When I first started gaming it was in the heady days of the Commodore 64 and the Amiga 500. These were the days of the bedroom coders and small independent companies making the games they wanted games that were crazy and without constraints of what a game should look like. I remember games such as Cannon Fodder, Alien Breed and Chuckie Egg made by small companies like Team 17, Psygnosis and Microprose. It was a time of revolutionary coders Like David Barben (Elite) and Nolan Bushell (Tempest) who later went on to form Atari. It was also the time when some of today’s stars began their careers; Peter Molyneux started his days making games like Populus, going on to form Bullfrog and turning out games such as Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate and Theme Park.
This was a time when games were released almost weekly and even given away on the front of magazines. This was a time before the big companies, when there was no limit to the crazy ideas of the creator. However, times have changed, with videogames now the highest grossing media industry in the world companies have realise just how much profit can be made from a successful franchise.
This led to the smaller companies being bought up and absorbed by the larger companies in their drive to obtain the most talented teams and individuals. More worryingly it has led companies to constantly staying safe and “farming” existing franchises to gain the most profit. A quick glance at the big games across all platforms tells the story. The biggest sellers on XBOX and Playstation 3 – COD: Black Ops, Fifa 11, GTA 4, Need for Speed, Final Fantasy 13, the list goes on. None of these games are stand alone titles.
The Call of Duty franchise has, to date, made Activision 10billion dollars in profit in the last 10 years.
Now I am not saying that if you have a great game or story this shouldn’t be pursued as a franchise but it would seem that there is now a distinct lack of originality in games because of this. Companies no longer wish to take a risk on an unknown title or concept and those small companies that are out there don’t have the media clout to promote those titles and they sink without a trace (Beyond Good and Evil) further enforcing larger companies’ strategy of “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it”.
That’s not to say that every now and again great original titles don’t arrive to mix things up, just recently Borderlands with its mix of FPS and RPG was a massive success with both critical and public acclaim. However sure enough it has now been announced that it will receive a sequel much like previous titles such as Dead Space and Bioshock.
So what of the bedroom coders, the Cowboys who started it all – is there a chance with the modding community and XNA (Indie games on xbox live) that they can create games now that will rival the big companies? My honest opinion is no. Any coders who show talent and who produce titles that are well received are again snapped up by the same big companies EA’s acquisition of Pop Cap Games shows this. We can only hope all of their originality is not diluted and they continue to make the amazing addictive titles they have in the past…
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