Given the proliferation of the "2" or "3" suffix to a large amount of games to be released this year, many would bemoan the apparent lack of creativity that is apparently defining the industry. There is an element of truth to it as well: economically, the world has not been doing well lately, so major publishers are going to bank on properties that are relatively assured of making a return. Sometimes it results in a new game being shoehorned into a well-loved, but less widespread series (like the recent Syndicate reboot). It’s a practice that’s more pronounced in the gaming industry, more so than any other form of entertainment. While it seems that headline games for this year are suffering from an apparent lack of innovation and creativity, the surging rise of the indie gaming sector has brought with it a fresh, open approach that seems more willing to take risks.
The surging rise of the indie gaming sector has brought with it a fresh, open approach that seems more willing to take risks.
The gaming industry is still very young, but it’s approaching an age now where those who played games when they were kids are old enough to now develop them. The industry is also starting to be recognised as a valid and commercially viable form of entertainment. The carry over effect is the expanding range of options for young developers who want to enter the industry. Nowadays though, finding a foot in the door at a large publishing or development house is no longer the sole option, given the large scale success of a surprising number of independent games.
What’s clear from these games is that they’re crafted purely from the love of gaming developed from a young age. Games like Minecraft and BIT.TRIP RUNNER strike an aesthetic link to the past (ha!) while still managing to branch out in the gameplay department. They’re also built with valuable input from a dedicated community, a practice that is being adopted by larger game studios (Irrational Games constantly reaches out to the community during development of BioShock: Infinite, the recent addition of "1999 mode" being a direct result).
Gamers are treated to big budget, highly polished titles, while still having a huge variety of smaller, unique experiences.
This is quite possibly the best reaction to the ‘stagnation’ of the mainstream gaming industry. It means that gamers are treated to big budget, highly polished titles, while still having a huge variety of smaller, unique experiences that can even be shaped by them. Put simply, it’s a fantastic time to be playing games: if we can enjoy games like Mass Effect 3 and Resident Evil 6 and still have access to games like Skullgirls, LIMBO and Bastion, that push a unique art style, experiment with an interesting gameplay concept, or even satisfy a desire for retro-style concepts, then what else could we need? We’re covering all the bases, ensuring that we’re always going to have a healthy mix of fantastic games to play.
In the last 30 years, the gaming industry has changed a lot. In most cases, it has improved and evolved, with each generation outshining previous ones in many ways. The target market for games has grown from a relatively small niche audience in the 80’s to pretty much every person living in developed countries today. Right now, home consoles are more popular than ever, sales of handheld consoles continue to increase, and the massive boom of smartphone devices has introduced ‘casual’ gaming to the rest of the non-gaming audience.
It’s not a stretch to say that the game industry is booming – now more than ever – and we all expect that trend to continue for a long time. But within that booming community are several insidious little things that could bring the whole thing crashing and burning into the depths of failure. Creativity, or rather, the lack thereof, is one of the biggest issues present in the industry today.
The biggest offenders are probably the western developers working on first person shooter titles. I’m talking primarily about the Call of Duty series and the many attempts to clone it’s success. It wasn’t too long ago that Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 were released almost simultaneously – and the two games are quite disturbingly similar.
Considering the staggering numbers of units sold of each of those two games, you’d think that the need for creativity in games isn’t really all that great. I mean, if people buy Call of Duty clones, that means they want more of them, right? Well, not quite. The lack of creativity in the industry has indeed been encouraged by the fact that many people are willing to offload cash on the same game each year, but that’s not the only reason.
The greed of the big publishers is one of the biggest reasons that creativity is so stifled these days. Video games are tending to cost more and more money to make every year, and the publishers aren’t willing to "take the risk" on new and innovative games, instead relying on sequels to heavy-hitting titles of the previous years. The solution to this problem is pretty simple: stop spending so much money on games!
Big budget game development has a direct counterpart in the film industry: big-budget blockbuster films. However, in the film industry, mindless blockbuster films like Michael Bay’s Transformers are offset by the higher-class films, that may still have a fairly large budget, but not anywhere near as high as the blockbusters. Some exceptions exist, of course, but these ‘mid-budget’ films are usually the ones that win all the awards, not your super-high-budget popcorn flicks.
This is what the game industry is missing – we have high-budget, mindlessly fun games coming out the wazoo, but we don’t have very many ‘mid-budget’ games being made – the ones where the publishers may not be afraid to take the risks, where creativity and innovation are more important than celebrity voice actors and superbowl ad placements.
Sure, we have plenty of indie game studios – and that’s fantastic! Indie studios tend to innovate far more than the big publishers do, but they are limited in terms of the type of game that they can create. The big 3D worlds of Modern Warfare and Grand Theft Auto (and the like) are usually quite expensive to create, and indie studios just don’t have that money.
Since many of the mid-level studios of last decade are now owned by the big publishers, we have no choice but to look at them to pull the industry out of the non-creative rut that it is in. Unfortunately, I just don’t know if we can trust them to do that.