Has Video Game Development Stalled?

It’s in the wake of a slew of a series of new, disappointing and non-innovative games that I come to you in this dark hour. I fear video game development is slowly grinding to a halt.

Sequels aren’t really sequels anymore. Even “true” next chapters like Fable 3, Force Unleashed 2 or Halo: Reach are no longer innovating, and in some cases, even moving backwards. I just finished an epic rant about Fable 3, which is a massive step down from the second game, with features actually taken away, and definitely no lingering issues from the previous installments fixed.

Force Unleashed 2 gives you another lightsaber, presumably used to hack to death the brilliant story of the original, as what made the original game great gives way for an obvious cash grab in the form of a rushed, worse sequel. Halo Reach swapped a few guns in and out, gave us a vaguely new story and some maps, but it’s hardly enough to really consider it revolutionary in any way, and what changes were made to gameplay, the new lifebar, butting system and armor powers, even after three months I still maintain are a step down from the last installment

A trainwreck on every level.

Then you have the half sequels, a disturbing new trend that indicates that developers are just running out of ideas in this current console generation. Fallout New Vegas is probably the best example of this, taking the exact same everything from Fallout 3, shaking it up and throwing it in a new location with a new storyline. Minor tweaks sure, but it’s nowhere near a true sequel.

I would consider Call of Duty: Black Ops to be in this same category. Switch a few perks, a few guns, throw in a six hour campaign, and boom, sequel. But really, nothing different that we’ve seen from the genre since the original Modern Warfare.

A perceptive commenter on my Fable post remarked that the gaming industry is becoming like Hollywood. They know which franchises are hits, and because they are hits, studios are now reluctant to do major overhauls on them, instead only tweaking minor changes in gameplay to not upset the applecart. As for original IPs? What original IPs? Here are the top ten selling games of the year so far.

The only original title? Just Dance. Just. Dance.

Every company is guilty of this. Sony’s Killzone and God of War series are getting stale, Microsoft is taking steps back with Fable and Halo, Nintendo is still beating the same five classic characters to death year after year.

It’s a rarity to sequelize a game and have it truly evolve. I’d say this was the case with two games in recent memory, Red Dead Redemption, which was leaps and bounds removed from its predecessor and gave us our first amazing open world Western, and Assassin’s Creed 2, my game of the year whose developers listened to nearly every single complaint made about the original game, and fixed ALL of them.

So what’s holding back these other developers? Outside of a straight up lack of creativity, and direction from their corporate overlords to quickly churn out cash-making, unfinished projects, I have two ideas.

We are stuck in this console generation. It’s a fact. And we have the Wii to blame.


The massive success of the console caused motion controls to become the new, hot thing, so rather than start developing new systems, as is the normal cycle for consoles, Sony and Microsoft started building motion control schemes of their own. Sony’s Move, is a slightly better version of the Wiimote, and Microsoft’s Kinect employs some decently cool technology, but for gaming? Neither of these new control systems has anything to do with any game I’ve mentioned so far in this article, gamer’s games. Yes, they might compete with Wii’s Sports, Dance and Party-type titles, but if the fundamental hardware is remaining the same, at this point developers have maxed out what they can do with each console. And Nintendo? With how massive the sales of Wii and DS have been, they couldn’t care less if the next console generation arrived 20 years from now.

There’s innovation in the industry, but it’s innovation in an avenue I couldn’t care less about. Motion control gaming cannot replace actual gaming until the technology is advanced light years beyond where it is now. Yes, maybe it’s good to lay the groundwork for when the tech does evolve, but in the meantime, these graphics we used to think were so awesome are starting to look dated, and my Xbox is constantly whirring like a jet engine about to take off. Technology has to evolve in ALL aspects of a system, not just motion control. You want to make your next system have a built in eye-toy or Kinect sensor? Great, but start making a new system. Until then, we’re stuck with more or less the same games over and over again.

Now we get to my second hypothesis as to why game innovation is grinding to a halt. Developers are focusing more on DLC for their existing games than they are their future games. This is a double-edged sword because not only does it delay future “true” sequels of our favorite games, but it also causes less content to go into the original game.

I’ll use one of my favorite games, Borderlands, as a prime example of this. When I played through the game, I loved it, but I thought it was a bit short. I hit level 37 out of a 50 level cap right as I beat the game. The game wanted me to play the entire thing over again with slightly harder enemies. I would rather they made the game 30% longer.

This entire chapter should have been in the original game.

And they could have. Since the game’s release, there have been four packs of DLC for the game for $10 each. They could have been developed and included in the original game, satisfying the length the game should have been, but rather the idea of DLC was planned, and they’ve been slowly released over the past two years, adding another $40 onto the price of a $60 game.

Or this other scenario could have taken place, where Gearbox left Borderlands a bit short, but rather than releasing four separate mission packs of missions for the original, those who were working on that could have spent that entire time working hard to make sure Borderlands 2 is better and brighter than the original.

I know that there’s going to be DLC for Fable 3, which is infuriating. Whatever missions are about to be released for the game, if released IN the game, would have squashed the major complaint that the second “half” flies by in almost an instant. Another major questline is desperately needed, as all that’s left to do when you’re king now are a bunch of boring escort missions, or worse yet, traverse Albion looking for books and flowers and keys.

And that missing piece of the game WILL be released, months after my frustration has already grown with the game, and if I want Lionshead to fix a main problem with their OWN GAME, it’s going to cost me $10-15 extra.

I’m not saying some of these new games aren’t fun, but we don’t seem to be moving forward on nearly as quick of a pace in the industry as we used to. Focus on motion controls is taking us backwards in terms of game design, and DLC is shortchanging our existing games while delaying future ones. This may be the ramblings of a disgruntled gaming blogger, but it’s just what I’ve observed, and I thought it might be possible that others felt the same.

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  1. I’m telling you – Vanquish is a unique, special game that’s unlike anything I’ve played before. I think the only reason it’s not bigger is because there’s no multiplayer – but how could multiplayer be implemented when much of the game deals with slowing down time?

