Don’t let the title fool you. Sequels to video games are not inherently bad. In fact, some of the best games ever made are sequels. Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, and many would argue it’s the best thus far– even better than Morrowind! Silent Hill 2 is clearly the best game in the Silent Hill franchise, and one of the best games ever made overall. The same applies to Resident Evil 4, Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and many more. A well-made sequel, one that is wanted by both the publisher and the consumer, is always appreciated. It’s really easy to tell when a studio truly put their all in a game and made it to be entertaining for the gamers. When playing a game, one can tell when it’s a game that was made with the customer’s enjoyment in mind, or rather something that was hastily slapdashed together for the sole purpose of selling copies and making money and nothing else in mind. Those are the types of games and sequels that really get my goat.
That’s also not to say that making money is bad. Of course selling copies and making money is a goal. Without profits and income, studios couldn’t make any more games. Making money is always an important factor; it’s one of the reasons that piracy is so bad for the industry, especially for indie developers. But, it’s all about the intentions of the game developer. As stated previously, it’s easy to tell when a game is made with the entertainment of the gamer in mind, or if it is made with the sole purpose of selling copies to make money, and nothing else. It’s very true that the gaming industry is a business and needs money to survive and continue to create. But is it also not true that video games are an artistic medium, and need to be treated as such?
Gamers and game studios have spent decades fighting for games to be treated as legitimate forms of art and expression, just as music, movies, and books are. Albeit a different medium, video games are just as much an art form as anything else. We try to defend gaming as a legitimate source of art, expression, and entertainment every time an Xbox 360 is found inside the house of a a kid who just went on a killing rampage. Whenever a congressman tries to pass a bill banning violent video games, or tries to censor or destroy our art, we jump to gaming’s defense and fight for our right to be taken seriously. We argue that games are simply being treated as a blame figure, and that people jump on the bandwagon of blaming video games because it’s an easy and convenient scapegoat. We argue that games are indeed an artistic medium, and need to be treated and respected as such.
But then “ActiCapÜbersoftCom Arts” comes out with the 17th version of “Assassin’s Duty XIV: Super Online Beta Generations 4 – Arcade Edition” this year alone, charges $59.99 for it, and completely undermines our “games are art” argument. It’s no longer art at this point. It’s now a dead horse being beaten over and over until every last bloody cent is carved out of its already eviscerated, cold, lifeless corpse. They’ve taken what we’ve fought for to be considered a legitimate form of art and turned it into a cash cow so over-milked to death that its udders have turned into little black stalactites and fallen off. (Shameless Yahtzee reference).
That opinion may seem a bit extreme, but let me elaborate and put it into the proper context.
Like I said, it’s not that sequels are bad. Some of the best games ever created are sequels. And when a studio makes a brilliant follow up to a beloved game, it’s always appreciated and loved. But, it’s clear that in today’s video game market that game developers aren’t treating video games as art anymore. The entertainment of the consumer is not the goal, nor is it even considered by many game developers. Rather than using video games as a form of entertainment or artistic expression, game developers simply use it as a way to drain every cent out of a franchise and a consumer; not to send a message or express a concern, but to make money and nothing else. It’s not that making money is bad, it’s that having profits and nothing else as one’s goal is an inherently bad thing for games. Not that every single game has to be a masterpiece, either. Not every game needs to have an important message and artistic expression. But shouldn’t every game at least do gamers the courtesy of having their entertainment in mind? If you’re not going treat games as art, at least treat it as entertainment. But many companies don’t even do that. They don’t treat games as forms of art nor entertainment. They simply see it as a way to swindle yet another dollar from gamers. It’s a scam.
Not to generalize an entire industry — not all game developers do this. For example, when playing a Metal Gear Solid game, you can really tell that Hideo Kojima and all the guys at Konami really put their heart and soul into every single game. Every Metal Gear Solid games feels like it could be the last in the series. The game isn’t made for the sole expressed purpose of creating a franchise and draining every cent out of the IP (Intellectual Property) and the consumer that they can. The game is made to tell a story, bring about a message, and entertain the gamer. Hideo Kojima uses video games as a medium for artistic expression and consumer entertainment. Of course he’s going to make money on it, but making money is not the only specified goal.
