Before I launch into the diatribe, I’ll make this point of clarification first: I like shooters. Much like those foods that linger up the top of the food pyramid, in moderation a FPSer is a healthy way to relieve oneself of the day’s stresses. Done right, they can be everything that you want from a good action game; visceral blockbuster experiences that only the likes of Michael Bay could dream up.
But they are far, far too dominant, both from the media and the consumer mindset. It’s like we’re being force fed this tip of the pyramid over and over again rather than sampling a balanced diet.
We’re seeing all too often now games are getting forcibly shoved into the shooter’s square. We’re not talking about random, new franchises that just happen to be shooters. No. We’re talking about beloved classics here. It doesn’t matter that those classic games were never meant to be shooters; the modern publisher absolutely demands they get morphed into one.
|Yep. Looked just like a shooter before THQ got to it|
Let’s consider X-Com, the classic strategy game. Now, thanks to 2K Marin? Shooter. Or how about Syndicate, the classic real time tactical title from genre masters, Bullfrog. Now? Shooter. It’s not just classic video games that undergoing this metamorphosis, either. Warhammer 40K was a tabletop strategy game, until THQ got its hands on it. Just the other day I saw an amazing comment on a forum by someone that said (paraphrased) “what better way to represent the Warhammer game than this?”
Here’s an idea for that person (who will likely never read this article) – with a strategy game. I’m a little worried for the Dungeons and Dragons license right now, because that’s a franchise on the hunt for a publisher. Who knows what insane idea that publisher will have?
These new square-shaped circles then, of course, join the shooters that have been built as such from the ground up; the Call of Duty’s, the Gears of War, and everything in between. It is impossible to turn around in this industry and not have a shooter stuck in front of your face.
|Let’s turn every strategy game into a FPS!|
Now, I’m not suggesting any of these are likely to be bad games. Far from it, I suspect they’ll do just fine in the market, and the recent Warhammer game went down well enough with the critics. But this trend is destroying the industry for a number of reasons.
The big reason is the obvious one: shooters are pulling so much money out of the industry that other genres don’t get a chance. Consider the beleaguered JRPG. JRPGs are big, expensive games to produce, and yet generic FPS 10000 will often outsell them, because the marketing engine behind the shooter is so well oiled that even generic FPSers can fly through on the coat tails of Call of Duty to success. Now, those JRPGs can still be marginally profitable, but boards of course don’t see that, and boards are the owners of the businesses. Boards only see that the generic shooter was more successful. So they start asking questions.
Publishers then have one or two choices; either they cut the budget on future projects, which leads to a degrading of quality, and a lack of finances to support new IP creation, or they try and create their own shooters. For companies that don’t have a history in that genre that rarely ends well, as we’ve seen with Tecmo Koei and Quantum Theory, as well as Square Enix and Mindjack/ Front Mission Evolved. I think we can all agree that the resources that went into those games were universally wasted.
|Fire Emblem FPS next, right?|
It’s not a trend that’s healthy for the shooter genre, long term, either. Consumer burn out is inevitable, and then what? After a Call of Duty fails, the industry will be left with very little investment outside of shooters, with relatively few studios able to create games that aren’t shooters. After all, when publishers have shut down development studios, they usually haven’t been the ones pumping out shooters. So, when that burn out happens, it’ll be an expensive process as the publishers and developers completely refocus their businesses.
This is a trend that’s reasonably unique to the games industry. Consider the film industry for a moment; if the only films that were given big budgets and the only films that had big marketing pushes were action films, how long would consumers continue to put up with it? How would the movie fanatics react if they were told that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit was actually going to star The Rock with a machine gun?
I’m being hyperbolic, but only slightly so. It’s a worrying sign that the only really big projects that publishers are greenlighting at the moment are those that can be twisted into a shooter. Worrying because it suggests that the industry has little respect for the market viability of anything but the shooter, and worrying because this trend is representative of an industry very short on creativity right now.