Video games have become ingrained in cultures around the world. If you don’t believe me show anyone a picture of Mario and I can bet they know his name. Despite this fact gaming itself has hit a kind of identity crisis it cant seem to shake. While gaming increases its role as a major player in the entertainment industry it seems to be going in several directions at once. What is a video game? Art, cinema, time killer, or sport? Video gaming is trying on all the hats it can find, but nothing seems to fit. There is one hat however that may fit just fine that developers just seem to pass over time and time again. What if video games tried to be exactly what they are instead? How about the video game hat?
It seems simple enough, but nobody seems to do it very much. There are a multitude of factors that might contribute but I think one stands out. Making a video game is hard! Not just hard but obscenely difficult, it takes a huge amount of creative effort and investment to be able to create a quality title. In that investment comes the inherent risk of failure. The fear of such failure is paralyzing the industry. Investments are so large that publishers refuse to break paradigms that are known to create revenue for fear of taking a loss. As a result developers and publishers tend to take the safer path. Relying on a more ‘Hollywood’ style business model. Thus far this hasn’t been much of a problem. Quality titles have been released over the past ten years that fallow this model with little or no deviation. However it cannot be expected to last forever, we’re entering the 5th generation of updated versions of titles. Once a successful IP is created the industry bleeds it dry. Once it’s dry they try to get more blood for a few years, then they move on. This is a direct result of the current business model, and video game’s ongoing identity crisis. Few are brave enough to break the Hollywood mold, and want to ascend gaming to the next plateau.
Indie developers have become a gigantic part of what makes gaming great. These smaller developers work with a low risk, low reward business model. Creative freedom is prioritized and is in fact encouraged by this model. Without creative freedom these projects would slip through into the sea of indie games nobody has played. As a result more creative or entertaining titles float to the top. Most indie games focus on gameplay more than large brand titles. Larger devs tend to lean toward the cinematic aspect as they have much larger budgets. Indie developers have been known to forgo the story entirely. Perhaps they felt the gameplay held up on its own, or they couldn’t afford writers and simply didn’t want to do the work themselves. Due to the nature of the development process a majority of indie games fail. Many of these games that fail drop the video game hat and try something a little different. Some try to be art, others go for the movie style. One thing that stands out with these failed titles over all else is they just aren’t very fun to play. On the contrary all the successful ones have solid and enjoyable gameplay. Even graphically these games can be on par or worse than some original NES titles, and still stand their ground and go on to be successful. For the most part when looking at indie titles, whichever ones are doing best are just plain fun to play. This goes to say something about what gamers are looking for compared to what is being delivered by publishers.
Publishers and developers try to sell their games with all their different hats on to make a buck. Plain and simple the top of the totem pole wants their business to be fruitful because of the amount of money they invest into it. On the other side of that coin is the gamer who wants games to be fun. Many gamers are content with the same game being sold to them multiple times. With advances in technology it’s sometimes nice to have an update for your favorite IP. At the same time yearly franchises such as Madden or even the Call of Duty series’ can be considered an overreach. Very little changes from title to title, and you’re left with what feels like a fresh coat of paint on a game you’ve played before. Game play is what video games has that sets it apart from other industries. Movies don’t have game play, it doesn’t exist in that medium. Neither does art or even sports! Game play is unique to video gaming, and forsaking that aspect is a grave error on the part of developers and publishers alike. Video gaming should be exactly that, video gaming! When gameplay is shoved to the sidelines to offer a more ‘compelling’ or ‘exciting’ or ‘immersive’ experience the gamer is the victim. Developers need to stop trying to be a movie developer, or an art developer, or sport developer. Developers needs to be what they are, a game developer. Put those other hats away, get that video game hat on, and wear it proudly.