Why Is It So Hard to Make Good Video Games?

The title of this post obviously ignores the fact that I could say the same thing about any creative endeavor.  Yet something like a movie is fundamentally different than a game in this respect.  A game has game mechanics that are not copyrightable and which it is standard practice to reuse.  The latest Bioshock is not much different than Doom when it comes down to games about a man running down corridors shooting stuff.  In contrast, everything about a movie must be new and then you have to tell the story right.  Also I would say that movies lately heavily rely on formulas and seem to have a higher floor of craftsmanship than in previous decades.  There might be fewer classics (up for debate) but the average movie is more interesting, at least to me.

The question posed in the title then is why is it game developers can’t seem to make good  video games more often.  The thing is, everyone knows which games are legendary.  Read a handful of developer interviews and you will see them namedropping like crazy.  You will see them rattle off Thief 1/2, Deus Ex, Alpha Centauri, XCOM, Masters of Magic, Final Fantasy Tactics, Masters of Orion 2, Fallout 1/2 (not 3), Planescape Torment, Freespace 2 just to name a few.

It really makes one wonder.  Are these games, games usually critically well regarded (at least after the fact) and beloved by the internet just commercial failures that don’t appeal to he mainstream?  Or should I take it with a grain of salt when a game developer exalts some classic game and they secretly are just another Call of Duty Zombie?  It’s hard to tell because we certainly are not getting anything approaching these classics.  I just don’t understand how we have so many good examples and yet not only is the medium not pushing forward it often seems to be regressing.  It took a decade for someone to merely replicate Deus Ex with the third entry.  Dishonored was a pale imitation of Thief and the new Thief seems designed by people that don’t understand a thing about Thief despite supposed reverence for the franchise.  Everyone is still trying to recreate MoM and MoO2 decades later.  FFT is still the best game in the strategy JRPG genre after two lackluster sequels that had only a tenuous connection to the original.  Finally, space sims and CRPGs died and are only now being resurrected by crowdfunding (we shall see).

It just baffles me how Alpha Protocol (or even the latest Splinter Cells) messes up stealth when Splinter Cell is there to show the way.  Or how it is the latest Hitman messed up a perfectly good formula.  They aren’t progressing the genre but forgetting things that have already been learned by their predecessors.  Considering the money in video games, I should be playing an equivalent to Deus Ex every year.  How to do it is out there, but instead we get another bland manshoot or Blizzard messing up the crack that was the Diablo formula and people regale it as the best thing ever.

Then again, maybe I am just the gamer equivalent of a grumpy old man.  So I say, get of my lawn!

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