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
Sure, he is scary until you are swarmed with him and his buddies and you must kill them with limitless 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. 

Bioshock: Infinite
If you look on the bottom right, you can see that there are only two weapons allowed at a time.

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.

Dear Esther
Games like Dear Esther, are examples of how a game can tell a good story and be innovative at the same time.

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!

3 Comments

  • Hi Matt.

    While I agree with your thoughts on Dead Space 3, I think the basis for most of your arguments needs to be re-evaluated. You assume that these decisions were made for the sake of dumbing a game down, rather than for more subtle reasons.

    To get it out of the way, I do agree with your thoughts on Dead Space 3. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m overly surprised. This is a big title for EA, and considering that the multiplayer was ditched from Dead Space 2, the team probably felt pressured to include some sort of mode other than single-player. The addition of co-op and the focus on “shooting” more than “scare” is not surprising for this kind of game. Horror games are nowhere near as successful as they used to be (there’s many reasons for this, I won’t bore you to death here), and publishers feel inclined to make “horror” games like Dead Space 3 appeal to a wide audience. It’s sad…. but true. To be honest, we are kind of lucky to get a brand new series in this console generation, that is labelled as horror, live as long as it did.

    That being said, I think that all of your other arguments are assuming that developers immediately make decisions based on mass appeal. As someone who plays a lot of games, and worked in a used game store, I have heard countless arguments where gamers immediately find changes in a new game (usually sequels), and complain about said changes, without stopping to think that the developers, who probably worked on the game for at least a year, have thought about this WAY LONGER, and have reached their own decisions for varying reasons.

    For example…

    Bioshock: Infinite – A recharging shield was prob. included for two reasons. One, the game is way more open than its two predecessors, and when you have enemies attacking you from 5 yards to 100 yards away, a recharging shield system works a lot better (case in point, Halo). Same thing with the weapons. Based on level and character design, the game becomes more exciting when you don’t have 8 weapons to unload on enemies. It becomes much more strategic when you have to balance weapons and ammo when you can only hold 2 guns at a time. As for the lack of physical changes on gun models, I too was sad when they took this out, but when you consider the fact that you are constantly picking up and dropping different guns, it makes sense.

    Halo Reach – I’m not a huge Halo fan, but from what I understand, Reach is less important for the story, and more for setting up the trilogy which you already played through (Halo 1,2,3), and filling in some of the backstory. And to be honest, the devs have been barraged with inquiries on things like technology and weapons appearing in Reach but not appearing in the trilogy which follows them, and how the soldiers in Reach can use Covenant technology when they first encounter them. At this point, Bungie/343’s response is essentially “it’s a game, stop freaking out about small anachronisms and gameplay inconsistencies across games”

    Call of Duty – I think people really need to stop ragging on this series. I am by no means a fan of the series, though I do play some of the games from time to time. In short, Activision knows that their formula of…

    Small bombastic campaign + co-op missions or zombies + addicting multiplayer

    …works. Considering a lot of casual gamers pick of Call of Duty. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know, who only pick 2 games a year (Madden and Call of Duty). Treyarch and Infinity Ward are never going to change up the gameplay that much, because they don’t want to alienate any potential customers. Things like a more immersive story or more hardcore multiplayer elements aren’t things that the fanbase want. While other series might try to innovate, Call of Duty is fine with iterating, and since the level of quality in each game is usually pretty good, there are no problems with this. You can’t really fault a publisher for not reinventing a game when their fanbase is happy, and they sell millions of units a year. Professor Layton does the same thing 🙂

    • @Shaan Joshi, Hello Shaan,
      I was actually not trying to make the assumption that it was for the sake of dumbing it down at all. In fact, I was just pointing out tropes that were being added to sell. It does not mean I did not like some of the changes. So thank you for pointing that out as I see I was not clear enough on that point.

      I understand that as well, again I do not believe I made my point entirely clear. The developers are not the ones really making the decisions as much as it is the publishers and seeing as it is difficult to get a publisher they probably do not argue much. I am definitely not saying that all the publishers do not allow freedom, for instance 2K is very relaxed on what they publish. I understand the changes and again I thank you for pointing out where I meant to address that. They may indeed believe these changes will help and often times the players do not think of what the developers had to go through to make the game. I never said anything about them being bad. In fact I know this because there are games that haven taken several years to develop and no matter how received they are they still have a great many complaints. This can be attributed to the player not willing to appreciate what they got and not what they do not have. It was difficult for me to stress some of this without disrupting the flow in the article but that is why there are the comments.

      I do mostly agree with the argument for Infinite as I have played the game all the way through a few times and while the shield was not entirely needed it does work. It helps to make the game flow since the battlefields are so large as you have said, it can make it difficult to manage your health. Also as far as the weapons, I believe that it did make you conserve your ammo a bit more since you did not have all these other weapons immediately at your disposal. Also on a plus note, this causes you to use your vigors and other abilities more (if you do not use them already.)

      As far as Halo, I was not complaining about anything and I believe that may have come across wrong. I had no complaint with continuities or such because of the nature of Halo. I was only saying there are certain plot holes that are there and that the story was predictable and a bit uninteresting. However, it was still fun. So I was not saying that the technologies should be the same in each and why are there vehicles that do not appear in others like many people have complained about. It is still fun to play and that makes up for most complaints people come up with.

      I do agree on Call of Duty, as I mentioned, objectively it is not a bad game at all and it is a fun game. It is just a reused formula and their attempts to shake it up have not been too bold. They just end to be willing to take more risks. I have a friend in fact who is a long time fan of the series and still plays them. However he even says that they should be more bold and try new things. While they do add new things here and there it is not anything truly new and that can be chalked up to the fact that it is essentially one the biggest releases of the fall every year. In fact, if they were to not release one every year and instead maybe did a game every other year then even with the same game it would not get so tiresome. Exactly and I agree, if they are succeeding they see it as why change? So that was some interesting insight to be sure.

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