[ Blog ] The Scale of Convention

I’ve played a great deal of video games over the twenty-five or so years since I’ve first picked up a controller and there’s a few general things I’ve noticed when it comes to people making games, generally: that there’s five types of games and they all range on the scale of convention. I’d seen someone posting on Facebook regarding their judgment of a game based on its lack of conventional approach and it got the old gears turning in regards to what I thought about the “Scale of Video Game Conventions:”

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Incredibly Conventional Shovelware

These are the cash-ins, the licensed property games, the games that know their audiences and do very little to challenge the status quo. The 8-bit era of gaming was actually particularly notorious for this as companies were just getting used to the idea of gaming being a pop culture staple and tried to do what they did that almost killed gaming as a whole: just pushing out onto shelves what they felt would make them the most money for the least amount of effort and expenditure. While the frequency of shovelware has decreased, I feel that this is only because game developers have become much more efficient at it, over the years. Gone are the days of releasing twenty different trash games that cash in on popular movies, TV shows, characters, and other various creative properties: nowadays we have companies that try to find a concept that works and then, literally, beat us to the ground with games that are like it or that are almost exact copies for it until we’re sick of them and then they move on to a new concept or trend to latch onto.

Since games have become their own mainstream medium, there’s less reliance on other mediums to provide the platform for an easy cash in. There was a lull where people were catching on to what was happening and companies like EA had to scramble for things to rake in easy money and that’s right about the time large companies just started buying up developers and properties that saw some mediocre level of success and then just saturate the market with it. Mobile gaming has also been extremely rife with these kinds of games and now the big players are getting involved and it’s hard to say whether it’s just sad or not.

Another way this is happening, especially these days, is with porting: ports are a cheap way to cash in on audiences that don’t have multiple consoles and a lot of times companies would rather churn out something with a little resemblance of the original product as opposed to what was advertised.

This is the most reviled area of gaming and, yet, where it seems the most money is spent. It isn’t gaming where this happens but it just proves that some people are easily manipulated, easily gauged, or are just simple people.  When you introduce a medium ton extremely large group of people, this kind of thing happens. Books, movies, television, theater, music – none of them are immune to this problem. So long as there’s people who will buy into it, this end of the spectrum of convention will exist.

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Somewhat Conventional

There’s games that will follow conventions or typical formulas but not in typical ways: you will see a game that will be shrouded in development mystery, misleading “leaks”, a viral campaign, or try to engage people on social media. They will insist that they’re fresh and new by appealing to a consumer’s sense of mystery and wonderment but when the game is released, you’ll notice that, whether or not the game’s actually any good, the game wasn’t exactly as fresh and new as it was made out to be. Games like this are hyped all the time and this probably makes up a lot of the games that get critical acclaim, these days: the games that appear like they’re fresh and amazing but they’re familiar enough to not challenge the potential customer.

These are the games that are also considered “cult classics” and “under the radar” – it’s a dangerous place to put your product in the media spotlight but that’s usually the job of the marketing department and your social media consultants to take care of. These games get a lot more respect than those that blatantly follow gaming conventions but they’re really not that different.

Games that usually fall under this category are stuff like remasters, remakes, franchise expansions, entries, most downloadable content, a lot of pseudo-indie titles, and generally anything that parades itself as new and improved. I’m always of the mind that if you have to say something so loud to your customers about something to convince them of something there’s a good chance it’s not true.

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Uninterested in Conventions

Like the game pictured above, Rocket League, there are games that sit perfectly in the middle when it comes to conventions: these are the kind of games I end up liking most, it would seem. There’s companies, out there, who are just not concerned with whether or not their game seems conventional and when this happens, usually there’s such a good and fair mix of what’s new and what’s familiar. They aren’t marketed as the next big thing, they aren’t marketed to a particular audience: these games usually become popular and marketed on word of mouth, primarily, and the big reason for this is that they are fun and they just work.

