We have more electronic games at hand than we’ve had ever before. Same with television, with Youtube and other streaming services allowing each individual to put their own show and tell what’s on their mind. The same way how blogs and such are the newspapers’ opinionated pieces of the Internet. The more we got everything, the less the little gems pop up, the less we’ll know about those single pieces of media that are being lost in the twenty-four/seven information onslaught. We can talk about how nothing is lost to the media and how every game or show gets reviewed by someone and you’re able to find some bits of information about something, but that’s not even the case with English language games. Less so with titles that are only in a language you personally don’t understand. There’s absolutely nothing about African video game industry on the overall Internet, as they’re all extremely local and do not do well in comparisons. There are no reporters or interest looking into what’s happening there outside curiosities. You’d think this wouldn’t apply to Japanese markets, but even then you have stupid amounts of self-published titles that haven’t been listed anywhere, despite later being introduced to digital stores like DLSite. Big names roll the most, and looking at the titles that are the most hyped and on the nose of the market, there’s nothing new on the table.
From what I gleamed quickly at a casual glance, the Internet’s all about the new Doom game, the new Animal Crossing and about Final Fantasy VII Remake. There certainly are some other titles there too, but these are the ones that seem to pop up the most frequently. All three are titles belonging to long running franchises, and you could argue Doom Eternal is a remake of sorts of Doom II. All three have been selling like hotcakes and not many people are complaining about any of the three. They all have different target audiences, and all three resort to combination of the two Ns; Nostalgia and Novelty.
Good ol’ saying from the business world is that the customer is afraid of everything new. That is largely true, as people tend to find the most comfortable spot with the things they are most used to, the things they know the best. The things they’re connected with the most. With games this is easily seen in genres some people prefer over other and sometimes aren’t willing to step outside their comfort zone to try out something completely new. For example, a person who has always played Role-Playing Games ‘knows’ he wouldn’t like a semi-realistic hunting simulator. It just isn’t something he’d like. Customers are strange beasts in that we don’t actually know what we like or what we want. While our purchasing decisions are based on complex sets of decisions on merits of a product compared to its competition and how it’d do in our personal use. We might deviate from the usual product we buy if there’s something cheaper at hand that does the job better, or we want to change things up. It’s more common to abhor a new product or its competition though, and we want to change things even less if we’re emotionally connected. All things corporations capitalise on, hence why you see one company offering multiple different kind of sauces on the store shelf. On one hand, you might like that runny tomato sauce from X Brand, but that chunky tomato sauce looks pretty good and now they’re having a sale of three for price of two. Plus, that new sauce with seeds and chopped stuff in it looks good too and I know this brand has good sauces, so trying that out won’t lose me much. Turns out you love the chunky sauce and wonder why you never tried it out before.
I tend to default for mint ice cream.
The three aforementioned games are like that. They’re safe options for anyone who has experienced a game in their series or have a passing experience within the genre. All three titles also belong to games that have made an impact on the cultural scene, though Animal Crossing‘s the least of three. It’s effectively Japanese Sims with anthropomorphised characters, a simulator of everyday activities in a more peculiar environment. Doom created the modern first-person shooter, while Final Fantasy is effectively the golden standard series for role-playing games as a whole. You can contest Dragon Quest or some other franchise here, but as a global phenomena they can’t really hold the candle. They’re safe bets, titles that will deliver profits even when handled in a half-assed manner. They’re a franchise, something will keep ’em afloat just fine. With title like Final Fantasy VII Remake, there was never any questions if it made any money. The question was how much money it would make. Not because FFVII Remake would ever be reviewed or seen by its own title, but because it is a remake of a game that is perceived as one of the pinnacles of modern-day popular culture. Because the game this remake was based on managed to attach consumers emotionally to the brand and the name, striking just the right time in the right place. Whether or not the game was put into production because the developers felt they could do FFVII more justice with modern tools and methods doesn’t really enter the equation, when the game was a safe bet. It has been requested for years on end and it would be gobbled up no matter what the end result was, and the sheer power of personal emotional attachment would colour however the game would end up being. All usual business, and I’m ranting about this again.
