This year has seen the remarkable success of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the wild and Sony’s Horizon: Zero dawn. Both games were exclusive to their respective platforms, and both drove serious sales for their consoles.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been preparing for the release of their brand new 4K-capable console titled Project Scorpio. They’ve clearly been thinking about what players are looking for and how Project Scorpio can meet gamers’ needs.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke about the latest trends in the game industry, from open-world hits like Breath of the Wild to the fairly young concept of video games as a service. In an industry with quickly rising costs for mainstream game development, DLCs and add-ons have become a must-have to make sure a game will be a financial success. The game doesn’t end anymore when the story is done, and players are encouraged to invest as much as possible into a good title.
Of course, every game studio chooses how exactly to dish out DLC – from the ridiculously minimal content seen in add-ons like Outdoor Living from the Sims 4 to the full, exciting new story-line in The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine. With lots of dismay within the gaming community about the seemingly endless amount of DLC, the success of DLCs and add-ons is, interestingly, still rising.
For Xbox boss Spencer, games as on-going services like Bungie’s Destiny and Ubisoft’s The Division are the future of the video game industry. Furthermore, Spencer speaks of story-based open-world games and argues that these games do not have the same impact they once had. He claims that the difficulties in the development of open-world games have led to a decrease in the publishing of big, story-based games set in open worlds. Developers are rarely investing in open-world games anymore to avoid risking financial disaster, and audiences are shifting slowly towards preferring service-based games.
The success of Breath of the Wild was indeed no surprise – releasing a new game from a beloved franchise as the very first game for a long-awaited new console was always going to lead to significant success. But Horizon: Zero Dawn was different here, blowing gamers away with graphics, music, gameplay, and, most of all, a brilliant story-line. Nioh and Persona have the same high-quality content, and last year saw the triumph of The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and Bloodborne, to name just a few.
Why does Spencer criticize the genre, then?
Well, here’s the thing: the Xbox just doesn’t have any remarkable story-based titles. Halo and Gears of War have changed into multiplayer-focused games, Fable was downgraded into a League of Legends ripoff, and Xbox’ few single-player releases like Quantum Break and Sunset Overdrive just haven’t had what it takes to achieve success in today’s gaming world.
In short: Xbox has no exclusive titles to show for, so they instead focus fully on online multiplayer games with the same, recurring patterns. Downplaying the genre of story-driven open-world games is therefore a logical outcome because of the situation they’re in.
So are open-world story-driven games still worthwhile?
Definitely. Open-world games give the players one of the most alluring things about gaming: freedom. Being able to do almost anything in a breathtakingly beautiful, almost endless world (just look at Breath of the Wild, Witcher and Horizon’s astounding settings) combined with an intense story-line is, in my opinion, the core of a thrilling and vivid gaming experience. And the rise of virtual reality will dig even deeper into these types of experiences, taking open-world gaming to the next level. Virtual reality might even eventually allow players to actually step into games – and isn’t that what we all want?