Objection! – Are Mainstream Video Games Bad for the Industry?

Judge: Welcome to this week’s “Objection!” Today, Kaushik and I will be discussing the current landscape of the video game industry. The big question we’ll be addressing is if “mainstream” games are an overall asset to the industry or not. Are there any opening remarks you’d like to make?

Kaushik: Well, I’d like to start off by saying I think mainstream games have done a lot for the industry these past several years. Due to those and a few other factors, the videogame industry is the strongest it’s ever been.

Is more of this good for the industry? Read more to find out!

Judge: I can agree there. Big name “popular” franchises have helped the industry in terms of recognition. As you said, it’s not the only factor to why the industry is as big as it is today. However, it could be stronger, and I think part of the problem are those exact same mainstream games which have helped the industry along the past 10 years. We need new games, new ideas…which is easier said than done of course.

Kaushik: One of the benefits to very strong mainstream games is that it’s pushed a lot of competing games out of the marketplace. While that sounds odd at first, I think it forces studios that can’t handle the “big budget” approach to search for new ways to release games. And that’s lead to one of the biggest successes in video games recently, which is the birth of the indie game. A lot of experimental ideas can be tried out at cheaper prices without ever competing with the big titles.

Judge: I suppose so. Although I think the term “indie” is being too loosely thrown around nowadays. And I think “indie” games get slightly inflated praise for being “indie” and “a neat little thing.” I’ve mentioned before when discussing Zelda with Starshine that innovation is far and few; I do understand the risk of creating a brand new IP, which is why devs will continually focus on sequel after sequel of a proven product. But, if big time devs across the industry would all continuously try new IP’s and put proven franchises on the backburner for a bit, gamers would be forced to try new things that they might like. It’s completely unrealistic, as the goal of any company is to make money. Nonetheless, I’d like to see moar new things across the board.

As far as competition is concerned, I don’t really buy into your idea. Today, it seems companies are moar eager to sue anybody that challenges them (Apple) or just buy the rights so no one else can make that type of game (Madden). Competition breeds moar innovation than if there were a monopoly. Not saying there’s a ton of innovation created through competition, but it’s at least better than getting the same Madden every year.

... I think the roster changes every year. That's innovation, isn't it?

Kaushik: I don’t want to state that the push for big budget main stream titles has single-handedly fostered the growth of indie games. In fact, I think the most important factor towards that growth has been the advent of digital distribution platforms. Still I do think that these mainstream games have been a factor in this push.

As for your notion for more new IPs… I think you’re right in that major companies such as EA or Activision aren’t really interested in new franchises as much. But more new franchises are coming out now than ever before. A large part of that is that the industry has more money being pumped into it now than ever, which has led to so many games being created. And the level of diversity has never been greater. I think it’s important to note that the games at the top of the pyramid are similar (a new Call of Duty every year, a new Madden every year), but the sheer volume of games coming out nowadays is so great that it’s easy to ignore the top and focus on what else is coming out.

You have some valid points about how some of the big players are against competition. This has been a problem with a lot of big corporations for a very long time now. Regardless, competition has flourished in more or less every other industry despite the steps taken by other industry heavyweights. I have no doubt that competition will flourish in the video game industry as well, even more so than something like, say steel or oil, because anyone can make a game and put it up for either free, or if they take the right steps, sell it on some digital distribution service.

While you may disagree with the indie label nowadays, they’ve done a lot to bring the industry to a good place right now.

All he wants is a monopoly

Judge: Ok. Lots to cover. First off, I truly believe digital distribution has been the overwhelming reason “indie” games have thrived. Not because of big name franchises. Steam, XBLA, PSN have all provided easy access and promotion for these games, which have resonated well with people. It’s merely another alternative. Instead of steak you can get chicken.

As far as there being moar new IP’s than ever before, I’m curious to know what titles you’re talking about. The year 2012 has seen a lot of 2’s and 3’s of games. In my library off the top of my head, the only non-sequel games I’ve bought this year are Lollipop Chainsaw and Sleeping Dogs. But they’re not exactly “new” ideas, from a gameplay standpoint.

