Do FPS Games Really Need to Innovate?

Do FPS Games Really Need to Innovate?

Creativity is always at odds with the bottom line, and nowhere is the struggle between expression and profit more fierce than within the games industry. For instance, the first-person shooter genre comes under a lot of fire from the gaming community for its seeming lack of creativity, but said games sell well, are popular, and often rate positively with critics upon release. Studios need money to operate, but is the trade-off of stagnation worth it?

John Carmack, the gentleman behind the classic shooter Doom, told IndustryGamers that the familiarity accompanying modern shooter games shouldn’t be criticized so readily if said shooters are bringing in money and making people happy.

“I’m actually happy Rage is a little bit different in terms of feeling and tone,” Carmack said in reference to his own upcoming shooter for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s your squad mates.’ But that’s still a proven formula that people like, and it’s a mistake to [discount that]. As long as people are buying it, it means they’re enjoying it.

“If they buy the next Call of Duty, it’s because they loved the last one and they want more of it. So I am pretty down on people who take the sort of creative auteurs’ perspective.”

Carmack’s point definitely has merit, and it carries extra weight considering it’s from the mouth of one of the genre’s pioneer designers. Military-based shooters are huge sellers: If people enjoy what they’re playing, and if studios are thriving on the profits, doesn’t that mean everything is hunky-dory?

Alas, not in the long term. The games industry has reached mind-boggling heights in a mere few decades, and that’s all owed to experimentation and invention. What if Nintendo had been content with leaving Mario on a two-dimensional plane and only improved the graphic quality of his adventures from platform to platform? What if Hideo Kojima had decided that Metal Gear games should remain top-down, sprite-based adventures? Chances are the subsequent games would still be fun to play, but the growth and evolution of the industry is owed to taking chances with well-trodden territory.

Carmack is right: The next Call of Duty is an almost-guaranteed bestseller. But what happens beyond that? And beyond that? If a studio tries a new idea with a shooter, that single idea might fail–a very frightening prospect for a studio of any size. But if publishers and developers warm over the same military shooter too many times, there’s a very real chance that the genre might wholly collapse, not unlike Guitar Hero. When a genre becomes over-saturated, enthusiasm dampens and studios that are eager to try out new ideas have that much more difficulty peddling them to their audience.

No one can blame a game studio for wanting to develop a sure thing instead of taking a big risk on a new idea, but neither should complacency be celebrated. Shooters are in dire need of new ideas and fresh directions, and who knows? Despite his point of view, Carmack might be the one to deliver those new ideas to us, as he’s done in the past.

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.

1 Comments

  1. Minority opinions here, perhaps, but…

    Mario should never have left 2D behind for 18 years… I’m not saying he shouldn’t have gone to 3D, but wholesale abandonment was a bad idea.

    As for Metal Gear… I kind of prefer the top-down games. The 3D ones are neat, but I can’t seem to play them nearly as well.

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