Opinion: Game Studios Should Not Be Restrained From Moving in New Directions

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Video games hold a special place in my heart. They’ve captured my imagination and created fantasies in this brain of mine since I was 4 years old. From stomping on little Goombas as an Italian plumber in Super Mario Bros. to taking out thugs on the streets in Double Dragon, they have transported me to worlds and universes only possible through the creation of games. First let me give my sincere thanks to the countless human beings sitting in front of computer monitors for years of their lives to bring these experiences to us. We never see everyone’s faces, but know that without you all, we’d never have such moments to cherish as we do now. Thank you so much.

I wanted to discuss something I’ve been noticing recently with regards to new games. It’s been at the forefront of my mind just these past few days. New IP is the life blood of the games industry. Everything starts somewhere right? Super Mario was a new thing at first wasn’t it? To create franchises and stories that will last for years to come, game studios need to constantly keep fresh ideas brewing. New directions must be embraced to keep up with changing industry standards and social landscapes. There is no way around it.

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“Ranger” Javelin Suit (Anthem)

Game studios with certain pedigrees create an unfortunate side effect. That side effect is expectation. There are good forms and bad forms. It’s reasonable to expect a certain quality from a game developer for example. It’s not healthy to expect a specific style of game. Where am I getting at? The most recent example I’ve encountered from tweets and comments is that of BioWare’s new game, Anthem.

The vast majority of feedback has been excitement, praise and a sense of wonderment. What is this new world? Who are these Scars? What happens inside Fort Tarsis? People are highly intrigued to learn more. The other type of feedback stems from skepticism to all out contempt. Some are furious that BioWare, a studio renowned for their single player RPGs in years past, would create a shared world action adventure game. There’s been some immediate, knee-jerk dismissal despite knowing extremely little about Anthem’s premise, story, gameplay loop or RPG mechanics. “Disappointing. They should stick to what they’re good at”, reads one comment. “This isn’t what BioWare’s known for”, says another. This line of regressive thinking only stifles creativity.

Does anyone recall this type of resistance when Guerrilla Games, a studio made popular for its deep roots in the first person shooter series Killzone, announced the development of a brand new RPG? I certainly don’t. The first person shooter genre was Guerrilla’s bread and butter. They perfected their craft and yet, after a decade decided they needed to do something new. A new direction was necessary to grow as a studio and more importantly as a family. Horizon Zero Dawn was born and brought with it the imaginative ideas of so many individuals that it went on to win the hearts and minds of so many players. It was a complete 180 for the team and as a result, breathed new life into the studio.  I wish the wonderful people at Guerrilla Games nothing but the best.

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Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn

That’s not the only example. It’s only the most recent.

Metroid is a beloved IP to many. Even sacred. Birthed on the original NES, Metroid found its way to the public through 2D platforming. It amassed a large following of loyal fans. When Nintendo announced the transition of the series from 2D platformer to first person shooter, resistance was immediately felt. How could Nintendo do this to Metroid!? There were some who were intrigued by the concept and wanted to see more but a large number of fans absolutely scoffed at the mere idea of it.

The Metroid Prime series was a massive success with critics and players. Nintendo refreshed the franchise in ways not thought possible and it was all the better for it. I fully embraced that myself. Let’s keep going.

Insomniac Games built the foundation of their studio on 3D action adventure titles. They first introduced us to the wonderful world of Spyro with Spyro the Dragon in 1998. They launched the explosive and witty Ratchet & Clank series four years later in 2002. Year after year we got accustomed to the IP. We played Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando in 2003 and on to Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal and Ratchet: Deadlocked the following years.

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In 2006, Insomniac Games launched a brand new IP by the name “Resistance: Fall of Man”. It was a massive departure from their previous games and again was met with initial skepticism and worry. Long story short, Insomniac went on to craft an excellent first person shooter franchise with Resistance that would be enjoyed by millions of fans around the world. It was a new direction for the team and allowed them to stretch out their creative legs. I love the Resistance series myself and appreciated what Insomniac brought to the shooter table. (Thanks guys!)

God of War is another ongoing example. It’s no secret I’m a massive God of War fan. I’ve been in love with the franchise since I played the original in 2005. I was immediately hooked. I followed each and every game (again sans the mobile installment) up through to God of War: Ascension. The team at Sony Santa Monica realized that the series needed a breather. They needed to come back with something new and unexpected. God of War for the PlayStation 4 is the culmination. It tackles a new side of protagonist Kratos. It takes us to new lands, new gods, new conflicts and revamps how we look at the IP.

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God of War

The camera has been completely retooled to sit above Kratos’ shoulder akin to many other third person games on the market. The tone has been dialed down a bit from the insane cartoony action the series has been known for to a more realistic, muted approach. I absolutely love it. When I envision what a new God of War for current generation hardware can look and feel like, this is it.

So with all of that said, some of the reception to Anthem saddens me. Game developers should be pushed to think up new ideas and create new experiences, not discouraged. BioWare as a studio built a name on crafting deep, story driven RPG experiences from Baldur’s Gate to Jade Empire to Mass Effect. I don’t contend that one bit. It’s why I fell in love with them. It’s why they continue to be my all time favorite video game developer. At the same time, I understand as a player that studios should not be restrained to creating one type of experience and that experience only. This sets limits on creativity. It bounds a developer to specific expectations that must be arbitrarily met for some reason to appease a group of people.

