Chris Hecker Calls Out Players, The Press And Developers For Lack Of Variety In Games

Why are so many games just copies of past games? Who is responsible for this state of affairs? Does the industry need more variety to survive?

At the "Game Developers' Rant" session at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Spy Party developer Chris Hecker made a call for more variety in games. The rants session is a GDC tradition; it's a bit tongue-and-cheek, designed as a way to let game developers curse and blow off steam about the various aspects of the industry that are bothering them.

The game industry needs to be creating more varied games, Hecker said, and the staleness is the result of what he called "the dysfunctional three-way". That three-way is made up of developers, players and the press. (Or, according to Hecker's slides, Kirk, Spock and McCoy). He then addressed each group individually.

The core problem with players, he said, is that they buy, play, anticipate and talk about the same games over and over again. He described visiting a thread at the website Quarter to Eight in which posters were talking about the Kickstarter funding opportunities granted to Double Fine's Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert. The thread was asking what other games people would like to see funded in this way and all of the games suggested, Hecker said, were sequels.

There is an imbalance in the press between the amount of attention granted to pre-release games and the amount of criticism they get after the fact, Hecker said. Citing frame-by-frame breakdowns of a Borderlands 2 trailer, he made the point that writers are granular about their previews, but their reviews don't mention many large flaws.

He held up a review of Call of Duty: Black Ops which listed "The Good" and "The Bad" about the game. The review contained a large number of "The Good" elements, while the only "The Bad" listed was "short campaign".

"The bad wasn't that you bought the same f**king game six months previously?" Hecker asked. "I mean, what the f**k!"

Developers, who Hecker said he's been ranting at for years, are just "strip-mining the exact same plot of land deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into the earth".

The common denominator in the three groups, Hecker said, is an "appetite for sameness".

"We have this appetite for the same thing, over and over again." We don't just tolerate sameness, we actively seek it out. Hecker said that he really doesn't understand what appears to be a fundamental truth to the art form that he's chosen to work in. It makes him feel like he's slightly insane, he said, which is not a fun thing.

Hecker proposed solutions for each of the three groups. Players: Request and purchase true variety. "Variety is not a turret mission in the middle of an FPS." You feed your body varied food to keep it healthy, and we should play varied games in much the same way. To the press: Provide context and hold players and developers accountable. "You're the conscience of our industry."

And developers? Developers have been mining the same ideas for years now. If the old saying "Developers make games they want to play" is true, "Can you please want to play more varied games?"

Image: Flickr.


    "The thread was asking what other games people would like to see funded in this way and all of the games suggested, Hecker said, were sequels."

    What the hell did you expect? Did you really think ordinary players would say "something I have never played before and would have no idea if I would like it and be worth the money."

    I know you want them to say, "I want more variety, please surprise me with your innovative and under-appreciated indie projects!" But you're not going to hear that for a system where the consumer has to pay up front for an untested and experimental idea.

    Why are so many games just copies of past games?
    Technology advances, we like certain types of games because they are fun, and bringing them up to the latest technology level makes them better?
    It's pretty simple really.
    Would you rather play the old wolfenstein 3d, return to castle wolfenstein or the latest wolfenstein? (given of course that you feel like playing a game in that setting)
    There is nothing inherently wrong with sequels or continuations in an imagined universe, and fans will always want more, as long as it's done well.

    I'm not seeing what his point is, there are plenty of different games out there, it seems more like a case of him whining about the big $$$ not being thrown at his ideas.

    He's right. But it's unfortunately an issue within every medium. Film, art, books. The problem is large conservative audiences. They're not the sort to try new things.

      Thing is it shouldn't be an issue with Art or books really.

      Both of them are things which can be made without investment by someone else. Selling them could be a more difficult process, but that should change the more and more E-Books take off since it would become viable to self publish.

      The real issue is that these things are made to make money. The less sequel and mainstream the idea is the smaller the possible market you have for it.

      I still think that's the reason so many of the more RPG elements have been getting the cut in Bioware games. Shooting stuff pretty much has the largest marketshare in games. But things like inventory systems or having to think when leveling up are things that turn the players who just want to shoot more shit off.

      Art? Really? What examples of modern art would you say are sequels of last year's prize winners?

      Film is arguable. I'd say that the big-studio Hollywood system has done terrible things to the medium by snowballing increasingly expensive tentpoles based on pre-existing material... But the Indie film industry is flourishing and much healthier than the indie game equivalent. Also, there is almost no such thing as mid-scale game development any more with the increasing closure of mid-level dev studios. All talent is being corralled together into juggernauts, or tiny garage studios.

      While this endemic lack of variety isn't completely unique to games, it's certainly more prevalent than other mediums, especially with the turn-around cycle that allows a company like Activision to spam the market with CoDs, Tony Hawks and Guitar Heroes every month. Let's hope consumers are more discerning with their Modern Warfare games, just as they were with the skateboard/rhythm genres before it.

    This is no surprise - we're in a recession, and people aren't taking risks with new IP's.
    It directly mirrors the movie industry, which is obsessed with sequels, reboots, remakes, and the ever-lucrative superhero genre. If something's a proven money spinner that's what they'll do, time after time again.
    I'm sick of CoD too, but my dissension won't stop a new one coming out this year, and the year after, and the year after that. Those projects keep the industry running so the select few can experiment, and I doubt that's going to change any time soon.

    Ultima 1-9, Wing Commander 1-6 plus spinoffs, Monkey Island 1-5, The Command and Conquer series.

    The concept of taking something old and doing something slightly different with it is hardly a new concept, and it's done because players enjoyed the old games so much that they bought a large quantity of them. It's the business model taking over from the artistic vision that is the problem, not the fact that players enjoy something that is good and so wouldn't mind more

    - My last name is Hecker too.

    There was a little known guy called Henry Ford who is attributed with saying:
    "If I had asked what people wanted, I would have been asked to build a faster horse."

    Unless all gamers suddenly have degrees in game design, we aren't going to be much help in telling a games development company what their next project should be. If we want change though, we can stop buying games that are just rehashes, although that's like telling a person to stop eating until they come up with a new dish.

    The truth is that developers are terrible at getting their own sequels right and they need to be told how it should be. At least 50% of all sequels are incorrect.

      Thats so true.....they should do what nintendo does; forget sequels and just release the same game on a different platform. Then at least you know what your getting, and everybody is happy - 8.5s all round .

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