A Thousand Games, Each With The Same Face
Homogenisation of product is a quandary facing the games industry more and more as time passes and as the industry swells in its reach, influence and capital worth. As the value of the market, and therefore the scale of investment increases, the creative controls of the developers and creators are shrinking, their authority being cowed and manipulated by the devious men in suits, eyes shot with Dollar, Pound and Yen signs.
Of course, the drive to chase success is nothing new, and it’s absolutely nothing specific to the games industry. The critical acclaim and popular appreciation of a film, book or even a toy has always spawned a swathe of copycat clones, manufactured rapidly without the same attention to detail or loving effort that gave the original so much success to milk the cash cow dry and run off with a fast buck or two.
Now, however, in the world of the AAA games industry, the tendency for the big guns to copy their competitors is becoming an insidious and dangerous foe to originality and to the future of gaming itself. The big names out there are just becoming a sea of clones; their faces gradually growing ever more similar. This is an alarming trend, because as Mother always said: “variety is the spice of life”.
Such thoughts came to mind after spending a weekend with reports on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare pissing out of every pixel on my social media feeds. It looks great and as a fan of the series I’m of course excited to get to grips with the new iteration, though it seems that now, not only is COD cloning itself over and over again with the barest of alterations; it’s cloning itself whilst cloning its competition. The leaning towards sci-fi and future-tech is clearly a reaction to a bloated and overflowing market getting weary of the standard formula. Instead of building a new concept from the ground up, however, which with Activision’s seemingly limitless pool of resources would surely have been a possibility, it seems they’re playing a game of beg, steal, borrow and taking a well-worn, pre-existing formula that has entertained for over a decade and throwing over it a patchwork shawl comprising the most popular features and properties of its competition. There’s more than a whiff of Titanfall, Halo, Crysis and Killzone to what’s been seen in the new trailers for Advanced Warfare.
You may think, ‘So what? COD’s been rehashing for years!’. Sadly you’d be right, and I’ve no doubt this is the attitude of many gamers and members of the industry. It has become a given that the big companies will iterate rather than innovate to protect their stock value. The problem however is that when the next generation of developers come to create the games of the future, these developers will have come to the field amongst a toxic ocean of similarity and the attitudes prevalent at present will seep into their creativity, entrenching the dominance of iteration far into the future. It’s important to note that it’s not just COD, the same crimes and the same consequences are just as relevant to the great majority of the developers releasing annual instalments to their series. This is in no way a witch hunt, it’s simply that these thoughts came to mind in the wake of Advanced Warfare’s reveal.
Rarely, some genuinely groundbreaking moments of development wizardry will creep into the arena of the big boys, Minecraft is proof that it’s possible, but most often it is the indie scene which is the foremost champion of originality and innovation. Though this is an ever-emerging market, particularly on PC and Mac, with wonderfully fresh methods of delivering a gameplay experience and telling a story coming out every day (Goat Simulator anyone?) the bulk of the gaming market – and therefore the bulk of what will come to inspire the next generation of devs – is the same rehashed, mass-produced candyfloss we had this time last year…and the year before that.
None of this is to say the next COD won’t be excellent. It looks great and I’ll certainly be picking up a copy because what the various development teams that work on the Call of Duty series for Activision do, they do well. It’s just a shame for the industry and its future that what they did last year, what they do this year and what will come out the year after will never stray too far from the beaten path.