Time for a little glass-half-empty action (I’m in a mood). Patrick Kolan at IGN posts his “Ten Trends That Are Saving Videogames.” Previously he covered “Ten Trends That Are Destroying Videogames,” which I agree suck, but are nowhere near as potentially damaging as the ten trends “saving” us.
First, the bad ones:
A Great Cast with a Dud Script – Hey game writing sucks. But at least the voice acting is better! It has to be to say the same stupid lines over and over (practice makes perfect I suppose).
Unreal Engine 3 Overdose – It did make the Hall of Fame, does that mean it can retire? At 10 years old it is limping along.
Sequelitis – Buck up, people, it’s only gonna get worse thanks to Depression 2.0.
Too Human Syndrome – Well this is kinda the same as sequelitis, only it’s planned sequelitis (ala Too Human’s trilogy plans). Wait to see if people buy your first game. The biggest epic you can make is an epic fail.
Production Values vs. Wii Production “Values” – The problem is not that publishers aren’t dumping enough money into production values, the problem is the audience just doesn’t care.
Sonic and Mario Visit the Rainbow Dentist – If I cared about 15-20 year old game icons (literally, not figuratively – they did spawn as a small number of pixels with limited colors), I could maybe summon up more agreement here.
Motion “Control” – What, someone who doesn’t think mtoion control interfaces are the defacto way forward even though they are hard enough to get right that being plagued by poor examples might actually ruin the whole thing for everybody? Nice.
Promises, Promises, Promises – The hype machine has its uses though, it’s just been used poorly a lot. Has it really been used poorly more in recent times than before?
Strong Female Lead Character = Edgy, Clever and Desirable – At least the average cup size has gone down in the last few years, that’s something, right?
Casual Gaming – Match-3 clones ftw.
Now for the good(?):
Casual Gaming – Well, at least he already acknowledged this one had problems.
Nintendo DS – yes, great install base, yes, touch interface is cool. But there were de facto handheld platforms before (ok, also Nintendo’s). It’s hard to make an experience that’s going to save gaming in bite-size interruptable chunks. Is it even saving handheld gaming? I’d give that more to the iPhone and the DS having to compete with it.
Immersion and Wii MotionPlus – Because non-standard platform hardware always succeeds and improves all the games on the console. Oh shoot. Developers will still be forced to handle non-Motion-Plus support, and if they don’t dedicate the time to getting it right, it will suck as much as it does now.
User-generated Content – Honestly? Really? Did Little Big Planet’s UGC “success” not underwhelm anyone enough? Spore had an amazing number of creatures created in the first few weeks, but did that up its review scores? The bottom line is it works for some games and not for others. The more it gets touted as the future of gaming is directly proportional to how many people will try it and fail.
Downloadable Games – Check out AppShopper (thanks Jeff!) to see how iPhone apps that make it to the top of the AppStore pile (which is where the only real money’s at) contort their price over time – reducing it to stay at the top, pumping it up once they’re there to make bank. Somebody get the Harvard Business Review on this shit, it’s fascinating. Point is, the interface fucks almost everybody’s chances. Apple doesn’t care about changing it because they make money regardless of who’s in the top 25. Don’t expect them to wake up one morning caring about evangelizing indie games considering the difficult times any games have had on their platforms.
Other platforms suffer similar, if less exacerbated, problems. Don’t even get me started on the Wiiware or PSN interfaces. MS spent a lot of time on the new XBox 360 interface in part to deal with it, and it’s still only ok, albeit the reigning champ. Where’s the art? Adaptive resonance theory I mean – ART1 and similar algorithms let you track customer preferences and suggest related items. Limited interfaces scream for this functionality, along with better social networking integration. As for PCs, I’d love to comment on Steam, but I can’t because my user account got randomly disabled a few months back and I’ve been too annoyed to get it fixed (sorry S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky).
2D – Sure they’re easier to make, and he claims that their success helps de-emphasize the importance of graphics. Chicken before egg here though (maybe that should be horse before cart) – they’re rising in popularity because users, despite claiming to the contrary, never cared that much about that shit anyway. A concerted aesthetic being more noticeable even subconciously by an end user than spiffy graphics. Hence Gears of War’s art-directed shiny bulky characters work, sort of, and everybody else ripping them off has a harder time of it.
Passively Online Multiplayer – Oh no I feel another user generated content style meme coming on… I’ll agree that new and interesting coop modes are one of the exciting things going on right now (or was, we’ll see if it continues in this economic climate). The problem is again, it works for some games and not others. And it takes a lot of effort to make, so it’s either going to be core to the game experience (hence not saving the industry) or tacked on to already exorbitantly budgeted titles.
True 3D – He’s referring to display advances that allow semi 3D images (without glasses). No really, he went there. Even if the technology he’s referring to comes to pass within the next 5 years, given that games are already 3D heavy, I do’t see how this will revolutionize or save anything but monitor sales, maybe.
System Wars – Ok sure, competition is good.
Indie Games – The first time I scanned through the 2009 IGF entrants I was pretty depressed by the number of sci-fi and fantasy games. When I went back and counted it was a little better than at first glance (just under 25% or so). Alternately, another heavy category, puzzle games – are they really gonna save gaming? What he’s right about here really is that the IGF is what should be praised, it’s the cream of the crop for filtering the cream from the… Well, crops don’t have cream but you see my point. The PAX 10 is up and coming, and hopefully there are more festivals on the way.
The other missed point is highlighted by the fact that only 20% or so of the 2009 IGF student entries fall into the same sci-fi and fantasy tropes. Overall I was more excited by the student list, as there were a number of meaty looking titles (meaty in terms of issues and themes). Hopefully I’ll find some time to dig more into them. Here’s to new perspectives!
Ok, out of the positive trends only festivals like the IGF and incoming developers less set in their ways (but that will sadly have to re-learn classic production pitfalls) do I actually see any hope for. Other possibilities?
Grandma and Grandpa – Anybody who can figure out what’s going to get them into Best Buy’s game section (GameStop probably being too ambitious) regularly is going to be richer than Nintendo, since even they have problems getting them to come back after buying the Wii in the first place.
Marketing in this day and age – Now there’s plenty of portals and blogs (though I didn’t make the cut on that list… so sad) where an indie developer can get linked, interviewed, and otherwise showcase their games. Of course this means you have to be good at marketing as well as game development, but hey, if you can’t wear at least five hats you should probably consider doing something else anyway.
Last year’s mainstream releases – Love ’em or hate ’em, almost all of the major releases of the past year were trying something new and ambitious. From the huge expansion of choice in narrative with Fallout 3, the open worlds of GTA 4 and Fable 2, the AI Director of Left 4 Dead, the player driven narrative of Far Cry 2, the perspective & control of Mirror’s Edge, the attempt to create a more accessible experience & a more compelling ally with Elika & Prince of Persia, the scale & UGC of Spore and the style & UGC of Little Big Planet (see I’m not a total UGC hater!). There weren’t as many individual mega-hits as in 2007, but man… Let’s hope in 2 years time, when the titles born out of publishers’ current economic contractions are coming out, players remember they don’t have to put up with the same boring shit for 60 bucks.