    Anyway, I generally agree with your larger point. It’s all about the money, homey.

  2. I’d call the new Reach multiplayer system (the entire matchmaking bit, ranks, challenges, and the armory) quite innovative. They dramatically changed the system and made it infinitely better than it was in Halo 3 without the user really noticing the difference other than the fact you can now vote for games and really customize your armor. The system behind it all is incredibly impressive (they spoke about it in one of the Weekly updates).

    And while we haven’t seen anything revolutionary since Little Big Planet, really, I think that can be laid on the feet of Sony and Microsoft more than anything. Few studios will make a PC only game nowadays and the consoles have not changed (other than smaller processors and cases, obviously) one bit in five years. We need the next-next-gen of consoles before we see anything revolutionary developed. Each console brings with it a revolution in game making. Halo, Gears of War, Resistance, Oblivion, etc. all were games deemed impossible on the previous generation of consoles that came out soon after launch of the next gen and completely changed the industry.

  3. Nintendo has been doing this since N64. They will come out with a new version of a known series, (Mario, Mario Sports, Kirby, Pokemon, Smash Bros., etc). Wait until the next system comes out and repeat. These games are basically the same, but just prettier.

  4. Your contention that the hardware is becoming dated seems problematic to me. You could argue that best games for the Playstation 2 came out shortly before the Playstation 3 came out.

    If there were new consoles, it would be another 2 or 3 years of game developer growing pains.

    I do agree with the DLC though. Its the same thing that has me swearing off Apple products, pecking away at you for micro transactions.

    You can’t really go back to an older games online portion without having bought all of the latest map packs because you get kicked off every other map. That is ridiculous considering I paid full retail price when it came out.

  5. Yes and no. Devlopers tend to stick to a working formula and that’s why Reach feels like the older titles with a “tad” of new tossed in. I have to force myself to play New Vegas and at the same time gave up on Fable 3, but all these games are money makers and with that comes laziness.

    I really don’t see tech being an issue as much as laziness and money from devs. Reach has what 6 maps out of 10 build in their OWN map building tool. New Vegas is a reskin. Lionhead was being lazy with Fable 3. The best example of tech not being an issue is with God of War 3. A new GOW game on a new system and it felt the same. Sure it was epic and fun while it lasted but it was the same thing in the end. Motion controls are a bust but if a good game comes out for them we’ll all try it. Red Steel 2 and Mad World are two games I’ll always dust off and play.

    I’m all for DLC to great games. I’m with you on Borderlands (Where the hell is my patch!?!?!), being is one of the best games of this generation. I have no problem purchasing DLC for good games. Mass Effect 1/2 are both great games and the DLC has always been fantastic.

    Gamers need to make purchases that they want and not be forced into buying it (Halo 3). Gamers seem willing to pay for anything, even if they know it’s a rip off. The first DLC pack for Modern Warfare 2 was a ripoff, everyone knew it, but since it was new and it was a COD game everyone bought it. Black Ops could be considered a $60 DLC (along with New Vegas) and people will still buy it.

    Still there’s a few games still coming out that I’m looking foward to and in the end it’s the devlopers that make games based around the tech and its up to them to provide us with a quality and fun game in the end. It’s up to us to vote what we want with out wallet. New tech doesn’t mean new game and new levels of fun. Sorry for the rant…I don’t know even how I ended up with this??

  6. I’ve been kinda thinking this for a while now, that tons of games are just about appearances, and the bells and whistles. I would much rather take a small hit on graphics to have a longer and more fun game, or at the very least, one with replay value without OCD collecting random things that don’t do anything, or mindlessly maxing out character stats for no reason other than self satisfaction. Take call of duty for example, prestige mode in modern warfare 2 is just done to get you extra titles to display to prove to others that you have more time than they do to re-level up from scratch again. It’s things like that which have always annoyed me about games. Just my two cents.

  7. here’s a thought. Rent. Don’t run out and reserve games and pay the full price of $60 just because someone in a magazine or a website gave it a 9 out of 10. Go to Gamefly.com, rent from gamestop, netflix, or whoever and try the games out. I know people want to be on the forefront of gaming and want to try out the hottest and latest games the night they are released, but you’re setting yourself up either for a great reward, or a great let down. And more often than not its the latter.

    I havent bought a full priced game in years. I’ve had gamefly for almost 3 years now and, yeah, i don’t get to try out every game at launch, but i eventually get to see them. I’ll try them out for a week or two, either beat the game, in which case im done with it and i send it back, don’t like the game, so i send it back right away, or i like the game and i like to return to it and so i keep it.

    All this needs is patience. Don’t run out and blow your wad on the first game you see being released, because you know what? At the end of the day no one will be satisfied…

  8. I’m really hoping Portal II is going to be a breath of fresh air.
    You are right about blaming the consoles, they have totally changed the model for the worse, even on the PC: the original and still the best next-gen console.

  9. Maybe I see things in a different light because I’m a programmer but I can fathom the work it takes to put into some of these systems that are coming out. Games aren’t just games to me, I actively admire the designs and layouts and think about how things work on the back-end of all these systems each game uses and I try to bring that back to my own work environment.

    About New Vegas: I can understand why they’d make a “half” sequel. They spend how many years making Fallout 3 and getting a system wrote to support the graphics and gameplay, I wouldn’t want to just throw it out either. As a programmer myself, I reuse code all the time. They take the basic framework they made with Fallout 3 and add some new bells and whistles to it. They didn’t have to spend two years making a basic engine. They spent two years adding onto the core functionality. That’s ok with me. I feel the developers pain and I love to appreciate the hard work that goes into each game.

