Honestly, it’s almost laughable how over-saturation works in the gaming industry. Once upon a time, Skyrim was a massive commercial and critical success, brandishing open-world games as the future of how to make a buck as a developer. Now, left, right, and center, there are games that have no business being anything but linear, made into open world games. Even Nintendo thought to make a previously pseudo-linear experience like Zelda into an open-world crafting bonanza experience. Since it had the Nintendo stamp, it was successful regardless. It looks like this year, it’s PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) that’s taken the lead.
Here’s my experience. Last weekend, I played Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for the first time ever. Yes, I know. However, this is after playing Breath of the Wild. Now I haven’t finished either game yet, but ask me which game I feel compelled to go back to? Yeah. It’s not the “go find where you need to go by revealing the map by climbing towers” game. For some reason, the Zelda series never felt like it fit true open-world, crafting, or even items with durability. It just made the experience lacking. Wind Waker was about as open-world as Ocarina of Time.
What Has the Trend Been?
Oh, stay with me. Yes, Ubisoft has stapled certain mechanics into open world games now (the aforementioned tower-climbing). However, what’s to say about the linear experiences long since forgotten? Bethesda is still cranking out single-player experiences like hotcakes: Prey, Wolfenstein, Dishonored, etc. All of these are wildly successful as linear (also sans-multiplayer) experiences. They’re not taking these games and pigeonholing them into a genre where they don’t belong.
Here’s the hot take: The industry revolves. It goes in circles and will cycle. These past 5 years or so have been an open-world fiesta in the AAA space. Fallout, Zelda, Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Watch Dogs, Mad Max and all the Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed you can muster all contribute to an over-saturation of “genre-fication” that this industry holds dear. For some reason, even Adventure Time is getting an open world game. For a time, open world games were the big thing. Then, even MOBA’s came around due to one person creating a mod for an established game. Last I could remember, there were hundreds of indie titles attempting to claim fame as the be-all and end-all to the survival crafting genre, which ARK took hold of.
The ‘PUBG’ Effect
This past year, it was PUBG that’s taken hold of the reigns and steered the interest of shareholders across all companies to create battle royale as the next flavour of the month/year. Even new games are just coming out in beta attempting to rake in the battle royale cash. Yes, even Dying Light is getting a battle royale version. The fact that Epic has taken Fortnite and pivoted so hard that it left divots in the hardwood floors to cash in on the battle royale flavour just lends credence that some game developers are trying their best to piggyback off the next big thing. Or, what they call “innovative development”. You know, the thing that almost every PR team for game publishers will tell you that is their interest? Sorry, don’t tell me your company is all about innovation when you take a game that was made for a specific genre, and spend resources creating an entirely new game mode trying to ride the battle royale coat-tails. What are your original fans supposed to think?
There’s a reason why you see a lot of amazingly talented AAA developers quit their high profile jobs at big companies to start their own indie studio. They perhaps see the lack of innovation and more of a churning of a machine to milk money (don’t get me started on loot boxes). One example is ex-Bioshock developers making a horror game. In Perception, you’re blind and have to navigate based on sound waves like a bat. A game driven by a unique mechanic like that probably wouldn’t be appealing to the AAA executives in the elevator.
What Comes Next?
My guess? The next 5 years you will see a new fascination with linear experiences, perhaps even truly narrative-driven. Why? AAA-game developers clamoring for whatever is currently trending has over-saturated the industry. Back in the day (yep, said it), game developers were battling with each other to see who could come up with the cooler idea or more creative mechanic. Nowadays, one developer comes up with an idea, and everyone jumps on it to capitalize off of one idea – just like PUBG. In some cases, it’s even one previous modder’s idea to make a buck.
Call it business sense; I call it disheartening. This industry arguably evolved into an art form. Now, it is seemingly turning into a capitalistic loot box-driven freak-fest where innovation and fun have waned and been ground-pounded into mincemeat. All that remains is the industry appearing so very black and white. One colour is AAA, driven by PR, loot boxes, and shoehorning games into genres where they don’t belong. The other is almost everyone else. Some call them indie, and some call them innovative. I prefer to call them the future of what will drive and push this wonderful industry that we all love forward. Hopefully, the next flavour of the year will be something innovative enough that other developers can’t just jump on.
Are you tired of open world games or the over-saturation of the PUBG style? Let us know in the comments!