Editorial: Gaming's So-Called Creative Death

by Joe Juba on Aug 29, 2012 at 01:15 PM

For the first time since I started at Game Informer in 2003, I didn’t attend E3 this year. Instead of walking around the show floor and playing the games myself, I relied on online impressions from attendees. From where I sat, the prevailing disappointments from the show were the lack of new franchises and the prevalence of sequels. “Game developers are running out of ideas” is a sentiment I saw and heard repeated often. It continues to echo in the months since E3, and I’m sick of it being trotted out as an indisputable fact about the game industry.

Just because something is said frequently doesn’t make it right. Are a lot of sequels coming out this year? Absolutely. Does that signal the creative death of video games? Nope. In fact, if the upcoming generation follows the pattern of those previous, we’re due for an influx of innovation.

I could point to new games like Beyond, The Last of Us, Remember Me, Watch Dogs, and Dishonored as evidence that new properties are still being introduced. But, to be honest, that would just be misdirection. Those games look cool, but I won’t pretend like the current landscape isn’t hostile to new ideas. Creating a popular game requires millions of dollars, and the repeated annual success of titles like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed proves that many gamers prefer to stick with these comfortable options. An unproven new franchise represents a risk that most publishers are hesitant to take right now.

Beyond: Two Souls is a new current-gen property

That makes the whole situation sound sterile and bleak, but here’s the upside: It’s going to get better. The iterative titles that surround us are a result of our place in the console cycle, not the dwindling ambition of game developers. In a year or two, we’ll be playing on the newest consoles from the major hardware manufacturers, and with them will come a fresh batch of unproven titles to enjoy.

This has happened before. At the end of the last generation, the idea of any game dethroning Grand Theft Auto or Halo as the console sales kings was absurd…but both of those series only became cultural phenomena during that very generation. Complaints of “sequelitis” were common then, too, though the multi-game series that dominated the era were different. God of War, Splinter Cell, Devil May Cry, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Burnout, Kingdom Hearts, and Need for Speed were some of the heavy hitters – all of which have played a diminished role during the current generation.

With a new wave of hardware comes a sea change: some established franchises rise, others fall, and new contenders surface. For example, all of these major series began on current-gen systems: Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, Resistance, BioShock, Portal, Uncharted, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham, Borderlands, Dead Space, Infamous, Darksiders, and LittleBigPlanet. Why would anyone assume that the upcoming consoles from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo wouldn’t open a similar door for a new batch of definitive titles? 

Assassin's Creed before it was a big deal

This is where creativity comes back into the equation. New hardware provides new opportunities. Do you remember the thrill of hiding in a massive crowd as Altaïr? Falling infinitely through a pair of space-bending portals? Stalking through Rapture as water poured in? These are experiences unlike anything we saw before, made possible by technological advances. The console manufacturers are going to want similarly novel moments to showcase the power of their hardware – to prove that gamers need to upgrade to stay on the cutting edge. 

Rest assured, developers haven’t run out of ideas in the six years since the beginning of this generation. Game developers are among the most creative, passionate people I have ever met, and I know for a fact that many of them can’t wait to share some of the new concepts they’ve been working on. If Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty haven’t relinquished their dominance to shiny new next-gen properties in two years, I will be completely shocked. I don’t know exactly what’s on the horizon, but that’s part of the fun.