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blog.gkaindl.com » Games are not in Clover

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Games are not in Clover

It’s sad to read about the demise of a great game studio such as Clover (via Kotaku). While they have only produced 4 games for Capcom before being shut down in late 2006, all of them exhibit traits of brilliant innovation and are fun to play. Check out the iconically ironic Viewtiful Joe franchise (among the most action-packed games I’ve ever played), the beautifully captivating Okami and God Hand (which I admittedly have never played).

In case you are wondering how a studio with such a great, award-showered line-up can fail, the article’s headline gives the answer: Vision doesn’t sell copies. However, if not even the giant Capcom’s backing with all their marketing channels and a renowned publisher name can bring those fresh game ideas to a wider audience, the question arises wether innovation has a chance at all in the current state of the video game market.

Games have become a mass-market. As such, newly released computer games are bound to have some sort of mass-appeal in order to succeed commercially. To the dislike of many game enthusiasts or even intellectual gamers, computer games are no longer a niche product, they are aimed towards the taste of a wide, disperse audience, an audience that wants to be entertained rather than converse about the ingenuity behind a game principle.

A novel game idea leaves mixed feelings behind, much like a good movie: When the audience streams out of the movie theatre after an indie flick that breaks with the established paradigm of struggle resolved in a catharsis (a.k.a. a happy ending), many feel confusion or disappointment. If the movie challenges on an emotional or intellectual level, if the lines between art and entertainment are blurred, the reception requires some effort. This is opposed to the notion of “quick entertainment” that is commonly associated with the idea of mass appeal. If the player keeps longing to pull out a shotgun and go on a killing rampage, the best interactive drama game is bound to fail.

As such, the gaming community is like the avantgarde, open to new game principles and eager to be not only entertained, but challenged. However, the demographic of video gamers is still widely homogenous and self-referrential, something that Nintendo is trying to change with the introduction of the Wii and the DS, both systems that are aiming to bring a new audience to the games. But right now, there is just too little market diversity to give games that explicitly break with the established state an adequate chance. It’s much like playing jazz at a rock festival: There may be thousands of people, but the group is too homogenous to allow for an interested audience. After all, they are coming for rock music.

In the long run, video gaming will inevitably become much more ubiquitous among different demographics. The earliest group of gamers is now in their thirties, they are lawyers, teachers, firefighters and everything else but the “video gamer” clichée. They have children that are most likely engaged in video games, too. 50 years from now, about everybody alive will have been subjected to video games during their lifetime, thusly lowering the barrier to pick up a game again if it fits their taste at the current stage of life. Consequently, the interest in games will diversify. Video games will become deeply rooted in our life culture. Parents introducing their children to certain genres will no longer be an exception. To follow the comparison with music again, think about how much parents’ taste in music shapes their kids’ as well: Musical households have musical children, who listen to artistically more involved music. For video games, a similar effect will be seen.

Until then, innovation in games aimed at the mass-market and therefore being sustainable by amassing a viable revenue (besides covering the exploding production costs) can still happen at a micro-level: Rather than basing the whole game on a novel cocktail of ideas, it will largely stick with established concepts and focus on innovation of very specific game aspects insteads. Take a look at the first-person shooter Prey and how its unique design elements such as “Spirit Walk”, portals, abandoning the concept of letting the player die and the ability to mess with the gravitation have brought fresh aspects to the stalest of all genres, while still being a commercial success.

Fortunately, the ardent crowds aspiring to become game designers will still feel the itch to innovate, and once in a while, a novel idea will come along that will also prevail financially. From the perspective of the more demanding crowd of game aficionados, the question is what we would feel more comfortable with: Truly ingenious games at the risk of financial failure and the closing of the studio, or largely mass-appealing games with micro-innovation, at least ensuring that the studio will stay in business.

About

Hi, how are you? My name is Georg Kaindl, and I'm a twenty-something from Vienna, Austria. During the day, I'm a CS student at the Vienna University of Technology, but at night, I turn into an independent software developer for the Macintosh platform, social nerd, lazy entrepreneur and intuitive researcher.

I like to write about everything that matters to considerate technology enthusiasts, but humbly retain the right to go off-topic from time to time.

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