Game Developers Should Steal from Filmmakers

Games are an outlet. They give us a window into new worlds and settings, much like those old books used to do. But we are evolved now. Books are for hipsters and uneven tables. Vidya games possess the ability to provide all the same sex, drugs, and rock & roll that a book is capable of, yet they rarely reach such potential. Game developers possess the ability to take us to uncharted realms in the interactive medium, yet they choose not to. Hell, compared to their less interactive brother, film, video games look like they were held back in 6th grade and never bothered to graduate. Today, I suggest to you, that video games are lacking in variety, both in setting and genre. And the solution my friends, is theft.

That’s right theft. Games developers should be stealing more ideas from filmmakers. There’s a giant collection of genres and settings out there in film (and books), yet most video games

Take a wild guess at what next year's CoD game will be called?

Take a wild guess at what next year’s CoD game will be called.

seem to limit their scope to a select few. Why is this? Why do so many developers choose to chase the same genres over and over again rather than branching out to different paths? The film industry is often criticized for rehashing old ideas and chasing too many sequels. Yet, standing side by side with the games industry, Hollywood is the pinnacle of creativity.

Why is this? Well, just like Hollywood, the video game industry is risk averse. The heavyweights of the industry are cautious of spending money on anything that isn’t tried and true for fear of not making their money back. Hell, they’re scared of creating new IP’s in popular genres. Most experimenting goes on in the indie scene.

But that shouldn’t be considered enough for us if we’d like the industry to expand beyond shooters, sports, and space drama. We could be seeing so much more variety from game makers, and it would be welcome!

When comparing the top selling games from 2011 to 2012, the data shows off the sad truth: consumers love sequels. At least it would seem that way. I’m sure millions of dollars spent on marketing plays a role as well. But here’s what we can’t argue:

  • 2 Call of Duty games
  • Just Dance
  • Madden
  • Assassin’s Creed

Entries to these series appear in both the 2011 and 2012 top 10 sellers lists. Every other game not listed above for those two years was a sequel that fell into the sports, shooter, or action/adventure genres. Gaming sure does feel… familiar.

Assassin's Creed

Ted, the comedy about a man and his friend, a talking teddy bear, was the 9th highest grossing film of 2012. In 2011, The Hangover II came in at number 4, raking in $254,464,305 in the box office alone. People clearly like to laugh, so where are the funny games? Comedy-driven titles have typically been relegated to text-heavy games and platformers, with a mid-range budget at best. The most recent notable entry into the genre is Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse. The results were unimpressive to most. Likewise, looking over the history of comedy-focused games, proves to be a sad endeavor. The genre is chock-full of untapped potential. Perhaps the best-executed example of comedy-driven games comes from the You Don’t Know Jack series. Next year’s South Park: The Stick of Truth looks promising, as well.

But let’s look beyond comedy. What one country might find funny might fall on deaf ears in another. What else ya got? What does the world like?

The world likes Dick Wolf. The man has produced some of the longest running shows in television history (most of them being tied to Law and Order). Why don’t we have more Law & Ordercourtroom/investigation games? Phoenix Wright attempts to scratch that itch, but the genre has a lot more room to explore.

What about musicals? Dance games are enjoying a re-submergence in popularity and the plastic guitar genre has been effectively milked to death. But we’re talking about film theft here. Where are the musical games that give players a real protagonist with a real story? The last major game to attempt something similar was 2009’s Brutal Legend, if I recall correctly (although I wouldn’t exactly call the game a musical). Parappa the Rapper is a better example of the kind of game that is being under-exploited in our current gaming climate.

How about thrillers? Mystery? A lot of developers attempt to add these elements to their games, but it almost always pushes them to the backseat, in favor of gunplay. Taking away a developer’s guns is a true test of that developer’s creativity. I don’t want games to become movies. There’s too much talking in game’s as it is, I think. But I think that game’s could stand to learn a lot from film presentation.

I’ve got nothing against sports games, for example. But there is so much more that could be done with such a broad genre. What about a sports-heavy thriller? Keep up with me now. Ever read the book Hanging Curve? Of course not, you’re no nerd! Well, it’s a book that follows a professional baseball player. It’s got sports, murder, racism, and mystery. And the video game industry has never made anything like it.

To be fair, some developers are willing to take chances on the new. Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is probably the best example of this. Western’s have been all but ignored (and the fewRed Dead Redemption attempts usually fall flat), but RDR actually thrived in a world of marines and space marines. It gave us the raw setting of a dying west, composed of wanted posters, poker games, alcohol, and hunting.

But most of the chances are taken in the indie scene. Which means small budgets and little-to-no marketing. Everyone that knows about the game is an instant video game hipster snob. “I was following Super Meat Boy when it was a WiiWare exclusive.”

This fact helps the indie developers stand out and make a name for themselves. They provide a niche that the EAs and Activisions of the world ignore. Meanwhile, the rest of the development community continues to chase the same genres over and over.

How cool would it have been if Epic Mickey’s world had looked like the original artwork? Disney is cool with melodramatic moments between Donald Duck and Final Fantasy characters, but a rotting mechanical Goofy crossed the line for the House of Mouse.

Epic Mickey Concept Art

The indie scene is great, but the industry could be doing a great deal better when it comes to variety. It would be nice to see more of the thinking that gave us Mirror’s Edge and less of the thinking that gave us Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Some of the most refreshing changes of scenery end up as part of our most memorable games.

I will now sit here and ironically wait for Mirror’s Edge 2.

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2 comments
Wheresmymonkey
Wheresmymonkey

Personally i think videogames crib off hollywood too much. the wrong parts of it too. Its all michael bay explosions and durr hurr yay america urgh. Problem is that Hollywood seems to be in a bit of a creative funk at the moment too.

Chris Langner
Chris Langner

I'm speaking strictly in regards to genre/setting. Hollywood dominates the games industry in that regard. I agree on the other things. The cheesy slow-mo overuse in games was quite obvious by the time The Matrix Reloaded hit theaters.