There’s not a lot of games like this anymore, sadly. A lot of companies hover over the slight scent of success like flies on shit and they anticipate it with certainty just like said flies. These games are more of a surprise, these days, as independent games are starting to become a trend all its own and it’s always just good to see a game that has one focus and one focus alone: to be fun.

There’s really not a type of game that falls under this category, sadly: there’s no way to really gauge when a game will be like this until you play it and you’re like “where has this game been all my life?” 2016 seems to be showing a lot of interest in games like this with titles like Cuphead and Unravel but it’s really anyone’s guess as to whether or not they will be the same kind of middle-ground fun that used to be a little more common. Let’s hope so!

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Fresh Concepts and Turning Away

These are the games that get made to respond to consumers that complain that a franchise is getting stagnant, boring, predictable, or otherwise not palatable by the fans for one reason or another: great examples of this game are Final Fantasy IXCommand & Conquer 3: Tiberium War, and Silent Hill 4: The Room. The franchise was becoming rife with complaints that things were becoming same-y and that there was a need for change but companies don’t want to venture too far into unknown territory so they try to bridge the gap by changing franchises in ways that people aren’t expecting to keep that brand familiarity there while bringing something new to the table.

It’s hard to know whether the gamble is typically worth it: sometimes you end up with a critically well-received concept that just falls flat with fans and you end up losing fans as a result; sometimes you practically manipulate the fans by hiding the new concepts under familiar images, places, and systems; sometimes you end up practically destroying a property and fail to revive it. Sometimes it pays off but you can’t deny that it’s a huge gamble because whether you like it or you don’t, people fear change and people will stray away even from the good things, the things they like, the things they know are better, just to avoid change in their life. You’re looking at alienating your audience just by the nature of the people who are potentially purchasing your product.

I, personally, love when companies take risks like this: it shakes up the industry and a lot of times forces conventions to change and companies to reinvent themselves in order to evolve with the successes that arise from these kinds of calculated risks. This whole VR thing is another great example of a calculated risk: we finally have the technology to make this truly work in the way the industry has always dreamed but we’re yet to truly receive the idea in any of its previous concepts, to this day, positively, in the majority. Could it end up going the way of “3D” television, which was a laughable gimmick that shouldn’t have even been brought past test groups? Or could it be the next big thing in gaming? I guess we’ll only have to wait and see.

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Annoyingly Unconventional

We all have that friend: the one that tries way too damn hard to be loved, to relive old times, to look a certain way, to be appreciated, to fight status quo, to be unique, to be the center of attention; no matter what the aim is, the common factor is always pretty obvious in that your friend, there, is trying way too damn hard to be something they’re not. Whether the games are good or not, the concept is annoying as hell: we get it, you’re unconventional, you don’t have to beat it over our heads!

There’s so many examples that fit in this, especially since 2014: there’s a lot of games that are trying to establish a certain identity and there are a lot of those that will stop at nothing to let you know the identity that they’re going for. Life is Strange is a great example of this: this game, while great, will spend the entire game letting you know the personality it’s going for, the tropes it will present, and the audience it’s trying to reach, right from beginning to end. The concepts and story hidden beneath all that are actually pretty great but that annoyance hangs over everything. Final Fantasy XIII, especially its spin-off sequels, are pretty terrible for this, too.

I get that it’s nice to have something totally out there, different and new, but it shouldn’t come at the price of the player’s enjoyment. If you’re creating a game with an agenda, with a motive, with a narrative to tell, it will come across with a lot of people and it just seems like pandering nonsense and it clouds whatever good your game is actually doing in term of whether its fun or enjoyable.

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So, there you have it. If you were to ask me which games I prefer to play, on this scale, I would say that I like to play pretty much everything that doesn’t lie and rely on the extremes of this scale because all I can think of is the statements that are being made and how hard the developers and marketing is at trying to convey something and cash in on certain thought processes and, even with good games, it sometimes makes a game hard to enjoy objectively.

What are your thoughts? What kinds of games do you guys like to play on this scale?

 

 

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One thought on “[ Blog ] The Scale of Convention

  1. Pingback: [ WedNESdays ] Final Fantasy II – Laymen's Gaming

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