Overloaded on Overwatch – Is The Gaming Industry Making Hollywood Mistakes?

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Are you in the Overwatch beta? Have you played Battleborn? What about Paladins? Paragon? Lawbreakers? They’re all coming out really soon and will REVOLUTIONIZE the team based FPS genre, which was conveniently popularized in 1996. Your calendar isn’t wrong. The Team Fortress mod for Quake came out twenty years ago this year, and it’s taken mainstream game developers until now to realize that people like Team Fortress. Are these games bad? No! They’re great, but I struggle to give a crap about any of them partly because they’re all based on a game that I’ve already played for most of my life, and partly because they’re all coming out at the exact same time.

I get why developers would want to make games to appeal to a market that is becoming more accustomed to esports and team based competitive gaming. I get that gamers are excited for new games with new characters and mechanics that come in a comfortable shell of familiarity. What I don’t get is why any of these developers thought it was a bright idea to release within such close windows to one another. Did every gaming executive flock to the funeral of Blizzard’s Titan project just to turn right around again and rush back to their labs once they realized that Blizzard was going to come back from their loss even stronger?

Gaming is now one of if not the most lucrative entertainment mediums with some of the biggest budgets to boot. Like Hollywood, gaming studios need to be damn sure something is going to sell before investing the kind of money in development and advertising that it takes to compete with other triple-A developers. This unfortunately results in a system that works like a self-perpetuating gold rush, where one brave indie games show that an idea is popular, then every studio smells money in the water and pours funding into projects that look exactly like that with a twist. Does the twist matter? No, of course they don’t matter. Paladins has a playing card game aspect, and Overwatch has cosplay-able character designs, but at their core they play identically (I’ve played both before you ask). It doesn’t make them any better or any worse, but what kills me most is that I know Overwatch will win in the long run, because it has more funding and will be able to nudge Hi-Rez Studio’s entry out of the market with a stronger marketing campaign, more polished gameplay, or whatever magic fairy dust decides why people play games.

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We don’t live in a word where triple-A games investors let games scoot by on a dedicated audience anymore. You either make as much money as the 800 lb gorillas in the room or you get mercy killed out back like Ol’ Yeller. I look at this rush hour traffic twelve car pileup of a situation and cringe at how the developers and designers (besides Blizzard, of course…) feel knowing that their game might fail and be shut down prematurely before its time by the powers that be. This is exactly what happened between 2004 and 2012, when MMORPGs actually wanted to be World of Warcraft, and what happened when every FPS wanted to be Call of Duty.

You know what? Ignore gaming altogether. This is exactly what happened with the popularity of the first Iron Man movie in 2008. Comic book movies made a lot of money before that, sure, but now the extended universe phenomenon means that every dickhead with a camera is making a super hero flick and wants you to go see it in theaters. I didn’t go so Batman Vs Superman, and I don’t plan on seeing Captain America: Civil War, not because I don’t like these movies, but because I’m exhausted at seeing the same thing over and over again. Esports focused FPS/MOBAs are the Marvel extended universe of video games and they need to go away for a while before I can start caring about them again.

That’s not to say that nothing good will come of this. Of course there will be plenty of great games to play, and lots of new players to frag the shit out of, but I wonder how long the gaming industry can survive when it’s making the same exact mistakes as the film industry does on the daily. Is this is the curse of triple-A entertainment or are we just awful at deciding what we actually want out of our games and wait patiently for developers to all tell us at once instead.

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