A year ago, everyone knew what the best-selling game of 2012 would be. Every Call of Duty game receives more pre-orders than the previous, each one breaks new records, and each one is forgotten in a few months when advertisements for the next one start showing up. It’s a cycle of consumerism and appeasement that will continue until the series is no longer profitable. But for some reason we’re supposed to be surprised every year when records break again and the previous Call of Duty ends up in the bargain bin.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t dislike the Call of Duty series merely because it’s popular. That would be petty and hipsterish of me, and if you ever catch me doing it I want you to insult me in the comments of one of my articles until I get better. Most of my favorite games are highly regarded by the mainstream. I wrote an article earlier this year about how great a game Half-Life is, and that game received near-universal praise. There are plenty of good games and some of them are even made by giant corporations. It’s not wrong to like things that are popular as long as they are good popular things. Popularity shouldn’t even be relevant, though my pretensions towards iconoclasm sometimes get the better of me.
First-person shooters have generally decreased in creativity and complexity since Doom in 1993. Even Halo, for all of its faults, was a more fulfilling game than any Call of Duty. At least they would change things up slightly between iterations of that series; every Call of Duty title can be counted on to be functionally identical to the previous entry. Much like with the film industry, the gaming industry is highly risk-averse. Trying something untested, something innovative, is strongly discouraged. The banality and the huge financial success of Black Ops 2 is just a symptom of this myopic attitude. Black Ops 2 may be stupid, but it’s not the source of the blandness of major video game titles, it’s the result of it.
I’ve heard it suggested that we’re headed for another video game industry crash, much like the one of 1983. However, even if that were to occur, even if billionaire corporations stopped making games entirely, there would still be internet nerds to pick up the slack. Yes, the indie game makers that I waste so much time griping about would be there to keep creating games, many of them for free. They would probably only be marginally more creative than what they were replacing, but there is no danger of the medium suddenly disappearing like there appeared to be when Atari went bust. There are too many gamers now, even if most of the world’s gamers are 50-year-old soccer moms playing Angry Birds.
Interestingly, it was not merely a glut of bad games that caused the aforementioned gaming industry crash, but a huge disparity between the quality of big-name games and the expectations for them. They put up with terrible games based on Quaker Oats and General Custer’s fictional raping sprees but it took pissing all over their beloved mawkish Steven Spielberg movie before they started complaining. It turns out that even the masses can only withstand so many terrible ports based on hugely successful franchises before they stop buying that trash. I might be totally wrong on this and it was some other factor to blame for the 1983 crash, but this is how I interpret these past events.
But regardless, video gaming will not die. There will always be clueless parents and grandparents buying SpongeBob games for their children and their grandchildren, but that’s not going to kill the industry. Some of the big-name sequels will be good and some of the indie games will be good. And I’m really looking forward to the Steam console and the Ouya.