Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 20, 2015
Do we still need new games?

Several people commented yesterday that as long Steam doesn't go bust and they keep their current library, they wouldn't be too much affected by a decline in the video game industry. That is especially visible in the MMORPG genre, where the most successful game of 2014 was 10-year old WoW, and NCSoft was losing money on Wildstar while making money with the ancient Lineage games (in Asia). People apparently don't need new games all that much.

I do believe that there is an unlimited amount of stories to tell, so there is room for an endless amount of books and film. But when I read the bad reviews for The Order: 1886 which all laud the great cinematic story-telling and then slam the game for having too little and too outdated gameplay, I don't think that people buy games for their stories. I don't know how long Telltale can keep up the concept of making a series of games with no evolution of gameplay, just by telling a different story every time. Personally I much dislike those "games" which are only pseudo-interactive stories with no real meaningful decisions.

On the gameplay side evolution is very slow. When was the last time you played a game where the gameplay was not a minor variation of gameplay of earlier games? At best you get interesting combinations mixing gameplay elements from several different games. I can see how somebody who already has a dozen first-person shooters doesn't necessarily need a new one. With 70% of the games in my Steam library not yet played, and my iPad library being like that as well, I certainly could survive a drought of new games for a while.

So do we really still need new games?

Personally I think we do, but unfortunately not the ones that we are likely to get. For me for example the possibility space for massively multi-player online role-playing games is huge; but the part of that possibility space taken up by existing MMORPGs is tiny, because they all cluster around the same set of features with only a few outliers. I can imagine fully dynamic virtual worlds with many modes of gameplay we haven't seen before, but I'm not optimistic that somebody will have the guts to deviate from the tried and tested. So "no new games" isn't all that different from the current "no games that are really new".

There's a big market for "story games" ala Telltale and apparently even The Order: 1886 (as close as a 3PS can get to such, I imagine). I'm always a bit shocked to learn that people play games with strong imaginative or story-based themes and don't get into that element....but that's just me.

FYI my wife started playing The Order: 1886 last night at 1 AM when it unlocked and was still playing it at 7 AM when I got up to go to work. She says I'm going to love it. So I guess the game has lasted art least 1 longer for her than that dude who did the speed run, but I have to assume from all these reviews that my wife is just a delusional gal who doesn't realize that the 3PS adventure game is played out and not worth it anymore, and it only takes 5 hours. Durh. I'm sure she got to the end seconds after I left for work ;)
Actually, to address the issue of "do we still need new games?" The answer is we have never needed any of the games we own, so no. The problem with this question is it's not the right one: what we should be asking is, "Do we still WANT new games?" and the answer there least I think it is....yes. The trick is when we say new, do we mean "new" in the sense of innovative gameplay or new in the sense of "I want to play the same thing but in a way that feels different."

If you read most blogs and forum threads you'll conclude we want #1 (innovative and new). If you look at sales figures it seems we lean much closer to #2. That said, I think everyone has a breaking point, and I wonder how far some franchises can go before they crash right on through. I think the Battlefield/CoD franchises, for example, are dangerously close if not past the brink already.
The innovation will probably come from the indie realm, an example would be Minecraft. The big studios that produce the triple AAA titles are very risk adverse because of the expense in making the epic games of which more and more are failing. So they try to stick to a tried and true method of turning a buck by rehashing what worked, kind of like Hollywood with it's endless remakes. Once there is successful innovation elements of it will leak into the AAA games that take millions and years to make. I agree with your earlier post though, what I call "spamware" games like Clash of Clans are providing such a large return for such little development effort that making more of those is hard to resist and these games will flood the market. And your comments about Steam enabling indie developers direct access to market skipping a traditional publisher will fuel a lot more indie games. The short, I agree, we will see less mega titles and more indie and spamware games. The good is innovation might increase from those areas, the bad is there will be less big titles around to capitalize on it.
According to Forbes, "Industry sales hit $13.1 in 2014, up one percent from $12.94 in 2013." Someone out there is still buying new games, and plenty of them. Sometimes it doesn't feel that way to us, because the top selling games of 2014 are dominated by games like Call of Duty and Madden NFL 15, games aimed at a demographic very clearly not us.

