Everyone loves a good metaphor in a column. You get to say “I get it” and the columnist gets to say “That’s a clever bit of writing”. So, what strained, pureed and mashed line of thought am I going to use to describe the difference between what gamers say they want and what they actually buy? It’s food, of course.
There is no doubt there is a lot of junk food out there, and a lot of chains (in this metaphor, our publishers) who serve up familiar fare on their menus year in and year out. They come back with a new and improved recipe and persuade the consumer to wolf it down. And by and large they do – a good case in point would be the Need for Speed series, often critically panned and yet freshly packaged for your Christmas feast every year.
The comparison between EA and a major fast food chain may be a little unfair though. In this last year we have at least seen something in the way of new recipes. The healthier, leaner option was the Mirror’s Edge salad, a first-person shooter with a new kind of dressing. Food snobs turned their nose up, but it has gained a following and stays on the menu. The fruit salad was Dead Space, but everyone went for the very sweet ice cream treat of Gears of War 2 instead.
The Nintendo Wii in recent months has seen a lot of finger food, small snacks designed for parties. There is a market for them, but it has disappointed those who were expecting big things from one of the most respected restaurants in town. They may not make as many meals as their competitors, but they are always laden with flavour.
One high spot was due to be Mad World from Sega and Platinum, a smorgasbord of meat (the stylised graphics) and spicy sauce (the violence). And yet within a couple of weeks the meal is on sale at a bargain price, despite a high-profile TV ad campaign and generally positive reviews. So do gamers really want a taste of something new, or do they just say that and go with the old familiar and comforting diet of racing and FPS? I remember a similar fate befalling Outrun 2006 Coast to Coast, a refreshing summer ice lolly in the midst of a sea of dull brown shooting soups.
We have to support and respect the great chefs (programmers) and the establishments that train them. The aforementioned Platinum contains people who worked at Clover, creators of Okami. At the end of the PS2 generation this was cruelly overlooked by many, yet it represented exactly the sort of experience many gamers express a wish for online. Clover closed down, and now Platinum’s future could hang on future releases like Bayonetta (a new take on the Devil May Cry style game, with a female protagonist).
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve made myself hungry.