    Adding onto that argument, DLC: I really don’t mind it. I love Fallout 3 and I was happy to have more of it without having to wait for another two to three years and another $60. Some developers do slice out a game with the plan of screwing gamers out of cash (Katamari I’m looking at you) but other developers spent so long making that one game, they don’t want to just forget about it. Make stuff that adds on to it is a great idea and one that has been around since PC gaming was the big thing. Remember Expansion Packs? Neverwinter Nights had 3 of them. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t $10 bucks a piece. Probably more like $30 since they were discs that you had to buy in brick and mortar stores. Even Blizzard-Thou-Shalt-Do-No-Wrong had DLC (Lord of Destruction) for Diablo 2.

    I don’t think game development has stalled necessarily, I just think we’re in uncharted waters. Games are super expensive, we have consoles that actually can be changed and updated without having to buy a brand new console, consoles are online almost all the time and due to the economy, no one wants to pay $60 bucks for a brand new game.

    I think games now are better than ever before. Seriously. We’ve had three different xbox’s in the past five years and we didn’t even have to buy a new one. We used to have to pay for incremental updates like that! (If you’re a Nintendo DS you still do)

    I think i’m just rambling now…

  10. @MordecaiX7

    Thanks man, good to hear a well reasoned counterpoint from an insider.

    I don’t think games are necessarily worse than they used to be, but I just don’t see us going forward as fast anymore. Shooters evolved from Goldeneye to Call of Duty, but now we’re stuck with 10 of the exact same game set in slightly different locations with slightly different weapons.

    The improvements each new sequel in this console generation offers over its predecessor just seem minor now, if they exist at all, and we’re not taking big steps forward anymore.

    I understand WHY these games are made, studios want to maximize what work they have put into their engines, but at some point it does feel like you’re standing still when you’ve played three packs of Fallout DLC, and the next full retail game is essentially MORE Fallout DLC.

  11. BRINK. Brink Brink Brink Brink Brink Brink Brink.

    That game is the only completely new IP I know of that’s coming out next year and it looks absolutely amazing.

  12. @Paul Tassi

    I can definitely agree that we don’t seem like we’re moving forward as fast as we used to. Some of this we can blame on developers completely copying other games (Medal of Honor -> Call of Duty) without giving the game some type of system or difference that makes it unique. That system doesn’t need to be a completely new idea but it should have something that separates it from the rest of the pack.

    I do give the developers credit however because it is VERY VERY hard to be innovative. We throw that word around so easily but when you try to do it yourself, it’s SO much harder than we give it credit for. I’m considered to be a pretty creative guy myself and praise be to God if I come up with an idea somebody somewhere hasn’t done before.

    Going back to New Vegas, VATS was a pretty innovative idea when it came out in Fallout 3. Each body part has it’s own lifemeter with it’s own calculated accuracy based on the current gun that is being used with it taking also into account any physics if the gun is affected by physics along with distance and size of the body part. There’s a lot of complex math going on there with so many different variables. How can that be improved? There are probably a hundred ways we can improve this VATS formula but how many of those ways will the user actually notice without knowing how it works on the back-end?

    I think generally video game development is running out of ideas just like the movie industry has, but where can we go from here? Once someone makes a space opera, anyone who does anything character driven in space will say “Mass Effect did that first, it’s not innovative.” even if said game does a number of things differently than Mass Effect.

    Another good example is Darksiders. NONE of those gameplay elements were new. It played like God of War and was setup like Zelda as an adventure game. Many people panned it because “it wasn’t innovative”. Was God of War fun? Was Zelda fun? Yeah, they were pretty fun, so why is it all of a sudden not fun nor a good thing over here in Darksiders? All of my friends said the same things… until they actually played it and stopped listening to people online and gave up on this “everything has to be innovative” initiative. Darksiders was a great game with a good story. They took popular game play elements from different games, combined them and added some tweaks to each system and then penned a cool story on top of it. Nothing innovative there but damn was it a good game.

    That’s why I take this whole “innovative” thing with a grain of salt. If I was serious about only playing games that innovate, it’d be pretty bored and miss out on a lot of great and fun experiences.

  13. When a developers make great unique games like Alan Wake and Enslaved for example which then go on to have pathetic sales, are we surprised when they just keep making the same game just to cash in on the name alone? Maybe it’s gamers who need to stop buying these franchises…

    Nintendo can be forgiven because they do actually innovate.

    Then again I’m very excited for Beyond Good and Evil HD and Ico, SotC HD hoping they sell really well so developers know that there is a demand for quality games.

  14. I agree with you 100%. I’ve always been more of a single/co-op player kind of guy. It bugs me that now days a 6 hour campaign is the norm. This trend has pretty much pushed me to stop purchasing games… thank god for gamefly.

  15. I know your’re not a sport game fan or at least don’t cover them that often, but it sounds like me every time a new Madden or NCAA football game comes out.

    It’s essentially the same game with little tweaks here and there. The difference is instead of a $10 DLC every once and a while with new things and new game mechanics you have to go buy a new $60 game every new year to enjoy a new “Gang Tackling” or “Quaterback Sight” feature we bitch but the games consistantly sells millions of copies.

    Be afraid that the Madden/EA buisness model doesn’t catch on in popular non-sports games. Or take these new games as reason for it already being here.

  16. MordecaiX7, thank you for that “innovation=/=automatic critical darling” bit.

    However, I do have to agree with Paul a bit here. DLC is a safety net for developers to just do fuck all and release half-hearted project updates.
    I would’ve rather all that time and energy devoted to the Fallout 3 DLC would’ve went into New Vegas.
    After a decent amount of play time, there are plenty of issues in NV that could’ve been address (mostly technical, as in improving framerate and reducing hardware crashes in one swoop; I’d rather have a game that’s slightly less pretty that runs as opposed to one that is flashy, but is running on 1 leg at times).

    Attention to detail, such as the polishing stage of game development, is where a good game becomes a great one.

