Is this a great thing?
Well, there’s certainly a question of whether it’s really “a thing” or not. At least the publishers are expressing interest and curiosity… and, in the case of Ubisoft, actually putting their money where their mouth is. But publishers always do this. If there’s money to be made in gaming, they’ll try their best to explore it. That’s why they exist. Many times in the past publishers have made less-than-stellar forays into gaming territories outside of their comfort zone, and retreated. This could be one of those times.
But if they really do go there, and return to the fields they abandoned long ago? While I’m personally a little miffed that I’m such a slowpoke and that my “desperately underserved niche” that I was going to try and occupy with very few neighbors is suddenly looking very crowded, I’m otherwise pretty excited. In the words of Bruce Willis in Die Hard, “Welcome to the party, pal!” As a gamer, the idea makes me giddy, even though I already own far more RPGs than I have time to play. As a game developer… I think it opens up a lot of opportunities. I think the upside wins, overall.
Anyway, back to the drinking from the firehose thing. We had a great boom in genre in that time, but the boom was accompanied by bigger budgets, bigger scrutiny, and bigger disasters as publishers tried to find ways of economizing or broadening their audience. I actually enjoyed Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse, and I know there were people who really liked Menzoberranzan. So it wasn’t like people weren’t enjoying the perhaps less-than-stellar titles. But the golden age became a plethora, which became a glut, which became – eventually – a bust. If you define a bust as a “correction” back to norms after a boom.
So… on to today. Desura lists five new or majorly updated games in the RPG category in the month of June. If you include Android / iOS titles, things get significantly more crowded. IndieRPGs.com has several new game announcements (not sure how many of ‘em get to market) each week. Throw in the usual trickle of big-budget (or, apparently, some upcoming not-so-big-budget) mainstream publisher titles for PC and consoles, and things are getting pretty busy out there. There are far more games than I have time to play, that’s for certain.
As a parallel from the tabletop “dice & paper” side, I was thrilled with the “Open Gaming License” of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition in 1999-2000. And, to my delight, the marketplace was suddenly overflowing with third-party expansions. Yeah, a lot of ‘em were crap. But there were all kinds of gems to be found out there. There were some nice experimental products, some blasts from the past, and what seemed (for a short time) to be an incredibly healthy, booming market. But then came the steep discounts (as a consumer, also an enjoyable development), and products dried out pretty quickly. The release of the “3.5″ edition of D&D was arguably rushed in order to deal with steep decline in sales that followed the boom.
So now, we’ve got indie games in general, and indie RPGs specifically. Are we heading for a new glut? A new bust? In 2016, are we going to look back on 2012 – 2014 and say, “Wow, those were awesome days to be an RPG fan… so many games. Why don’t people make games like that anymore?”
Is it really important to change up the mechanics from game to game to provide a different experience? We don’t make a major change to the rules of basketball or baseball every season, let alone from game to game. You’d think the audience would get bored after two or three games, right?
So what’s really more important? If you had a choice between two non-optimal alternatives, which would you choose?
A) A game with some really fascinating and innovative new mechanics but with the same old plot and setting (say, sci-fi-industrial) you have seen a million times?
B) The same old mechanics you’ve played for years, but with an exciting new setting, intriguing characters, and a gripping, twisty plot?
Yeah, I want the best of both worlds, too. But if you only had to pick one or the other – new gameplay or new story, or “mechanics