Meanwhile, we are all talking about how we have plenty of unplayed games we picked up on Steam sales, so can you blame them? We're pretty crappy customers, why would game companies cater new titles to us?
Tough question. Considering I still play NWN1, Starcraft 1, and Warcraft 3, I'm definitely in the camp of people who don't feel a lot of need for all the new games coming out. That said, I think there's totally room for new games, but like you said, they're unlikely to be the ones released.

Just like there's an infinite number of possible stories to be told, I suspect that there's a (near?) infinite number of possibility spaces to explore. However, I think it's either harder to create those than a good book, or else we just don't have enough designers yet with the skills to do so.
After a decade and a half of playing MMOs I think I may be beginning to approach some small and limited understanding of what it is about them that I enjoy. My current feeling, which may change, is that I most value a relatively small range of relatively repetitive tasks, preferably within a relatively loose but not entirely absent framework.

For novelty, what I most value are new backgrounds against which to set these tasks. On that basis I do appreciate new games or "refreshes" to existing games. I do not, however, believe that I presently want, far less need, new gameplay.

More of the same, then, is always of interest. However, in the absence of "more" then "the same" will definitely suffice. I am not remotely bored or finished with a significant number of running MMOs so my only real concern would be if most or even all of those were to close down. Short of such an unlikely event I expect always to be able to find enough to keep me amused.
Moving from MMOs & 1PS for a second, I'd be interested in people's take on Dragon Age Inquisition from the point of view of innovation.

It's a bit difficult for me to comment, because this is the first time I'm playing a DA game on a console as opposed to a MAC/PC - so from my perspective both the gameplay and the story are new.

Any thoughts/experiences?
For me, my Steam library is already populated with enough games to last me at least 6 months to a year, and that's considering my daily WoW time since I re-subbed last Oct. I don't do mobile games, so I don't even have a consideration to buy any.

I think we are due for another round of innovation, or even updated instances of older innovative games. Take FMV(Full Motion Video) games for instance, it is now more cost effective to hire actors and produce acted, video content than it is to use real people for motion capture purposes, create models, textures and import the motion capture data in the animation process.

I think FMV could reboot and revolutionize game design, where episodic content could be released in very short order and keep a title alive and fresh for a -very- long time. Almost 20 years ago we had Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive, which provided up to 7 different endings depending on choices made while playing the game. They recently rebooted the series, albeit a low budget reboot, but after I played the new game in almost a single sitting...not because it was a short game, but because my immersion was so deep I completely lost track of time.

To me, that is the pinnacle of game design. If I can look up at the clock and 3 hours have passed in what seems like mere minutes, then that developer has obviously done something right.

It excites me to think what could be done with todays technology with a FMV game.
'Novelty' is a matter of how you look at it. Many have argued that all stories derive from seven basic plots (or some other small number).

I think it's more that we are jaded and there's too much out there for us to find the gems.
This is a fundamental question! Well played.

And the answer is unknown but the question points to a nasty fact: developers don't make new games, they make variations of old games with bugs and then they are surprised that their "new" game (old mechanic + bugs) fails.

A developer must ask: am I writing a new game?
10 million WoW fans say we don't :)
Or, if someone does have the guts to try one of those new, fundamentally different games exploring uncharted areas of the possibility space, BECAUSE it's a risk it'll have no funding, meaning it'll be done on a shoestring budget by enthusiast devs on a delayed schedule, resulting in something that looks outdated and low-budget and hasn't spent nearly enough time in QA getting bug-fixed because they're exhausted after so long on their hobby project, or the release date will be too early thanks to the likely clamouring demands of crowd-funding supporters.
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