4 Ways To Make Gaming Better in 2014 and Beyond
3. Allow for more genre variance within mega-franchises
While we’re complaining about Assassin’s Creed, Black Flag is also an oddity in that its main character is not a member of the Assassins — he’s just a regular pirate bro with some First Civilization blood in him — and yet he handles exactly the same way as Altair, Ezio, Connor and Aveline. When he’s given a pair of hidden blades, he’s immediately awesome with them even though they almost certainly are super-difficult to use, being as unusual as they are. And in the opening sequence, he manages to chase an Assassin down and kill him, meaning he’s actually more proficient in Assassin skills than an actual Assassin.
So why does Eddie Kenway have every Assassin ability despite never being trained by the order? Because Black Flag is an Assassin’s Creed game, and its playable characters just have those abilities.
In just over four years in real time, Ubisoft has put out six of these games that carry mostly identical combat and free-running mechanics. ACIV putting a big focus on sailing is nice, but it doesn’t exactly de-emphasize walking around, climbing on stuff and cutting fools. And with the story Ubisoft wrote for Black Flag, it literally gave itself an excuse to do something different, but then didn’t.
Want know the real reason people found the campaign in Call of Duty: Ghosts to be dull? It’s because it’s the same ol’ crap, repackaged. Treyarch experimented quite a bit with structure and gameplay in Black Ops II last year, and even threw in a new little strategy game to plainly shake up the formula, and then this year, Infinity Ward reverts to the same kind of thing they’ve been doing for half a decade. Treyarch was moving the series in a new direction, and IW walked it back.
The ideal scenario would be for the publishers to nut up and pay for more new IP and one-off games that would provide new experiences and allow the creators to experiment while having some real financial backing, and we aren’t going to stop insisting on that. But on the other end of the game spectrum are mega-franchises like AC and Halo, which at this point are defined as much by their convoluted continuities and lore as a gameplay genre.
If we’re going to spend decades playing these franchises and others — which is the plan — then it just won’t do for the studios to regurgitate the same gameplay over and over again. Having sailing be a core element in ACIV was a start, but it was an addition, rather than an alteration, and it doesn’t represent a trend toward more variation. Yet.
Meanwhile, Watch Dogs set the world on fire in the second half of the year despite no one being able to play it yet, and that’s simply because it appeared to be establishing a new adventure subgenre. Developers need to do that sort of thing all the time, both in new IP like Watch Dogs, as well as within the constraints of megafranchises (without, perhaps, freaking out fans with something that strays as far as The Bureau). We’re an industry that thrives on innovation. Let’s freakin’ act like it.
4. Don’t release broken games
I don’t know what’s wrong with Battlefield 4, and I don’t care. What I do care about is that it has been broken for a while, preventing folks who’d bought it from playing. Somehow, this scenario has played out a number of times recently with a number of high-profile titles — including Grand Theft Auto V, the highest profile game of them all — and it has to stop.
I get it; you have to hit a launch date that will please the shareholders, but how happy are the damn shareholders when your game doesn’t work and everyone hates you? At this point you can talk all you want about unforeseen numbers of people playing at once and bugs you didn’t encounter in QA, and nobody is going to believe any of it. This is a trend now, and so these occurrences cannot possibly be unforeseen.
I think Ubisoft figured this out already, which is why we aren’t currently playing South Park and Watch Dogs. They took a PR hit for those delays, but they guessed properly that the hit would be a million times worse if this year’s top pre-ordered game for the PS4 was all messed up in some important way.
Gamers and publishers have a pretty contentious relationship these days anyway with microtransactions on $60 games, day-one DLC and the specter of the online pass, among other things. Insidious business practices suck, for sure, but when you throw non-functional blockbusters onto that PR trashcan fire, it threatens to burn the whole house down. Every time a major game is released in a broken state, more people think twice about buying the next one they’re looking forward to when it launches. Hitting your target quarter only means something in the long run if you aren’t ruining your reputation in the process — or, in the case of EA, digging an even deeper pit for yourself.
The games industry is a juggernaut, and is not built to change itself on the fly while maintaining any sort of standard of quality. Furthermore, it’s rife with fundamental issues, many of which will never be completely fixed, and even if they are, new ones will simply pop up in their place. We can never expect the industry to be perfect. We can, however, expect it to rumble in the right direction when necessary. The steps I’ve outlined above, which can help produce quality games while also mending wounds in publisher-player relationships, are part of that. This year has proven that powerful people are listening — look at the saga of used games — and hopefully they’ll keep doing so.
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