Has Casual Gaming Killed the AAA Blockbuster Console Game?

Feb 21, 2014
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The sheer amount of excitement surrounding Titanfall is enough to annoy any old-school, crotchety gamer like me who has watched the mighty fall and the seemingly insignificant rise. Titanfall supporters would have us believe that it's the next big franchise that will change the way we game for the next decade. And without a doubt, it'll perform well on store shelves at first. But whether the game will have the longevity to be a top-end title and franchise for the foreseeable future remains in doubt.

I don't say all of this because I don't think Titanfall could be a great game or that I have something against blockbuster titles. I've just come to realize over the last couple of years that the days of AAA blockbuster console games truly revolutionizing the way we play games might be dead.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the recent announcement by Ken Levine, the brains behind the BioShock franchise, that he'll be leaving Irrational Games with just 15 people. He's heading out to take on "a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two," and will offer up smaller titles that will be released digitally, rather than as a packaged good.

Although much of the talk surrounding Levine's departure has centered on the BioShock franchise, how shocking his move is, and what that might mean for gaming, perhaps we should all realize that his move is just further proof of the answer we seemingly can't grasp: the old ways of making games are dead.

There was a time when the AAA Blockbuster game was all that mattered to gamers. Each year, a handful of really high-end, exciting titles would be introduced, and we'd all be drooling.

Nowadays, however, the industry has turned into a profit-taking quest designed to deliver one good game, followed by derivative follow-ups that cost the publishers little and maximize profits. Meanwhile, corporate bigwigs are running the show, determining what's best for the company’s shareholders, rather than the folks that play the games themselves.

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In some respects, we gamers have ourselves to blame for this. When Steve Jobs took the iPhone out of his pocket years ago, we changed as a community. We stopped caring about depth of gameplay or visuals and decided that playing a dumb game while sitting in class or ignoring the boss at work was more exciting. And when we went home and decided to finally turn on a console, we played online in games that, while fun, did nothing to carry the industry forward.

So, perhaps in some respects, I'm excited to see what Titanfall will have to offer. But on the other hand, I think we should all accept Levine's move for what it really is: an acknowledgement that the game industry has turned towards softer, casual, and derivative titles, and true artistic development has fallen by the wayside.

I'm heartened to hear that Levine might trying to go back to the "simpler" days, and I know there are many indie developers out there creating truly unique titles. Still, the forces of good are far outweighed by the forces that covet profits over all else. And until we can tip that balance in the other direction, we're destined for more of the same.


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