This week in gaming has me rather busy still enjoying the Spring season releases like Heavensward and Witcher 3, while also looking to the future releases given recent lip service at E3. It is a nice time to occupy because I do not have to actually worry about playing too many of these games, since they are not out yet, and the games I do have time for are nice lengthy affairs that will not leave my attention any time soon. But amidst the announcements of games to come there were a great number of very high profile titles in which I felt utterly disinterested. Thanks to Sony’s E3 conference megaton (to use a dusty internet phrase) I was very excited as I rode the digital wave of hype that radiated out across the internet. But once things calmed down I realized that much of the excitement was not in fact my own. And the point I wish to make with this article is that this is not a problem the games industry needs to remedy.
The biggest reveal, although heavily rumored, was the Final Fantasy VII remake by SquareEnix. The announcement was echoic of Sony’s 2013 E3 conference where they shutdown Microsoft’s console plans by not implementing a load of glorified DRM. It was a fun thing to witness and be a part of, even though I later remembered that I care not a single bit for FFVII. Likewise, No Man’s Sky has gotten a lot of attention from those eager to dive into it, and yet the core concept of the game does not resonate with me at all. Perhaps an even more relatable example is Shenmue 3, which was also announced to be in production. That fanbase seems to come from a very specific background of late Sega/Dreamcast fans and looking back on the first two games in the series is an exercise in mental gymnastics to understand how a game like THIS can generate such a loud demand. My point, however, is this does not matter and I am actually glad that there are games in production I do not care about. I would not mind to see more games be produced I find no interest in rather than what I have been seeing occur over the last several years.
What had been more commonplace was a practice of taking a popular game series and pumping air into it to meet wider appeal. Instead of nurturing the fanbase that series had created, game creators and publishing houses have made pushes (most notably during the previous generation) to broaden the appeal of a series by aping more successful games. The big hotness at the time of course was Call of Duty, Gears of War, and to a lesser extent God of War. Many games were changed or redirected to take on aspects of these big sellers instead of doing something meaningful with the formula that was already in place. The idea is that if a game is not reaching as many players as possible, that game is not performing as well as possible. It is a very cynical and narrow-minded approach to game development. Maybe at one time appealing to most game players was something a single game could achieve, but today games have taken on so many forms and built up so many diverse followings that contorting a game to be like the best-seller is largely illogical.
So what I would like to be able to impress upon the industry is that when I see something like Shenmue 3 or Final Fantasy VII Remake and I think “this does not interest me” the response should not be to find a way to capture my interest. I am fairly certain that if those games stay true to what their sizable fanbase wants then those games will never really interest me. I am a lost cause to pursue in that regard, unless these game creators are willing to completely turn FFVII into a completely different game. While these games are very high profile examples of things I do not want to buy, I know there are still plenty of titles already out and in production that I do care for greatly. It does not worry me to see a lot of attention being given over things I have no interest in, and I fear that the industry sees this too much as a business concern.
While a game could theoretically stand to generate more revenue by appealing to a broader spectrum, this lowest-common-denominator design philosophy is exceedingly short-lived. Once a developer tries to open the flood gates by getting everyone’s attention, they might succeed in moving a lot of copies. But once people realize how shallow an affair this game truly is, even for casual players, the well will have been thoroughly poisoned. The Resident Evil franchise is in the process of being resuscitated from exactly this kind of business plan, finding itself having to appeal to the original fans of the franchise (go figure!) with HD remasters of the older titles in the series. If the industry more often had the confidence to look at their product and say “this game will only appeal to a certain number of people” and then budget their game accordingly, we would see fewer games run into the ground. Instead we get an all-or-nothing development cycle where a game needs to break records just to turn a profit because the development team size is in the hundreds.
The process might be somewhat redeemable if that meant we got a very polished but very bland game, but these team sizes just make QA testing nearly impossible to do on time. But that is another rant for another week. Instead, give me your thoughts on the matter. We here at Lcom are an opinionated and picky bunch, to be sure, so I have no doubt you could think of a few high profile games for which you have absolutely no love. Do you feel the same about game production being more diverse and appealing to more interests or have I muddled something up along the way to my conclusion? Let me know!