For the past few years, there have been the releases of several games that were very much hyped up and expected to do very well, or sold on one or two interesting points that made the idea of them stand out while the reality of the games were very hollow and unsustainable. There seems to be an increased prevalence of these sorts of game gimmicks, and for whatever reasons developers are opting in to investing heavily into these sorts of games that try to break or expand genres more than games that would be effective within their own genre.
There are loads of recent games that attempt to do this. Destiny, with its half a billion dollar funding, attempted to merge the FPS and MMO genres, and delivered a game with the mechanics of both but less quality aspects of each. Titanfall’s main sell was being a FPS with giant robots, and while it delivered on that and refreshingly added some spice to the shooter formula, it had no single player options and its campaign consisted simply of multiplayer games with some small voiceovers to make the player artificially feel like there was some kind of story occurring. And more recently, the Skyrim Special Edition offers the same game that was released in 2011 plus DLC for the original price, but with the only difference being improved graphics. While it’s not my place to tell the capitalist world how they should develop these games, there are serious flaws with these titles. The idea is what drives them, not the actual content of the game.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to think about your quirky ideas. I’ve used mine to develop some cool short stories, and my sister is still going to become a millionare once she figures out how to pull off her porta potty scheme. But when the only real contribution to the game is the minor theme, not something solid within the game’s foundation, the medium will sometimes not be enough to salvage the game. While there is more leeway in video games for cliche storytelling and underdevelopment, games with weak characters and stories don’t work as well as ones with compelling narratives.
The original Skyrim had hundreds of quests throughout the world, and part of its appeal was that almost all of these quests had interesting stories and narratives that were strong on their own – add hundreds more to that experience and you have a game that feels impossible to “finish,” and that isn’t a bad thing. But if the only thing you’re contributing to the community is better graphics, how much are you really giving to the community?
While these sorts of games aren’t going to be sustainable, they certainly can make a lot of money right out the gate. Even though probably a majority of buyers have already played it, the Skyrim Special Edition has sold enough copies to place it at #2 in the UK this week. And hey, if it works, it works, right? But if companies are looking for longer term success, I’d encourage them to look less at the few shiny gems of quirky ideas and more at developing good foundations for the games.