By Stan Rezaee
The era of the Eight Generation consoles is in full swing while the Seventh Generation comes to an end as the gaming community begins to embrace the new.
Looking back; this was an era when gaming culture became part of pop culture along with the turning point of when the gaming industry released blockbuster titles that rivaled movies at the box office.
It could also be remembered as an era in which games were dumbed down while innovation and creativity was strongly discouraged. Such a statement may feel profane until gamers start to wonder how did the industry go from making games like Half Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to promoting shovel-ware and freemuims.
It could all be contributed to two major factors that pushed the industry into an era of stagnant creativity.
The first factor was the 2008 Financial Collapse that ushered the world into an age of austerity. As with all aspects of culture, budgets were tight and the industry was not whiling take risks during a time of finical uncertainty.
No longer was the game industry whiling to spend over $50 million on projects that requires more then three years of development. They became more focused on developing games on the cheap that could appeal to a greater audience and make a quick profit regardless of the quality. Few developers were whiling to take risks and if the game failed to sell then it was economically detrimental.
The most notable example was the downfall of THQ Inc., which generating massive debt by releasing big budget titles (like Red Faction: Armageddon, Saints Row: The Third and Homefront) that failed to generate profits. In the end, THQ Inc. was forced to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012 while its intellectual properties were sold to other developers.
Developers that wanted to create works of art without risking so much opted to focus less on gameplay and more on storytelling. Games like BioShock: Infinite and Spec Ops: The Line were not well known for their gameplay but had memorable stories and characters.
During all this economic uncertainty the casual gaming grew to become a strong force in the market, which is the second factor in the failure of innovation.
Casual gamers are defined as individuals who play games just for fun during their free time. They make up 70% of the market while games that cater to this demographic are designed to be simple and easy to play. Developers like Zynga profited greatly from making casual games that anyone could play from their Facebook account or mobile phone. However according to the definitions posted on Urban Dictionary, casual gamers are seen as a plague that is bringing the downfall of gaming culture.
When the industry began to cater more towards the casual market, it pushed aside traditional players who were attracted to innovative games that are challenging. This demographic has been dissatisfied with how games have lost their unique and challenging gameplay just to appeal to a mass audience.
Not helping the need for innovation was how Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 generated $1 billion in 16 days, beating the 17 day record set by James Cameron’s Avatar. There is nothing challenging or unique about this game but it was cheap to make and it was one of the fastest selling games at the time.
Adding insult to injury was the industry strategy of dumbing down classic titles just to appeal to a greater audience. These games were often panned by critics or failed to generate sales. The few reboots that could overcome these challenges faced a sever backlash among old school fans that felt the series had abandoned its core concept.
On a positive note it looks like that innovation may be having a comeback with the eight-generation consoles. Franchises that have relied on releasing the same recycled content every year have failed to sell in 2013, there is a massive backlash against Konami’s new business plan while freemum studios are struggling to stay relevant.
Meanwhile after E3 2014 there was a demand for games that actually took advantage of the new software and pushed the boundaries of the imagination. The proof is in the success of Grand Theft Auto V, which took five years and $280 million to develop, hit the $1 billion mark in three days and is expected to be the first game to generate $2 billion in revenue by the end Q1 2014.