Games tend to come around in cycles. This may be particular game series (I think Call of Duty is up to about 2,000 right now), or specified genres within gaming. Thankfully, the most recent Genre of the Year(s) seems to finally be drawing to a close: that genre being zombie games.
Don’t get me wrong, I like The Walking Dead show as much as the next guy, but there were just so many zombie games – many of questionable quality – that it really did begin to make your head spin. DayZ, The Evil Within, Dead Island, The Walking Dead (the game!), H1Z1, The Last Of Us (maybe not zombies technically, but come on…), Dead Nation, Plants vs. Zombies – heck, even a DLC addon pack for Red Dead Redemption with zombies in it! The Last Of Us and The Walking Dead were both critically acclaimed; others were good games, many were not…
Have no worry because the Next Big Thing is here, and fortunately for me it’s one of my favourite genres: space games. As with zombies before it, in a couple of years you won’t be able to walk into a game store without seeing space games lining the walls for all to see. To an extent this was… err… kickstarted… by Star Citizen, which raised $2.1m at the end of 2012, and has gone on to reach a staggering total of over $65 million (!!) through crowdfunding. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise to see game developers and publishers practically falling over themselves to get space exploration games greenlit.
We’ve already seen the start of it, with the recent release of Elite: Dangerous, a reprise of the oldschool PC Elite games from the 80s and 90s. And with it currently holding an 80 rating on Metacritic, it seems like they actually managed to knock out a decent game. For space games a little further down the line we have Rebel Galaxy – a game that you will be hearing some exclusive news about in the near future on this very site; No Man’s Sky, which may well be the first must-own title for the PS4; Into The Stars, which just met its funding threshold on Kickstarter, Dreadnought on the PC; Evolve, which is only a couple of weeks away (perhaps not a space game if you want to get technical, but close enough for me); Space Engineers on the Xbox One; Space Hulk: Deathwing, on all major formats; Star Wars Battlefront; as well as the actual release of Star Citizen itself, likely some time in early 2016. As with the zombie fad, some of these will suck, some will probably be okay, and a small handful might be truly excellent.
Why does this happen though? Why do these cycles seem to come around? I’ve written previously about how the larger developers and publishers are becoming more risk-averse, largely in part due to the massive budgets that triple-A games now command, meaning that publishers want their games to appeal to as many people as they can right from the get-go. This has the knock-on effect of particular game styles becoming fads, and everyone wants to jump on that to secure as much of your money as they can – sometimes with almost no regards for the quality of the product they are using to do it.
Publishers saw zombie games as entering the public zeitgeist, and practically raced each other to get games out, or failing that, DLC for existing games which could be shoehorned into it (the aforementioned Undead Nightmare DLC for Red Dead Redemption comes to mind, as does The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC for the original Borderlands). It’s a herd mentality unfortunately, and one that is certainly not limited to the gaming industry. After the success of The Hunger Games, how many “young adult” dystopian future film adaptations have you seen in the past couple of years? How many Game of Thrones knockoffs since the TV show became popular? It goes on and on.
As gamers, we have to ensure that we are positively discriminating towards good games, and not the junk that many publishers are content to saddle us with. Elite: Dangerous was a solid start, but I think there is better coming down the line. Read about it, play demos, and support those games which were made out of a love for the genre, not just a love of money. Ultimately, that is the only part of the process that we have direct control over, and it’s up to us to make that that power is exercised wisely.
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