  17. Calling Reach a step back is flat out silly. 90% of the complaints stem from gamers utterly unable to adapt to the changes. The singleplayer was same ol’ same ol’, but multiplayer, matchmaking speed, and firefight are miles above any Halo game yet. And I’ve played the hell out of each and every one. Too bad a lot of the maps are garbage. I could tell from your Fable 3 rant that you aren’t a real deal gamer who plays for fun (which does not mean you were wrong about it, because you weren’t), but somebody who plays because they feel they have to (for this site?). Otherwise, a lot of these things would not bother you. You’d slap your money down and have a blast with more of what you love like a fan would. Buying a new Harley is not an excuse for a gearhead to whine about how much like his old Harley it is. It’s cause for excitement and an excuse to get out and ride again. Games are the same. You buy the updated version and have a blast with it. If we stop having fun with the series, we stop buying it and that will be that. Otherwise, you can hardly blame the developers for not making the next Call of Duty a turn-based JRPG just to satisfy the angry critics who only play these games as an excuse to complain about how they are all either too much like or not enough like the last game in the series.

  18. I love you Unreality writers. I love your site. But in the name of all that is good, quit complaining about everything and just play the games.

    Not everything has to be groundbreaking and brand new to be good.

  19. @trashcannon:

    Totally true. Especially the part about him playing games because he feels he has to. I have a feeling if he didn’t have a blog to write, many games he dislikes would have never been played.

  20. @trashcanman (nice Stand reference) and Jonathan

    Nah, you’re wrong about me. Trust me, if I don’t think I’m going to enjoy a game, I sure as hell don’t throw down $60 for it.

    Have you read any of my past reviews? I love many video games. Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed 2, Mass Effect 2 and others have all rocked my world in various ways over the past year. Fable 3 was SUCH as a disappointment because I LOVED Fable 2. But when don’t fix any of the mistakes in a game, and you actually take features away to make it WORSE, that is what I have a problem with, and I couldn’t believe how I’d gone from loving to hate a series in one installment, hence the epic rant the game inspired, which frankly, is uncharacteristic for me.

    This is the problem with being a critic. People think we hate on stuff because we’re just whiny bitches who love complaining. That’s not true, I point out flaws, in good games/movies/shows and bad alike in the hopes that these things might be fixed, that the media might be made better. It’s not my job to just “play the games,” as a critic, I try to point out games’ strength’s and flaws to people know what their getting into, and perhaps so developers might see it and change things for future installments. Sure I’m just one voice, but someone has to say something, and I have a forum to do it while many consumers don’t.

    As for the evolution of games, yes, I could play Fallout New Vegas or five other titles spawned from the same engine and have a decent time with them, but if we were all just complacent with exactly how things are, things would never move forward. And I was pointing out that many developers seem to be stuck in a rut with their various series, barely tweaking things to churn out cash grabbing sequels when they could be focused on real innovation or brand new games.

    I hate because I love, and I do love video games, which is why I do this for a living.

  21. Down with the DLC industry! few games have tons of content you feel it was worth every cent spent on it nowdays. I remember playing Timesplitters 3 on the ps2, damn, so many modes, multiplayer skins and extras, if the game was made nowdays, no doubt it would come butchered and with 5 day-one DLCs.

    but in the end, you have to blame the gamers, as long as there is ppl paying, they wont stop making it. dammit

  22. Games like New vegas aren’t a sequel to the franchise. They’re just a sequel to the specific game (pretty much an expansion). It’s not called Fallout 4, or Call of Duty 5(6?).

  23. Nintendo has been doing this since N64. They will come out with a new version of a known series, (Mario, Mario Sports, Kirby, Pokemon, Smash Bros., etc). Wait until the next system comes out and repeat. These games are basically the same, but just prettier.

  24. @trashcanman So, we should just sit back and accept whatever they spoon feed us without complaint, because we’re fans?

    Let me give you an example. I’m a big Final Fantasy fan, I own every one of the main series that was released in America, and a lot of the side games. I’ve enjoyed them all, even the ones that were a little below the others, I still thoroughly enjoyed. I went through every side quest in each game, 100 + hours per game. Then, FFXIII came out. I bought it and dived in eagerly. One incredibly stupid battle system and 20 hours of walking in a straight line later i beat it, ignoring the one side quest in the game, put it on the shelf, and haven’t looked twice at it since. I hear it’s supposed to be part of a trilogy, i sure as hell won’t be buying either of those, and I’ll have serious reservations about buying any other Final Fantasy in the future.

    To make a long story less long, if a company is making money grabbing shit, the only way to stop them is to stop handing them your money.

  25. Well most games have been delayed into next years q1 n q2. Yeah since theres so much money in the gaming indutry they kinda have to make sequals, cause then they know allready there’s a crowd interested in playing it. I don’t mind that cause i don’t need change frequently, but at the same time this makes it easier for indie devs to get noticed like minecraft. Addictive highscore social games are beeing made like waffles so i can see how i can loose a few hours of my life doing what i enjoy.

  26. you dont know s**t. call of duty black ops is going to be sick. and also, people like sequels to good games because it is like a book or movie, you identify with the characters or the world, and you want more of it. I agree that the style of games has hit an innovative block, but honestly, havent movies as well? I mean, the direction i see possible in terms of true innovation, is towards motion capture technology and virtual reality interaction, which is starting to get momentum.

  27. Yep. The XBOX360 is at maxed out potential so the only games you will be seeing are the same engines copied.
    However, if you do yourself a little research, the PS3’s processing power has yet to be fully tapped into.

    And God of War and Killzone are getting stale?! That’s when I truly picked up on your fanboyism.

    It’s a sad world for you XBOX owners… You should realize this and put the jet engine in the garbage.

  28. @Xbox

    They are getting stale! But my point is, everything is getting stale, Xbox’s Gears and Halo too. It’s not a platform specific problem, which is the entire driving purpose behind this article.

  29. I still think you’re yearning for a paradise that never was. The simple reality is that you can’t afford much innovation when instead of two guys in a garage making a game with cheezy 8-bit graphics, you have teams of 100 skilled employees building meshes, texturing, tuning licensed engines, writing and recording dialogue… The larger the effort, the less risk you can afford to take. Losing $50k is okay, but $30 million? Not so much.

