Is the Video Game industry running out of ideas? - For & Against

Posted on June 10, 2012 - 6:30pm by TheEnglishman

TLDR;

 Not an E3 recap, just looking at both sides of the arguement. This blog doesn't seek to provide a definitive 'Yes or no' answer, it simplys aims to reach a general conclusion.

Editor's Note: I have to admit that I didn't have much of  a problem seeing a lot of these established franchises come back this year but I can see TheEnglishman's point and he definitely raises some thought provoking questions about the state of originality in games. 

 All series see some form of beginning. The mid-eighties saw the beginning of Mario, the mid-nineties saw the beginning of Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, whilst the mid-noughties brought us Gears of War and Assassin's Creed. What ties these various series together? All were present, in some form or another, at E3 last week.

The fact that these long running series are around still in new iterations surely prompts the question, are we struggling to bring new ideas to the table in 2012? Will the games that see us through to the next generation simply be rehashes of what's gone before? My aim is to examine the 'for' and 'against' of this question, create a conclusion and open the question up to you guys. Let's go!

Video Games are running out of ideas: For

1 - Old titles dominated E3 2012

Finish the fight... again

Anyone who watched E3's press conferences will have noticed a feeling of deja vu creeping over them. Halo in Microsoft's presentation, Mario for Nintendo and so on. It's pretty much a certainty that CoD gets play time in some one's presentation, usually Microsoft, and that certainly proved true this year. The old hands were plastered across the coverage of this year's E3. 

This was especially true in Nintendo's conference, where two New Super Mario Bros. games were shown off. I can't help but wonder how the 3rd and 4th entries in a retro styled series based off of Mario games from the mid-80's to early 90's can still be called 'New'. I'm not saying these games will be bad, I'm sure they'll be enjoyed by millions and earn Nintendo a fair amount, but it isn't the newest video game idea.

The future is toy planes

I often feel that the Call of Duty series is criticized far too harshly, but has become increasingly notable in recent years how similar the games have gotten. The feeling was very strong during the end of Microsoft's conference, when the game felt awfully similar to the experience of Modern Warfare 3 that had opened their show the year before. Again, I have no doubts that this is a game that will sell millions and be highly acclaimed, but it felt like another series which was showing little change.

2 - The Wii-U showcases old games

For obvious reasons, the Wii U was a key talking point last week, with many watching to see what the new device was capable of doing. The response seemed to be that it could run already released games slightly differently. The news that Arkham City and (admittedly surprising) Mass Effect 3 would be making their way to the Wii U may have created cheers in the audience, but did it really showcase the best of the new technolgy? Would the crowds in the past have cheered so loudly if they heard the SNES was getting  Sonic, or that the Gamecube was getting Final Fantasy VII? I'm not saying that picking up a competitor's games won't be good for Nintendo, but the conference seemed to highlight getting old games to sell new technology.

Even NintendoLand, the show closer for the company, turned out to basically be a Nintendo themed mini-game collection that stuck with the staples of the company. It wasn't a hoped for new IP,  just a showcase of the same old series. It might have looked better than Sing ... but not a million times better. Speaking of Sing ...

3 - Casual games losing their appeal

'Hey, I just met you... wait no I've definitely seen this before'.

I tend to find the 'gamer-rage' that meets casual games funny, as if by making games like Just Dance, Ubisoft would cancel Rayman or Assassin's Creed. Even so, this E3 seemed to show that the casual market for video games is getting a little tired. The fairly tired reactions to Just Dance 4 and Dance Central 3 showed that even Usher couldn't make a tired concept seem new and exciting. For me, one of the worse moments was watching Nintendo promote Sing, a karoke game for the Wii U, basically showing the new technology to do something that the PS2 had done with Singstar and the 360 had done with Lips. Even the promise of reading the lyrics on the GamePad 'so you can face your friends while singing!' didn't make the idea seem any better.

Moving away from the music titles, other casual titles didn't exactly leave a lasting impression. Wonderbook from Sony was casually mocked, while the announcements of new versions of Wii Fit and Nike+ Kinect Training didn't exactly thrill. It's difficult to exactly see how 'sequels' can be done for fitness titles. Casual games are by no means bad but the noticeable lack of interest in the above titles shows how a lack of new ideas in even this market can be felt.