Imagine if an author made his or her name on writing horror books for years and years. Is that person required to continuing writing horror for eternity? Would this person be blamed for wanting to move in new directions and try something new? Never.

We should afford the same freedom to video game developers. A studio should never be confined into this genre or that genre. They should never be kept locked up in a specific type of game. A new Dragon Age is already in development so BioWare is still creating narrative driven RPG games that people know and love. My wish is that more and more players can see that new ideas breathe life into the games industry. We still don’t know the premise behind Anthem. We don’t know how Anthem’s story line plays into account. We don’t know if there are traditional dialogue conversations or deep rooted RPG mechanics. There’s nothing wrong with that. If we say “No, you should only make single player RPGs”, that sets certain limits and cages studio. There should be no limits.

My ultimate point is that a developer is allowed to create a multitude of experiences to grow and continue to flourish in this abstract notion we call imagination. I truly hope people embrace that.

Nate

12 thoughts on “Opinion: Game Studios Should Not Be Restrained From Moving in New Directions

  1. I mean I see what you are saying, and of course any company has the right to make whatever kind of game they want / whatever type of game inspires them. But from my perspective this is a company that has made some of my favorite games of all time (kotor, dao, and me1 are all in my top ten), and they are continuously moving farther and farther away from what I like in games (DAI was a step back in the right direction from DA2 in some ways though). So I don’t feel that I’m wrong to be disappointed in the reveal. And it’s not like good games can’t be made in the style that I like, recent games such as pillars of eternity prove that it can be done. I would love to end up being wrong and Anthem ends up having a fantastic long-form narrative, but I have yet to see any multiplayer focused game accomplish that. And regardless of that, the combat is for sure going to be more action based than tactical (nothing wrong with that, just not what I like). Bottom line, obviously Bioware can make whatever game they want, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t free to be disappointed by it.

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    • Um…DAI is considered a success. Its already been hinted the next game is in development. Sure it had its issues but not everyone dislike it. People in fandoms need to stop assuming they are speaking for everyone when they dont like something.

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      • I specifically said what I feel about it, I was not nor was I trying to speak for anyone else. I didn’t even say I disliked it, in fact I said it was in some ways a step back towards what I like compared to DA2. Nonethless, I didn’t think it was as good as DAO, and that is in no way an unpopular opinion (not that it matters, because again why should I care what other people like or dislike).

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  2. Just a brief comment – writers *are* pigeonholed by genre. That’s why many of them have different pseudonyms depending on what they’re publishing. They face the exact same kind of backlash, if not from their fans then from their publisher, who may refuse to pick up a novel written in a genre the author isn’t already known for.

    I appreciate your point, and agree with you, but I wanted to give more clarity on this particular comparison.

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  3. I certainly don’t want to say a game studio shouldn’t be free to create and innovate and move in different directions. I can’t dispute what you say and how it’s led to some amazing experiences. Hell, I’ll probably pre-order Anthem, because (for me), Bioware has earned my trust.

    My concern is that part of how they’ve earned that trust is by providing me with a formula I *know* I’ll enjoy. Bringing in something new, especially if it sells well and leads the studio away from the formula I like makes me nervous. If the world was just like “nah, man, Mint Chocolate Chip is out, we’re trying out kombucha ice cream”…like, maybe I like kombucha ice cream, I don’t know…but I might still want that mint chocolate chip.

    I hope Anthem is awesome, and that it sells well. I also hope it doesn’t draw Bioware away from what I love about Bioware.

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  4. BioWare and Anthem are free to explore as many creative avenues as possible. That said, no meaningful single-player story will mean no buy and no recommendations from me to others to play it.

    There’s plenty that BioWare and Anthem can do to fill the single-player story base. I hope they do it. Until shown otherwise, Anthem == Destiny 1 (maybe event Destiny 2). Not because of the shared world aspects, but because they are both “no buy” for me.

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  5. You should check into the toxic response ‘Agents of Mayhem’ is getting from Saint’s Row fanboys. Really sad and immature mob-mentality happening over there.

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  6. I’m reserving judgement until I see what single-player element Anthem has. But the co-op/multiplayer thing is the bit that REALLY ticks me off – WHY is it that an activity (not just gaming, any activity pretty much) is only valid these days if you do it with other people??!! I have to deal with people all day as part of my job – what I do NOT want is to then come home and have to deal with yet more people, more pointless social interaction, more pettiness, more abuse, when I’m trying to relax and enjoy myself by playing a video game. This constant push towards ” play with your friends!”, “team up!”, “four person multiplayer!” is killing gaming for me. Quite aside from which, I came to gaming late and I don’t have any friends who play video games. That’s my real worry about Anthem.

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  7. The difference is, when Guerilla went from first person shooter to action open world semi-RPG, it was an upgrade because Horizon’s genre is much more interesting and ambitious than linear shooters.
    But when Bioware goes from character and storydriven RPGs with choices and consequences to…third person multiplayer shooter, for me that is a huge downgrade. I hope I am wrong and Anthem will still have those elements I like, but if it really is just a third person variant of Destiny with not much story, characters, choices…then my interest is zero. At least Warhorse, 4A and CD Projekt have me covered.

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