Why Haven't They Made This?The Contrarian: Feature CreepWhy Haven't They Made This? - RSS 2.0
When Shrek 2 hit theatres, there were no banners trumpeting "Now with more polygons!" or "Three extra jokes per minute!" Yet those are the kinds of back-of-the-box bullet points game publishers slap on sequels to excite us. And you know what? It's a stupid, stupid idea.
The sports games were among the first. When you have to sell Madden yet again, the marketing department goes pale at the thought of ad campaigns trumpeting nothing but "This year's stats!" or "Those annoying bugs from last year have been fixed!" Instead we get upgradeable mansions, manager mode, hot-dog concession price simulation, stadium design, licensed music and EA's ridiculous Game Face. Marketers' sweaty animal fear drives this style of development, and as more games get more sequels more often, we're seeing this crap everywhere: Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Warcraft, you name it.
It's called feature creep. Way back in the 1980s, there were more word processors on the market than Microsoft Word, and back then it was still possible to come up with a new feature that would quickly become essential. Once upon a time, younglings, there was no such thing as spell checking or smart quotes. Magazine ads trumpeted the dreaded feature-comparison checklists in which Word and WordPerfect would be stacked side-by-side, check marks pointing out the glaring deficiencies in the competitor's products. "Better" became synonymous with "more." If you've ever wondered why you spend half an hour turning off features after installing Word on a new computer, feature creep is the reason.
Over the long term, feature creep is the doom of gaming. Can you imagine someone new to this medium picking up the 12th iteration of Splinter Cell with the thought, "Hey, I'll try that online multiplayer mode I heard about." Jesus God. When Pandora Tomorrow introduced its asymmetrical multiplayer, it was a terrific idea with a lot of promise. By the time Chaos Theory hit shelves, that same game mode was ratcheted up with so many new features that only the hyperattenuated fans still playing Pandora's version a year later could possibly enjoy it - because that was the market the developers listened to, the fools. The learning curve went from steep to moebius. Ten years from now, the entirety of Splinter Cell will probably be played in Sanskrit.
Games today are built by and for gamers who have at least a decade of play behind them, with all those hard-earned assumptions and skills. I'm not talking about people who live for Counterstrike. I just mean basic literacy issues, like knowing that shooting crates is good but shooting barrels is bad, or that weapons in first-person shooters usually have an alternate fire mode. Long-time gamers take that stuff for granted, and obsessive 12-year-olds with lots of free time catch up quickly. But if you aren't a veteran gamer or a kid, there's no front door to this medium. (Except Nintendo, whose new Revolution controller is a guaranteed system seller - for the Playstation 3.)
Recently, I picked up Namco Museum for the Xbox. It's terrific. My girlfriend was a major Mario fan on the NES when she was a teenager, and sure enough, she blew three hours one night playing Pac-Man, Galaga, Rolling Thunder, and so on. She had a blast. And I had a natural thought: I should pull out another game from my library that she might enjoy, something current. She hasn't played a 3D game before, and that's a skill that takes some getting used to. Star Wars: Republic Commando? Fatal Frame 2? Halo 2? No, no, and no. None of those games are suitable for new gamers - and indeed, not much is.
Gamers and game reviewers alike demand new features. If a sequel offers nothing but more of the same, it's considered a failure, even if that same thing was absolutely fantastic a year ago. So we get sequels of increasing complexity and scope, ensuring that only existing gamers will ever enjoy them.