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End of 2009: Three Chords and The Truth

by Stephen Chin on 12/30/09 01:42:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


What with this whole end of the year thing, I thought I'd join in the fun and do something like that. But, the Gamasutra crowd being as prolific as it is, pretty much all the fun topics have been covered. Like any forum, starting up redundant threads of discussion isn't really going to do much other than spread the chat around.

So I ended up procrastinating and surfing TV Tropes (NSFW - if only because you may end up doing a wiki walk and losing track of time), a sort of wiki for the creative and creative concepts, when I came across Three Chords and the Truth. TCATH is music that consists of, more or less, three chords of music and little else. As a trope, it more or less describes the cycle in pop music where " becomes too pretentious, or too slick to be taken seriously, or formulaic corporate bubblegum. In response, fans turn to Three Chords And The Truth to "get back to where we once belonged." But with time, the limits of the trope mean that everything begins to sound the same, and fans return to more elaborate songs."

It's a cyclic trope as the above quote describes. So why do I bring this up? I think, the general cycle, if not that of TCATH than a generic cycle, is applicable to the video game industry. Perhaps our young industry is more cyclic and less evolving than we think; the real evolution being technical and technological rather than any inherent aspect of immersion and what have you special aspect of video games. I think in part, due to the youth of the industry, alot of these cycles that may be more apparent in other mediums have yet to show up significantly or repeatedly. 

 And now I get to talk about all that stuff everyone else already has. We'll start with some obvious stuff and then go to, perhaps, less obvious stuff.

Death of the PC/Console: I've seen both and while both sides have valid points, I don't personally see any solid sign that either side is right. More over, these are points that have been raised many times over the years as one side or the other gains a temporary advantage. Then there's the group that considers a consolidation of PC/consoles into one unified entity. While having some valid points, I think that the industry is such that should PC or console 'die' or merge into one, it'd be a short death (though maybe longer than some would like) before a re-emergance.

Video Game Packaging/Fluff: Hey, remember back in the 80s and 90s when games had all sorts of cool packaging like funky looking containers, random bits of fluff like maps and replicas, and sometimes obtuse copy protection schemes. Of course, one of the reasons these things fell out of favor (remember that standardization of PC and console packaging movements) was lack of shelf space, cost, and what have you. While the cycle of this is perhaps debatable (with with things like digital distribution), the recent surge of late of things like fancy pre-order bonuses does remind me of this.

Death of the JRPG, Rise of Co-op: This has been a big one; at the very least, a dismal year for the genre, as it is said. Only a handful of releases this year and the next, generally from one or two stalwart mainstay companies while the rest of the industry focuses on something else (probably military-action FPS, sci-fi optional). If this sounds familiar, it probably should - it happened with the adventure game. And if games like Tales of Monkey Island, Sam and Max, and other smaller games are an indication, adventure games are making a comeback. One hopes then that more companies will take the plunge so that the 'fate' of the genre doesn't fall upon a single company. Likewise in it's turn, co-op has been the big thing - after seeming a long stretch of titles that focused on first single player experiences and then multiplayer experiences.

Focused Genres/Hybrid Games/Sandbox Games: A more subtle and long term cycle I think but of the biggest games of the year, most of them were very focused in what they did. Contrast years before when hybrid and sandbox games were bigger.  

Serious/Hardcore/Casual: Yes, I think even this is cyclic (well, maybe not but it's food for thought at any rate). Computer/video games as we know them, after all, started as a bunch of scientists using their supercomputer to goof off. From that serious basis, came hardcore gaming in the form of the arcade and early consoles. As the market expanded, so then came a flood of casual titles. Then the market crashed, games went hardcore again, and... well, here we are as the casual shifts back into focus.

The Rock Star Developer: Not the company but rather the idea of developers and publishers as rock stars, idols, and icons. This was pretty much the thing that happens back in the golden age of video games - EA (yes, that EA) went the risky route and actually credited individuals who contributed to their games (or labeling titles as X's Game). Such lead to the rise of various icons in the industry. But... then that rock star status go carried away, the tide turned back to more conservative only for it to start happening again.

Art/Indie/Corporate Games: Perhaps to a certain extent and perhaps mirroring a lot of what TCATH means. After the emergance of studios and bigger funding, this greater amount budget and what not was not considered a bad thing. And now here we are with huge budgets and people starting to shift back to 'simpler' things. Maybe in a few years, we'll start seeing blooming budgets again as we shift back again as indie developers become big. After all, the music industry has made money off the sale of anti-corporate and anti-establishment songs.

 - - -

General miscellanous stuff...

Three Chords and the Truth made me consider the whole games as movies thing. Maybe that comparison came back because of the similarities (multi-sensory, length of time, budget, etc) but maybe...  maybe that's wrong. Maybe it's not a matter of how much like movies we are and maybe that's an entirely different thing. Maybe the video game industry is more like the music industry, at least on an operational level. Both perhaps share a lot more in common than it would seem - not on the end product level but on the way we operate and sell outselves (not to mention the whole shared piracy thing). Much like the music industry, while we have an end product (games, music), we may not actually be selling a product at times, but an image, a celebrity. The music industry has artists (people that make music for the love of it) but they also have people that are stars (people that are selling a product/themselves/whatever). Perhaps this has parallels in the video game industry.

Also, check out some random tropes at TV tropes. Whether it's just fun humour like Shoulders of Doom to general concepts like the Action Girl and the Straight Gay, the website can be surprizingly insightful at times. Also, it's lacking in video game examples so... ;)

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