The winning formula that doesn't work - editorial

The winning formula that doesn't work - editorial

The surge that has invested the video game medium since the seventh generation of consoles has gone hand in hand with a profound mutation of the discussions hidden behind the pitches, the concepts, in short, behind the philosophy that fixes the axioms at the base of the skeleton of a work.

The economic growth and global success achieved by some large event productions have shown the world that following certain paths means generating numbers and collecting revenues previously considered alien to the sector, if not the prerogative of very few elected publishers.

In the last decade alone, Grand Theft Auto Online has become the most profitable entertainment product (yes, including movies, TV series and music) of all time. Fortnite has broken through the wall of 200 million players, transforming Epic Games into a mega-corporation capable of eclipsing the budgets of numerous states. League of Legends has completely conquered the Asian market and created an export undergrowth capable of annihilating the metrics of some traditional sports.

But it is well before the onset of these great phenomena that the tide of producers of videogames moves in the direction of the so-called "next big thing", constantly looking for a creative school capable of giving birth to announced successes and gathering gigantic slices of the mass audience within the confines of a single product.

The great event video games capable of causing economic sparks, whatever you think, are not the norm. It is a natural procedure and for all to see: at the time of the explosion of Call of Duty, in the late 2000s, first-person shooters sprouted like mushrooms in an attempt to chase the best-selling formula in the world. The same happened in the golden age of open-world titles, which led most of the sagas, even the historical ones, to embrace this kind of recipe to involve more and more fractions of fans.

They are inevitable mechanisms, things that still happen on a daily basis, since all the main players in the market have run to equip themselves with equivalent modes as the battle royale genre proliferates, which the maturation of games as services has pushed all the main publishers to embrace the formula in to some extent, and that still today there are tons of works that veer in the direction of characteristics such as the open world to ride the dominant current.

The big difference compared to the past is that the philosophy of emulation has begun to meet the first limits embodied by the negative response from the public, outlining a situation that in the last two years has characterized several important releases: the winning formula no longer works and video games that base their existence on the need to answer a specific question from the public are failing to reap the desired results.

Let's take the example of Anthem, a title that fits brush not only because it represents Electronic Arts' attack on the undergrowth of games as services, but above all because it was developed by BioWare, a software-house alien to this kind of works that in a certain sense found itself forced to try its hand in the field , completely distorting its classic creative vision.

Anthem is the perfect example of a title already entered in a market that has found itself failing. Anthem was evidently born from the idea of ​​competing for the "control" of the immense user that in previous years has been contested between products like Destiny and The Division, going all-in on the philosophy of the persistent world and on the creation of game loops intended to keep users in the shared universe for as long as possible.

The problem lies not in the fact that Anthem attempted to achieve this goal, but that it was born solely for the purpose of pursuing it. The indiscretions that emerged following the publication suggest that BioWare had something else in mind when he started working on the project, but to the test of the facts we found ourselves in front of a title that found its soul only in the desire to build a new game-as -service to fight with the greats of the market.

Obviously this does not exclude that certain developers choose similar paths to convey to the players a personal and reasoned philosophy, but even these risk stumbling and getting stuck in the same cauldron. This is what happened to People Can Fly's Outriders, which despite the original inspiration is a fair dose of success on Game Pass, is now chasing after the last big decisive patch. The stagnant situation is common to almost all Destiny emulators, titles that at the first change of trend found themselves orphaned of a large chunk of the installed bases.

Tying the production in double thread with the market trend it is an extremely risky operation, and by now we have dozens of examples to support this thesis. We talked about games as services, but the exact same picture has manifested itself in the orbit of "hero based" titles: the extraordinary success of a seminal work like Overwatch has given rise to a huge undergrowth of products that have met some of the worst failures in recent years, such as Ninja Theory's Bleeding Edge or Cliff Blezinski's Lawbreakers, both closed within months.

After the launch of Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Ubisoft's CEO admitted disappointing results to shareholders and promised a paradigm shift. We could take the example of battle royale, we could continue dealing with card games, we could talk about dozens of other drifts but, be careful, always remembering that there are genres - such as metroidvania - which through emulation have reached very high peaks. The problem, however, is not only investing specialized niches in the market, instead impacting the entire macroscopic dimension of first-tier projects.

Only the great FPSs that closed 2021 are the children of a trend of successes that has featured the past 15 years, recently culminating in the latest episodes of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Extremely well-tried formulas, winning by their very nature, which however this year recorded among the worst results in the history of their respective brands. Call of Duty: Vanguard, specifically, has experienced a decline of over 40% compared to previous episodes, while the fluctuating trend of Battlefield seems to have convinced the publisher, according to the latest rumors, to pause the Star Wars series. Battlefront.

