The Player's Divide
Let's split FPS players into four basic sub-genres; Explorers, Thinkers, Run and Gunners and Story-Tellers.
Now, we all probably enjoy a little of each sub-genre and a successful game or mod incorporates sections of each, but imagine somebody said they were going to specialise and make a game focused on one sub-genre, as they did with Portal
Let’s take just one of those sub-genres and run with it a bit - The Explorer. I know a lot of players who are interested in exploring environments as much as shooting. The reason could be as simple as looking for a key to more complex objectives, or it could be meaningless. The enjoyment comes from finding areas or view points difficult to find without proper effort.
There would probably still need to be some shooting because without it, it may be too easy. The pleasure, excitement or even reward comes from reaching areas that other players can’t. I specifically remember spending a fair bit of time exploring
and getting across the water to the town in Lost Coast
without cheating. (How? – Ed
If all you want to do is explore then why aren't there games to cater especially for that?
These types of levels don't have to be mazes, but I suppose that is the simplest implementation. What about huge levels though, such as massive office complexes filled with hard to reach areas and a labyrinth of cubicles and air ducts. Even if the game is left aimless or just with a ‘hunt the keys’ objective, that design is still going to appeal to some – and where ever there's a market, there's money to be made.
So, what have we learned?
Well, perhaps nothing, except that viewing the playing public as a homogeneous group is probably a mistake for developers. There's clearly no perfectly accurate formula for making games – otherwise there wouldn't be so many less-than-successful releases. Never being one to shy away from voicing my opinion though, here are my suggestions on how to more successfully develop for key gaming audiences.
First, start by finding some creative people outside of the gaming industry and teach them how to use a game engine editor. Don't start with mappers because they could already have fixed ideas. I'm pretty sure I read that Crytek already do this but take it further. Actively search for people outside the usual demographic (i.e. women and older players).
Next find a way of creating mini, rapid-development games to test on players. I know that is so easy to write and a damn sight harder to do but the potential benefits could be huge. Perhaps by making mods for existing engines?
Is the games industry in danger of stagnation without realising it?
Lastly, take a step back from the graphics snowball and make FPS games that start with the premise of gameplay not visuals. If it's not fun to play it doesn't matter how pretty it is. This last point is the most important as the reality is that so many games these days, even classics like BioShock
start out with an aim to wow your eyeballs first and foremost.
It’s a shame, really – there are so many possibilities out there for games developers, yet most of them only seem to be developing the same game over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that and it certainly gives these developers a chance to refine their skills and practice their art. Each realisation of their idea becomes more finely honed.
Don’t forget that it’s a double-edged sword though and that this attitude can cut both ways. It’s often said that a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less – and this is unfortunately the problem that developers are forcing themselves into.
They are constantly getting better and better at developing games for a certain market. This ends up only attracting the attention of people within that market and without the interest of other parties – be they young or old, male or female, explorers or gunners – the industry could slowly be starving itself and atrophying from a lack of new blood.
Then again, maybe I'm completely wrong and there are simple answers to these questions after all. If you think you've got an idea on how to resolve any of this then be sure to let us all know in the forums