I have one word to describe The Game Industry this year: "meh." Nothing was astounding or groundbreaking, but, at the same time, nothing was so horrible that I wanted to gouge out my eyes. Unfortunately, that's probably the worst outcome an The Game Industry can have. An amazing The Game Industry means tons of interesting new innovative IPs that will reinvigorate the industry, while an undeniably horrible The Game Industry shows companies where they clearly have to make changes in order to survive. A "meh" The Game Industry does nothing but further the status quo, and that's never a good thing.
So why was The Game Industry so bland this year? First of all, it can be argued that we are entering the lame duck phase of this gaming generation. With the Wii U on the way and the promise of new Sony and Microsoft systems hitting the market soon, few developers will choose now as the time to drop the bomb on their brand new amazing IPs. Sure, we saw some crazy interesting games like Watch Dogs and Beyond: Two Souls, but while these games are good, they aren't going to change the way we look at gaming the way that God of War did when it first came out.
On the other hand, the endless string of safe entries in established series continued as per usual. Halo 4, Dead Space 3, Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed III, Resident Evil 6, God of War: Ascension—and the list goes on. In fact, it's probably easier to count which games at the show weren't sequels. These safe bets, games that make money based on their name alone, have been the status quo in the gaming industry for the past few years. Unless we want ten million copies of the same Call of Duty shooter, things are going to have to change.
Unfortunately, things won't change. The cost of game development has skyrocketed in this generation. In order to keep up with all the brand new technology available, AAA games have to be gigantic multimillion dollar projects, which means they need to make gigantic multi-millions of dollars in profit. That's not easy to do. In fact, it's so hard that publishers are hesitant to green light anything that isn't guaranteed to bring back a fat massive paycheck. Since shooters and action games are hot right now, we are seeing less and less of the RPG, platformer, and fighting game genres, and more and more of the same carbon copy Aim-Down-Sights gameplay.
There are a couple problems with this method of thinking, though. First of all, shooters and action games will not always be hot. Even now, Modern Warfare 3 didn't do as well as Black Ops did, and overall enthusiasm for the shooter and action market is starting to drop. When these games stop producing a guaranteed return on investment, where does the gaming industry turn? What will be the next big thing when we have already systematically run through every genre that exists? The answer might make you unhappy.
The answer is mobile gaming. Why are we seeing great developers and producers like Keiji Inafune switching to the mobile market? Because it's new, and when a market is new developers can do pretty much whatever they want. Remember when gaming itself was new? The big hit at the arcades was a yellow circle who ate pellets and ran from ghosts! We had games that were based around psycho chefs creating giant burgers by running over the ingredients all while combatting mutant fast food! It was a time for experimentation, and that was thrilling.
The same is true in the mobile gaming sphere right now. Mobile gaming isn't ruled by publishers that insist on multimillion dollar projects with absurd return-on-investment expectations. Mobile games can be made by very few people on a very low budget and still be quite fun. Sometimes mobile games can be cranked out in less than a month, which is a far shorter development cycle than the years required to make a console game. Also, while mobile games are sold at lower prices, much of that money goes straight to the developer; there aren't gigantic chunks of profit taken out by publishers or distributors. Mobile gaming is a playground for game developers to try new ideas because the old market has become so oppressive.
But most of us gamers don't want mobile gaming to become the new standard. So how do we fix this? Simple, we take a cue from Hollywood and let our big studios with their dumb action blockbusters funnel money into smaller indie studios. These indie studios will then produce more artistic, innovative games on lower budgets with less of an expectation for return on investment. These games will become the new groundbreaking IPs that unexpectedly explode onto the scene, thus dictating the trend of the big blockbuster releases for another few years while the indie studios continue to test new waters. It might not be the best model, but at least it's sustainable. Right now, every game company is doing nothing but releasing the equivalent of Transformers 2, over and over again.
So where does the future of our industry lie? Mobile gaming? Indie gaming? Perhaps we'll see a gigantic crash whenever the gaming community falls out of love with shooters and game studios get crushed under the weight of their own development costs? Soon, I'm sure the future of gaming will become quite interesting. For now, all I can say is "meh".
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: June 20, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*