Is David Cage Right About Gamers Being to Blame for Sequels?
David Cage, the founder and CEO of Quantic Dream, recently explained that he believes sequels kill creativity, and pointed the finger at gamers, blaming us for investing in publishers that have no interest in innovation.
While I don’t think it wise to so insult your potential customers, let’s put PR aside and evaluate whether there’s any merit to what he said. Are we really to blame for this age of sequels?
Before we tear into the heart of the issue, we need to tackle Cage’s assumption that sequels can’t be innovative, and the implication that a lack of innovation in sequels is a bad thing.
Let’s consider StarCraft 2, a game that is, for all intents and purposes, StarCraft 1 with updated graphics. Sure, there are some new units, some new mechanics, and some new conveniences, but “innovative” would not be a word anyone would use to describe SC2. Still, considering the reputation it had to live up to, SC2 was a success.
In contrast, let’s look at Diablo 3, a game that took many risks in an attempt to innovate. At its heart, D3 is still an ARPG click-fest, but it differs substantially from what we’ve previously experienced in the genre. While opinions are mixed as to whether or not those innovations were a step forward or backward, the game is largely considered a failure as a sequel. Some of the risks that Blizzard took with D3 paid off — others didn’t.
Now, what’s most curious is that both of these titles received the same criticisms: that they were too similar to SC1/D2, and that they weren’t similar enough to SC1/D2. Try to wrap your head around that. Gamers at once want more of the same, but… different. The only cogent conclusion that can be drawn is that it doesn’t really matter whether or not a game is innovative, as long as it is good.
So is it true that sequels can’t be innovative? No. Is it true that sequels should be innovative? No. When it comes to sequels, innovation isn’t always a good thing, because innovation equates to risk, and risk implies the possibility of failure. Which leads us to a single conclusion…
Risk is to blame for the current sequel-saturated market.
Publishers don’t want to risk investing money in an IP that may or may not be profitable when they can crank out a sequel that is guaranteed at least mediocre sales. Why take a gamble when you can bet on a sure thing? Why risk a flop when you can pump out another Call of Duty every year?
Similarly, mass consumers don’t want to risk spending money on a game they haven’t heard of when they can buy a sequel to a game they enjoyed. It’s why many people would rather return to a mediocre restaurant time and again rather than risk going to a new restaurant that may be worse — it’s the status quo bias.
Risk is to blame, not gamers, not even publishers. David Cage can point the finger at us all he wants — it smacks of entitlement and jealousy toward games like Black Ops 2 that consistently sell over 10 million units, while Heavy Rain, despite being critically acclaimed, “only” sold two million. It is the snobbish artist who blames his audience for not appreciating his genius.
But here’s the good news — the 2012 crowdfunding explosion in gaming is paving the way for safe innovation in the industry. Venues like Kickstarter allow developers to gauge interest in a title before investing too heavily in it and abort an idea that isn’t receiving the consumer-based funding deemed necessary to proceed. By reducing risk, developers have the freedom to be more creative and innovative. By providing funding, gamers have the ability to decide which titles see the light of day. It only took a couple of decades, but the gaming industry is finally evolving to a point where consumers can clearly and quantifiably communicate their desires to developers.