Video Games are running out of ideas: Against

1 - E3's new titles

We'd never have dreamed 20 years ago that beards could be so detailed

Whilst I'd argue that this year's E3 wasn't a classic for new video game ideas, a few titles certainly made a big impact. Watch Dogs showed a neat gameplay concept in the ability to hack the technology of people around the player whilst showcasing the upper end of modern graphics. ZombiU highlighted just how inventive the Wii-U technology can be by taking the fairly overdone zombie set-up and adding gameplay elements that utilise the GamePad for a new spin on things. Most impressive of all was The Last of Us, a PS3 exclusive (annoyingly for me) set in a post apocalyptic world, utilising some beautiful graphics with an interesting gameplay style. I was intrigued by all three and other titles like Dishonored have done enough to at least capture curiosity and showcase some potentially interesting gameplay.

2 - Old games can learn new tricks

Leon fights off some excitable zombies

Although I highlighted how some very old series made their presense felt at E3, it should be stated that they weren't in the same forms that they were on their debut. The Tomb Raider of 2012 is a far grittier, far more emotional game than the boxy adventure of the 90's whilst RE6 is on a far grander scale than the 'Mansion in the mountains' of it's PlayStation predecessors. Our older series have had to look at their competitors and learn to evolve over the years. Not every change is loved, some have complained that Resident Evil has become too action oriented, that Lara's adventure feels unoriginal, that it... doesn't exactly go into 'uncharted' territory (or that it does if you understand my meaning).

Didn't find this until page 8 of my Google search for 'Lara Croft dirty'

These complaints may seem to fit the idea that video games haven't evolved or brought new ideas to the table. However, the new Tomb Raider comes from a reboot that aims to take the series in a new direction from a fairly tired past, while RE6 has been building on it's roots to become a far more unique experience. These series may have had long histories, but they aren't just peddling the same games over and over.

3 - We just can't let go!

Dark Moon, thankfully not some sort of Twilight spinoff

Within minutes of Nintendo's conference ending, do you know what the second highest topic on Twitter was? 'No Zelda'. That's right, despite Skyward Sword coming out less than a year ago, the fact that no new Zelda was announced annoyed people. This shows that, for all the hopes of a new IP coming from the publishers, there was still a desire to see the old crowd take their place on the Wii U. Can you imagine if Nintendo had turned around and said 'We're working on new series for the next few years, so there'll be no new Mario, Zelda or Metroid for the next few years'? The internet would have gone mad! People have a clear affection for a number of series, and even if a few ideas are reused in multiple games.

Swords, big cloaks and blue hair? Yep, that's a Fire Emblem game alright.

Also to be considered is the fact that absense makes the heart grow fonder. The general happiness that met with the presentation of Pikmin 3 was noticeable, as was the reveal that Fire Emblem would be returning to the Western world. Whilst we may argue that the annual and bi-annual releases from certain series can often make it feel like we're simply seeing the same characters again and again, games from series that have not seen a release for a long time can feel like a breath of fresh air.

Conclusion

OK, confession time. This blog was originally  going to be a complaint about there not being enough new ideas in video games, that we weren't experiencing any real changes. However, as I thought about the topic more I decided that I wasn't really making a fair assessment. I decided that a more balanced view was necessary and looked at both ends of the spectrum. In the end, my position has changed.

I still feel that video games are in something of a rut, that the same old names and mascots have been brought around too often in recent times and are making too many appearances that aren't really that distinguishable. That being said, I feel it would be wrong to suggest that video games are running out of ideas. E3 has shown that clever new ideas for games are present, that new technology can bring some impressive looking and playing titles. It has also shown that some of our older series are changing as time passes, making themselves different to keep things fresh. As well as this, the fondness that comes with seeing a series that has been hidden away for awhile spring back to the fore cannot be denied. I think video games may be experiencing a slight issue with creating new and unique experiences, but I also feel that we shouldn't have any reason to panic about the future of the industry in the near future.

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