However, on the other side of room you have a game like Dead Space 3. When playing Dead Space 3, you really get the feeling that EA (Electronic Arts) really didn’t give two shits about what consumers thought about the game after they purchased it. It’s clear that no amount of effort, love, or passion went into any aspect of the game’s creation. The entire game was built around the concept of trying to get the consumer to give EA as much money as possible in the form of purchasing copies, digital sales, and microtransactions. Not only does it completely destroy the environment of “survival horror” that Dead Space was trying to create, but EA took what was a decent IP with a growing fanbase, and perverted it into something more grotesque than any Twitcher ever thought about being. Instead of an art form or source of fun, it’s just a medium for EA to continue to line its already bloated coffers. The game was not built with your enjoyment in mind, it was built with EA’s wallet in mind. It’s not about what’s good for you. It’s about what’s good for EA.
The funny thing is that Dead Space 3 was such a commercial failure that just to break even, EA needed to sell over 5 million copies of the game. They didn’t even come close to that figure. Gamers could see that this game was a lifeless money making scheme inhabiting a video game’s body and refused to take part in it. Now EA, and many other game developers who make poor games and wonder why they don’t sell, try to blame the lack of sales on renting games, used games, and piracy. Rather than realizing that maybe the reason no one bought their shitty game was because it was … well … a shitty game, they try to blame us, the consumer, for not buying their shitty game. I’ve already discussed in the past why the used game and consumer blaming argument is a total crock. This problem isn’t just with EA, they were just an example. This problem is like a cancer spreading to many other AAA game studios.
The reason is because AAA tier games are so completely broken with the most bloated of budgets that no amount of sales could ever give the game developer a true profit. So in order to make any sort of money, game studios either (1): try to take a once proud IP and bland it down as much as possible to try and “appeal to as many people as possible” just to sell copies, without any regard to what people think about their games after the sale (like what happened when Overstrike turned into Fuse), (2): flood the game with all sorts or microtransations and DLC (Downloadable Content) so that any progress that can be made in the game must be paid for separately, in addition to the original purchase of the game (just like with Dead Space 3), or (3): spit out squeal after hastily made squeal every year, recycling content from the previous games, and adding nothing new to the series, over and over until the entire series is just shell of its former self. No longer the proud IP that made fans happy and gave us gaming memories that we would cherish forever, but a cheaply made squeal made specifically not for your enjoyment, but for your money (like what’s happening with Call of Duty, and, to a lesser extent, Assassin’s Creed).
It’s just that I’m understandably scared for our games. For example, I love the Assassin’s Creed series. Hell, I’ve got the Assassin’s symbol tattooed on my arm. And I love Ubisoft. They’ve got some great IPs and almost always put out quality games; I’m super excited for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flags, Watch Dogs, and Rayman Legends. But I see year after year of yet another Assassin’s Creed game coming out. The games are still good, and I feel that each game has improved upon the concepts of the last. But the amount improved each time is becoming less and less. I feel like if Ubisoft took an extra year in between releases then the games would be a bit more polished, and they would feel fresher. They’re not yet to the point of being bad games, but I see the potential of them turning sour if not handled correctly. I’m just afraid of seeing a great series like Assassin’s Creed turn into a yearly cash cow that plays like a checklist of requisite generic features like any EA Sports game or Call of Duty does. Assassin’s Creed was just an example. This fear stretches to other games as well.
We’ve already seen this sequel-killing happen to great games like Call of Duty, Saint’s Row, Uncharted, Dead Space, and Resident Evil. Each of those franchises used to be fresh and original, but poorly made sequels destroyed what was great series. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a great game, and a fresh new spin on the series, but got too expensive and grandiose for its own good. It ended up becoming a generic FPS (First Person Shooter) — adding nothing to the franchise or genre, and even subtracting a few things. While their respective predecessors both vastly improved upon their original formula, Saint’s Row 3 and Uncharted 3 failed to meet expectations because they tried too hard to be like their previous games and didn’t establish their own personality or identity. They just copy/pasted all the key moments from the previous games and tried to highlight them as the focal point for this one. Neither felt like new games in the series. They didn’t add anything new or make me feel like they warranted a $59.99 price-tag. They just felt like poorly made copies of the previous title. And as far as Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6 go, they both suffered from homogenization. They saw the rise in popularity of action shooters like Call of Duty and tried to appeal to that audience. So instead of just being survival horror games like they were known and loved for, they tried to incorporate the action shooter genre. But when you try to be the jack of all trades, you’re the master of none. Rather than being a good action game or a good survival horror game, Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6 were simply mediocre at both — spreading themselves too thin. By trying to appeal to everyone, they appealed to no one.
