Late last year I published a post about the volume of sequels, spin-offs and remakes released since 2008. After classifying over 1,500 titles and analysing the data, I discovered that over half (59) of 2018’s top-100 titles were remakes and a much smaller number (12) were new IPs. It seems as though the video game industry is stuck on repeat: publishers like the low-risk approach of something which isn’t entirely new, while gamers enjoy the nostalgia that comes from playing something which feels familiar.
This finding was echoed in an article I read the following day on TechSpot entitled Is the next AAA-games crash imminent?, which noted three factors that could mean we’re heading for disaster: creativity, stagnation and gamer backlog. Just a couple of weeks later however I came across a piece on IGN explaining Why 2018 was the best year for video games; followed by another on The Telegraph’s website called The 25 biggest and best upcoming games in 2019. With such a wide range of differing opinions, it’s difficult to tell what’s really going on with the industry.
Triple-A going down?
In the TechSpot article, author Cal Jeffrey discussed a video by TheQuartering in which he explained why he thinks the triple-A industry is on its way to a crash. Despite not completely agreeing with the YouTuber, Jeffrey wrote: “[Creativity as a selling point] is one that companies like EA, and even Bethesda with the garbage that is Fallout 76, seem to have forgotten. Big franchises have become cash cows that studios milk for every dime before coming out with a new iteration that is only incrementally different than the last.”
He points out that because of constant pressure from investors (almost all of whom ‘know next to nothing about video games’), developers are afraid to take risks. He said: “They are scared to put something new out there that has a chance to fail. They would sooner go with the winning brand, even though they don’t have anything new to put into it.” Jeffrey claims that this and other factors have lead to drastic dips in stock valuation for some of the biggest names, with both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts down around 45%.
There’s always a flood of articles about an industry crash at the start of any year and it seems as though the author’s negative impressions of Fallout 76 may have coloured his article somewhat. But I have to say he does have a point: my analysis showed that although the figure reduced slightly in 2018, almost 60% of the top-100 games last year were sequels and the overall trend is increasing. Only 16% of the 1,569 titles that made up my 11-year data set were new IPs. Is this an indicator of an impending disaster?
Triple-A going up?
On the flipside, Jared Petty from IGN thinks 2018 was the best year for video games yet. He wrote in his article: “It was a year of comebacks, re-imaginings, and some startling new ideas. Who knew a platformer about climbing a mountain could make us cry, or that we could have so much fun trampolining a VR robot or playing Tetris with goggles on? It didn’t seem to matter what platform we played… there were amazing things to behold just about everywhere, from Switch to PlayStation to PC.”
Despite the majority of titles mentioned throughout the piece being sequels, he claims the thing that made the year so great was how diverse its games were in terms of their creative focus and development scale. Petty went on to say: “After years of portended doom, console and handheld gaming were reborn in 2018 through an extraordinary fusion of AAA and small-studio projects of exceptional artistic vision and quality.” Independent creators have a task chance of making something just as good as the big names – if not better.
I get where he’s coming from with this opinion. When you consider previous titles such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice by Ninja Theory or The Witness by Thekla Inc, games celebrated for their quality in terms of both gameplay and design, it’s clear the line between indie and triple-A is becoming ever more blurred. But while things are looking rosy for the smaller creative teams out there, is the future just as bright for the larger companies?
What’s going to happen this year?
I find myself not agreeing with Petty because I don’t feel last year was one of gaming’s finest for me personally. I hardly played anything released in 2018; the majority of triple-A games didn’t appeal; and I found myself growing tired of the sheer volume of sequels, remakes and spin-offs continuously pushed out to market. There were definitely a few indie gems (The Red Strings Club, Unavowed and The Gardens Between were highlights) and yes, it does seem as though anything is now possible for small teams. But the big-budget stuff just didn’t quite hit the spot.
On the other hand I don’t entirely agree with Cal Jeffrey or TheQuartering either. As much as I’d prefer to see a higher quantity of new IPs in 2019, I understand that events such as Brexit are causing weary gamers and risk-adverse publishers alike to turn to the familiar. The global games audience estimated between 2.2 and 2.6 billion people and the software market expected to grow to an estimated $180.1 billion by the end of 2021, so it seems premature (and perhaps a little doing-it-for-the-views) to read articles about forthcoming crashes.
But with the current console generation now being five years old and world events giving everyone the heebie-jeebies, the industry seems in a state of flux. It feels as though we’re ready for something new. And if that means the triple-As taking a backseat while they take stock – therefore giving creative indies more space to shine – then I look forward to it.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.