Just Cause dev: Story-driven AAA games make no business sense

Avalanche Studios founder says exceptions exist, like The Last of Us; 18 percent of players finished Just Cause 2 story missions.

Story-driven AAA games generally make no business sense, according to Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios founder Christofer Sundberg. An overall narrative is important, he argued, but providing player autonomy for the experience trumps.

Writing on Twitter, the designer offered up the question: "Why should a game have an end? Why bother about story when all data proves that players don't care?"

"6-12hrs story-driven AAA games makes no sense commercially any more," he said.

Some exceptions do exist, he said, like Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. But overall, he claimed that data has proven that players don't care.

"Story missions are not important," Sundberg added.

One example he provided was that of player engagement for his studio's 2010 open-ended sandbox game Just Cause 2. He said Avalanche Studios spent 3-5 months creating the game's story missions, but just 18 percent of players completed these.

One Twitter user posed a question to Sundberg asking if he thinks a game could get stale if there is no end; that is, if a player never reaches the conclusion, will they feel satisfied?

"Depends on what game you are making," Sundberg said. "Never underestimate the player's urge to grind."

Sundberg ended his comments by saying though he enjoys story in games, he doesn't see it being a part of successful games moving forward.

"For the record: I love a good game story. I just don't believe in it for the future," he said.

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Discussion

1204 comments
OuroborosChoked
OuroborosChoked

Hey Sundberg!  I would've finished JC2 but your game burned out my PS3!

I've been a little gun shy about trying to play it again...

Payasoplas
Payasoplas

Don't care about stories? Go play pong (This goes to BF players too)

David Chang
David Chang

I remember the pacing and the feel of Cod4, now CoD is crap....

shikori_4
shikori_4

I disagree because its evident with series like bioshock, deadspace,uncharted, etc. that sory driven games make  sense, and since your argument is based on story driven games Just Cause 2  cannot be used as benchmark to prove your point since its not story driven; its an open-world sandbox game designed for messing around.

If your argument was one that said story driven open world games make no sense then I might have agreed. Open world is my favorate genre and I have almost every game in that genre. A problem I find with story driven sandbox's is that they tend to focus too much on the story and little on the game world and game play(what matters in a sandbox), so when the story is finished I get a 'that's it' feeling.

Take RDR and GTA 4 for example. RDR had one of the most incredible stories ever(I nearly teared up at the end), but once the story was finished the game got boring fast as there was nothing exciting to do and the game world wasn't all that in the sense that it was depressing(maybe that's what R* was aiming for). The same issue arises with GTA. Good story, but once its finished the standard gameplay and cliched world made it get boring for me faster than RDR. I would also like to add farcry 3 to the list, great story, great game-play, great game world, but once I finished the story and captured the few bases that was it, there is nothing left to do. If FC3 had more bases and still had pirates walking the trails even after the story and bases were taken over it would never get boring.


Just cause 2 hasn't gotten boring for me because the world is very dynamic, there are over 300 locations to capture and the gameplay is awesome. Today I took up both JC2 and FC3 (both story modes complete) and I spent more time on JC2 even though FC3 has more polish. The game-play and world in JC2 is just that great.

Games like Dead Space and Bioshock with hours of story are awesome in ways that I can't describe. Their stories are compelling and there isn't much of an open world to distract you from it. Every element melds into the story. Unlike sandboxes with a heavy focus on story, when they are finished they feel complete; perhaps because their isn't an open world after the story to provide the dilemma of having freedom with nothing to do.

SythisTaru
SythisTaru

Just Cause 2 had Bolo Santozee; Don't try and tell me about game stories!

longestsprout
longestsprout

So, did just cause 2 actually have a good story, or was it just so uninteresting that the players preferred to be doing something else? 

For me a good story is usually what drives me to play a game. If it doesn't have that, then it better have something phenomenal tucked up to catch my interest.

Ryan Lapointe
Ryan Lapointe

games need storylines if not then what would they base the game on , sounds like someone really like farmville

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

Depends on the game. For something like fighters or arcade style games, keep the story short/ simple/ and last priority in development. My opinion off course.

Games such as.. Metal Gear Solid show a good story is very welcome in the gaming industry. & if nothing else improves the overall experience.

rigbybot127
rigbybot127

Wow, that statement that Sundberg made is quite possibly the stupidest thing ever spoken by a human being.

