The Creative Class’s Role in Game Production (Or how a $80 Million sequel was beaten out by a $5000 kickstarted game)

Games have gotten a bit too samey, honestly

Games have gotten a bit too samey, honestly

I would go to say that video games are creative. Some of them, mind you, but not all. An Italian plumber riding on a dinosaur traveling through a kingdom to save a princess from a giant turtle is creative. An undead knight traversing the land to undo a curse is creative. A US Marine sent in to take out the nondescript Russian/Korean/Middle Eastern terrorists is not that creative. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to make creative games anymore, it’s that they aren’t able to. This is mainly due to the financial risks in producing such a game, either due to it being different from the norm for a big-name company or not having the funding to produce the game on your own.  “A Creative Economy requires diversity” (Pg. 7) is a line that stuck with me when reading Richard Florida’s The Rise Of The Creative Class: Revisited. He goes on to say that “creativity cannot be contained by categories of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation” (Pg. 7), a line that is supposed to be about the mixing of people and cultures working in the creative industries. I saw this line from a different perspective, instead wondering about the contrasts between indies who’ve made it big off of unique games they made on their own and the bigger companies who have the manpower and funds to make 10 games in the same time it took the indie dev to make one.

Much like how I’ve been talking about the film industry’s passion for creating sequels for the last few weeks, the game industry hits this pitfall in an even more apparent way. While it takes around two-three years for a new Star Wars film to be produced, there are constant yearly releases for several game franchises. These tend to come from the larger western companies like Electronic Arts, Activision, and Ubisoft (The game world’s equivalents to Warner Bros/Fox/Disney), pumping out a new Madden NFL, Call of Duty, or Just Dance title each year that cost millions of dollars to produce. Most of the time these games are often just reworked versions of the game they released last year, with an updated player roster in the case of a sports game like FIFA, a new cast/setting in the case of an action game like Assassin’s Creed, or new weapons/maps in the case of a shooter like Battlefield.

CoD

Every main Call of Duty since 2003, barring Advanced Warfare (2014) and Black Ops III (2015).

The case of the first-person shooter is interesting on its own and requires a little bit of history to properly explain. With the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, the FPS saw a boom in popularity on the PC scene and was followed by games similar in appearance (A 3D environment with 2D enemy/item/weapon sprites) like Doom, Marathon, and Duke Nukem 3D. About a decade later after other successful titles such as Half Life, Goldeneye 007 and Deus Ex, the first Call of Duty was released for PC in the fall of 2003, with an expansion coming out the next year. It’s success led not only to the release of a sequel in 2005, but to a general boom in FPS titles set during World War II.

The early 2000s were swarmed with assaults on Normandy and raids in Stalingrad between several different game series, including but not limited to Battlefield 1942, Day of Defeat, Brothers in Arm, Medal of Honor, Hour of Victory, and Sniper Elite. This would continue until the release of Battlefield 2 in 2005 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007, which shifted from a WWII setting to a more modern war on terror. Now that the two big names were shifting away from WWII, other developers were shifting towards modern and sci-fi settings as well.

Venturing away from the FPS we have the first-person… block builder? Minecraft was a huge success worldwide from its early days of Indev in 2009 to the game’s “official” release two years later, being an enjoyable experience for both kids and adults alike. With books, clothes, toys, and a movie in the works, it’s no wonder why Mojang (The company responsible for producing Minecraft) was bought by Microsoft last year for $2.5 Billion. It’s also no wonder why  several games following the “gather materials and make buildings/tools to defeat monsters” design came out after Minecraft’s release. Some try to take a twist on this model though, like Terraria (Foregoing 3D voxels for 2D sprites) or Space Engineers (Having players explore asteroids and build spaceships instead of players exploring caves and building castles), but some are not so graceful at hiding their inspiration (Such as Trove, Ace of Spades, or Fortress Craft).

Minecraft

It’s hard to believe these are four different games.

Compared to the film industry, video games are a much more niche yet expensive business. Your average movie-going experience is around $13 for a movie ticket and another $7 for snacks and drinks. Overall you’re paying about $10 per hour for your film. Meanwhile your average console game can last anywhere from 3 hours (A short indie game like  Portal or Shovel Knight) to 15-20 hours (A First-Party exclusive like The Last of Us or The Wonderful 101) to 40+ hours (A plot-heavy RPG like Final Fantasy XIII  or The Witcher 3), and this doesn’t factor in multiplayer aspects of games like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft which theoretically have hundreds of hours of replayability.

While that certainly sounds like a good deal, one has to keep in mind that a game is typically $50-60 on release, and will probably only go down to around $40 on sale. Some people can’t afford to put down $60 on a new game each week, especially when the game in question is a new IP that may or may not even be all that good. Sometimes that game will be a success (The Last of Us managed to have 8 Million copies sold worldwide across both the Playstation 3 and 4) or a flop (The Wonderful 101 on the other hand only reached ~350,000 worldwide sales). Both games are good in their own rights, yet critics praised TLoU for its story while berated TW101 for its controls. Word of mouth from both the press and others who have are another factor leading to these games success, but that’s another story that could fill a blog post of its own.

wiggle

Your typical “combat” in Undertale

There’s still some creativity in the world of games, despite a flood of FPS  and Minecraft clones. Undertale is an Role Playing game that came out last month where the player takes control of a young child who has fallen into a world of monsters and must make it back to the surface. The catch is that the player does not have to defeat any monster that he encounters through violence but can instead talk his way out of the fight through various compliments, arguments, or other actions. Through the game the player will go on a date with a skeleton, learn how to cook spaghetti with a fish-creature, and get into a dance-off with a robot TV talk-show host. Despite being a $10 game made by a single person the game received critical acclaim from several sites managing to beat out other titles released in the same month like Metal Gear Solid V or Mad Max. Personally it’s my favorite game from September, and I know from others that it’s their game of the year.

What I’m trying to get at here is that for every Call of Duty or Far Cry released each year, there’s going to be a creative idea like Minecraft or Undertale released right behind it. These kinds of games are what allows the developer to express “their real identities and selves – rather than [having] to create a separate, instrumental self to function in the workplace.” ( Florida Pg. 72) That does not necessarily guarantee success, mind you. On average around 50 games come out every week on steam, and about 1/5th of those games are from A-List and B-List developers. The creative class making their own kinds of games are there already, they’re just waiting to be found by the masses.

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Comments

  1. It’s the same with any form of media: when a genuinely creative idea is adapted into something profitable then everyone wants a slice. How many medieval themed and crucially gruesome television shows were there before Game of Thrones? Popularity breeds creative lull.

  2. tiffoppotomus says:

    I really found your blog post interesting, especially when you brought up how Florida did state that “creativity cannot be contained by categories of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation” (Pg. 7). His words are really contradictory when playing more male gendered games, such as CS:GO, where women are constantly harassed by male players. I’m sure that there is a larger community that talks about this, as well as the topic of sexuality in video games.

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