Video game consumers appear to be feeling a collective sense of fatigue. Picking up the controller just to put it down a few minutes later as a growing backlog accumulates title after title, might sound familiar to some. But why are gamers feeling this way, and what led to this? In my opinion, it boils down to one thing: innovation.
The gaming industry rewards innovation to a certain point. As a genre develops, different gaming studios will put their spins on it, shifting the player base around until one game finally sticks. As the community flocks to that game, it becomes increasingly popular. Think of a game like Fortnite and all of the PUBGs and H1Z1s that came before it in the battle royale genre.
The popularity of that game’s mechanics, art style, direction, etc. will then influence new titles leading to the reuse of the same few ideas. Once a genre-defining game hits the market, meaningful innovation slows down. Innovators are not rewarded as much because the player base is fixated on one game.
The problem is not in the player base, it’s the inability of AAA studios to try new things and take risks. It takes passionate indie teams to break molds and inspire change. Crafting and survival mechanics were not popular in AAA games until Minecraft exploded onto the scene between 2009 and 2011. Minecraft was originally developed by just one person, Markus “Notch” Persson, and it took him only six days.
Games like Undertale, Hades, and Hollow Knight further show that small teams can create innovative, beloved experiences by taking risks, making improvements, and allowing players to fall in love with their uniqueness. While these games might not have the graphical capabilities of a multi-million dollar AAA budget, fun gameplay and engaging story lines often outweigh graphics for many gamers.
Gamers have been talking about how big name development studios create and stick to a “formula” that sequels and new IPs alike adhere to for a long time. With artificial intelligence tools becoming more widely available and people’s knowledge of how to efficiently prompt AI models grows, innovation in the gaming space may decline even further as getting output from tried and true formulas will be easier.
WHAT'S TO COME
As the scope of games grows, so does the time and manpower needed to create a product that can compete in the marketplace. Reusing mechanics, animations, and other elements of a game can speed this up, but at a certain point, everything starts to feel the same. Uniqueness and flavor are lost in this process, and gamers are growing bored.
All things considered, these are merely trends and sentiments felt by gamers. We can still expect great games from passionate AAA studios that respect their players. Games like last year’s Baldur’s Gate 3 proved that. Gaming is bigger than ever in 2024 and the voice of the community is becoming too loud to ignore.
I’m excited to see what games we get in 2024, what trends come up and how people react to them. Gaming is only getting bigger and people’s expectations for what developers can create are higher than ever with new technologies and powerful tools emerging.