Moving to competition, I believe the FPS genre has suffered most due to lack of proper competition. Despite always being matched up against one another, Call of Duty simply blows away Battlefield from a sales standpoint. This leads me to another point; while devs might try something new, the journalists and fans have a terrible tendency of wanting to continually elevate franchises like CoD. Such franchises are mentioned over and over as the gold standard. It’s hard for the new things to get their proper spotlight most of the time.

And when something new does come out that is slightly similar to another franchise, the masses want to compare them, which usually leads to the “popular” franchise “winning” in the minds of the sheeple. I should clarify that I’m not looking for something earth shattering; I don’t think that’s possible in today’s market. I do think Zelda does a good job in this regard, despite Starshine’s complaints. Call of Duty on the other hand, not so much.

If being a sheeple is wrong, I don't wanna be right

Kaushik: I don’t mean 2012 specifically when I say there have been a lot of new IPs, but I think you and I are confusing each other a bit. It seems like you’re more interested in something like new genres of games, instead of new RPGs or new FPSs or new sports games. I think there are a lot of new games in certain genres that have been coming out recently. While competition against big titles may be tough, that hasn’t stopped certain games from coming out.

I understand Battlefield is losing to Call of Duty, but it’s still providing some sort of competition. Moreover, Battlefield is continuing to come out, and I think it will for the forseeable future.

Actually, I think recently there has been a lot of innovation in genres of games too. One of the biggest is the opening of the casual market via the Wii and digital distribution titles like Angry Birds or facebook games and the like. That’s something that never would have been possible earlier and I think represents a positive shift in the industry.

Even as a hardcore gamer, the pickings have gotten better. I will agree that maybe within the last year or so maybe there haven’t been many incredible titles released, but if you look back five or six or seven years there have been a lot of really awesome games released. Maybe they’re not all groundbreaking titles for one reason or another, but every game can’t be that kind of game. You’re only really going to have one Angry Birds or Super Mario Bros. in a generation, and everyone else has to just offer something else above that if they want to be commercially successful.

Even looking at the often-touted stale FPS genre, I think there have been innovations within the past decade or so to make those games a lot more enjoyable. Particularly online play, and the refinement of that play. Moreover, the games have gotten incredibly popular so it’s pretty easy to find games when you want to just sit down and play.

Despite all our technical advancements, I don't think we'll ever stop seeing this screen entirely.

As far as certain games being held up to a “golden standard” is concerned… I think that’s only to be expected. When there’s a dominant force in an industry (that does not, however, imply no competition) other titles are of course going to emulate the money maker. After all, it’s a business, and profit is the bottom line. I don’t think there’s a problem with certain games like Call of Duty or Skyrim or Starcraft being held up as the “standard to beat”, because… Well, they are.

I’m trying to be careful about whether these games are good or not. Honestly, for the purposes of this debate, I don’t think the subjective quality of the game matters. I might hate Call of Duty, but if I were a video game executive, you damn well better believe I’d be trying to make a game to get a little bit of that sweet sweet Call of Duty money

Judge: I’m not interested in new genres because I don’t think anyone can create a new genre at this point. I want devs to make a moar conscious effort on expanding upon existing gameplay mechanics. CoD fails in this regard. I stated that my view of innovation is not something earth shattering, but enough to know that I’m not getting the exact same thing as last time. AC3 is a good example of something “new.” instead of the previous 4 AC games, we’re getting something different. Some fans wanted it to be set in Japan. Seriously? We’ve had so many games already about samrurai and ninjas. I’m seeing a lot of people who were never interested in AC before who now are due to it’s different setting and gameplay.

In regards to your Battlefiled analysis, yes it’s still coming out because it’s still making money. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s providing competition for CoD because it ain’t. It’s like the Giants and Jets. They both exist, yet the Jets will always play second fiddle to the Giants. Both franchises make plenty of cash, yet the Giants are simply better.

Now about social games like Angry Birds…To be quite honest, they’re a cancer to the industry. Having worked in the social gaming industry, it’s moar about making a quick buck than anything else.

Well, no one can deny this is milking the franchise for all its worth

Kaushik: Regardless of the intentions, they bring in a lot of new people to gaming, which I think is pretty cool.