OneSamTwoCups
OneSamTwoCups

I can think of plenty AAA games that had some great stories: All the GTAs, Batman Arkham City, and my favorite story of all time, Red Dead Redemption. Just Cause 2 is a mediocre game at best anyway. I might get crucified on the Internet for saying that but I don't give a damn, I think it was just okay. 

Bj Korobkin
Bj Korobkin

Uncharted 2 would not be the same without it.

mezati4
mezati4

GO FUCK YOUR SELF The story of the game is its soul

josepedro
josepedro

I can't agree with this article. For me, a goog storytelling is much more compelling than a multiplayer mode.

lilmcnessy
lilmcnessy

Saints Row 2 activities actually bored me. They weren't really fun, they only lasted 5 mins. I really had fun with GTA IV driving mechanics though, and just creating a little chaos and holding out as long as possible. Plus I had great fun with mods and even created my own.

KrazzyDJ
KrazzyDJ

Story mode is the first and in many cases, the only thing I look for in a game. And he forgot another example I believe - The Grand Theft Auto series or, if you're considering upcoming games, Grand Theft Auto V !!! 

Ben Colvin
Ben Colvin

If no games had endings I'm positive that there would be like 5 successful games in history and they would all be sandbox/open world games

MichaelDBZ
MichaelDBZ

Just in case Mr. Sundberg doesn't understand. If games decide to take the direction of a weak story, but instead a bunch of side missions I WILL NOT be purchasing those games. I want to understand what motivates my character and that is told through the story. I refuse to put money towards a game that has no emotions.

ooshellshock
ooshellshock

I could not possibly disagree more.  I hope other developers don't share this opinion.

twentymooseman
twentymooseman

With a vast open world like Just Cause, I agree that a tight, complete story isn't necessary. I probably played a solid 20-30 hours of Just Cause 2 and I really couldn't tell you what the story was. It may also be that it was a week story, but again, I don't remember what it was. But games like GTA IV or Red Dead have done a great job of both offering a compelling story and a vast and immersive open world. I think little story works for Just Cause and games of the same ilk, but I wouldn't make a blanket statement the way he did.

Max Smith
Max Smith

Yes/no. Skyrim was a cool story. Some games like FPS and RPGS don't really matter. It's just a way to immerse u in the world but hardly has any effect on the total outcome or fun factor. So yes for story driven action/drama games no for more customizable big games

Videogame Construct
Videogame Construct

Why's the story have to end? Why can't it just be like a TV show or a movie series?

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

Really what I think it boils down to is it depends on the game and the player. I like some games because of the story such as Assassins Creed and Bioshock, other games I love have next to no story Minecraft, Saint's Row, Dark Souls. But what I think matters regardless of whether the story is good or not is solid gameplay. I still don't understand how people played through heavy rain, I was bored within an hour of doing nothing but quick time events and never did beat it. I would like to see the story of heavy rain, I just don't want to play it. Maybe they should of just made a movie?

codeman101360
codeman101360

People like this are part of the reason games aren't taken seriously as an art form.

dussan2
dussan2

I couldnt disagree more.

Anyone remember playing a game called Ace Combat 4 on the Playstation 2?

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

"Never underestimate the player's urge to grind."

Yes, because that's exactly what "Games moving forward" means, right? Grinding instead of elaborate, concrete objectives? ....Right?

Granpire
Granpire

I think the very important point here is that games need to focus on ways to finely tune and develop their gameplay systems rather than their stories.


If you've done that, then you can focus on a story to complement that game design.

Unelmat
Unelmat

I don't think that a lot of great games, like Final Fantasy, GTA, RDR, Batman: AC, Bioshock ..., would be remembered if it wasn't for their stories

Restivus
Restivus

Do Far Cry 2 players care about their gameplay being tracked?

It seems there is more than story to the story. How was the 18% figure obtained?

BIOJECT
BIOJECT

This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. If the game has a good story, people care. Just Cause 2 doesn't have a memorable story. It's not meant to be taken seriously and it's not very interesting either so naturally people are more inclined to screw around in the sandbox world. Of course I never beat Just Cause 2 because the game gets boring and tedious after a couple of hours and without an engaging story, there is no hook to keep me going.

