That's quite a bold opening punch, but I mean to be selective with it. Over the past few years, we've seen an increase in games having budgets in the millions, and creative contributors in the hundreds, all in the name of 'player experience', where the aim is to create enough content to immerse a player in the experience. Unfortunately, the type of content being generated needs lots of artistry, architecture, and skill. There are some negative side-effects that spring to mind immediately.
- The first side-effect is that it's nearly impossible for an individual, small, or self-funded software company to generate the vast amounts of media and content that the newer big games have. This is my first attempt at justifying my opening statement. Are the big games publishers guilty of pushing a product that only they can create to the exclusion of all others? Is this a realistic aspiration: to be untouchable?
- The second is that consumer gaming limits the long-term appeal of a game. Following on from my first point, the vast amounts of media, maps, and so on, give a sense of value: that the gamer has bought something that is finely crafted, and it's possible to see the amount of work that has gone into the product. It contributes to the gamer's sense that the game is worth paying for. Commercially, it makes sense to create a product that gamers are in awe of, but there is a flip-side to consumer gaming: limited play. Many recent games, particularly adventures, and their numerically-driven evolution, the single-player RPGs, lead the player through a scripted story. Like a paperback novel, once you've read it, there's limited potential in going back to do it all again. So a gamer's cash can be viewed as being spent on 'timed play', and currently, the rate seems around $1 (£0.60) per hour for those new-ish games.
- There is less gameplay innovation, when you can pad a game out with massive media content. For any new game release, ask yourself this question: what is innovative about the gameplay? I'm not thinking of the typical developer's strategy of extending a game's life by "Using the maps in multiplayer mode", nor the technological haze that gets in the way of gaming, such as "new Rasp3X!G engine that can render ten layers of dragon skin", nor "full seamless HDRI multi-pass scene buffers", and so on. I'm thinking of the genuine novelty of something that takes a minute or two to learn, and then the penny drops when the player feels completely at ease with the game! Among the examples I could quote, I'd say Nintendo have succeeded in bringing new (HCI) interaction methods to games by bringing innovative game controllers to the masses. Given that the PC/console setup is mostly an unchangeable 'given', it would be a bit unfair to expect software developers to do anything that radical! I'm really looking new game mechanics, which are successful enough to create their own genres.
You might sense that I'm generally not in favour of consumer gaming, and would like to see a return to old-style gameplay. You'd be right. I think the industry is becoming lazy, by defaulting to the safe option of creating lots of limited-life content to support a tried-and-trusted formula, instead of innovating with a unique idea that leads to interesting gameplay.
My opinion is that you can create a far richer game experience by concentrating on new gaming. Instead of spending time and money on content, spend programming time on code that generates the content: procedural generation, when managed well, along with a good gameplay model, it can produce a very replayable game.
Perhaps we should, as an exercise, return to the days when resources were scarce, and see what innovation results?
Finally, a some closing statements, as food for thought:
- Are modern publishers destroying gaming by changing the shape of games, in order to make a long-term profit?
- The less you give someone to work with, the more innovative the solution will be.