Maybe it’s the looming spectre of old age, or my desperate attempts to recapture some of that wonderment that only a child experiences at just about anything, but looking at a major game journalism site’s top 50 list I spotted a grand total of two titles not developed by a major studio. With many of the games that really stood out for me this year being totally absent.
Don’t give up on me just yet though, I agree with practically everyone that The Last of Us was a totally deserved Game of the Year: it looked fantastic, was set in a intriguing world and had a gripping story that focused on great characters, it got me in the preverbal right there. Where I get cynical is when I say: Of course it won game of the year, it was manufactured that way. I’m not saying that The Last of Us was guaranteed to win best game, but it was made with all the qualities in mind for a game that would be up there. Naughty Dog are no strangers to massive blockbuster releases, they’ve got it down to an art with their Uncharted series. The Last of Us needed to simply follow the formula established by their other games and other best selling games of the past.
And there in lies the problem: it’s all becoming too formulaic. While these developers aren’t necessarily out there to make a game of the year, many of them are trying to make a successful game, and when they strike gold they’ll continue beating us over the head with it till we demand they stop, and even then it takes them a while. It’s the same problem I have with Cinema and how Hollywood do things. Like with games we see the same titles year in year out; Assassin’s Creed, Fifa, Call of Duty, Tomb Raider, Battlefield. We get the some problem in Hollywood, it’s why we kept getting Pirates of the Caribbean movies, why they went back and made The Hobbit series and why we’re getting more Star Wars movies.
The result is, we’re being spoon fed the same high class gruel year in and year out and we’re being told that it’s all we’ll ever need to eat, because it’s expensive. Have they never heard of a balanced diet? Sometimes, I just want an apple or a piece of toast. For those of you who couldn’t follow my poor tortured metaphor: there are a lot of good games from smaller developers that really aren’t getting their dues when it comes to these critical end of the year reviews.
Going back to that top 50 list I mentioned earlier. It contained games like Gears of War: Judgement and NBA 2k14 in its top 20, while games like Gone Home, The Stanley Parable or Papers, Please don’t get mentioned at all. It seems to me that a lot of these lists are confusing quality with success. A quality game can contain any number of things; innovation, new ideas, the ability to move you or to simply give your that childlike sense of enjoyment again. A successful game is one that sells a lot of copies and makes a lot of money. I’m not saying that a game can’t be both of these things, but generally, a quality game has heart behind it, the hopes of a person or small group to make something great. Your AAA titles with hundreds of people behind them rarely manage this, they’re often too designed by committee.
I don’t want to seem like some old school hippy who always bangs on about how the big corporations only care about the money, but it’s true. Video games have become the most lucrative entertainment industry in the world, so of course the big guys are going to swoop in and squeeze as much out of the golden goose as they can. That’s fine, that how the world works, what bothers me is how these big guys are getting twice the coverage when some of that work could be invested in promoting the little guys.
There is not enough credit given to the smaller developers who are making games with really small teams that often provide vastly superior experiences to the paint by numbers mega titles, ones that are regularly the most talked about games of the year by the larger sites. Again, it’s the same in cinema, many of the best films of a year are overlooked and are thus considered bombs because studios are more interested in promoting schlock, simply because they can get more people to see that crap. Anything new and different terrifies the people in charge of the money and so anyone doing this when there is a lot of money to potentially lose is shouted down in favour of something save. For reference see how the CGI Walking with Dinosaurs movie went from being potentially an amazing cinematic experience to just another unambitious kid’s film because some executive bottled it.
I worry for the state of the AAA title and that gaming itself may become fractured, forever separating the the big budget titles from the smaller ‘indie’ titles with one being forever the focus over the other based purely on how much money they make. I would really like to see the bigger game sites increase their focus on the games not released by the massive publishers, and start comparing the games equally, because as terrifying as it may sound to them, more often than not, the blocky side scroller with dated graphics is going to be the superior game to the ultra realistic, gritty sports/FPS title.
There’s no danger of indie game developers going under, as long as there are grumpy old people like me and bight eyed young game devs out there, we’ll continue to have new experiences that continue to get better and better. The concern is that these people continue not to get the mainstream recognition they deserve simply because they can’t pay a giant marketing corporation to tell everyone what to think.