Judge: I disagree. You can hardly call the people they bring in “gamers” by any stretch of the imagination. They’re just bored people looking to pass time.

Kaushik: I’m not calling them gamers, but there’s something satisfying about seeing my mother playing angry birds. It brings her a little bit into my world, and I enjoy sharing that time.

Judge: It’s telling when roughly 60% of social “gamers” are moms or elderly women. I find no connection whatsoever with those people, nor do I find it cool. Just because I read Twilight, it doesn’t mean I want to understand or be a part of that Twilight mania. Same thing applies with social “gamers.”

Anyways, the last point is about the golden standard. Do you honestly believe CoD deserves to be a golden standard for FPS? Or D3 for dungeon-scrawling? Or LoL for MOBA? For RPG’s it used to be Final Fantasy, now it seems like it’s Bioware stuff, which is acceptable in my mind. I’m not a huge fan of Skyrim, mainly because of the gross over-appreciation it gets, but it’s still a great game. It’s the standard for sandbox games. Starcraft is definitely an acceptable golden standard for RTS. I guess my point is that people are too quick to label the most popular game of the genre as the gold standard, when quite frankly, as I stated earlier, sometimes they don’t deserve it. Not all the time, but most of the time.

Kaushik: As far as the industry is concerned, I don’t think the quality is important when determining a golden standard, it’s just about the money it’ll make. In that respect, yes, I think those games are golden standards.

The true golden standard of videogames

Judge: Well in this regard, I think we are looking at the debate differently. Are mainstream games good for the industry? From a money standpoint? Yes. You seem to focus on this perspective. From a innovative standpoint? No. I am looking at it from this perspective.

Kaushik: I’ll agree with you that based on your innovation standards, the games I listed aren’t really worthy of being held up as a standard to game development. Maybe Starcraft 2 or Modern Warfare 1 (I’d also argue League of Legends for really popularizing the moba genre). Despite that, I think some wildly innovative games are still coming out. Will they be big sellers? I don’t think they will, and for the most part they never have been. People are afraid of change. Why spend $60 on a game you have the chance of not liking when you know you’ll enjoy the new Call of Duty title since it’ll be mostly the same as the older ones?

Despite that, and you probably dislike me bringing this up, I think indie games can really fill in a gap here. There are a lot of really cool, neat, and cheap games that are released for digital distribution. They innovate to a degree, and due to the price point it’s easy for gamers to dive in and see what the situation is all about. I’ll offer up the example of The Binding of Isaac. I know the rougelike and randomly generated dungeon thing has been done before, but never quite in this way, and the game is hopelessly addicting. There are so many games like this that are out, and while they might not be making as much money as the big titles, or even getting the spotlight as much (I suspect this is mostly due to lack of advertising money), great games like that are still coming out. And hey, smash indie hits can even break out of that barrier and go popular, like Bastion.

40 hours played in a week make The Binding of Isaac comparable to a full-time job. Unfortunately I don't get paid for it

Judge: If I gave the impression I dislike indie games, that wasn’t what I intended. I merely think that the phrase “indie” is thrown around too often. And just because it’s indie, it’s “cool.” Regardless, back to the point, will devs stop making those popular games? Nope. Will devs continue to milk a franchise? Yup. Will there be new games that can grab people’s attention? For the most part as you said, proably no. Are they coming out with enough new stuff? I don’t think so. Will devs hopefully start getting moar creative in the future? I hope so. I can only imagine the industry will be extremely moar profitable 15 years from now.

Kaushik: I think we can all hope for more creative developers in the future. I mean, at the end of the day, I’m a gamer too. I definitely will get sick if Call of Duty 52: Slightly in the Past Combat comes out.

Judge: Hahaha, yea well I would like to think Activision is smart enough to know that 52 iterations is overkill. They’ll probably stop at 51 and call it: Alien Warfare.

Kaushik: Yeah when Call of Duty heads to space (outside of the Blops zombies map Moon) I think is when I call it quits.

Judge: Agreed. That’s it for this week’s “Objection!” Until next time people.

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Just a simple man, trying to find his way in the universe. Image hosted by servimg.com

One Comment:

  1. NO panic knife cant wait for that great job treyarch.!!!

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