The gaming industry is no longer a niche or less recognised sector of business. The Australian video games industry netted $1.5 billion last year, excluding the revenue from digital sales, as the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association reported.
The mass revenue the video game industry generates and the products and services it creates essentially take the industry right up there in relevance and visibility as film or television. It has a huge market no longer restricted to the “geek gamer” market stereotypes and as such, more and more games are being produced and released annually than ever before. This is good and bad.
Just like film and television, the rapid increase in the development of games this generation has lead to a larger catalogue of shovelware. There has always been endless trilogies, re-imaginings, crap adaptations of licenses and multiple spin-offs since the first few home consoles, and there always will be.
However, the need for emphasis on innovation and fresh intellectual properties is becoming less and less apparent but more and more vital for the industry to continue with its success and influence, both in the entertainment and business senses.
Why? Well, now that gaming is considered mainstream and making big bucks for developers and publishers, it is easier for our favorite companies to just continue their existing titles or commit to an annualised release strategy on a popular franchise rather than spend time and money on a new idea that may not succeed financially in the long run. This is leading to a stale gaming catalogue and, whether we acknowledge it or not, a lack of originality and diversity in our choices.
Although I understand the logic in not wanting to risk working on an unknown or to just focus on developing an existing beloved series, I believe the overall creativity and quality of recent releases is waning considerably, or at least effecting what ultimately can become a legendary game. This is because the industry, now mainstream and commercialised, is becoming complacent and too comfortable with sticking with what they already know and what has been established to attract business, taking away the spotlight from and preventing games developers who make games for their love of it and/or to showcase their creativity to become just as successful.
The early years of the current generation was an exciting time to be a gamer, because not only was the new hardware able to innovate and take gaming to the next level, like bringing HD graphics and complex gameplay mechanics to reality, but there was also a refreshing diverse line-up of completely new gaming franchises to look forward to.
2006 and 2007 saw the Gears of War, Crackdown, Saints Row, Dead Rising, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare sub-series, Uncharted, and Mass Effect franchises grace our gaming lounges alongside our favorite continuing IPs of the last generation. There was always a perfect mix of old and new to look forward to. A perfect mix of creative industry hopefuls and smart business partners willing to take a risk.
Not only did many of these new properties convince a lot of gamers to jump to the next gen and indulge in all the original gaming greatness, but these new series enabled entire demographics who had never invested time and money in gaming before, to do so. It was the best of both worlds.
The momentum of such originality and greatness seems to have been lost in the last few years, however, despite the fact that the games industry is making more money and producing more games than ever before, and thus having the ability to theoretically make greater games than before.
Sure, much of this lack of risk or will to push something new on the market is largely attributable to the economic climate of the last few years, but there shouldn’t be many reasons beyond this which can prevent original and creative titles from continuing alongside their already established counterparts.
Not one of the aforementioned franchises and their creators can say they have not milked them to the core. 2011 and 2012 are the perfect comparative examples; last year was jam-packed full of titles, a lot of them considered triple-A hits, but the majority were sequels to already existing franchises like TES V: Skyrim, Saints Row 3, Gears of War 3 and Uncharted 3, rather than the fresh triple-A releases of 2006 and 2007, which were completely new and exciting IPs alongside successful existing ones.
This year, we see the continuing annual releases of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, the third (and supposed final title) Mass Effect, and the next installment of Bioshock. The trend of annualising titles, something once only restricted to B-Grade movies or annoyingly frequent sporting games, is now common place.
As much as Call of Duty 4 influenced online multiplayer and the shift from World War history to modern combat settings, there is only so much annual Call of Duty gamers should endure; all it is doing is milking out an existing engine and making gamers pay for what they have already experienced for five years, and preventing new games from being noticed and invested in.
So many new IPs, like Shadow of the Damned and Kingdoms of Amalur are not getting the attention they deserve because they’re pushed aside by an industry who are putting too much marketing and too much focus on selling off established franchises, such as the millionth Final Fantasy and third Mass Effect (not counting the spin-off titles). They’re overshadowing the few fresh experiences being offered to gamers in the last few years.
I’ll even argue that annualised games and the focus on trilogies are even preventing new games from being conceptualised to begin with, encouraging the industry and its massive mainstream market to stick with what it knows rather than what it could know.
Now, I love Elder Scrolls, Gears, Halo, and GTA as much as the next person. A good trilogy is as good as your favorite long-running television show; you want to be involved and engrossed in its fictional narrative and universe, you want to be involved with its characters and continuity. You can be more involved and invested because of the interactive nature of games, and that’s why the continuation and encouragement of new intellectual properties is more important for gaming than it is for film. Microsoft is a relevant example and guilty contributor to dragging out the next episode of Halo, Fable and Gears and preventing new potential exclusives from breaking through.
Most people would like to be excited or treated to a fresh story and experience in between awaiting for their next favorite installment, and the gaming industry needs to recognise and remember this and keep up a healthy diverse balance of old and new, and hopefully remember that when the time comes to completely shift focus to the next generation of gaming, they’ll need to nurture new talent and experiences to lead the way, and let the old guard help support and supplement them through the new stage rather than prevent them from getting a chance to be recognised and established.
By Nathan Misa- - Bio