The search for less of the same…
(Formerly on another site)
With Microsoft’s recent announcement that the Xbox One would no longer require the new Kinect to be attached to function, I as a consumer cheered. Gone are the draconian “daily check in” requirements, the unclearly outlined used games policy, and now the Kinect requirement. As a consumer, this is amazing! Microsoft listened to its fanbase (I mean preorder numbers and possible loss of sales), and is trying to fix what it can to make you, me, us, the end users, happier! This is a win! Now just sell it to me sans Kinect for $400! It’ll be great!
As someone who craves difference and uniqueness, I weep. Sure, the initial Xbox One MS tried to sell me on was odd, had features I didn’t care about (oh boy, I can yell at my TV to change the channel), and was pricier, but I had to hand it to MS for at least trying to be different. I still feel some of the features they wanted will be rolled out over the years, once the base is already installed. It’s a much better plan, to add one of those features in every so often, instead of trying to do it all at once. But now, well… We essentially get the same specs as a PS4, with more TV capabilities, and nearly the same games.
You can yell at me about hardware all you want, much like n1MB1s does, and that’s good and all, but even John Carmack says they’re essentially the same. Better hardware doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t software to back it up. The original Xbox was far more powerful than the PS2, but the PS2 had a better library of games. (I will chalk some of that up to the Xbox also being MS’s first foray into home consoles, so the brand establishment wasn’t there yet.) The Wii outsold both the 360 and the PS3 handily, while being not much more powerful than a PS2. Raw power can only get you so far. And I’ll agree that MS will probably be the “superior console” as far as tech specs will go. And it will easily outsell the PS4 in the US market. But when it comes down to it, they’re the same box, with almost the same games, within $100 of each other, and aren’t offering enough “new and cutting edge” anything to get me to drop money at launch. Don’t even get me started on the Wii U either. That’s got its own problems Nintendo has to overcome.
I don’t want an Xbox One because well, I don’t play very many multiplayer FPS games, nor sports games, nor give any fucks about Halo. To be completely honest, I don’t want a PS4 either right now. I’m so entrenched in Sony loyalty that I own PS branded items you didn’t know existed. I can assure you in the next few years I’ll be getting a tattoo of the 4 PS button symbols. Yet Sony still can’t convince me I need a PS4. I can hear you yelling at your monitor, shaking your head. “Oh but the games are different from each system!” Timed exclusives don’t mean much to me, especially with a game backlog that could theoretically take years for me to work through. The few games the Xbox One did have that intrigued me that were console exclusives are also coming to PC. The only game Sony showed me that I was interested in was Knack. “But the tech IS different!” Different enough to be that big of a deal? I could just spend the money upgrading my PC instead, if we’re really going to talk about specs. Plus with the Oculus Rift coming, I can get motion sickness while in the safety of my own bedroom. “But online games!” I actually like my single player experiences. I don’t play a lot of competitive games, so that doesn’t mean much to me either.
I love new ways to play games. I still love my mouse and keyboard and my controllers, but something different is always fun to me. I love games that make people rethink what a game is. I bought a PS3 eye, light up dildo controller and all, and played the hell out of the No More Heroes HD remake and echochrome 2. I seriously debated getting a 360 just for Lost Odyssey and Dance Central (DC is THE ONLY REASON to own a Kinect for the 360). I played Twilight Princess on the Wii, flailing my arms like a jackass, giggling the whole time. And honestly, with the PS4 Eye not being bundled with the PS4, and the Kinect no longer required, we’re possibly losing out on some interesting (not necessarily great, but at least interesting) game ideas. (Again, we don’t talk about Nintendo here, that’s for another time.)
“Oh, but game developers will make interesting games!! I’m sure of it!” I hate to break it to you, but innovation sure as hell isn’t coming from Triple A in the next console iteration. Just ask Ubisoft, who have taken a stance of not risking a new IP if it can’t be turned into a best selling franchise. Rewatch some of those trailers from E3, and ask yourself if you’ve seen that game before. I was genuinely upset that MS’s internal 343 Studios overtook Halo. Not because I hate MS, but because their plans were to make Halo a more frequently released franchise, to attempt to take over some of that good ol’ Call of Duty money. And you really wanna talk about bleeding a series dry? Chatting with Activision employees at GDC a few years ago, I learned that in the heydays of Guitar Hero, they were working on essentially quarterly releases. That they would push a yearly CoD game until it stopped selling. That they would run a franchise to the breaking point, milk as much cash out of it as possible, and move on to the next big thing.
Look at what happened to one of the most interesting new IPs of this generation, Assassin’s Creed. We got pretty much yearly sequels, with “bonus multiplayer”, 3 of them centered around Ezio even, because of the bottom line (I will admit they did, for the main series, change up locales and even things you could do, which was nice). Even former “non-traditional sequel” games like Final Fantasy and Pokemon (I’ll argue each new game was more a new entry on a franchise rather than a sequel) have been bitten by the direct sequel bug in the last few years, with a trilogy based around FF13 and Black and White versions 2. You can give me the indie argument as well. I’ll agree, indies will bring new life into a somewhat stagnant industry. But even then, how many “old school platformers” or “turn based RPGs” or even “text adventure games” can I play before that gets old too? Where am I supposed to turn for new and exciting games in the future of the video game industry? When did video games, especially Triple A gaming, become so obsessed with money that most developers don’t even get to see? When did us, the gamers, the players, accept “game X in a new texture job” as exciting and groundbreaking? Where did the communication of what was fun and exciting to the player get lost to the developer, the publisher? It seems to be linked to an endless cycle of what makes the most money. We as consumers can gripe about a useless sequel/remake/rehash all we want, but ultimately many of us will buy them, and big publishers use that data to squash bizarre ideas that could ultimately fail and instead encourage more of the same.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate sequels. I love exploring more into a world if it makes sense to do so. I love games that keep some core elements and similar themes across a franchise. I get just as excited about a sequel to a game I like as the next person (I still wait with baited breath about Half Life 3, holding my Gordon Freeman action figure, screaming at Gaben). The core 3 God of War games, great games. The prequels, less so, but at least they were well polished. Bioshock, amazing. Bioshock 2, bad story, fantastic gameplay. Bioshock Infinite, had some gripes about it, but overall good! Sequels can help fix the problems of a previous title, help progress a story, or even give a game company a chance to redeem itself to the public. I don’t want pointless sequels though. I don’t want yearly entries in a game series. I don’t want to have to play the same IPs or remakes or “similar to this game but technically isn’t” next generation. I want more one-offs, rather than more IPs and franchises. I want less of what I’ve played before, or at least differences in a sequel that make it worthwhile.
Some of my favorite games of this generation include Catherine, anything by thatgamecompany and Q-games, Heavy Rain, the original Bioshock, Portal 2, and so on. Some of them were more unique than others, some took concepts I was familiar with and gave them an interesting twist. All of them were risks to a development team, ideas that a gamble was taken on, and ultimately furthered the video game medium, and were interesting. Maybe that’s why I like David Cage so much. He could have made a sequel to Heavy Rain, could have made millions. But he said that story was done, and didn’t want to. So instead we get Beyond: Two Souls, a game that reminds the player of Heavy Rain, yet is its own game. Something familiar, yet different. That’s really what I want. But with both MS and Sony giving me nearly the same offerings this holiday, I’m not sure if the future is going to give it to me.