even games that have amazing narrative experiences, character development, and plots that blow us away. There are only a handful of these refined experiences out there, but instead we have a lot of games with a lot of mediocre stories. All publishers and marketing teams want to do is hand us the same iteration of the same mechanics of gameplay, just with a graphical overhauls. When is this going to stop? What we as gamers need to do is vote with our wallets. Encourage the small developers who are making those games that aren't exactly on the radar at the moment and are experimenting with our genres. We just can’t be satisfied being spoon-fed the next Halo, the next Call of Duty, the next sequel. We deserve better than that. Time to demand more.

-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

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