Just How Important Are Video Game Storylines?

Don Reisinger - Mar 15, 2012, 3:25pm CDT
Just How Important Are Video Game Storylines?

After the successful launch of Mass Effect 3, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of video game storylines. For years, I’ve been told that a nice-looking video game, complete with the latest graphics, will always be successful. However, a game that might not come with all the flashiness but features a solid storyline could very well fall short from a sales perspective.

It’s an interesting concept to think about. In today’s big-budget gaming world, the ticket to seeing a return on that investment is offering outstanding graphics, solid gameplay, and really great multiplayer. And in the event such a game lacks a solid storyline, many of us will look past it.

I can think of several successful gamers where that might just be the case. Ever played a Call of Duty game? If so, you’re probably obsessed with its multiplayer and love the game mechanics. But if you’re forced sit through its storyline, you can probably think of a thousand things you’d rather do with your time, including watch paint dry.

But maybe Mass Effect tells us something much different. Sure, the franchise comes with really neat gameplay and its graphics are great, but it’s really the story that we’re after. From the first Mass Effect on down to Mass Effect 3, the many of us that stuck with the franchise over the years did so because we wanted to see how the series would conclude.

[aquote]Heavy Rain wasn’t perfect, but its story made it better[/aquote]

Better yet, why did we all buy Heavy Rain? It certainly wasn’t the graphics, which were about average for the time. And it certainly wasn’t the action as we snooped around crime scenes to find basic evidence. No, we bought Heavy Rain because of its unique storyline and ability to captivate us for hours on end. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but its story made it better.

Given that, perhaps there is some evidence out there to suggest that gamers really do buy video games for their stories. After all, what other explanation can we give for titles like Heavy Rain, Alan Wake, and even the long-forgotten Shenmue succeeding initially when so many critics thought that they wouldn’t?

But as with everything else in the gaming space, there is more than meets the eye here. As far as I can tell, all the games that have the best stories and sell well are designed with hardcore gamers in mind. All the other titles, like Modern Warfare 3 and Madden, that lack solid stories, are developed specifically for the mainstream.

Yet again, we’ve come to a crossroads in the gaming space. There is one group among us that will only buy flashy games that deliver the fun rather than the story. And there is another among us that, while willing to invest in those mainstream titles, is far more likely to drop cash on a Mass Effect or Heavy Rain.

Simply put, we can’t paint with a broad brush in the gaming space. Storylines really do matter and gamers will buy titles without all the bells and whistles if they can get into a solid plot. But that’s only some gamers. And appealing to them is just as necessary as appealing to those who only want the latest and greatest graphics.

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