Many of us agree that the gaming industry is in a bad way. Creativity is stagnating and many beloved series are losing their soul to quick time events and button mashing.
Its a familiar natural cycle: new ideas, good and bad, are born among independent developers. Big publishers survey the scene and buy titles they think have promise. Successful games become franchises, then genres.
Theres nothing wrong with trying to make money, or even safe investments. It's just not in the nature of big companies to make risky investments - they prefer paths that have already been cleared by creative people. I dont mind the parade of linear, cinematic military shooters. Who cares about the latest Call of Duty clone anyway?
The problem is that lately, its not just new games that try to squeeze into the fast lane. Even games that used to have their own, clear niches leave them to enter a race, where they are mediocre at best. So now we still have Gears of War, but we dont have Resident Evil anymore, just an inferior imitation. We still have God of War, but there is no more Ninja Gaiden. Does anyone think there is still a game called Dead Space... or should we just call it Cover Shooter In Space?
How do we change this? How do we wrestle control of future game development from the big publishers?
The movie industry might give an idea. Trust me, I dont want games to be more like movies, but the game industry does have a couple of things to learn. In the early days, when Thomas Edison was trying to maintain his monopoly on filmmaking, the independent studios in Hollywood realized something that Edison did not: the importance of the movie star. While Edison was unwilling to let the actors stand out, Hollywood made them a central part of their marketing and still does today.
Of course, games dont have actors, but they do have directors. Before any movie starts, we are presented with the studio logo and the name of the director. When a movie turns out well, the director gets a huge chunk of the credit. And when a movie fails, the director gets his share of the disgrace (see: George Lucas). Directors like James Cameron are sometime more important in marketing than the actors. Who do you, for example, associate with the latest Batman movies, Christian Bale or Christopher Nolan?
By contrast, games are about titles and publishers. The lack of focus on the creators allows game publishers more freedom to interfere with the creative process and yank control from the real artists.
Famous game directors would allow the game directors more leverage against businessmen who are unwilling to risk profit for originality. Also, if fans followed game creators instead of franchises, that may also limit the sequel clone syndrome. Slowly but surely, game creators are receiving a bit of name recognition. Ken Levine (Bioshock) and Tim Shafer (Psychonauts) come to mind. This process must continue, and accelerate.
Gamespot could have a great part in this. When you write reviews, why not do what movie reviewers do: mention the director, and mention something else they did! You know... "The lead designer of this game was Gabe Newell, one of the senior game designers of Valve".
What other stars do we have? Well, we have Sid Meier who was clever enough to put his name in the game titles. Then there are Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima. Iconic as they are, these two tend to stick to the same franchises so we dont really need to keep track on them.
A perfect illustration of why directors are important is Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Vanquish. He gave up the RE franchise after RE4, which many of us recognize as the start of the series decline.
Ive always had a soft spot for the F.E.A.R. series, designed by Craig Hubbard who also designed the charming No One Lives Forever.
Let's start giving the credit to those who deserve it...