Fear Of Mediocre Games

Recently two articles on Kotaku came together in my head.  It may surprise you to learn this involved neither hit-gathering controversy, industry in-depthness, weird digressions or any of the other things it’s known for.  It involved two odd games.

The first was an MMO based on Painted Skin 2 (), called Painted Skin2: The Resurrection.  Pretty much it seems someone chunked out a fast-developed standard MMO.

Then I heard with a mixture of admiration and horror about a kind of Borderlands ripoff on the iPad, the amazingly generically named Star Warfare: Black Dawn.  It’s a Borderlands for iPad with an all female cast.  Frankly it sounds . . . half decent.

This got me thinking about other times I’ve talked to people in the industry.  The easy to adapt game engines you can license.  The way to reuse resources.  The fact that code reuse becomes easier and easier with tools, with retained technology, with easier sharing.

It’s pretty easy to make a game.

It’s pretty easy to recycle game elements.

It’s pretty easy to take pre-existing stuff and rush out a knockoff or adaption.

This, one may think, means more bad games.  I’m certain it does.  But here’s the thing I wonder about – if we should be concerned not about bad games, but about mediocre ones.

With good technology and engines, you can pretty much make a game with expected mechanics, decent physics, and acceptable graphics.  The artists and writing may be a bit of a push, but I’m sure anyone can find decent talent and modeling tools speed up the process admirably.  Some decent spit and polish and you have a playable, even enjoyable, but unremarkable game.

(OK, or ripoff).

You know the kind of game.  The kind you may play awhile, even do a few micro transactions for.  The kind that a reasonable price may seem a bargain – or you don’t care when you get bored with it.  The kind that is “good enough.”

I can conceive of a time where the game market’s problem is not endless bad games (I think in fact we’re getting out of a phase of lousy-mobile-game crazy).  The problem would be that we get a lot of mediocrity and ripoffs that are good enough to be distractions – and may even have some virtues despite their flaws.

That has my concerned.  I see this as a distinct possibility, and this would mean:

  • More confusing dilution of the market.
  • A “mediocrity effect” where it becomes hard to differentiate games and their virtues.
  • Reduction of effort by some developers.
  • High-speed “bandwagoning” that can in fact be technocratically managed to get things to market fast.
  • Certain companies adopting mediocrity as a strategy.

I’d rather not see mediocrity come to dominate/flood the game market, but I am concerned about it.  It’s not that I expect games to be “bad-mediocre”, or that I don’t fully accept starting from mediocre is good if companies keep evolving.  It’s more I can see achieving a kind of odd good-enoughness in gaming like that which has plagued other media, like . . . well at one time or another, everything.

Oddly, that concerns me more than a load of bad games.

Innovation Is What You Don’t Do

Let's face it, my professional geeks, we love it. We also need it  – hey, how many of us work to push the envelope or even get beyond envelopes entirely (we must not bow to the envelopes).  For that matter, these days, innovation is needed both in a changing world and to deal with old ways of thinking and producing.

We are all about innovation.

The problem is innovation is often about leaving things behind.

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