Today’s Games: Does Anyone Care?

Today’s Games: Does Anyone Care?

Super Mario Bros. Final Fantasy. Mega Man 2. Sonic the Hedgehog. Pac-Man. Tetris.

What do all these video games have in common? They’re each well over a decade old–over two decades, in some cases–and they’re still widely celebrated as games that lay down blueprints for many of the games we enjoy today.

But let’s say you somehow manage to procure a device that can capture a snapshot of this exact moment in time (don’t aim it in anyone’s eye). Take a record, and then look back at it in ten years. How will the games we play today influence the games of the future? Given the torrent of C-grade games on Apple’s App Store, can we be assured that today’s games will have any impact, or retain any influence? Will gaming simply grow stale as games imitate one another and simultaneously wilt away?

(Alternate dire future scenario: Society and infrastructure crumbles as the wingless cast of Angry Birds learns how to exist outside of iPhones and takes over the universe.)

Toru Iwatani, the father of Pac-Man, is worried that today’s games are a bit too disposable, a bit too repetitive. He believes gaming will “lose [its] audience” if creators don’t work on making games that will be remembered a decade from now instead of churning out seemingly safe fare for maximum profit.

“The reason I want to emphasize this is that starting last year or so, you’ve had this flood of very simple games on the iPhone and social networks and so forth,” Iwatani told Game Developer magazine in an interview. “They’re very ‘easy’ games, and by easy I mean easy to design and to pump out by the dozen.”

“When you look at games coming out today, it’s doubtful that any of us will be talking about them in ten years’ time. We have to focus on making games that people will remember a decade from now, or else we’ll lose our audience, probably.”

Iwatani also said he understands that few games can afford to simply exist as a means of creative expression, and that developers must “create a work” while publishers “create a product out of that work.” However, he pointed out, game creators should do their appointed task and publishers should do theirs.

“‘Making ‘products’ isn’t something developers should have to worry about,” Iwatani said. “They need to concentrate on making good games, on really pouring their souls into them.”

Offhand, it might seem hypocritical of Iwatani to talk about games that were developed to maximize profit. After all, he hails from an era wherein arcade cabinets existed to gulp down teenagers’ laundry money. That said, Iwatani’s main point still shines through. The legacy of the arcade is still incredibly strong thanks to titles like Donkey Kong, Defender, Centipede, Joust, Dragon’s Lair, Street Fighter II, and, of course, Pac-Man. Many properties that were born in smoky, dim arcades still carry on, even though the arcade itself is all but dead in North America. That’s all thanks to the preservation efforts carried out through disc collections, downloadable game markets, the iOS market, and some excellent modern upgrades, including Pac-Man Championship Edition.

Nobody’s arguing that the game market is more widespread an convenient then ever, and that we have more fun games than we could possibly play. What Iwatani is asking, and what developers and publishers should also be asking, is how many of the games that are developed today be remembered ten years down the road? At the risk of elevating video games to dramatic legacy status, what kind of IPs are we leaving behind for our children? Will they really cherish the plucky bird from Tiny Wings the way we cherish Mario?

Moreover, disposable social and mobile games shouldn’t have to bear the full weight of Iwatani’s warning. Nostalgia is a huge business in the games industry, arguably bigger than 99-cent games. Fans want more of the properties they played as kids, and in some cases, they want to pass down that experience to their kids. That’s fine: Most modern Mario games are remarkable, as are modern Pac-Man games. But every time a studio goes back to an old IP for the sake of the fans, there’s less and less motivation to take a risk on something new. There’s no reason to believe Mario or Pac-Man will lose their appeal over the next decade, but you can only experiment with an old property to a certain degree before the fans cry foul. New blood is necessary for the long-term health of the industry, and that means both veteran game studios and indie garage operations have to contribute fresh ideas. Visits to old game properties should be limited: Similarly, iOS game developers must realize there’s more to making a great game than putting together yet another “run-forever” type game (“But in this game, the hero is a ferocious, armless teddy bear wearing an eyepatch! Isn’t that so fresh and ironic?”).

A new generation of consoles is on the horizon. Now is a good time for developers to start planning ahead for a healthy new generation of games.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

5 Comments

  1. Good article! I’ve been thinking about this a lot – since before the apps and social games revolution. I grew up playing games that eventually left a cultural legacy. These days we have games that don’t quite reach that high. Angry Birds and other simplistic games are just the tip of the iceberg. What about the games published these days that simply do not strive to be anything more than derivatives of other popular games? What about the endlessly cranked out sequels? (As a Mega Man fan, I realize the irony of my even saying this.) Games don’t strive to be anything more than cash grabs and disposable content. As someone who has fought tooth and nail to hold onto every one of his consoles and handhelds, I find the trends in game production to be…well, a little depressing.

  2. I think the real reason people don’t make new and exciting games is because they go by the saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. This becomes a problem because they need to make money, but don’t have the time or energy for something that could be a flop.

  3. to make a game that sells, you need invest money
    to make a game that doesnt sell, you also need to invest money
    activision is a great example, instead of spending money on more innovative games, they just keeps on milking the dying cow.

  4. there is alot of companies that does care.
    look at the game like:
    batman
    battlefield
    bioshock
    uncharted
    elder scrolls
    and alot of indie games
    those series are very innovative, so people does care, but there will be dicks, like in everything else.

  5. Are you strictly talking about smaller type iPhone games in this article? Because it seems to me you are overlooking the entire hardcore gaming industry that’s innovating and improving on ideas at every turn.
    When you talk about Mario, sure, that’s usually a staple of quality. But Mario wouldn’t be nearly as appreciated today if Nintendo didn’t plaster his face on every other game coverm and basically extending his sidescrolling 2d platforming world into more or less all other genres.
    Just because the games of today aren’t being created with as marketing friendly icons doesn’t mean that they don’t innovate, and it doesn’t mean they won’t be remembered.

Leave a Reply