Remember when games used to be loved because they were unique? Maybe this was because they tried a new gameplay element or attempted something new with the narrative that was unprecedented for a video game. When games that are special in their own way leave their niches in favor of selling more units, they lose what made them different in the first place. This is a problem for modern games because it is already difficult enough to find something noteworthy in the quagmire of games that exist. So, when a game comes along that particularly takes your interest, you enjoy it for being something new and special. Therefore, when you find a game like this, you wish for it to stay as it is while improving its formula. Instead, what seems to happen to games nowadays is that they do not improve the formula but instead change it entirely.
One example of a game reinventing the wheel, so to speak, is Dead Space. Dead Space was originally a tense survival horror game that focused on tight environments and the less-is-more scare tactic. Sadly though, it seems like EA, the publisher of Dead Space, decided that Dead Space 3 should focus more on sales. This means that the game lost its focus on survival horror and instead focused more on action. By making this decision, EA neglected Dead Space’s survival horror roots by making it so that in every encounter, you are swarmed with countless enemies. Not only are there countless enemies, but throughout the game you never feel like you are low on health and never seem to run out of ammo.
Dead Space is not the only game to become mainstream, though. Bioshock: Infinite is another example. This entry in the Bioshock series has conformed to many stereotypes of modern shooters by altering the gameplay in many ways. For one, instead of being able to carry all the guns you find, you can only carry two at a time. Other examples of Bioshock: Infinite conforming to the masses include the introduction of a regenerating shield and the fact that weapon upgrades only increase their statistics, instead of changing physical appearance and adding new abilities like in the first game. While these ideas work in the end, it does not change the fact that the game differs in many ways from its predecessors. In doing this, the game leaves behind a lot of what made it unique. This bothers me because in previous games, you had all the weapons accessible to you, which allowed you to manage your resources and take certain encounters with different enemies in the ways you see fit. Another reason this bothers me is because when you had no shield in the previous games, you had to strategically manage your health, while in Infinite, it seems that dying has no consequence with a shield that can regenerate.
Changing the gameplay is not the only way that a game can try and appeal to the masses; story can be changed as well. For example, Halo: Reach had a story that seemed to completely disregard what was laid out in previous games just because it was a prequel. In Reach, the game presents you with five other members of Noble team only to have them killed off before you have a chance to truly develop any care or concern for the characters. Shortly thereafter, you are killed off as well. The idea of killing off your companions would mean more if their personalities did not boil down to military banter and stock characters. In fact, there are many plot holes this game left as well. One example is the fact that the Noble team immediately knows how to operate Covenant vehicles when you first meet the Covenant. Although this may not seem like much, it can cause you to not find the story as engaging as it might have been.
On top of all of these things, the publishers themselves need to realize that making a game more mainstream does not make it better. In fact, while the game may sell more in the end, the game itself may suffer. The problem of games becoming more generic does not solely have to do with game developers, though. This problem can be mainly attributed to the publishers. This is because many of the publishers seem to see risks as ways to lose money, and therefore they will not take any. While this may be true to some extent, it hampers the creativity of the developers and restricts the ideas they can present in a game. While it may not seem like much, this issue can make all the difference between a good game and a bad game. For instance, if a game focuses on exposition but then the developers have to change the story to accommodate more action, then the game has been forced to change what made it unique from the start. As a result, you have a game that has a more generic story and has gameplay people have become used to in recent years. If games instead had a good focus between both of these elements, they would be a lot more interesting than they have become.
One example of this is the Call of Duty series. The publisher, Activision, seems to believe that if the same general experience is delivered each year with a new skin and a few new features, then it makes for a better game. In reality, this is not true at all. In fact, instead of the game feeling new and unique, the game becomes boring and repetitive. This is not to say the game is bad at all. In fact, when looking at the Call of Duty games objectively, they are generally really good. The problem, however, is that they come out every year just so the publishers can make money. This makes the games less interesting. While this may seem like the same basic formula with an improvement, it is not. When I say the game needs the same general formula, I do not mean that the game should be the same with new skins. Instead, it should be the same core with new gameplay elements, a better story with characters you care about, a more immersive world, and unique ideas that have not been seen before. Sadly though, it seems Call of Duty does not fit into any one of these categories; this is because the game does not present anything new and essentially keeps the same formula and changes its look.
While the publishers do need to be less restrictive, the blame does not rest entirely on their shoulders. In every case, the developers must agree to make the change under this publisher. While they may be at the risk of losing the publisher if they say no, they at least would save the game by keeping what makes it special. Then, in this circumstance the company could go indie as many AAA companies did when they could not find a willing publisher. This could even work out for the better because it seems recently that indie games have proven to be more successful and interesting. However, on the other hand, it may not be easy to find a publisher willing to take risks at the expense of losing money, so this option may not seem very appealing to the developers. Sometimes, though, the developers themselves may want the game to become more mainstream. In that case, it cannot really be helped because both parties agreed to change the game’s formula. Unfortunately, even if they may think they are making the best decision, they may not be doing so in reality. This is not necessarily the best choice because while the game may do better financially, the quality of the could suffer as a result.
Essentially, I am saying that game publishers and developers need to be willing to take risks because the great games they have created are suffering and losing what initially made them unique. It may seem like everything boils down to money, but does it really? If you think about it, it’s only a disservice to the players as it prevents longtime gamers from being able to experience anything truly new from big budget titles. On the other hand, it prevents new gamers from seeing the true potential of games.
Do you know of any games that this has happened to that you once knew and loved? If so, sound off in the comments below!