    What do you get with a single guy these days? You get Dwarf Fortress, you get Minecraft. And one could argue that due to emerging indie developer marketplaces, these efforts are doing better than ever before! A fact that you completely overlook in your article.

  30. It’s worth saying that gaming has an ecology, a perception which appears to completely escape you. Large, well-financed companies produce fairly formulaic yet extremely well-developed content along known moneymaking models, yet the door is always open for smaller developers to produce new models and ideas for the big guys to buy out if they need to.

    I’m not sure why you cited Borderlands as an example of an innovative game. Nothing about it was innovative! Cell-shading? Linear story? Skill trees? Weapon effects? It was just an entertaining collection of fairly standard tropes. The only innovation that it brought to the table was that it had _less_ depth than a similar game might have attempted, replacing potential roleplaying elements with flashy guns and weapon effects. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, I’m just saying it wasn’t particularly new.

  31. Ask Psychonauts and Beyond Good & Evil why publishers prefer their developers not to be overly innovative, ask Okami. Or the hundreds, thousands of games that died in the face of the mainstream, simply because they were too different.

    Coherent said it well, as is to be expected with that name. It isn’t the fault of the developers. It’s a fault with the consumers. You posted the Top 10 sold games in the US in your blog, as proof developers weren’t innovative. I submit that it is only proof that innovative titles aren’t selling as well as sequels.

    In most cases, you will have a game that tries to do something new. It will fail, but the idea will be absorbed by a different company in part, polished, and repackaged. It has happened again and again. And perhaps that’s our nature, as consumers. It doesn’t matter who does it first, but who does it best. They get our money, because they can afford to spend a ton on good PR. Blizzard comes to mind, actually.

  32. So, are you saying that motion control cannot be innovative? Innovation does not come just by releasing a new console. I would say that Microsoft and Sony have in no need to produce another console for at least 4 or 5 more years. The capabilities of the PS3 and 360 still have a lot of room to grow.
    All the hardcore gamers like to poo poo motion control because they say that it is inferior to a standard controller, and I agree that at this point in time it is inferior. However, that doesn’t mean that it can not get better for hardcore and casual games in the future. Several motion control games have made huge improvements to game genres.
    I though that Metroid Prime 3 was very innovative with its improvement on controls for FPSs on console, and Red Steal 2 wasn’t perfect but it provided a different experience which developers can build upon. Sword fighting is still relatively untapped in the gaming industry. I’ll actually give party games a chance now with motion controls because they are usually more than just pressing the A button really fast or spinning a joystick.
    Motion control is providing new experiences and innovative ways to play games but it is still in its infantsy. Motion control is the innovation of this console generation. There is only so much you can do with a standard controller. I am actually excited to see what developers will be coming up with for motion control now that PS3 and 360 both have platforms for it. Get a development team from Rockstar or guys like Infinity Ward and we might see the innovation you are looking for.

  33. I just wanted to use the big mention of brink earlier (or any other specific title) as a classic example of what this article is trying to capture.

    See, this is a very nebulous and sometimes difficult issue to nail down. But the discussion is really well warranted (many thanks to the author).

    Having been gaming since the 80s, I can say that the pace of innovation, immersion as well as inclusiveness of gaming has really dropped off. We now see gaming treated more the way the media companies have always wanted it. It has gravitated towards the broadcast media model, just like all things these investors get their hands on.
    The closer they can get games to simply being a sequence of overpriced frames beamed into your head, the cheaper it is for them to produce titles.

    It’s the interactivity, depth and dynamic content that costs them.

    A linear narrative with simplistic, easily duplicated, repetitive non-interacting elements is practically free in this day and age. Most of the physics and engine work is done. They buy it off the shelf and re-skin it to whatever theme their marketers deem most profitable (usually some kind of military or post apocalyptic context).

    Back to the example of “brink”…All they promote is that they really wanted to focus on the artwork and sounds. They recorded their own sounds. They created high detail models and environments.
    But nothing about unique character development, depth and interaction between game elements. Everything in those regards is truly minimal. Boiled down to simple concepts, it’s again just a shinier version of what we’ve already been getting for well over a decade now. A bunch of contiguous regions known as targets that must be shot at.

    Where’s the innovation? Where’s the character development? What makes games different to a movie or a book? The story actually only has to be passable, same to the art.

    What really sets games apart from one-way linear media are the rules systems. What some might call the “IT” in gaming. Nowadays, players’ characters have no metadata behind them. They are all the same paper dolls all wielding the same guns, shooting at each other until the number 100 becomes 0. New game? It’s the same economy, with a different mask on.

    Who cares? Rinse, repeat.

    The biggest thing to kill the games industry are first person shooters. Try something different, I dare ya.

  34. Minecraft is interesting
    – infinite world (ugh, been lost so many times)
    – balance of create (day) / fight (night)
    – crafting (mix/create) useful stuff.

    Elements blended so well that a small indie can do quite well. Think there are elements and lessons to be learned, but the copies will probably come first.

  35. This is probably way to late, but I wanted to jump in on this.

    I don’t think game development is stagnating. I think it has slowed down because of the the amount of work and effort it takes to make a game. We’ve gotten so used to games getting cranked out every year or so that when a game studio takes 2+ years to develop a game we call them lazy. They’re not lazy. Making a game for the Next Gen is harder than it ever has been before.

    I am also a software engineer and I agree with MordecaiX7. Once I’ve finished building an engine that took over 2 years to create, I wouldn’t dream of throwing it all away and starting from scratch. Think of it like a car. You build a car to someones specification. That person takes the car, rides it around for a year or two, then comes back and says simply “I want more innovation”. Am I going to throw the design away and come up with something completely different? Absolutely not. I’m going to work with what I have already so I can get the job done quickly. Over time I can make vast improvements on the car and make the car even better than it was before. I can also use feedback from the driver to help me make the car more suited to what they want.

