Are Video Games Stuck In A Rut?

With the release of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, mere weeks away, it’s worth taking an introspective look at the overall health of the video games industry. Financially, the industry has suffered from some expected slowdown, mainly due to the extended life of this generations consoles. But that didn’t stop GTA V from becoming the fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion when it was released last month.

So, financially the games industry is in quite a healthy state. But what about creatively? Are video games pushing the boundaries and defying expectations?

In a recent interview with, Anna Megill, narrative designer at Airtight Games, questioned the creativity of the video game industry:

“It’s (such) a young medium to be (so) hidebound, …How did we get trapped so quickly? At least it took Hollywood a while to fall into these patterns, but we seemed to get there so fast.”  

Comparing video games with Hollywood is not a new concept by any means, and one that the industry embraces when positive comparisons are made, such as headlines like ‘Video game industry bigger than Hollywood!’ but also shuns the comparison when an industry insider declares that ‘Creativity in video games is dead, just like Hollywood!’

Nothing illustrates Anna’s point more than the launch day line-up for both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. They meet the genre expectations that we’ve all become accustomed to. Driving games? Check. Shooters? Check. Action games? Check. Sports games? Check. -You get the point. That’s not to say that these games aren’t creative in their own right, but you can’t help but feel a yearning for something different.

The video game industry, much like Hollywood, is a blockbuster driven industry. Which means that publishers are reluctant to take risks, and rightfully so. Why should they take a risk on an unproven genre or idea, when they can make another military-focused first person shooter that will guarantee them good sales?

The indie scene has blossomed in the past couple of years. It’s exposed players to entirely different gaming experiences, ones that simply do not exist in the blockbuster driven world of games publishers. Kickstarter has played an important role, allowing players to fund projects directly, bypassing the typical investment a development studio would need. The success of many of these independent titles proves that many players are willing to invest their time and money in games that are outside of the expected genres.

“We have the power to tell amazing stories through this interactivity and I feel like we’ve been wasting so much of it just by telling these same, narrowly defined, ‘hero’s journey‘ over and over again.”

Perhaps these blockbuster games and sequels have to exist to prop up the indie scene. A kind of symbiotic relationship, that allows the video game industry to support itself financially, while allowing a smaller group to defy our expectations and evolve the medium. So perhaps finding the right balance is the key to all this, but for now it seems like the deck is stacked heavily in one direction.

So what do you think? Is the ‘Hollywood-isation’ of the video game industry a bad thing?  Do you think video games are stuck in a rut? Let us know in the comments below.


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