Wave Foam – “Questioning the Present, Shaping the Future… Again”
Executives will be executives, right? They’re in it for the money, I get that. But what does Gamespot’s editorial staff think about the way the industry has been handling itself? I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised… er… for the most part.
Now, before analyzing the common denominators that this eclectic group of journalists addressed, let me start by casting away the black sheep of the pack. Andrew Park says that “I know it’s very fashionable and cool to complain about the lack of originality in the games business and how there are all these sequels [hey, that’s me he’s talking about!], but in several cases, sticking with a certain series has let development teams build a better mousetrap with technology and engines (and game designs) […]“ He goes on to say that “The Sims 3”, “Gears of War 2“, “Resident Evil 5“, “Grand Theft Auto IV” and “Call of Duty: World at War” are all great examples on how sequels can be awesome. I won’t mention “Sims 3,” which I haven’t played yet, but as for the rest, we’re talking about derivative games, that add little to nothing to their predecessors apart from better graphic engines and cooler weapons. Is this what we want for games? Year after year of sequels with flashier graphics, and the same, tiresome game-play? What’s wrong with this guy? As a critic, he should be rewarding artistry, creativity and innovation, not the opposite!
Amongst the “what’s wrong” answers, two major ideas stick out. “Corporate consolidation is a bit of a worry for me” -, states Shaun McInnis, and the “soaring development budgets for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games is disconcerting”, says Giancarlo Varanini. It’s true: the market is too crowded and claustrophobic, when it comes to the big budget productions’ arena. And with the rising costs of game production, less companies are capable of backing these projects, and the ones that do, risk bankruptcy or a merger whenever a game fails to break even (which usually requires, at least, a million copies sold). What this all translates to for us gamers, is a lesser degree of creativity and variety in top tier games, something we’ve been paying the price for in the last couple of years or so. Because let me assure you that, especially in this climate of economic uncertainty, no big company will be willing to risk their five year long projects, which involve hundreds of people and millions of dollars, on some innovative concept that hasn’t been commercially tested before.
On the sunny side up, there’s a clear reference to downloadable games and how they help counter-balance the stagnation of the upper echelons of the industry. It is only thanks to these micro-cosmos of independence, that we still have access to creative experimentation in the video-game medium. In the words of Giancarlo Varanini, “the fact that we get to play and enjoy games like Flower […] is possible only because of the relative low-risk investment of digital distribution […]”. But that’s not the only beacon of hope. “The industry’s rapid growth and expansion have an upside: There are a ton of great games to play”, Chris Watters. Thanks to the increase of gaming audiences, especially in the often despised casual market, we’ve had an astounding increase of game releases. Personally, I find that quality is sparse right now, but one can easily predict that, sooner or later, quantity will surely be followed by specialization and a dramatic increase in range and quality of these games.
As to the future, it looks journalists maintain a certain optimism towards new technologies that, for the most part, I cannot agree with. Downloadable services are the future, that I can concur with them. As to virtual reality-like controllers (Wiimote, Project Natal, Sony’s Wand) and cloud computing, I’m afraid I’m a bit more skeptic. You can read about why in previous editorials, which you can access here and here, respectively. Technology offers potential, but ultimately, it is the potential that actually gets fulfilled that counts in the long run, and in terms of these two examples, there is little to account for in terms of the way they have been changing (or can change) the gaming landscape.
Amidst all these opinions, I got the sense that more or less, these guys are on the right bandwagon. But there’s some form of weird discrepancy at work here. If on one hand, they seem to applaud creativity and (well, except for that one guy) fear the overwhelming weight of big companies and their uncreative blockbusters, I must say that I never got that message from Gamespot in their non-editorial articles. They say they want creativity and originality, and that they support downloadable games, but I don’t see that in their reviews and respective scores. Is something amiss here? Because, as far as I perceive, Gamespot still rewards big blockbuster titles more consistently then they do small, indie and innovative games. Is it because there’s too much PR pressure to give “Killzone 2” a 9? How about giving a 9 to “flower” instead? Is it, that just like the Microsoft executive, and the schmuck that thought “Resident 5” was creative, they have their minds on the right note, but they just don’t know what originality really stands for? Perhaps they don’t have the taste levels or the artistic, cultural background that allows them to distinguish the qualities that make “flower” great and “Killzone 2” not so great? Do they lack a culture of hard criticism? Do they see games only as shallow entertainment vehicles, and thus reward them on the “fun” metric alone? Mayhap these are all true, mayhap not. Whichever the case, I think journalists need to start taking pride in their own opinions, cultivating their tastes and those of their readers, and start challenging the status quo. If they like downloadable games, then great, time for them to prove it by giving them better scores than they give to the generic, sequelized big AAA games.