    Let’s bring this back to games. I think what is changing here is that game companies are slowing down because they realize it’s not sustainable to overwork their employees and crank out a new game every year or two. They’re realizing other strategies to make the game you already have last longer. Hence we have DLCs, episodic gaming, “half sequels” etc. Some companies, just like in any industry, are going definitely trying to take advantage of these new strategies. It’s up to us as consumers, just like with everything else, to make better decisions about the games we buy.

    Back to the car analogy. If you think about it, car companies don’t reinvent the car year after year. They make minor improvements, add features based on user feedback and release a car thats not that dissimilar from the car we bought last year. Ok, I admit that was stretching the analogy a little thin. Cars aren’t games. A car is more of a tool than a source of entertainment. There are a myriad of reasons why cars and games should be released differently then games. What I’m trying to get at is that game companies are trying to re-pace themselves. They’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time and in some ways they’ve actually gotten ahead of themselves. They need to stop, take a deep breath and find a pace that both they and their users can be happy with.

    Meanwhile they still need to make money. They can’t afford to wait another two or more years for their next round of revenue to come in. So they’ve started making half sequels and DLC to get them through their next round of innovation. Is every game company doing that? Probably not. I think enough of the right ones are, and hopefully they will set an example.

  36. The phrase “double-edged sword” refers to something that is both helpful and harmful, i.e. nuclear weapons. It does not refer to something that is twice as bad as normal.

  37. Videogames have been here for decades now and more power today does not necessarily mean new game mechanics are possible. 3D plateforming is still just updating on mario 64 basics, FPS are also more and more of the same, but updated. Overall, everything is just prettier and innovation in terms of gameplay is only possible on the margins. For instance, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of the most innovative games I have ever played and yet, it is a sequel, in a well established genre but with new little gameplay ideas everywhere.

    This is part of the analysis from nintendo for this generation of consoles : more power does not mean more means of innovation anymore, why not less power but new ways to interact? It has flaws, it is the beginning, but it is a legitimate way of bringing innovation (note to the FPS and swordfighting reference above).

    I have the feeling that for most videogame genres, more budget and power means just a finer tuning of everything (sports simulation for instance). However, where there is clearly still room for evolution is in the spectacular aspect of things. Videogames are getting closer to movies and you can now become the hero of you own action movie (see Uncharted 2, God of war 3). There is clearly room for lot of creativity in the storytelling. Studios have very often focused mostly the gameplay and visual aspects (most of the work, I agree) but the story, for most action oriented games (or adventure) is what separate the goods from the greats. With greater storytelling, videogames can surpass movies, especially for the action genre. You can now be the hero of your very own action movie and it is so much better…

  38. I personally think you guys haven’t been reading between the lines enough.

    Remember the article in gameinformer where they were previewing L.A. Noire?

    They mentioned a technology where they were scanning people’s faces and full bodies into the game. They claimed to be using many cameras, but how would any consumer be able afford many cameras in their home?

    Imagine, if you would, using Kinect to scan your face in to L.A. Noire. You wouldn’t need to have a whole bunch of cameras. Just ONE for your face, you could use standard options to control physique, etc. (ala Fallout, Madden, Soul Calibur) and the only REAL important part, your FACE is scanned in with Kinect.

    Keep in mind that Rockstar has a HUGE deal with Microsoft to get exclusives/timed exclusives.
    The gameinformer article talked about the integration of their own self into an in-game character as being revolutionary, and game-changing, and the way of the future.

    They must be talking carefully about the future of Kinect/Move as an integral part of adding your likeness to a game, not necessarily the motion capture/controller side of kinect/move,
    Although those features are still there and are still great.

    I am talking in theory of course, but I think I have a sound prediction.

    Microsoft+Kinect+Exclusive Rockstar contracts= L.A. Noire blowing Red Dead Redemption/all GTA titles out of the water.
    Also, look at the pathetic NON HD resolutions of Red Dead Redemption for the PS3. I think Rockstar has given up on Sony being the way of the future. Otherwise, wouldn’t they take Blu-Ray more seriously, and make each game shine on the PS3, outclassing the 360?

    They haven’t and won’t.
    Microsoft moves more units for them, and gave them more money for shit they were already going to get.
    Kinect will be HUGE in the future.
    You can call me whatever you want, but Sony is in trouble. Move is pretty much Wii 2.0

    Kinect is completely Eye Toy 2.0, but the timing/technology is there, the industry is actually ready for it this time, and the graphics in game are actually almost up to snuff this time around.

    Eye toy could have been what Kinect is going to be, if the Ps2 wasn’t so pathetic.

    YUP. I said it. It’s games weren’t even great until it was almost dead.
    Sony says they have a 10-15 year plan for the PS3, so it will likely be relevant just before it’s extinction.

    The 360 came out BEFORE the PS3 and has better graphics in almost all categories. You can blame lazy developers all you want, but if it actually payed off to go the extra mile and make games shine on the PS3, it would be happening.

    Don’t bring up Uncharted 1/2 Killzone 3 like blah blah blah, either, Sony NEEDS those titles to shine, so they do. Sony probably gets directly involved with Guerilla/Insomniac so they do.
    “Oops, these games MUST sell, they carry our flame, but wait, no one knows how to make any fucking sense of the PS3’s cell! I guess you should call up that crackhead who convinced us to go with cell in the first place to help them MAKE Uncharted/Killzone look good.”

    ‘Are you sure? He’s coming down off heroin right now, and he-‘
    “These games are out next month! Get him in there now!”

    A typical day in the Sony offices.
    Polyphony is next.

    Most Third party developers couldn’t care less where the money comes from, and they will always take the easier/more economical approach.

    The Ps3 cell architecture/Blu-Ray partnership is nice on paper, in theory, but has yet to show it’s superiority/dominance. Free online for the PS3 has ensnared a good amount of people, but the price of online gaming is not the issue.

    In Example: World Of Warcraft.

