Rockstar games…an industry icon in games development. A group of studios that is known for breaking conventions and have all the creative freedom they want. And more importantly, the ones who are responsible for the highest money making single entertainment product on earth, GTA V. And I believe that therein lays the paradox of games development in 2018. To explore this further let’s take a closer look at a few things.
An industry Icon
Ever since being established under a different name a couple of decades ago, Rockstar has delivered some of the most engaging, addictive and best-written games. Their portfolio ranges from some of the most recognized games around the world like GTA San Andreas and more recently GTA V, to games that are targeted to a niche audience like Midnight Club and The Warriors. And the one thing in common in all of these games is the emphasis on fun and immersion. Their story-based games have some of the best writing and their racing games bought classic arcade race style to consoles and PCs. And these games are just a few from the immense library of titles which span across various genres. Variety has never been their problem.
But all that changed in 2013 with the release of GTA V.
A Frankenstein Monster
GTA V was an instant hit and was universally praised for its setting, writing and mission structures. It sold insanely well on the last generation of consoles before transitioning its way on to current gen hardware and PC. Five years later GTA V is still among the top-selling games. It was among the top 5 bestselling games in the U.S. in February 2018. No five-year-old game has ever done this before. Of course, most of this success is attributed to something that was not even part of the original release in 2013. GTA online. Promised to players prior to the release of the game, GTA Online was released as an update on PS3 and Xbox 360. With the transition to current gen and thanks to the performance it offers to gamers, and freedom it offers to developers, GTA online quickly became the money making a monster that probably even Rockstar did not expect. Incorporating a free update module Rockstar quickly realized the potential of the game they have built and expanded upon it feverishly. Updates and events have been prominent to the game with the last one coming out in April 2018.
The Death of Creativity
Of course, supporting a game with new content for 5 years will mean the use of resources. Despite being one of the bigger developers with a large resource pool, Rockstar had to use most of its resources in developing this content while the rest were working on their next juggernaut of a project that is Red Dead Redemption 2.
All of this has cost Rockstar perhaps their most treasured attribute, Creativity. Rockstar has not had a game released since 2013 despite having more resources and tools they had 10 years ago. And by the looks of things, this is the trend to be expected. RDR2 is also expected to have a similar online component and continuing support for it. And that begs the question – Should creativity take a step back when money is in the forefront?
Isn’t a company established to make money?
In the end, be it any form of creative content, whether its movies, books or games, it all boils down to money and the livelihood of the ones behind making these products. My experience as a game QA manager has taught me something. An investment is made expecting a return and that’s what any business would want. However what we are looking here is something completely different. Rockstar had flourished when they had multiple titles/franchises released. And that model can still be followed today given the draught in single player experiences these days. But why do that, when one game can make all the money that 20 games could make them in 10 years. That is the notion that is hurting Rockstar and the companies behind hugely successful games these days. To be fair we have to consider that these folks at Rockstar are extremely talented and creative. And creative minds always crave for something new. Perhaps it was not Rockstar’s call to not work on other titles, but their parent company TakeTwo’s decision. Maybe Rockstar does not have all the creative freedom after all. But that is a discussion for another day.
Rockstar is not Alone
Unfortunately, this trend is very visible across the industry. Take Valve for instance. The company that brought us DOTA, Counterstrike, Half-life and Portal to name a few have not made a game in a long time. They have shifted focus on their steam platform and have been too busy to make games. Also big companies like EA, Ubisoft and Activision are only focused on multiplayer games filled with microtransactions, looking to nickel and dime every gamer they can get their hands on. I cannot expect another Shank or Mark of the Ninja from EA this year. Because these have become things of the past now. Thanks to the boom in the Indie gaming scene these changes were not clearly visible as and when they happened. But they are now, as the lack of creativity from once prominent players in the industry is just too hard to ignore.
There is still Hope
But things can always change. And one can always hope. Valve has recently admitted that are lacking in game releases and that they will get back into making games. Sony is carrying the torch, rallying for single player games without micro transactions. Whether these are results of companies having an epiphany or the fact that these subjects are discussed more loudly than ever before, there is a change in the wind albeit very small. Only time will tell if good developers will get back to doing what they want creatively, or if the appeal of millions and billions will subdue the creative itch. One thing’s for certain though. I’d rather be stuck in the PS2 era for life and play all the genuinely fun games, than play one game for the whole year spending all my money on it. I am sure millions share my emotions. And I hope that the big game companies hear us.