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Can First-Person and Third-Person Shooters Continue To Sell?

by on 04/10/2015
 

I know what you’re thinking, “What kind of question is this?”, well the answer is, a good one. It’s true, shooters sell, they just do. Especially with name recognition like Call of Duty and Battlefield. They’ve made millions in the last few years alone, yet with them also comes the question about whether they can continue to be the innovative and fun games we want…instead of the repetitive, lacking for new content, “why is this game so buggy?”, kind of games we don’t want.
Let’s rewind the clocks back a couple years shall we? For a while, Call of Duty was THE shooter, and the feel of being in World War II’s greatest battles and moments was great. Until…they kept making WWII games, and the battles became less and less fun, and then we wanted Call of Duty to die.
So what they do to prevent that? They made Modern Warfare, and the genre was reborn. No longer was it about beating Nazi’s and Japanese soldiers, it was about fighting terrorists, and other threats that were more-or-less a threat in our new world. And it sold, very well in fact, but then problem re-emerged.
Modern Warfare was great, the sequel was good, the three-quell was alright. Then came Black-Ops, and Black Ops 2, and then Ghosts, and now Advanced Warfare, and now they’re doing Black Ops 3. Can you see where I’m going with this?
“But that’s why we have third-person shooters!” you’re crying out, and that’s true to an extent. But lest we forget, there are plenty of games, some that are not pure shooters, that are third-person and utilize the same thought process when making their games. The cover mechanic was at one time incredible innovative. Forget crouching down, you can plop yourself against a wall, wait for an opening, shoot, then take cover again. Perfect! And it was, until it got overused, and now the cover mechanic is just another gameplay tool.
I play shooters, both pure and hybrid, and I have plenty of friends who play the other games in the genre that I don’t, and they have similar concerns. When does it become a genre that’s oversaturated? One that is simply a money grab? Recall, when Ghosts came out, we thought were back to a period of repetitiveness, then Advanced Warfare (and Kevin Spacey) proved it still had some bark (Ghosts pun). But where does that end? Is there a way to ensure that the genre survives? No matter which version of perspective you’re in?
I think there is, here’s a few idea I have to prove this can still be a viable genre. One that can not only please fans, but make money for developers.

1. Innovation, Not Repetition

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Ok, this may seem obvious, but I’m sincere about this. One of the downfalls of Call of Duty over the years has been its desire to stick with a singular formula to make the games sell. After all, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”, right? But that’s what sunk it in the WWII subgenre, and almost again in the modern games. In some cases, they mistake innovation for upping the arsenal, just giving you new guns to shoot with a slightly bigger boom. That’s fun for a while, but it gets old.
And yes, I understand that the multiplayer is sometimes what sells these games, and as long as there are some twists on multiplayer (i.e. new modes, levels, etc), people will buy the games. That’s very true, but in the end though, that limits the experience. Whereas a fuller one can make the game even more enjoyable, instead of only partially. Furthermore, I know for a fact that when Modern Warfare 2 and 3 came out, there were still plenty of people playing the original because they believed it was better.
So the question then becomes, “What defines innovation?” Well, sometimes its a simple shift of time periods, like the era transition from WWII to the modern era. Sometimes its an addition to the gameplay, such as the exosuits we got in Advanced Warfare that dramatically change things. Sometimes a more drastic change to the shooter concept is required.

It’s a weird day when Splatoon is the most interesting shooter on the horizon.  Yet, it perfectly shows what I’m talking about. It took the third-person action of a shooter, added paint weapons, and then went full-on with the formula change and made the game about claiming territory instead of claiming kills. Those subtle differences are guaranteed to make Splatoon feel and play different than all the other shooters out there. Both first and third person.