We could split the history of video games in slots where certain genres or certain styles were the most popular. The First electronic game Generation saw large amounts of Pong clones, with the Second Generation trying out a lot more stuff with titles like Pac-Man and Space Invaders. From the Third Generation onward we saw the 2D platformer surfacing as the most common type, but whether or not 2D action was the game that was best done in that manner could be open to debate. PC side was doing 3D stuff at the time already, but not all that well. Come to modern day, and most games, even RPGs, are third-person action. While mechanics may be a bit different, they’re effectively the same kind of game all over again. The coat of paint might be different, yet third person is the way to go now. In reality, that’s not the case, is it? Despite some of the most spoken about games in last years, from Nier: Automata to Metal Gear Solid V and even Senran Kagura are all variations of this same core game concept of controlling a character’s actions from behind them. Despite the third person view, it isn’t uncommon for players to refer the character on the screen as themselves in action. “I have to sneak there,” for example. Even with VR the most titles are some kind of variation of the first person type, because there’s nothing much else you can do. Perhaps that’s part of the equation, where gaming isn’t exactly able to do anything else what we’re now having. After all, playing with Star Wars dolls is in effect the same action as playing Knights of the Old Republic or how Doom is like taking a toy gun and going outside to play war with your friends. The framing and limitations are just different, the act of playing is still the same
The game industry is already feeling a moment where they are having workers who have grown up with video games. Logic would dictate that these workers know how a game functions, but that becomes a limitation and a liability. Games like The Legend of Zelda are based on real-life experiences, the adventures and explorations a child does in a forest with a wood stick as his sword and finding a cavern. Pokémon is about insect collecting and finding the biggest, baddest one and then to compete with your friend. When your life experiences are with games and the game media all around, you ultimately end up resorting to what you know best, your experiences and nostalgia. Games based on other games become saturated by its own culture, inbreeding itself. The concept of the play has already been somewhat lost in modern gaming, where story is considered to come from pre-existing narrative rather than from the act of playing. Interestingly, it is common for games to section themselves into story bits and game bits, and has been doing this increasingly so as time has passed. Perhaps nostalgia and experience with previous generations of games has produced this approach with experimentation being left out. The inverse of course is if a person doesn’t have any experience with games and comes from another industry, like film, a game might lose its play in favour of film elements. This arguably already happened with the FMV titles in the 1990’s, when gaming was being pushed to become a second Hollywood and abandon the element of game in favour of video, and left a crater on the gaming as a media. That said, it’s easy to pick up one of the modern games offered and trace its influence in gaming back at least a decade or two. Easier still with titles like the FFVIIR, where you see the connection with the original FFVII and Kingdom Hearts in terms of gameplay and how progression is handled. History of the developers on the showcase.
The mainstream gaming doesn’t see many truly innovative games, or games that try to tackle the pre-established mould all that often. When it does, it’s often tacked unto a pre-existing IP. While Mega Man Battle Network still splits some opinions, it is a game series that doesn’t have much imitators. Its combination of RPG elements with real-time action with card collecting makes it stand as a unique piece, but something that didn’t necessarily need the Mega Man IP name to carry it. While it certainly helped with the recognition of the game at first, we’ll never know of Battle Network could’ve been bigger if had been something completely original.
That’s where the whole thing rolls back around to itself. Customers know these things, they’re familiar with certain kind of things, execs and investors want to make the best bucks and developers end up making games according to these points. However, it’s also a point that while developers are chained to this leash, often devs also want to make a game similar to this fashion or that fashion, a game in this particular genre and this way. Japanese may showcase some of their titles as unique titles with no real connection to the past, but that’s PR speech and trying to pass yourself in a higher degree compared to the lower tier workers in the company hierarchy. Shit rolls downhill. You look at a developer like Platinum and their library of games, and you don’t see any real innovation and chances. All of their high profile games are effectively one-horse tricks. There’s no innovation in them for the medium as a whole, they’re “just” well made games in a given genre. Just like the big heads sitting in the board meetings, the devs resort on pre-established patterns and methods which have been found to be working and a success. No need to fix what’s broken, and that applies to the creatives just as much. Sometimes you find the perfection combination of chance, time and people with the rights wants and intentions that push the envelope, even if by mistake, but combining all the right parts of past in a way that creates a new tapestry. To use an old example, whole Super Mario Bros. wasn’t anything new, the way it was put together and as to end the cartridge games on the Famicom, the genre gained a completely new lease in life and a the franchise in itself was reborn more Super.