A "Crisis of Creativity" in Videogames? 

A "Crisis of Creativity" in Videogames?

Today I came across this interesting article on Forbes.com's site about the videogame industry.


By Reed Stevenson and Ben Berkowitz

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) - The videogame industry is facing a hardening of the creative arteries as aging gamers' tastes increasingly shift toward sequels and games based on movies, industry participants said this week.

With more and more titles chasing the success of their predecessors and content owners digging deep into their libraries to tap older material for quick fail-proof conversion into games, the industry is faced with a question more serious than rhetorical: What's new?

"The gaming industry will shrink unless we start to see new games," said Toru Iwatani, who created Pac-Man, one of the first videogames to become a worldwide hit.

One of the industry's first huge hits, published by Namco Ltd. in 1980, Pac-Man crossed gender lines and became a huge hit with women.

At the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California, a gathering of industry insiders where the talk is more about how games are made than how they are sold, the dearth of new titles and the increasing cost of developing games was a common theme at keynotes and panel discussions.

The high up-front costs of developing games is also pressuring developers to rely more on sure-fire hits and take less risks on new, innovative titles.

Electronic Arts Inc., the gaming industry's largest publisher, has perfected the art of getting gamers hooked on yearly releases of sports games and turning out versions of movie hits such as "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup."

EA's U.S. market share in 2004 is more than twice that of its closest competitor, and the company generates more revenue in the December quarter than its closest competitor does in an entire fiscal year, driven in large part by those repeat sports and film titles.


Out of the top 100 games sold in Japan during 2001, 10 were original titles, but that number was halved in 2002 and fell to merely two in 2003.

"The ratio of original titles to sequels is dropping dramatically," said Ryoichi Hasegawa, an industry veteran who was at Sega Corp. before joining Sony Corp.'s gaming business.

Things are little better in the United States, where last December, according to the NPD Group, more than half of the 20 best-selling games on all platforms were sequels or derivatives of existing properties.

Part of the problem is the advancing average age of gamers, which is rising as the industry matures.

Last summer, the Entertainment Software Association, an industry trade group, found that the average age of gamers had risen to 29 years old, dispelling the view that gamers consist mainly of teenagers.

"Core gamers are advancing in age and they are becoming more conservative," Hasegawa told a panel.

Sony , which dominates the global console market, is planning for its PlayStation 2 console to have a lifespan of at least a decade, and its executives acknowledge that with such a long cycle, its user base will naturally age and have different tastes.

"We have to think very carefully about the type of audience we're reaching with our games," Andrew House, an executive vice president with Sony Computer Entertainment of America, said in a keynote address at the conference.

But it is not just EA chasing after proven material. Upcoming titles such as "Halo 2," "Half-Life 2," "Doom III" and "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" are all expected to top sales charts this year, in large part because the games that preceded them were so successful.

And licenses for films and TV shows are being snapped up left and right by publishers counting on consumers to opt for something familiar when trying to decide how to spend their $30 to $50 per game in discretionary income.

Just this year, EA has licensed "The Godfather" and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. has set up an ongoing licensing deal with the Cartoon Network.

Ubi Soft announced Thursday that it had licensed the early 1980s TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard."

Despite the proliferation of sequels and licensed games, Pac-man creator Iwatani said that he had seen this happen before during his 20 year-career, and that new and revolutionary new games appear in a two- to three-year cycle.

"It's difficult right now but I expect to see a recovery in a couple years," Iwatani said.

Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service

Here's my personal take on this: With most new home videogame titles currently on the market are either a) based on movies and television shows, b) sequels to previous hit games or c) yearly releases of sports games, it's no wonder there's a "crisis of creativity" in the videogame market.

Back in the 1970's and 1980's there was a greater emphasis on experimentation in videogames. Granted not all of the experiments worked (I still have memories of trying out plenty of mediocre games in the arcades only to quickly revert back to Pac-Man or Donkey Kong) but at least videogame companies were willing to try something new.

Unfortunately there are now too many companies who are literally afraid of trying something daring and experimental out of a fear of losing lots of money if the game failed. Part of the reason is that there are so many companies who are now owned by giant comgomerates who are focused on the quarterly profit margins so they can pacify their shareholders on Wall Street. This narrow emphasis of making a profit each quarter instead of focusing on profits in the long-run tends to stifle creativity.

Putting the blame on videogame players getting older is a cop-out and based on the old stereotype of older people being more set in their ways and unwilling to try something new. (By the way, this is the first time I've heard of 29-year-olds being described as "advancing in age" and "more conservative" in their gaming habits.) I've met plenty of older people in my lifetime and I've seen people in their sixties and seventies try new things like learning how to surf the Internet.

I can remember seeing people in their twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifites playing Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man during the games' heyday in the arcades.

I believe that if there is an exciting and original videogame that is excellent, plenty of older gamers would check it out.

I'd love to go back to the days when there were new and innovative games that were churned out on a regular basis. I would even buy those games for my Game Boy Advance and Playstation 2 in an effort to support innovation if I had the chance to do so. But I'm not going to hold my breath on this one..

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Thu Jul 22, 2004 4:44 am MST by カジノ

Comment This is an interesting article and commentary but to me the original article seems to rely on a premise that is, I feel, to a degree, inaccurate - and that is that if a game is a movie tie-in or a sequel, then by definition it cannot include creativity or innovation. I'd take issue to this. For example, I'm currently playing Ion Storm's "Thief: Deadly Shadows" - which is the third in the "Thief" series. It's a stealth game whereby you evade capture by sneaking around environments in beautifully rendered realtime shadows. Similar things have been done before in games but not to this level of depth and it is making the entire game a unique and novel experience for me - and I'd argue that even though it's a sequel, it is highly innovative and exhibits a great deal of original ideas and creativity. Ironically, another of Ion Storm's recent titles, "Deus Ex: Invisible War" is a prime example of something I do think is having a seriously negative affect on creativity and innovation in games - and that is, in a word, "X-Box". The original "Deus Ex" was one of the most original, elaborate and astounding PC Games ever to hit the shelves. But its sequel was obviously dumbed down with a much simpler and less useful interface, much smaller levels and puzzles, and overall given a much more "console" feel, so that it could easily be released on PC and X-Box platform. As a result what should have been the sequel to one of the greatest games of all time became a bitterly disappointing re-hash of over-rated games such as "Halo" - which isn't bad for a console game but desperately pales by comparisons to much more elaborate PC titles such as "Deus Ex" and "Half Life". OK, so "Thief: Deadly Shadows" is also a multiple platform PC/console release - but its features strike me as original and provide a new experience to PC Gamers. But I think it's an exception to the rule and the more we see games released simultaneously for PC/X-Box/PS2 etc. I fear the more those games will be dumbed down for easily porting between platforms. Personally I play games on PC because they have a history of being far more elaborate than your average console release - so this is a trend I feel will damage the gaming industry severely as a whole. I would sooner see games designed and written for the PC platform using a non-console ethos and then have those games released in console playable form - as unadulterated as possible - in the hope that console based players might have their tastes refined. But currently the industry seems to be pushing in the opposite direction - dumbing down PC releases and creating them in "console style" - which to my mind can only be a bad thing. So coming back to the original article, I don't think sequels are ruining or causing a crisis in creativity. I think consoles are. Just my thoughts!

Sun Jul 11, 2004 11:27 pm MST by Phil T.

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