    If money per game/service really was so daunting/annoying, then what about WoW? How does it still have the same pathetic graphics after 5 years, and still scrape 15 bucks a month out of people? Blizzard has made enough money off Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo to continue making games for years to come even if they never sold another title.
    They wait years between releases/sequels and give games to fans who are ignoring other great consoles/games while they wait for the next ‘Blizzard’ thing.
    Blizzard games are nice, they are fun, but will NEVER be worth 15 bucks a month, under the guise of maintenance, the sheep’s clothing of updates, etc.

    If I was Blizzard, and I was getting Billions of dollars monthly, I would make the BEST PLAYING/LOOKING/BOUNDARY PUSHING/MOST POLISHED games ever.
    What do they do with it?

    Updates on Tuesdays, with like 3 lines of code, keep using flashy Box art to sell the same game with the same graphics with a few new areas to explore, and a few geeky pop culture references per expansion.

    DO NOT EVER GET MAD AT HALO OR FALLOUT OR BORDERLANDS OR GRAND THEFT AUTO OR CALL OF DUTY for selling a new game with new improvements/tweaks at 60 bucks a pop. Or DLC that is 10 bucks. If you don’t like it don’t buy it.

    It’s still better than WoW who makes you buy an expansion every year at 50 to 60 bucks a pop, AND KEEPS CHARGING 15 BUCKS A MONTH FOR THE SHIT THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN ALL 52 TUESDAYS’ updates OF THE YEAR PRIOR!!!

    Borderlands, $60(at release but more like 30 now)
    DLC, $10 dollars per pack


    Look at WoW…
    Hang on, I need a calculator…

    WoW= $50, a year of WoW= $180
    Burning Crusade= $50, another year of WoW=$180
    WotLK= $50, yet another year of WoW= $180
    Cataclysm= $50, and you still keep paying to ‘see all the cool updates?’


    We console owners have it lucky, or we’re just not stupid.

    Stop whining.

    I still stand by my opinion that the PS3/Blu-Ray is inferior until proven otherwise.
    Free online on a console I don’t want to play on will never be an incentive.

    I guess the same goes for WoW-heads, they don’t want Xbawks, or Pee-ess-tres, they want to have a top of the line gaming rig: 1,000 dollars and pay for mediocre Graphics based on loosely fun gameplay, all for just another fucking thousand dollars.

    Yes, it is all about money, deal with it!!!
    Do or don’t spend it, don’t bitch!!!
    Play it, or don’t, just STFU!!!

    And now, I will gladly STFU, because my blisters’ blisters are hungry for finger food grease to squirm into the pustules.

    Thank You and Have a good night!

  39. I’m really hoping valve will come out some more gems like team fortress, portal, half life and counter strike. They have milked all these games for all they are worth with portal 2 coming out. I hope they can do something different with team fortress 3 (assuming they will make one, which I hope they will).
    Now that bungie has left halo behind I have some faith that they can bring another amazing game like halo forward. Although halo is all they have know for almost 10 years now so I’m not sure that they will be able to branch off effectively.

  40. First off, you’re only looking at sequels. They aren’t going to change the game to much. If it works don’t fix it, don’t rock the boat. When developers do, gamers complain.
    Look at Vanquish rather than Reach for a new shooter and you’ll see gaming trying new ideas.

    For all the hype about video games being art, they aren’t.
    Video games make money.
    Developers stick to basic designs like COD 4 because it works. We all complain, but we still buy the games. And why does every squeal need to blow the original out of the water? Look at Halo and God of War. Both had amazing industry changing originals that worked perfectly. Why change that? GoW noticed that we enjoyed being a badass with the chains and let us keep doing that. Halo tried to implement new abilities and changes, but all the fans called fowl and the rolled back, look at how similar Halo: combat evolved and Halo:Reach are. No dual wielding, elites are the main enemy, the characters grow on you, the health bar is back, and it’s fun to play again. The only real change is armor abilities and a few new guns.
    It works. And it makes money.
    To make a game changing game takes risk and why bother? Not when you can release a COD or Half Life clone with a unique feature and know you’ll make millions.

    DLC is an amazing ability. If done right it prevents the need for a full sequel by adding onto the story. And for how bad DLC is, every map pack ever is DLC and nobody complains about them, when they’re done right.
    When they are required for completion or to fix a release issue, thats when problems arise. But for those who say just go to gamestop or rent, that’s why DLC is here to stay for those reasons. If you need to give the developer $5 just to finish the game, even if you rent, they make the money regardless. Look forward to seeing more one time use codes in the box for a DLC with the final hour of the game on it or pay the money.
    It’s a tax that everyone needs to pay for those who try to beat the system.
    Give DLC some time and it will calm down. The pricing is high now, but the price of a full game hasn’t gone up since 05 when this group of consuls came out.

    Yes development has slowed in recent years, but so? Why do we need to push forward. If new games are the same as old, then why bother buying new ones? Just replay fable 2 as an evil character or go keep playing COD 4 online rather than buy Black Ops if you already know you won’t enjoy it. Keep enjoying what’s good now and when a game like Vanquish comes out, buy it. Eventually developers will get the idea.

  41. I think some people hope that the idea of furthering the industry rather than recycling profitable schemes might one day resurface.

    It’s a very lame and thoughtless misdirection to whine “oh, well aren’t they allowed to make money?”
    They always have, that’s how the industry survived in the first place. It wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t at all times.
    But as far as I’m concerned, they haven’t earned it.

    Most funds invested into a title nowadays go towards marketing and persuasion. Television, movies, magazines and all the usual forms of media where many true gamers actually don’t spend their time.
    If you measure success strictly in terms of sales made, then I can see why you would be so easily mislead. You’re using the wrong metrics for what this article is talking about.

    What we’re dealing with are two different descriptions of success. One for soulless money obsessed Jonesers (of all ages) who have no taste. The other is that of actually producing something that elicits more than a short term consumer high.

    Quality is what gave birth to the gaming industry in the first place. Investors have simply hijacked the market and transitioned it to a model for an audience with drastically lower standards (low brow, military obsessed media junkies).

