With the incendiary sales numbers of Grand Theft Auto V taking interactive entertainment to new heights, handily eclipsing the $1 billion mark in just three days, the King of Game Mountain is the three-headed Hydra of Michael, Franklin, and sweet, lovable, Trevor.
This interesting turn-of-events places the traditional money printer genre, First Person Shooters, on the proverbial hot seat. Although Call of Duty and Battlefield sales will continue to feed Activision and EA’s bottom line quite nicely, the financial and critical success of GTA V should force the tunnel-visioned FPS developers to acknowledge the all-important need to harness creativity and push innovation by challenging convention, rather than fretting over what their competition is doing.
The overwhelmingly positive reception of Grand Theft Auto proved loud and clear that the FPS mega-franchise is not the ultimate paradigm guiding the gaming world. It threw a wrench in the formula and changed the landscape overnight. While direct comparison between GTA V and a pure shooter is, and forever will be, impossible, it is the hope of many that this dominant performance will create ripple effects in a genre (and industry) precariously close to becoming creatively stagnant.
A matter of perspective….
Rockstar and GTA V took a less-traveled path, expanding on what came before, but refusing to let prior success, competitors, or market factors dictate their approach. The difference between GTA and the FPS doppelganger is perspective. Grand Theft Auto is simply a driving and shooting game at heart, but the commitment to making something new and refreshing allowed it to shine.
Maybe it was the amazingly economical and effective use of their developer assets (lots of Max Payne, Midnight Club and Red Dead can be found), or maybe it was even the fact that so little innovation has occurred with story and gameplay over the past decade for tent-pole titles, that GTA’s willingness to push the envelope just far enough, was more than ample reason for gamers to reward this commitment by purchasing a copy.
But that doesn’t quite seem to be the case. This game has attitude. It has a distinct voice. It is both charming and dangerous at the same time. Let’s put it this way…GTAV is the Han Solo of video games.
After getting on the sticks, you quickly realize that Rockstar wasn’t just making a game that could generate revenue, they made a game they wanted to play. Maybe this is where the line has been drawn. When developers stop making games for themselves, they effectively stop making games for us, the gamers.
Rockstar created a personal playground, a fantasy-land for the Id and ego of the player. But this perspective seems lost on certain FPS developers, whose focus on making broader features and grander set pieces than the other guy, has led to a breakdown in the creative evolution of their franchises.
Fortunately, the GTA V phenomenon comes at a perfect time, with the recent comments made by Electronic Art’s Executive VP, Peter Soderland highlighting a definite disconnect. When discussing the highly anticipated launch of Battlefield 4, he stated that EA “will not quit until it dethrones Call of Duty from its post as the industry’s top-performing shooter series.”
Soderlund continued by saying that EA is spending a “ton” of money on this effort, with development teams “killing themselves” every year to create compelling products.
The tenacity and enthusiasm is readily apparent, and EA should be applauded for their willingness to challenge the current champ and prevent a monopoly of the genre, but as we have seen in current American politics, two powerful parties who rest on their laurels and blindly compete against one another achieve little. It is thinking outside of convention that moves society forward, so instead of EA looking directly at their rival, they would best be served by considering the infinite possibilities of the genre, and simply doing what nearly every employee wanted to do from the start: create greatness.
This rose-colored view of the industry may be at odds with financial reality, but it really does seem as though Mr. Soderland is looking at this challenge from the wrong perspective. His statements are grand for any investor in the company, but what about the more immediate stakeholders? The gamers. The ones who purchase the product, as opposed to shares of stock. I would be ignorant to dismiss the siren song of Wall Street, but as a creative force in a creative industry, dollar signs should yield (or at least slow down) to the necessity for innovative development.
Chasing paper is beneficial for some industries, but relying too much on balance sheets has been EA’s kryptonite (along with every other publicly traded gaming company). Gamers resent it, developers stress over it, and publishers lose influence (and brand loyalty) because of it.
This is not Westeros…
What is so refreshing about Rockstar is that the developer operates on its own playing field, making its own rules and confidently staring down every competitor without fretting over them. Why? Confidence. Fearlessness. Passion. Autonomy. Unwavering commitment to innovation. Grand Theft Auto is unapologetic for its content, and cutting in its view of the world. This was not created by the weary, and gamers can sense this fact immediately.
While they certainly acknowledged their competition, the developers did not concern themselves with what Deep Silver or Ubisoft was doing, and as a result, allowed creativity to flow freely. One must keep in mind that the gaming industry is not Westeros….’dethroning’ is not a creative pursuit. Creative excellence is best achieved by wanting to surpass, as opposed todirectly compete, and Rockstar understands this crucial fact. Even FPS titles must aim towards entertainment nirvana, not genre domination. Exempting the inventive and hilarious Gearbox-developed Borderlands series, the current crop of shooters ’aim’ is squarely focused on competition alone, making features and profitability more relevant than story and gameplay. Not good.
Of course, annualization does not help the situation either. Having no time to brainstorm really does limit your ability to make something new, along with increasing the odds of broken or buggy features. Daydreaming is essential in the process, and a game a year makes the act almost impossible.. I know Activision and EA are unwilling to grind though 5-year dev cycles, which is understandable, but they are still in serious need of a swift kick to the dome by an outside antagonizer to improve their perspective on how a great game is made. And that just happened.
Even with my criticism of his seemingly myopic perspective, Mr. Soderland will likely have the superior product in the long run. I am confident in saying that Battlefield 4 will be the better shooter between the two juggernauts this holiday season, but even so, that doesn’t make it a great game by default, and certainly does not give them a free pass until the next duel.
While BF4 will presumably turn out to be a quality title, this commitment to simply “dethroning Call of Duty” will never allow the Battlefield series to reach its full potential (which is huge). What the EVP should actually be saying at this moment is, “let’s create the best Battlefield experience possible.”
This is what Rockstar did with their offering, and in decidedly grand fashion.
Okay, GTA V is amazing, but what about the PC version?
Since many PC gamers will be reading this, I would be remiss to ignore discussing our preferred method of play. As far as I am concerned, we will be getting a PC version soon. One of my reasons for this delay (PC Master Race comment in 3,2,1,…) is that Rockstar did not want the PC iteration to overshadow the all-important console release. Simply put, the potential difference in technological firepower was too much of a gap.
It is quite apparent that GTA V is tearing at the limits of my Xbox 360, creating low texture detail, weak shadow effects, and a lack of anti-aliasing. I believe that a PC version will get a release, either late in 2014, or early 2015. The decision could revolve around the fate of the next-gen console versions (another high likelihood considering the demands of the game itself). This guess is buoyed by Rockstar’s big plans for GTA Online, and the fact that they are expecting the game to have a very, very long shelf life .
This may be wishful thinking and speculation, but it really does make decent sense. Plus, just like many of you, I simply cannot wait to get on a mouse and keyboard (looking around would be so much easier, along with aiming) and use a decent graphics card to add another layer to the game. But until then, my 360 will have to do.
When it comes down to it, Take-Two Interactive (Rockstar’s parent company) is almost boutique-size compared to Electronic Arts or Activision, but TTWO and Rockstar are doing it right, and they must be commended for displaying true passion for the game-making process. They looked outward for inspiration, and only competed with themselves….and what was the final result? They just changed history as we know it.
I hope we can say the same about another first person shooter one of these days.