Video Game State of the Union: Changes Are Needed

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It seems less of an opinion and more of a general consensus that this year’s E3 was a bit of a disappointment. While this could be written off as a result of the show’s format and the 24-hour news cycle — virtually none of the news out of the event was, in fact, news — it could also be considered indicative of the state of the video game industry.

More specifically, the industry is becoming stagnant and is in desperate need of a jump start, at least from a consumer (and, to an extent, developer) perspective. Video games are still a multi-billion dollar industry, so while it may be in dire straits with regards to quality, this doesn’t foreshadow anything as severe as a complete collapse. Rather, it’s just that games have plateaued as far as innovation and entertainment factors are concerned, and things are going to stay that way until the landscape of gaming undergoes some drastic changes.

But all of them are within reach. It’s just matter of whether or not everybody involved is willing to embrace them and move forward.

Getting into the Game

Ushering in a New Age

We need new consoles, and we need them now. Let’s put things in perspective: though they’re still the go-to consoles, the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 were released in November of 2005 and 2006, respectively, making their hardware extremely outdated. Meanwhile, the Wii is all but dead, now an irrelevant platform despite coming strong out of the gates back when it was released in 2006.

E3 LogoAnd yet here we are in August of 2012 with nothing new to show on the hardware front. How is the gaming industry expected to evolve when developers are forced to work with the same set of hardware that’s been on the markets since 2005 or 2006? The answer is that it doesn’t, and consumers are starved for fresh content.

Nintendo has the right idea, as it has at least announced its next-generation console, the Wii U. It’s a bit of an everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach, what with its ridiculous tablet controller, but just about anything new stands to be a boon to gaming right about now.

But the company seems to be spinning its wheels a bit, as the Wii U was announced at last year’s E3 and we’ve received very little by way of updates since then, even at Nintendo’s sadly familiar press conference at E3 2012. Nintendo needs to get a move on with the Wii U, because we’re already starting to get sick of it and it hasn’t even been released yet, not to mention the fact that its underpowered hardware is essentially a generation behind. The best hope for Nintendo is to beat its competitors to the punch and get its next-gen console on the market first.

So what about Microsoft and Sony? Well, they’re basically refusing to even acknowledge that they’re working next-generation consoles — though more than enough rumors have surfaced to confirm that they are — so it’s safe to say that we’re quite a ways from seeing anything new anytime soon. Microsoft is too busy trying to hawk the Xbox 360 as a media center which, oh by the way, plays games, and Sony supposedly has a PS3 Slim in the works. All we know is that the possible code names for Microsoft and Sony’s machines are Durango and Orbis, respectively.

Regardless of the fact that a new generation of consoles could spawn a wave of innovation and fresh content (as a result of more powerful specs as well as unique hardware like the Wii U controller) Microsoft and Sony are clinging to the machines of this generation and are refusing to even acknowledge the future. Why? Because they want to push their current-gen consoles onto a few more people before finally moving on. Their strategies are different, but the endgame is the same: sucker a few more consumers who don’t know any better into buying these consoles at the end of their lifespan, right before we start to move on.

The Lack of New IPs: Who’s To Blame?

The issues plaguing the video game industry aren’t just on the hardware side of things, though, as the games themselves have become an exercise in repetition, with the market practically bereft of any new or innovative IPs. Video games are a medium in which imagination has no boundaries and the possibilities are endless, yet it seems like we barely ever see new ideas anymore.

Watchdogs LogoTake, for example, the slew of games that were announced and/or on display at E3 2012.  Of those games, almost all of them were either sequels in existing franchises, reboots, or remakes. Off the top of my head, these included Dead Space 3, Resident Evil 6, The Elder Scrolls: Online, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Hitman: Absolution, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Epic Mickey 2, Dead Or Alive 5, Lost Planet 3, Crysis 3, Tomb Raider, DmC, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and the list goes on.

Just look at all those games…and none of them are new IPs. On the flip side, I can think of only two new IPs that were seen at this year’s E3: Bethesda’s Dishonored and Ubisoft’s Watchdogs. When the sequelitis gets this bad and infects nearly all of today’s AAA releases (which many of the aforementioned, unoriginal titles are), it isn’t terribly surprising that video games feel less inspired than ever.

On the one hand, it’s tempting to blame the developers and publishers for this problem. But on the other hand, they have good reason to keep churning out the next Gears of War or Halo: they have no incentive to take that risk, especially when what they’re doing now is working, at least from a financial perspective. Because of that, one could even say that it’s the gamers themselves that are to blame, to an extent. We all do it, myself included: we all have franchises to which we are loyal (mine include Street Fighter and Resident Evil) even though, recently, they’ve barely changed entry-to-entry. It’s like eating junk food. We know it’s bad, but we do it anyway.

While each Call of Duty outsells the last, companies like 38 Studios take risks on brand-new IPs like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and subsequently go under. And it’s not like Kingdoms of Amalur was a bad game; in fact, it was a AAA title with great production value and was generally very well received by critics. But it doesn’t matter because for the most part, if people haven’t heard of it, they’re won’t buy it because they’re not going to risk their $60 on a game they may not like. So from the developers’ and publishers’ point of view, why deviate from the formula that’s still working when the chances of failure are so high?

Kingdoms of Amalur: ReckoningBut the responsibility doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of gamers. This also goes back to the discussion of the need for new consoles and hardware. By moving onto the next generation of consoles, the Big Three can give developers something new to work with and, in turn, opportunities to create a slew of fresh, new content. At the very least, the launch lineups for all of the next generation consoles should feature a handful of new material, as they almost always do.

The lack of innovation in video games is a serious detriment to an industry that practically begs for it, and we all have to do our part to ameliorate the problem. Video games have never needed a new wave of consoles more than they do now, but it’s also on the developers to use the new hardware to their advantage by experimenting with new, creative ideas and original material. Meanwhile it rests on us, the gamers, to be willing to take a chance on the new material that the future holds.

 

Getting into the GameFor more coverage, check out the rest of our Gaming Special Report.

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