Game design used to be the dream job of every nerdy teenager out their. It used to be why every other person got into the games industry to begin with. "I'm going to make video games!" was the happilly elated vision so many had.
Now many people just join the industry for a job, with no starry eyed fantasies in their heads. Those who had them risk their very livelihoods to quit steady jobs and start their own indy game companies, if they don't quit the industry entirely.
So what's happened? It used to be that every game had the grandest of ambitions. Every game made was going to be the greatest game ever, it was going to a driving combat rpg exploration game in space with an advanced economic simulation and a great plot. Today people question the very validity of boxed triple A games, and I'm fairly certain that last part is IN part directly because of the decline of game designers dreams.
So let's examine this. By was of a case study we'll use the successive fall of popular series Mass Effect in terms of game design.
Mass Effect 1 started at the beginning of this console generation. It was an odd and unique hybrid of cover based shooting and RPG mechanics with dreams of space exploration thrown in as well. The game had a complex RPG stat system, an ambitious series of Star Trek-ish space exploration like sidequests, relatively solid if somewhat unspectacular shooting mechanics, and level design that felt like it wanted to be more open ended than it was.
People complained. The shooting wasn't as slick as it could be. Some of the rpg mechanics were ill explained and cumbersome (There wasn't even a tutorial!), the level design was a little difficult to navigate, the driving mechanics for the space exploration/vehicle stuff weren't very satisfactory and the exploration side missions weren't terribly fun.Â
So when Mass Effect 2 rolled around these complaints were taken into account. Specifically all problem areas were simply eliminated altogether. The space exploration was reduced to a mini game. The driving was gone. The level design was reduced to linear corridors with glaring arrows pointing in the right direction in case you still got lost. The RPG stat mechanics were almost entirely eliminated.
People weren't confused, and so praised the mechanics. Others that took the time to actually figure out the previous game's mechanics were disappointed. A few complained, but most simply shrugged. Life is full of entertainment possibilities, they could spend their money elsewhere. ME2 saw better sales thanks to word of mouth from the former crowd and praise of the first game.
But still, there were complaints. The space exploration mini-game was boring. So Bioware did was was successful before, and just tossed it along with other things. Mass Effect 3 was nothing more than a slightly nonlinear cover based shooter with a few RPG like mechanics tossed in on occassion. Fans were less than happy this time, though for different reason.
But as an industry that was supposed to be creative, and still has the potential to be so in so many ways we should be ashamed. We should be ashamed that our big budget games have been swallowed by dull, generic titles that all play the same. Even Hollywood manages to take more risks than Mass Effect and its ilk managed to pull by the end of this generation.
Hollywood managed to sign over 275 million dollars for three large fantasy projects with The Lord of the Rings, at a time when no serious fantasy project had ever been that successful before. They've recently managed to greenlight an adaptation of Snowcrash, an utterly bizarre cyberpunk novel featuring giant penis virtual avatars, fantastically bizarre characters, and a hardcore sex scene with a 14 year old girl enjoying, well I've said enough. Regardless, Hollywood even gave a solid budget to The Hunger Games. Admittedly a bestselling series, but still a movie meant for mass appeal that features children and teengagers murdering each other for cheering crowds, meanwhile the creators of the new Lara Croft, a carbon copy of Uncharted throgh and through, grovels repeatedly at mere possibility of sexual assult being a them in even a single part of the game.
If such a mature industry can give so much money to such potentially risky projects, then the state of the current big budget games industry for many developers can only be seen as purely unworthy and an embarrasment.