Why Does Everyone Like A Game That’s Not For Everyone?

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Inevitably there was going to be a bit of push-back to what seems to be near universal critical acclaim of Bloodborne following up that of the Souls games. A Forbes article and a response article from USGamer frame up the issue neatly: these games are not for everyone, and that’s fine, but then why does such a plurality of game critics absolutely love it?

I think the reason is because in the retail space these days, there has been somewhat of a dearth of games that aren’t trying to be for everyone. It has kind of skewed reviews and how people look at reviews a little bit.

Whenever I get the chance to review a game I try to be fairly clear about what it’s appeal is and what kind of fan may or may not like the game. That message getting across however requires readers to actually read the words instead of the number at the top of the review. Part of what’s facilitated the latter behavior in my opinion is how similar so many of today’s AAA games are.

I can’t find it for the life of me, but late last year a YouTuber posted a video explaining why his interest in certain games was waning. In it he compared games like The Evil WithinAlien: Isolation, and Watch_Dogs, using footage to show how similar their HUDs, control interfaces, and gameplay loops were. A more recent and excellent example of this is a mockup image Cook, Sever, Delicious! creator David Galindo made of Bloodborne if it were like other modern retail games. He ads a mini map, lists objectives on the side of the screen, displays waypoints to all of them, and puts some tips in the corner. Basically, it looks like Assassin’s Creed.

I’m in the middle of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag right now and am agonizing over what some people call the “Ubisoft open-world formula” which I have to sift through to get to its more unique aspects. Ubisoft has grafted that same formula onto Watch_Dogs and Far Cry, one a first person shooter, the other a sandbox game about hacking. In all three you spend a lot of time doing a lot of the same tasks. This is true for many other recent games in supposedly different genres: shooters, RPGs, stealth games, horror games, and so-on, each type taking on aspects of the others.

I’m not down on these games and know why they’re like this: making games is expensive. They need to sell a ton of copies and thus need to appeal to as many people as possible. They’re trying to be all things to all people, and that has almost become the default AAA game at this point. I wonder if it’s reached a point where when people review these games, and others read those reviews, there’s an assumption it’s meant for some kind of “general gamer.” Has the trend become so pervasive that a non-indie game made for a specific audience is an aberration that throws the system out of whack? I’m starting to think so, and discussions over why games like Bloodborne or the Souls games are popular is evidence in my opinion.

Some like to pin relatively simple answers: it’s difficult. I go a little bit further and say it simply doesn’t hold your hand as much as many games do today. But really, the simple answer is: it’s different.

From Software has a following right now because it’s something kind of rare — a developer big enough to make big boxed retail games that chooses not to follow the general action game formula that’s formed in the pursuit of appealing to everyone. Bloodborne is a game not limited by indie graphics and production values that doesn’t want the Call of Duty audience. As usual, Idle Thumbs is on top of this with last week’s episode which points out that the game caters specifically to an audience that used to be catered to far more than it is today.

It’s the same reason some people like CDProjekt so much. It’s a developer big enough to produce a visually impressive open-world RPG that also isn’t tripping over attempts to check the usual boxes AAA games have to check. The Witcher and The Witcher 2 are nowhere near perfect games, but a lot of people laud CDPR regardless because it’s a somewhat big company making the games it wants to make and isn’t compromising as much in the pursuit of selling copies.

Games like these probably feel like a breath of fresh air to a lot of critics who might be a bit more willing to overlook flaws or aspects that will repel a lot of people. The USGamer story pointed out another franchise that perhaps get’s more appropriate critical treatment — Monster Hunter. Most people look at Monster Hunter knowing it has its community and that it isn’t for everyone, and everyone’s fine with that. Reviews might note what it has in store for Monster Hunter fans, and some might say the latest one is the most accessible to new players yet, trying to be supportive of people curious about the franchise.

So… yeah. Many games aren’t for everyone, but some might be starting to forget that because a lot of games lately are trying to be for everyone.

BULLETS:

  • Idle Thumbs also gave an interesting hypothesis for why From Software can do what it does — the company that owns it and funds its games isn’t an EA or Ubisoft that’s interested in selling a ton of video games, but just a general Japanese company with its hands in a lot of pies.
  • Some news about BitSummit. http://t.co/pdLA1yrGkj
  • A blog post with some good writing tips. http://t.co/X5rMX7ByvZ
  • Stuff like this is what annoys people about Origin. http://t.co/bgTcmfUIPN
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