    The “real gamers” simply have yet to finish shaking out of the investors’ hostile takeover. And rightfully so, they have nowhere else to go!

  42. I lost faith in the games industry when I was in college studying to become a game designer. There was no enthusiasm from the instructors. They told it how it was. Games are a business. It’s not about creating a fun gaming experience, it’s about the money.

    And it has been this way ever since Xbox Live. They figured out they could milk us for extra money by seeing how well subscription MMOs do and they wanted in on that piece of the pie. Then all of a sudden they wanted me to pay five dollars for Horse Armor in Oblivion and I said, “This is the last brand new game I will ever buy.”

    I refuse to buy brand new games, and I especially refuse to do business with Gamestop. Gamestop is part of the problem. Now that they started offering pre-order bonuses for an extra five to ten dollars for everything is just makes it easier and easier for the industry to nickel and dime us. It’s never anything worth having anyway. It’s usually something like an extra costume that should already been in the game anyway. They know the lowest common denominator is going to pay whatever it takes to get that next game, that extra piece of content, and that extra set of achievement points from that new DLC.

    When I first heard about achievement points I thought it was a great idea. What a fun and innovative way to keep your customers loyal! They play your games, they enjoy the games, they unlock points, and then they get to spend their points on extra content or neat little extras? Fantastic!

    “Wait, what? Oh those points don’t do anything? Well what are they for? Nothing? I don’t get it.”

    Of course I get it now. Everyone knows that gerbil of a friend that’s always talking about their achievement points. Congratulations beating a level and unlocking 10 points that doesn’t really do anything.

    I recommend that everyone switch to Steam. They don’t screw you out of your money and they actually sell really good games at extremely low prices all the time.

  43. “Every company is guilty of this. Sony’s Killzone and God of War series are getting stale, Microsoft is taking steps back with Fable and Halo, Nintendo is still beating the same five classic characters to death year after year.”

    But characters are not Gameplay.

    We can certain accuse Mario Galaxy 2 of being, effectively, a level pack. (a excellent level pack…but still… basically a level pack)

    But you can’t say, Nintendos games are bad *because* of the re-use of characters. They are just the skin of a game. The surface.
    Mario Galaxy (1) was by far one of the most stunning original and polished games out of recent times. Right up their with Portal.
    Both games, inccidently, proving that messed up physics = fun 🙂

    Conversely, if Nintendo took a new set of characters for each game….would they honestly be better? I really dought it.
    We would just say “hay! This is [x] in a different skin to normal!”

    No. We do need new gameplay, but we need it both inside and outside of franchise’s. “new” IP’s can be just as generic and dull as old ones.

  44. You have a straw man argument there. If you don’t play games that are innovative, how can you be sure there is not innovation.

    Play these:
    Resonance of Fate
    Mass Effect
    Heavy Rain
    Deadly Premonition
    Toy Soldiers
    Metro 2033
    Dragon Age – Origins
    Alan Wake
    Alpha Protocol
    Comic Jumper
    Fist of the North Star

    Looks like you just don’t know how to pick games.

  45. That’s a list of games. Not a list of innovations. You can’t “win” this discussion because the facts are plain as day. You also won’t prove much by simply throwing together a list and hoping people will be overwhelmed.
    Just because you might have found something to identify with in them, or enjoyed some presentational aspect of them doesn’t mean they are “innovative”. Again, this is not the point.

    And really, at the end of the day, maybe you just don’t have any standards?

  46. Fine, I will simplify my argument.
    One word: Resonance of Fate
    Now if you do not find that game innovate, may god have mercy on your soul.
    And of course you fall into the straw man fallacy also. Neither you nor the author of the article even define what they mean by innovation, so how could anyone argue against you?

  47. Sorry to break it to you Justin, but there is absolutely no 3 in Fallout:New Vegas.

    Here’s why DLC pisses me off, if there’s room on the disc it should be yours for the initial game price. Why should you have to drop $50 or $60 on a game, then the programmers magically come up with DLC two months later. It was obviously ready to go, or at least could have been ready if the company wasn’t interested in a colossal money grab. Here’s my solution, if you pre-register (showing your dedication to the product) you get your choice of one DLC for free within the first year of release. Right now you get lame in-game bonuses, or some plush animal or other useless collector’s trash, why not give the game what they really want, more content.

  48. DLC is definitely a ripoff.

    We’ve had free DLC in the past and it worked very well to galvanize and even stimulate sales well beyond the initial release date.

    Pat: You’re asking ME to be the innovator with your request. It’s a dead end argument.

    No straw men. Stop using buzzwords.

  49. Disclaimer to the author: I have worked on two original IP games this year for xbox 360; one AAA and one XBLA, both with metacritic scores in the 80s. So the following post is going to explain how you are full of shit and this is another sorry excuse for game journalism.

    That said, it would be possible to write a good article with this headline but you have totally failed to do so.

    Top 10 sales charts do not prove that no one is innovating. As commenter Pat McAtee above listed, there were a TON of original games this year. What it proves is that innovation isn’t how you get into the top 10 sales charts. Game developers are not “out of ideas”. Newsflash: ideas are cheap and easy! Scoring $20 million to realize them is the hard part.

    With rising development costs, rapid price deflation, rentals, used games and long tail multiplayer games, it is increasingly difficult to make money on new AAA games. Originality is a bigger gamble then it has ever been in the history of video games and so OF COURSE publishers are hesitant to invest in original IP.

    Gamers who value originality can do two things:
    1) Buy the original games that interest you within the first two weeks they are out (for most games, these are the only sales that really matter). Better yet: preorder them. Buy them NEW, otherwise the people who made it don’t get paid. Don’t bitch about the big dogs if you don’t support the underdog.
    2)Stop your bitching and realize that thanks to PSN, XBLA and the rise of indie games, we are actually in a *renaissance* of originality. I don’t see how original games will ever recover for $60 boxed retail games but they are alive and kicking ass at the $10-15 price point.

    Well, I guess they can do three things but writing uninformed articles on the internet never helped solve a problem.

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