If the fatigue of this kind of productions spills directly into the sales numbers, there are others that are receiving a more vocal response than a cheap one. A striking case is that of the open-world philosophy that was so successful with the advent of the first Assassin's Creed, reaching new heights with the arrival of Skyrim and continuing its rise through The Witcher 3. Today, the world's child projects open are subject to a selective acceptance procedure that does not seem to spare anyone: either they turn into extraordinary successes, or they are remembered as terrible failures.

The result is that there are dozens of works that have adopted the open formula -world to adapt to the dominant current, in some cases there are entire studios that have evidently specialized in this area, producing an extraordinary amount of "winning" works on paper that have not managed to impose themselves, entangling themselves in the spectrum of "more of the same "and that of laziness. Recent examples are Watch Dogs Legion, which sold 50% fewer copies than the previous chapter, and Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, which was criticized by Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot himself during the call with investors immediately following the launch.

The Trilogy version of GTA is just the latest case in which a publisher is forced to apologize after a launch. A striking case is undoubtedly that of Cyberpunk 2077, which beyond the slip of the cross-gen release has collected a lot of criticism relating to the validity and quality of the collateral content offered by Night City. A situation of rejection that has not only affected the open worlds, also affecting a large part of what are defined as the "nostalgia operations" set up by remakes and remastered editions, on paper, low-cost and high-yield projects that by means of releases like the GTA Trilogy or Warcraft 3: Reforged have found themselves disappointing the expectations of hordes of fans.

Fans who, especially over the last two years, have begun to respond to the hype culture with equal reactions and contrary, raising review bombing situations to power and vocally expressing all the dissent that follows the disappointment of expectation. On the one hand there are therefore publishers who communicate "winning" video games as if they embody everything the user could wish for, while on the other hand there are piqued responses from a disheartened user who often aims to bury the offending project, just as happened to the aforementioned Cyberpunk 2077. Yes, maybe the single product ends up grossing millions, but it is the whole company that loses in value.

The blockbuster failure of CD Projekt, however, does not represent the right example to dig the roots of the problem, because this kind of dysfunctional works are born when in the creation phase the "duty" exceeds the "will". When studios are forced by market logic to adopt the open-world formula, when the concept of a production is completely upset for the sole purpose of penetrating the "live game" sector, when originality and authorship are put aside in favor of a trend. In short, when creatives sit at the same table as investors not to embroider simple collateral monetization systems, but to lay the same foundations on which the entire video game will stand.

A further consequence of this dynamic lies in the growing distrust destined to accompany some ambitious releases, such as those of Halo Infinite and Elden Ring, two works that are preparing to radically change the formulas that users are used to. Will Halo be open-world just for fashion? Did Elden Ring choose the open world to ride the successes of other RPGs? As far as we have been able to see these are cases strictly linked to authorial and reasonable choices, but it is inevitable that a slice of the public, burnt, asks questions of this kind.

The only works that are safe seem to be those that they have no existing standard of comparison. Out there, somewhere, is the next winning videogame formula, something that has not yet been discovered and that is ignored in favor of pursuing productions that appear less risky only on paper, because in the test of facts they are always reaping results. less encouraging.

Most read now

Uncharted 5 for PS5 is already in development

According to an insider, Naughty Dog is working on the next Uncharted.

Video games with photorealistic faces! A studio works on incredible new technologies and the Uncanny Valley is already here

Video games and reality ever closer.

PC beats consoles, it's the best hardware of all time at Golden Joysticks Awards 2021

The PC wins the prize collected by Gabe Newell.

The only ones who sail in safe waters are those authors who have built unique and inimitable formulas, capable of returning from time to time without substantial changes because in the meantime no real competitor has entered the market, a quality that in this historical moment can be attributed exclusively to FromSoftware, to Rockstar Games and probably to Nintendo's first party studios. For all the other publishers, every production is a Russian roulette, because the economic risk linked to innovation has been added to that of creating the very conservative works that have started to no longer work.

In short, the classic excuse that wants innovation and research in the field of AAA videogames segregated behind an unsustainable financial risk now seems to be starting to shake, given that investing in solid and well-established projects is proving just as dangerous. 2022, in this sense, will be a decisive year, and it is evident that something has to change since the first brainstorms were drafted.

Rumor has it that the Call of Duty series will abandon the classic annual publication cycle just like Assassin's Creed did it with a view to relaunching Origins. But are we sure that such impromptu gestures are enough to overturn the new current of the market? With several innovative works on the horizon and a fair amount of unreleased IPs on the way, we will have to wait another year to find out which creative philosophy will prevail.

Authorial choice or well-established formula? While the former has always been the great bugbear of the most expensive software houses, the latter has slowly but surely started to erode the AAA market.

Powered by Blogger.