We get the game's we deserve
After reading Waypoint's piece on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's uphill battle with it's own fans, I couldn't help but be left with the sense of melancholy. I don't want to believe that the most hardcore gaming fans are more likely to want an old game remastered than to try something new. Meanwhile, gaming has cultivated a culture of hammering sequels when players don't feel like enough has changed, and completely shred anything that seems like it's trying something bold, albeit boring.
Consumers are always quick to point out when something hasn't changed much. Anytime Apple doesn't release a new looking phone, no matter how many of the key features and functionality have been improved, there's always a litany of tech articles and comments filled with the sentiment of people being "bored" by the new offering and declaring that they'll "wait until next year to upgrade". We do the same thing with annualized franchises like Madden, Call of Duty, Battlefield, and more. Doesn't anyone think we're asking the people who make things for us to walk and impossible tight rope?
Call of Duty
Call of Duty is a series that makes tens of millions of dollars every year for its publisher Activision. It makes so much money that Activision has employed multiple studios—Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Sledgehammer— to develop the games on a steady rotation thus guaranteeing that they'll have a fresh installment sitting on physical and digital store shelves every single holiday season. There are hundreds of people, pouring collectively thousands of hours into making and selling these games. Alas, after all that work, a game that's nearly 10 years old gets more adulation and excitement than the latest and greatest title.
Now, I'm not here to defend Call of Duty, it's the type of game that doesn't really do much for me. Nor am I calling out people who may have an emotional attachment to an older game, I seriously loved Call of Duty 2 on Xbox 360 and it's plumes of grey smoke that dropped my jaw a decade ago. What’s interesting to me is how we ask for one thing, but then behave in a way that’s counterintuitive to what we say we want. We're either lying to developers, or ourselves.
Some of this is on Activision and the franchise itself. They’ve created a situation for themselves that, much like the stock market, demands that it best itself each and every year sales wise. This is why to buy the entire game, the retail price is essentially $100 with all of this year’s potential content. It’s also why Activision isn’t selling anyone just the old Modern Warfare Remastered by itself. You’ll have to give them $80 if you want the privilege of scratching your nostalgia itch.
This is more than longing for better days, or even better games. We should all know nostalgia is just us tricking ourselves into thinking somethings better, based on feeling a certain way that’s in the past. Nostalgia is a coping mechanism for how emotionally difficult the real world can sometimes be, and is built into the way people make decisions. An old Greek proverb that it still used today is “A bird in the hand, is worth two in the bush.” a saying that means something you have guaranteed, is worth much more than a potential unknown gain. The guarantee in this case it tied to a product or franchise that we are remembering with rose-tinted glasses, from a time when we simply had less discerning taste. Kids may go to a super hero movie with excitement for loud sounds, bright colors, and salty popcorn, but anyone who appreciates storytelling approaches super hero movies with an attitude that feels much more like “How bad could it be, it’s Iron Man?”.
We like movies from our past like Star Wars. We like games from our past like Modern Warfare. We had them a long time ago, and we know what we’re getting when we pay for those brands. When we want giant game publishers like Activision to spend millions of dollars on slick graphics, sound, and marketing, we’re asking them to play it safe and give us what we want, not take chances and try something new. It is we, the gamers, who are voting with our dollars, and publicly deriding developers and publishers that creates stagnation. The artists, programmers, and producers that work on these things would probably much rather try something new and creative.
Also, Call of Duty, wether you like it or not, is a game that has years of polish, refinement, and learning built into it, it's one of the most polished and refined gameplay experiences available to anyone who owns a computer or console. So let's grow up when we call it trash, and claim that the series is bad. You earn the title "bro shooter" by being something that's accessible to almost anyone who plays games, and that's a near singular feat for a game, let alone a franchise.
We get the games we deserve
Nostalgia and risk aversion has proliferated into all of the things sold to us now. The NES Classic, Skyrim Remastered, $100 copies of Call of Duty, Star Wars movies every single Christmas until we’re dead—We do this—with our time, and money, and feedback. We attack devs on Twitter. We pre-order games and DLC without knowing what we’re getting. We pay double the price for 3D and reserved seating movie tickets.
We get the games we deserve. If you want new experiences, new IP, and innovation, than show developers and publishers that you'll put your money where you mouth is.
It’s shouldn’t be lost on any of us that this affects more than just our media. It’s saying something that the satirists at South Park Studios are spending equal amounts of air time this season lambasting nostalgia and remake culture as they are this presidential election with one candidate promising to make things more like how they use to be.
So, before the next forum post about how not enough has changed since the last version of the game, before the next comment thread or how an old game in a franchise was the best one, Before declaring that you’re sick of paying for remastered or re-releases, remember the words of great Billy Joel: the good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.