Before we continue it’s probably best if you read a few things about the state of games production. It would be useful if we were all on the same page, all singing from the same hymn sheet, all batting for the same team and all fusing our conciousness with the same indecipherable hive mind (so to speak). So to that end I would advise you read the following articles:
Death to the games industry: Long live games Part 1 by Greg Costikyan
Death to the games industry: Long live games Part 2 by Greg Costikyan
Nintendo’s genre innovation strategy by Dan C at Lost Garden
Greg Costikyan ranting
Greg Costikyan putting his money where his mouth is
So, you’re probably asking why you needed to read those and what is so important about all those articles? First off I think buried in their cores each article tacitly illustrates the one great immutable fact about games. A fact so shocking that many publishers don’t want you to know. A fact they keep hidden so that people and cultures across the globe are slowly begining to forget their history, nay birthright. And strangely enough it’s little more than: the only important feature is that games are fun and playable. The games industry is littered with pretty games that play like utter dogs (Shadow of the Beast anyone?), the games industry is also littered with games that are successful purely as a consequence of marketing and this is set to get worse. As budgets ramp up few publishers will have the balls to pull a game they’ve invested millions in and it’ll be cheaper to pay for the advertising budget to market a sub-standard game than it will to pull it.
And the other more overt thing that these articles illustrate is that the structure of games writing and publishing sucks, contrary to Greg Costikyan‘s admirable hardline stance, I’m not as convinced that it is the poor business model that produces poor games. There’s plenty of poor open source, freeware and shareware games out there. Poor playability is a consequence of not having a single, grand unifying vision for the central mechanics of the game. Design a game with a committee and you get a game that only a committee can love yet every individual will hate. It’s no mistake that Shigeru Miyamoto’s games are invariably good. As more games require more and more cash so to the list of vested interests quickly increases. More games will come to be designed by a committee to ensure as wide audience appeal (and greater financial returns) as possible. But appealing to the mass market often leads to a combination of mundane ideas and poor execution, designed to satisfy all tastes yet satisfying none. You need only look at the Hollywood film industry to see plenty of analagous examples trotted out every summer for Blockbuster season. I’m sure I should be attempting to shoehorn in that quote about “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” in here. So I suppose I’d like to see less camels and more horses, antelopes, gibbons, baboons, blue bottles, wasps, elephants, ocelots and so on.
So, now we’re all aware of the state of the games industry and what actually matters (having fun and playability that is, do keep up). At this rate I may even get round reviewing some games.