Safety first! Why games are all the same.

Realtime Worlds boss David Jones has recently gone on record as saying he could not make a AAA-spec online game for less than USD 50 million. Yipes! With statements like that it does not take a Phd in Business Administration to understand why gaming houses stick to what they know they can sell. Why risk losing a ton of cash on an original title when you can lob out a smatened up version of last years popular game and rake it in?

Come on, you know this story right? The games industry is ruled by the quest for the almighty dollar, profit is king and us gamers are the ones who suffer as another edition of God of FiFA Dynasty Grand Theft Tomb Raider 9 is released. How we all moan and wail at the lack of imagination shown by the big companies.

But wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute, are we totally blameless? Is it the industry’s fault for churning out the same old guff year in year out (actually I liked most of those games – Ed)? Well I think we should all have a good long look in the mirror.

Quick survey:- Who bought GTA: San Andreas? All of you. Who bought Call of Duty 4? Everyone, oh, and the dog. Now, who bought Okami? Eh, eh? Just as I suspected, one nerdy kid at the back. Who bought Ico? And Shadow of the Colossus, and Psychonauts, and Beyond Good and Evil and Viewtiful Joe and Ninja Gaiden? NOBODY. All of those games sold far less than 1 million copies. They were a financial disaster but every one of them was an absolute gem.

The reason why nobody bought these great titles is the same reason why there are 85 thousand McDonalds and Burger Kings in every square mile of London. As consumers we crave familiarity. As it says in the title, familiarity makes us feel safe, and just like little kids we all like to be safe. Why gamble on a new restaurant in a strange town when you can simply follow the golden arches and be surrounded by the sights and sounds of home. And by the same token am I really going to punt 40 quid on a game I have never seen before? Well, actually I am because I read the reviews (how smug am I), but kids don’t. They just go for the really big budget games with all the advertising, and who can blame them?

If you think about it, it is amazing that any innovative games come out at all. I think, I hope, that the games industry mirrors the movie industry. Large budget, high grossing movies/games that make a lot of profit and that can offset the potential losses from a more original risky movie/game. The trouble is, it is still possible to make a really good movie on the cheap that goes on to make huge profits. The Blair Witch Project would be a good example of this. Unfortunately I don’t think that the same can be said for games. We may find that if we don’t buy the oddities then they will not produce them and the only games available will be homogenised and focus grouped to death in a desperate bid to appeal to all of the people all of the time.

So come on people, get out there and buy the weird ones before its too late. I’m off to dig out another classic from the bargain bin.