Ask a Dork: Oversaturation
”Do you believe there’s such a thing as oversaturation of a genre? If so, why and what happens when we reach the saturation point?”
I absolutely believe that certain types of games or sub-genres can become oversaturated. I won’t say “genres” because that is a little bit too broad a term. To put that in perspective, I may not bat an eyelash if 40 new fighting games were released in a year, but if 30 of them had the same 2D art-style I might be turned off by how crowded things were.
Another good example would be post-apocalyptic FPS games with RPG elements. Sure, that sort of thing was cool when Fallout 3 did it, but Borderlands and Rage both felt to me like bland rehashes of that same approach. And then there were more straight up post-apocalyptic FPSs like the Gears of War games, METRO, STALKER, Day Z, and of course the Resistance series. All of them are beige and grey, all of them are scrappy and attitudinal, and all of them failed to feel completely original to me in terms of tone and approach. That’s a problem.
I’m a fan of good stories. I’m a fan of original games. I’m a fan of unique gameplay. When too many games go after the same thing, the result is always a bunch of games that feel too much alike. It robs the game of any real creative spark and at the end of the day robs the gamer of their time. We saw this when games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms, Sniper Elite, The Deadly Dozen, and Battlestrike, which all battled it out for dirty and dark WW II FPS supremacy. We also saw this when God of War, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dante’s Inferno, Darksiders, Splatterhouse, Ninja Gaiden, and Heavenly Sword battled it out for smashy-smashy-button-mashy action supremacy. In both cases these sub-genres or “game flavours” (as I like to call them) got way too oversaturated – to the point where many of the games were called clones by gamers and review outlets alike. Again, that’s a problem.
We live in a world where oversaturation happens because that’s how business works. God of War and Call of Duty sells a lot of units, which means that action games and FPSs have to become more like those series in order to sell a lot of units. Or at least says modern business sensibilities among publishers.
The hilarious thing is that this plagiaristic approach to video game development is kamikaze in its trajectory. The industry will always reach a boiling point of “too many similar games,” and when that goes down the sales of all games within these particular sub-genres decrease. God of War, one of the biggest and most successful franchises of this past generation, saw a massive decrease in sales with its latest outing God of War: Ascension. The quality of the game was still there, but it was apparent that consumers had become fatigued with the same old gameplay and rightfully so – they had played the same kind of game over and over and over.
There is no solution here outside of publishers not following the trend. Either time and effort is invested into making something new or it is wasted following in the footsteps of giants. As the great Wayne Gretzky once said, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it already is.”
Have I mentioned that I’m Canadian?