The audience that plays games like Call of Duty also don't care about the story because they buy Call of Duty for the multiplayer. I've played the Call of Duty campaigns and they are okay, but nothing to get excited about.

Now let me play a game like Bioshock Infinite or Dishonored and I totally get into the story and look forward to how it ends.

Don't know why there are people out there who are coming to the conclusion that gamers don't like endings and so they omit them entirely. I hated Skyrim for not having a satisfying ending and is the primary reason why I won't be playing another Elder Scrolls again. Endings are fine as long as they don't suck. 


shikori_4
shikori_4

@SythisTaru LMAO "My name is Bolo Santozeeeeee and I am da leader of da revalutionary armyyy known as da reapas"

LOL just cause 2's story was atrocious. I think the remaining 88percent of jc2  players forgot the about the story because one, it was not compelling and two the game world and game play was so awesome that it detracted from the weak story. Therefore his stats are baseless and should not be used as an indicator for gamers' opinions. He should also remember that the reason cited on this site, ign and others for jc2 not getting a perfect score was the crap story

shikori_4
shikori_4

@longestsprout Its the latter. What gave that game high scores and a large following was the game world, game play and the new multiplayer mod which adds another level of awesomeness.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

@Ryan Lapointe or maybe they like mario or sonic or pacman or minecraft or any other of the thousands of games that rely on fun gameplay and little or no story at all

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@mezati4 Depends on the game. Did you play a Street Fighter game actually caring for its story?..

rigbybot127
rigbybot127

@Videogame Construct That's actually a pretty cool idea, but even with games like The Walking Dead, it still shows that it costs a lot of money to keep something running like that.

alphawolf24
alphawolf24

@stan_boyd Dark Souls actually had a really deep story and lore but it was hidden so you had to really look at it

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

@codeman101360 art isn't even taken seriously as an art form :P why do you think most artists are poor, at least game designers get paid.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@Granpire  

This!! 

A million times this!!!

People put too much focus on story these days. Games are games first, so the single most important thing is the gameplay. Some of the highest selling game franchises of all time either don't have any story (Tetris, Pong, The Sims, etc), or have a minimalistic story (Mario, Sonic, etc).

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

@Granpire I find that stories are hardly a complement. They're the basis of any objective you have in the game. They become gameplay elements when you sort out what you want to do. 

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

@BIOJECT Players of Bethesda games hate endings, when Fallout 3 ended there was a huge uproar from the gaming community so they made broken steel expansion which voided the ending and allowed you to play after the "end" if they had put an ending on skyrim the same anger would have happened, people who play bethesda games don't play them for amazing story telling, they play them for the freedom to do what you want. Story based games are more linear because they have to push you in a certain direction to tell the story in order.

dussan2
dussan2

@BIOJECT


Call of DUty is the exception, it's like looking at SuperBowl nielson ratings and deciding your entire fall tv show line up around reproducing that for every single show you have.

Payasoplas
Payasoplas

@RSM-HQ @mezati4 I had, I actually got mad when playing MK III Ultimate, and not being able to see the endings

Granpire
Granpire

@Henrique2324 @Granpire Not always. Do you think that Portal was born from a design discussion asking, "What if we made a game about a series of science experiments and a psychopathic AI?"

Was Super Mario primarily a story about a plumber hitting his head on bricks and stepping on turtles? 

Yes, embedded narrative is important and has its place in many games, but strong design is far more important in the grand scheme of things than a good story. Plenty of games have great stories, but terrible gameplay. I think the best games are those designed as gameplay systems first, and story is added during or after development.

Starseed Pilgrim's designer wrote a blog post about how the magic of games lies in their systems. http://loseyourway.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/real-magic-the-system-is-the-setting/

I think Extra Credits' video on game writing sums up the purpose of video game narrative: (around the 1 minute mark is what I'm getting at) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG1ziCvLkJ0

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

@stan_boyd @BIOJECT Just on a side note, games *can* be open-world and still have a great story-oriented feeling to them. Baldur's Gate is a clear example of it.

Henrique2324
Henrique2324

@Granpire Plenty of games also have wonderful gameplay and terrible stories. They're both important elements of game development, IMO.


Granted, some open-world, platformer games (and other genres), that are properly designed with pure player input in mind, can factor in as exceptions.