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?"