Five great franchises ruined by big budgets, over expectations, and homogenization. I just don’t want to see this happen to other games. I see games as an both an art form and a source of entertainment. It’s not something that anyone can do. It’s not something everyone can enjoy. And it’s not something anyone can master. It’s an artform in the sense that it takes a special group of people to make a successful game that creates memories that last forever. And because it is a game, after all, it must be made to be fun and entertaining. It should be made with the enjoyment of the gamer in mind. Albeit I see games as a creative way to express ideas and art, I can also appreciate the mindless fun of a game like Manhunt or simple pleasures in a game like Bejeweled. It’s those soulless sequels like Bioshock 2 — games made to swindle you from your money, not to entertain you — that really scare me. It’s games that aren’t forms of art, nor are they meant to be fun, that worry me. The plague that they carry has spread to many series so far and ruined them. I don’t want to see any more beloved franchises fall victim to money hungry businessmen.
So how can we gamers help fix this and protect ourselves? It’s simple, almost facile really.
Many of us realize that games can not only be forms of entertainment, but also forms of artistic expression. We’ve already shown that we’re aware of this problem by not purchasing the homogenized garbage that is Dead Space 3. That attitude is what can send a message to game developers. By refusing to take part in their money grabbing schemes … by refusing to give profit to those who do not seek to satisfy out gaming needs … by sending the message that we are fed up with this, we can force a change. If we continue to buy homogenized, focus group tested, microtransaction bullshit games, game developers will continue to produce them. But if we refuse to take part in it, we force the game developer to change their ways. They would be forced to spend their money more wisely, and to make sure that every game is perfect. Every single game would have to be made to satisfy gamers. When making a Silent Hill game, Konami would have to make sure that it’s the best survival horror game ever. When making a Call of Duty game, Activision would have to make sure it’s the best FPS ever. And by forcing game developers to work harder and longer on games, it not only spaces out releases so that each new entry feels fresh rather than token, but it also makes both the game developer and the consumer appreciate the finished product a whole lot more.
Of course there are going to be those outside of the circle of true gamers who will lap up every copy of “Generic Brown Military Action Shooter 15” and “Look, Kinda Scary Monsters, But Not Really Just Shoot Them 7” anyway. But there will be enough of us taking a stand to make a difference. And game companies will see the difference in their wallets and sales figures. They wouldn’t be able to blame used games or piracy for their woes anymore. They would be forced to look at themselves for their problems, and then ask us “how can we fix this?”
To wrap all of this up, we’re less likely to trade in or sell a game that we truly love. If game companies want to see bigger and better sales, they have to stop blaming comsumers and start satisfying them. Treat your games as works of art and forms of entertainment, not as a tool to take advantage of us. We gamers see when love and commitment went into a game. It’s why games like Twilight Princess and Super Smash Brothers Brawl are a lot harder to find at GameStop, but you’ll find the last seven years of every EA Sports title sitting on the shelf for all eternity.
Just as Nintendo of America President and Chief Operating Office Reggie Fils-Aime said: “Worried about used games sales? Make better games!” That’s all we gamers want. Stop shitting out the same generic game over and over, and make something memorable. Then I might consider paying $59.99 for your games.
Of course, the games I bashed and opinions I expressed here are just that: my opinions. If you feel like BioShock 2, Call of Duty, or Dead Space 3 was a good game, then that’s fine! Tell me! I’m sure there are those who completely disagree with me. That’s what I love about video games. So many genres and opinions, and just because one person doesn’t like a game, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game … unless you like Sonic ’06 … then your opinion is very wrong.
By the way, is anybody else excited about ActiCapÜbersoftCom Arts’ upcoming game: “The Legend of Super Final Metroidvania VII 64: Little Big Guns of the Creed: Ultimate Storm Generations Budokai Tenkaichi 3 U: Arcade Edition Online Beta?“