With the looming release of next-generation consoles, the gaming industry is about to hit a fork in the road. In a modern day where every FPS game is arguably trying to outdo a Hollywood action blockbuster and RPG’s, whilst still intricate and quality games (such as recent titles Skyrim and The Witcher 2), are a dime a dozen.
2007 saw a huge array of brilliant and captivating new releases, such as the Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, and Uncharted series (not to mention many more). Since then, however, we’ve seen sequel after sequel being released, with each aforementioned franchise having released at least three games since then. It wasn’t so long ago that titles such as The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario 64 dominated our living rooms (or wherever you chose to play video games back then), ultimately establishing a cult following and immortalising themselves within the hearts of gamers forever.
But why is it that we’re not seeing the same quality of games that we used to from developers? Are they simply fresh out of ideas or are they taking the easy way out? Nowadays, the gaming industry is experiencing unprecedented levels of popularity, which can be attributed to the constant repetition of a successful formula (Call of Duty) or clever marketing strategy (Wii).
Developers no longer have to think outside of the box to capture the attention of gamers – they already have it. Perhaps this is the idea it all stems from – if the reward (money) is going to be massive due to the vast amount of people now playing games, why should developers take a risk in new titles when the same, recurring releases can generate a phenomenal amount of money? As negative as my tone may sound, that’s certainly not to say that there haven’t been some brilliant and original ideas created within the last few years – with Minecraft, Braid and Journey all coming to mind.
In terms of the next-generation of consoles, Nintendo have again announced a promising and innovative console that is the Wii U. Consisting of a controller that features a 6.2 inch display, the Wii U will showcase improved graphics and with the recently announced launch titles of a new Mario game and third installment in the Pikmin series, we can only hope that Nintendo utilise the potential within its hardware.
The large, touch-screen display will allow many games to develop an inventory or interactive system that the player can access without having to pause the game. In many ways, it can be seen as a glorified version of the company’s handheld DS system, with the controller not unlike the bottom screen of the DS, and the TV simply acting as a larger version of the top screen. The direction Satoru Iwata and co. decide to take the console in remains to be seen, however its premise is extremely promising and could provide the setting for many successful new titles.
Cross-platform play is another medium that has still only been utilised in extremely rare cases (such as Portal 2 and WipEout 2048), and only further provides another means of abolishing the increasing staleness within today’s games, especially on the multiplayer side of things. Whilst an extremely difficult task, a game that could successfully combine the vastness of the console population with the PC community could breath a life of fresh air into the industry and realise a new idea that we’ve been waiting so long for.
I also can’t help but note the rapidly-increasing strength of the mobile market. Of course I’m going to mention Angry Birds, but it’s the greatest example of the influence that the iPhone and App Store have created. Since its release in December 2009, Angry Birds has sold more than 700 million units worldwide – that’s nearly 40 times the population of Australia. Whilst not a default release platform for game developers, it’ll be interesting to see whether mobiles will have a significant effect on consoles and PC’s over the next ten years or so, and if a release on a mobile system will become industry standard.
In terms of innovation and original ideas, the gaming industry is at a crossroads. Each year we’ll continue to see improved graphics and performance since technological enhancements are always bound to occur – but it’s been too long since we’ve seen a developer create a cult hero such as Nintendo did with Mario and Naughty Dog with Crash Bandicoot.
I’m not only speaking simply in terms of characters though - developers need to offer new gameplay experiences for consumers and create new and exciting concepts. Whatever the case, the next-generation of video games is extremely important for game makers, and the real winners will be those who provide gamers with an experience that other developers are afraid to.
By Jake Galouzis