Hands up. Who’s played a sports game, ala Tiger Woods, Madden, NHL, FIFA, NBA … the list goes on! But what about other games like Battlefield, Unreal Tournament, Street Fighter, Tony Hawk, Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Soul Caliber, Super Mario Brothers, Sonic Adventures, or Guitar Hero? These are all games which we would have played at some time in our gaming lives. Each of these games listed has a sequel to it and, in most cases follows the law of diminishing returns (see here for technical definition).
Many of these games developers feel that they must put out a new version of these games once a year in order to keep up with the market, yet each of these games only contains a minor set of updates and could technically be done within a patch to the original game. However, they’d then find themselves asking where is the profit in providing a patch to something you’ve already made money on?
There we have a lead into the “company mind” where each development company has only one thing on their mind and that is to get as big a percentage of the consumer’s (that’s mine and your) wallet. This means that each year they will take these minor tweaks to the gameplay and then pass this off as a new version. This is seen no clearer than in the EA Sports games where the only changes to the game now are the rosters.
Before this current console cycle (360, PS3, Wii) each new version of a game would try to improve on graphics and look to extend the story to aim for the ultimate goal of being lifelike. Yet in the current console generation we have consoles that are as powerful as their former benchmark (the PC) leading to developers looking to make the next big idea in gameplay.
Now we face only a limitation of what the human mind can think of. The only trouble is “the company mind” wants to make a lot of money from these games and somehow going for something that is radically different to the current market is seen as a big risk (as is any business idea) so sometimes it is best to follow the leaders in the marketplace to create a safe bet. This is where we get our clones from.
When you take a look at review now you hear a lot of comparisons to other games where they will begin a summary of a game with “like God of War but …” or “like GTA but …” or even “this is clearly inspired by Crackdown.” Here it is not the developers who are being limited but the decision and power makers behind the scenes who have seen the kind of money that a game like Call of Duty makes and thinks “”I could make a ton of money off this,”
So the executives give the developers the basics and the developers go and try their best to create a game that is the next big selling version of Call of Duty or Gran Theft Auto. They get released into the world and all of a sudden people are shocked when they find that this game isn’t actually any good and why a few weeks after its release you can find it entering the bargain section at the speed only paramount that the development team had to build it.
From time to time we do see games that actually work by using this formula as a basis to begin with and then moving into something quite unique. For example Saints Row was formally a GTA clone but now has its own unique spin on the sandbox genre. Here the developers used the idea of being in a gang in an open world environment and made it slightly more twisted and humorous, which can be seen in the upcoming release of its second sequel, Saints Row: The Third
Right now the consoles and PC gamers are all going to die a death of boredom if they don’t get some new game ideas flowing soon. The only trouble is that the big companies have create a market of people who shun innovation and design as people crave the next Call of Duty, meanwhile titles which are looking to push the boat like Child of Eden get overlooked and pushed to the back of the shelf.
Thankfully there is a ray of light in this market of clones, and it comes from the smaller developers who are really able to push the boundaries of gaming on platforms such as Xbox Live Indi Games and Steam. Yet beyond the banality of console fares, the gaming market is facing an evolution with many developers looking at a new platform – mobile games.
These are the games which have come from nowhere yet we take them everywhere when we go about on our day-to-day jobs. These are the games which we can pick up for five minutes at a time and get in some quality gaming time with games that offer a unique take on a simple practice.. Take a look at some of the games that we have been given – Game Dev Story, Angry Birds, Broken Sword – all of these games offer something different but in a small bite size chunk, like a management simulation, or dominoes simulation, or a mystery story and makes a unique and involving game for any user to pick up and play.
Right now as gamers we are being fed games left right and centre, and this leads on to another point I have.
…. Tune in for Part 3.