Another great example is Titanfall, there was a game that took two different kinds of shooter, and put it into one. Oh, and they added giant robots, so that helped too. Now, their sequel is set to be bigger and even better than the original! That’s exciting.
If someone, not just Infinity Ward, EA, or Treyarch, took that kind of initiative and put that into a title, a new title, imagine what we could get! It could still have the gameplay and weapons we have in part, but put something new on it, make it feel different.
Battlefield Hardline did this recently with its use of the Cops vs. Robbers dynamic and how it played. It’s different than “soldiers vs. terrorists”, and the weapons are tailored to who you are. Imagine taking that to a whole new level.
Now yes, I understand that trying a whole new concept is risky. In fact, others have tried to change the formula and not succeeded in selling games, despite being innovative. That honestly is on us though. We shouldn’t be tailored to playing a specific kind of shooter, then complaining when it doesn’t go our way. The games are out there, we just need to be willing to do what needs to be done to make sure they keep coming.

2. Fast, Furious, and Compelling

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This sometimes gets lost in shooters, but story does matter to our less social players who want none of your multiplayer shenanigans. When you care about the characters who pull the trigger, and the ones besides you, it changes the game.
Great examples of this are Halo and Gears of War. Two tried and true shooters mixed with melee combat and infused with story.
I’ve only played Halo sparingly, but I know the story, and the legend behind Master Chief. So when I saw the two-part commercial for Halo 5 (the ones featuring Locke in one and then Master Chief in another about to kill the other) that was compelling. What world were they on? What did they mean by the things they said? Is one of them really going to die by the end of the game? That’s story, and I love story, and even in shooters like Halo, Gears of War, and Call of Duty, story matters.
Case in point, Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Easily the most shocking moment of the game is when you lose your main character to a nuclear explosion. You knew the risk going in to save your fellow marines, but this is a video game, surely your main character won’t die…right?
Then…BOOM! The bomb goes off, your copter is thrown to the ground, and in a moment of absolute horror, you’re allowed to crawl out of the rubble you’re in, and experience the last few moments of your marines life. That was bold storytelling, and awesome. They tried to replicate it in later games for shock value, and it didn’t work. Because it was forced. Part of telling a story is to let things happen naturally, avoid telegraphing. Do it unexpectedly, in a way that no one will see it coming. Build up is important, establishing things is important, so when games let things happen, like a character dying, you feel it.
Another great example is Gears of War 3, where a key character, one that you’ve watched try and find his happy ending, sacrifices himself for the greater good, and you felt that death.
In contrast, some other recent games in the shooter genre have had the framework of a good story, but fall into cliché at the climax. Even the great Kevin Spacey noted that his character did behaved interestingly for most of the game, then simply became a transparent villain in the final act.
Just imagine, if fans like us not only bought these shooter games for the multiplayer aspect, but for a compelling story? Could that imagine how that would change things? Instead of saying, “I wonder what new guns they’ll add this year?”, you say, “I wonder what twists and turns they’ll have in the main campaign in this year?” That could keep the genre going even longer.
Now sure, not all shooters need to have a deep story, Splatoon doesn’t really have one per se, and other shooters haven’t as well and done very well for themselves. However, that little bit extra can really make a game special.

3. No Day One Patches

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This one definitely applies to our current generation of games. As games become more involved and take longer to develop and deadlines near and the game is released even if it’s not quite ready for prime time, allowing bugs and glitches and problems with the gameplay to occur. There used to be a time when games were finished, or 99% finished, before being released. Now? It’s more about the money. Thus patches are thrown in afterwards to make things work. We HATE this! We’ve ranted about this, and shooters it seems get the bulk of these glitches because they decide to cram things in instead of catering the game to their time frame or catering their time frame to their game.
If developers were able to adhere to that mindset, that would later open them up to work on more DLC, with new modes to entice gamers to continue playing it long after they’ve done the main modes. And not just “new gun packs” DLC, meaningful DLC. New layers to the game mixed with the stuff you expect. Not just a new level, but a new level with a new mode, with plenty of new guns, and possibly an extra gameplay mechanics to make that level or mode shine. Could you imagine that? That’s the kind of DLC gamers won’t mind buying, because they’ll know they’re getting their money’s worth.
Look, I know that shooters are going to be around for a while. It’s a fact that they still sell, but I see the writing on the wall. It’s the same writing that JRPG’s once had, and they took a fall too until recently, at least on our shores. I don’t want that to happen here, there is plenty of potential for shooters to continue on without fear, we just need to break the stereotypes and pitfalls that almost doomed this genre twice before.
I think it can happen, it’s definitely not a shot in the dark.

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