On Tuesday Chris argued the position that by dismissing AAA games outright the smug, indie-loving cross-section of gamers were actually contributing to the problem with AAA games in general, and that we as gamers should be participating in the gaming industry as a whole. To be fair, his point about supporting creative endeavors from large studios is well taken, more people should be supporting games like Mirrors’s Edge and Alan Wake. That said, there are some legitimate reasons that I believe some gamers stay away from the mainstream.
It’s hard to believe that by supporting the more creative endeavors of a large studio or publisher that you’re not, by proxy, supporting the endless parade of rehashed garbage that seems to pour out of companies like EA and Activision. Sure, more support for Mirror’s Edge would have forced EA to take notice, but it also would have meant more money in the EA coffers for the marketing of Madden or whatever else they’re pushing this week. The thing is, it’s impossible to know how EA (or any other game publisher) is going to parley the success of a game into what it does next.
It also has to be said that there are plenty of developers who have made interesting and creative games, only to be used and abused by big publishers to make endless streams of movie licensed games, or other less creative drivel. Take Neversoft for example. Back in 1999, Neversoft created a little gem called Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for the PS1. The game was capital A-mazing and completely reinvested the otherwise dying skateboarding game genre. But as no good deed goes unpunished, the studio was then tasked with pouring out Tony Hawk game after Tony Hawk game until they had beaten the franchise into the ground with a plethora of unneeded sequels. What’s even more sad was that after making the very first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the company made Spider-Man, a game which was also fantastic, and also met with great critical acclaim. The point here is that Neversoft wasn’t just a flash in the pan, or a studio only capable of making one type of good game. Neversoft could have been Naughty Dog, churning out new IPs, and doing cool and innovative things in the gaming. Instead they were swallowed up and spit out wholesale by the big publishers. If you look up Neversoft on Wikipiedia, you’ll find that their last 8 releases (except for one mode in the Call of Duty Ghosts) were all Guitar Hero or Band Hero games.
While there are stories of developers like Naughty Dog, who have seemingly risen above being shat on by huge publishers, the stories like Neversoft seem much more the majority. I actually wonder if, had Mirror’s Edge been a huge hit would the franchises fate been similar to Tony Hawk, with sequel after sequel diluting the purity of the original game? Would DICE have simply become to Mirror’s Edge what Neversoft was to Tony Hawk? I guess the point here is that big publishers want money, and for the most part, that’s all they want. So even when they take a chance on something and it turns out to work really well, there is still this need to wring every last cent out of it, until all of the magic that made the series thrive in the first place is gone.
Gamers who choose to abstain from the AAA titles may indeed miss the occasional gem, but I think that for many, it’s a way of showing disdain for the whole broken system. Developers are often the losers here, being forced to create sequels that they don’t want to make, or even having they’re IPs given to other developers. Indie games, on the other hand, offer a level of freedom. Games like Paper’s Please, and The Stanley Parable can exist because Sony, Microsoft, and Steam have gone a long way in letting small developers publish without the need for a huge publisher like EA. Proving that those games can be successful without big publishers helps gamers to feel like they have a say in how the industry actually moves forward.