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What Do Gamers Want?


After a long absence…Voltech returns! (Wait, did anyone notice I was gone…?)

There was a post about The Last Story over on Siliconera -- one that included the thoughts of one of its lead developers. The gist of his argument was that JRPGs have grown too reliant on cutscenes to convey information and emotion; they’re less like playing a game and more like watching a movie, a complaint I’m sure we’ve all heard for games across the board. Whether you agree or not, the post opens up for discussion in the comments on the subject of JRPGs; the primary focus is on what they can do to regain the glory they once had.

A lot of comments have come in (I even made one), so I’ll let you have a look at the post and see if what’s been said lines up with your beliefs. Even so, I don’t want to focus solely on JRPGs right now; just as that post did, I want to create an open forum to ask you all a question:

What do gamers want?

The impetus for this goes beyond that Siliconera post. A recent Zero Punctuation video (and to some extent several before it, and to some extent articles here on Destructoid) suggested that too many games this generation -- the big ones, especially -- are less about creativity and more about ticking off boxes on a checklist. Guns, zombies, grit, modern warfare, QTEs, well-choreographed executions…there are certain “commonalities” between games that can inspire a bit of cynicism. That’s not to say that shooters and AAA releases are the only ones at fault; JRPGs have their share of checklist items as well. (Magnacarta 2 is a good example; its only original idea was to make one party member an improbably buxom elf that, thanks to a quirk of her species, can look like a full-grown twentysomething but have the mind -- and actual age -- of a ten-year-old. Riveting.)

On the one hand, I have to wonder why developers stick to stock ideas and clichés to pass off their games as something more valuable than one’s daily bread. On the other hand, I can kind of see the mentality: “These games with these elements have sold well, so if we include those elements in our game, we’ll have better sales.” Or alternatively, “That game over there may be good, but it’s too odd and its ideas are un-established -- and its sales have suffered. Gamers need something familiar to latch onto, so we’ll throw some zombies into our dating sim.” It’s a dangerous mentality, but an understandable one…buuuuuuuuuuut it warps right back to me being confused when given a second thought. Why do games have to resort to old tropes? Why do games have to do what everyone else is doing? Why do games have to double- and triple-check every item on a list?

The obvious answer is likely “Because that’s what sells” or more appropriately, “Because that’s what gamers want.” But is it really? Did we as a community ask for more guns, grit, and violence? Did we get on our knees and beg for more space marines? Did we send letters to Japan asking for more angst, clichés, and material with a single-minded resolve to tighten trousers?

I feel as if there’s a big disconnect here. As important as gamers are to the industry, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a serious sense of powerlessness. Sure, we may speak with our wallets, but to what end? How are we supposed to say “Hey guys, do what Persona 4 did” when there are twenty times more who say “Yeah, I bought Final Fantasy 13 -- you guys use that money however you want”? How do we suggest that we want something besides the AAA menagerie when they garner record-breaking sales with each new installment?

I will readily admit that there are lots of titles out there -- and plenty coming, I’d wager -- that defy perceptions and expectations, even in this easy-to-hate climate of ours. Likewise, I will gladly say that even though this generation has its issues (chief among them the crippling costs of development and subsequent graphics pissing contests), more powerful consoles mean there’s potential for better games than we’ve ever had before. But whether that potential can be/is used -- or abused -- and whether we’ll see something that goes beyond our zeitgeist remains to be seen…mostly because it feels like such a crapshoot.

But enough of my ranting. Let’s play a game.

Here’s the scenario. You’re sitting at home, about to play your favorite game one cloudy afternoon. As you plop down in front of your TV, a horde of black-suited thugs busts your door down and throws you into a burlap sack. When you can finally see and breathe again, you realize you’ve been flung into an interrogation room. Suddenly, a voice hails you from the speaker above.

“All right, gamer,” the voice calls out. “We’re going to use data collected from you to create the next big game. Don’t worry about the budget; money’s no object. You’re free to dream up whatever you feel like, and we’ll make it a reality. What we need from you is the answer to a simple question: what do you want out of a main character in a video game?” You scratch your head, fold your arms, and tilt your head as you contemplate, thinking up your answer to the question (and wondering if those goons left your door wide open). After about five minutes of deliberation, you come to a realization. And then, you answer with…

That’s the game in a nutshell.

In the interest of not turning every comment into an essay, let’s focus on main characters -- because frankly, they’re as important to a game as its graphics engine. Regardless of genre, it’s all too easy to fall into the trappings of certain creative crutches. That said, those crutches don’t necessarily have to be bad; in the same sense that a pretty boy swordsman isn’t automatically awful, neither is a grizzled, beefy space marine. Even if certain aspects of a character aren’t original, there can still be plenty of others that are. What’s important in making an entertaining character, one that gamers -- you, or others -- might want is to keep them from having problematic characteristics. Check off too many items on a “space marine" list, for example, and your character’s impact is reduced. At least, one would think.

I recognize there’s a certain level of futility to this little game. What works for me isn’t going to work for someone else. What bothers Gamer Alpha may not affect Gamer Beta -- and Gamer Gamma might even appreciate certain traits. That’s fine. I accept that. But I want to use this post (or rather its comments section) to give anyone who wants to sound off a chance to do so. Say whatever you feel like saying. What do you want in a main character? What do want in a game, period? What trappings of your favorite genre do you love/hate? What can you do as a gamer? Are your needs being met, or are you just being forced to accept what’s given to you, and have your tastes forcefully changed?

Let me hear it. Because if anyone’s willing to listen, it’s me -- your friendly neighborhood afro-haired digital entity who’s long since discarded his physical form to wander the internet. How? Easy: sauerkraut. The answer is always sauerkraut.

- Thanks for reading! And remember -- if you want to see more content from me, anytime, anywhere, be sure to check out my blog. Give it a read, so we can all become heroes! http://cross-up.blogspot.com/

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About Voltechone of us since 10:40 PM on 02.06.2012

Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.

I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.

You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and a web serial novel, too. Maybe my stuff here and there will be the start of things to come. Hopefully good things, but things all the same.

Be a hero. Check 'em out.

Cross-Up -- head here for posts on games, movies, and more
My Troper profile
My Facebook page
My Twitter thingamajig

I Hraet You -- the over-the-top web serial novel...of love, maybe