Is Prolonged Console Generation Killing Creativity?

In a recent interview with Gamasutra CEO and Co-Founder of Ubisoft, Yves Guillemot went on record to declare that this prolonged generation of consoles has damaged the creativity of the industry:

“We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market. I understand the manufacturers don’t want them too often because it’s expensive, but it’s important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity.”

I have to say that I agree fully with his sentiments, this generation has been an odd one, and I don’t think any of us expected it to end up the way that it did back in the early days of HD gaming.

Obviously this generation has seen a huge surge in creativity, supported in part by the rise of digital distribution of independently created games, could we have ever imagined games like Braid, Super Meat Boy or Limbo being released at retail? Of course not, they would have either been released on Steam, or worse still on Newgrounds as a Flash game.

This generation has been one of constant evolution, and this evolution – albeit minor in most parts – has being the driving force of prolonging the generation. Now usually we see a console generation end in a flurry of great titles as developers master the development on that platform and put out refined versions of earlier games. Compare Call of Duty: Black Ops to Call of Duty 2 and tell me that there’s no major improvement. On the PS2 we had great games such as Okami and Shadow of the Colossus that pushed the boundaries, but sold poorly as people moved to the next generation. This example can be applied to this generation as most developers need a success on their books, especially now, and are more likely to put out a sequel to an established franchise than to create something wholly new. Guillemot explains this succinctly:

“It’s a lot less risky for us to create new IPs and new products when we’re in the beginning of a new generation,” he says. “Our customers are very open to new things. Our customers are reopening their minds — and they are really going after what’s best. … At the end of a console generation, they want new stuff, but they don’t buy new stuff as much. They know their friends will play Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed so they go for that. So the end of a cycle is very difficult.”

You only have to look at the titles Ubisoft put out for the 3DS’s launch and the upcoming launch titles that they are putting together for Nintendo WiiU to see that this freedom of creation and innovation is very much at work.

I think it’s very fair to say that as a whole we, as gamers, are open to innovation far more when trying a new device. Evidence of this? Well look at the original Wii titles. When the Wii launched gamers embraced the innovation, while new gamers arrived on the scene prompting a rise in casual gaming as a viable market. While the system hasn’t really even been exceptional, it has done many things exceptionally. When PS Move was released, offering the same game-play, but with more accuracy and freedom it was shirked, and has been disappointing in terms of sales, despite featuring some great games. PlayStation owners didn’t – as a whole – want that innovation on the console they were already happy with, just as many Xbox 360 owners didn’t want Kinect. Were these aspects launched as part of a new console generation I dare say that they would have been accepted with gusto, but instead they were put out early, mid-way through an established generation.

So with no confirmed time frame for the next Microsoft or Sony consoles announced we can only look to the WiiU as the next ‘generation’ of gaming, but it too is stumbling already under the weight of the Internet’s criticism of it’s power and the emphasis that seems to be placed on social media integration. Is the WiiU not new enough to break the cycle? I think that could very much be the case, but at the same time am happy to wait until the system launches this October before passing any solid judgements. Time will tell, as it is want to do.

Of course we have seen glimpses of the last ‘great games’ of this generation in the form of Watch_Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls and The Last Of Us, but there is rampant speculation that these may be bridge releases, coming out on both the current and next generation (much as some of the launch titles for the Xbox 360 did) with enhanced visuals and feature set on the next-gen iterations. I can see this as being very plausible, especially given the rumoured release dates of the games in comparison with expected launch dates for the new generation consoles. This could aid a few last great innovations on this generation, but why innovate now, with a new dawn approaching?

Ubisoft have long been great at pushing innovation to the fore, with the sheer fact that Rayman Raving Rabbids not only spawning a super-franchise but also spawning the Just Dance series, without which we wouldn’t have Dance Central* There are great games in every generation but this prolonged one is stifling the creativity as a whole. Some who innovate, who attempt new IP are rewarded with studio closure, and this is not ideal (understatement of the year right there). So how much longer can this generation go on for?

There have been rumours circulated that stated that this generation could extend to a decade, which prompted Square Enix’s worldwide technology director Julien Merceron comment:

“We have Sony and Microsoft talking about this generation lasting seven, eight, nine or even ten years and it’s the biggest mistake they’ve ever made.”

Which I wholly concur with. We need a new generation sooner rather than later, but it has to be a smooth transition, backwards compatibility is a must. A prolonged generation has brought with it heavy investment from it’s core user base, and no-one wants their expensive purchases suddenly being made redundant. Going back to Ubisoft’s Guillemot:

“If you can’t take risks because people don’t buy, you don’t innovate,” he says. “And if you don’t innovate, customers get bored.”

That pretty much sums it all up perfectly, don’t you think? Thoughts?


* Although arguably we’d have been spared ‘Let’s Dance With Mel B’


8 thoughts on “Is Prolonged Console Generation Killing Creativity?

  1. You and I are in disagreement on this one. The developers and publishers need to get their shit together and stop blaming it on console cycles. Looking across the home consoles there really aren’t that many titles that make it into the ALL TIME ALL AMERICAN ALL HALL OF FAME. Even less if we take away sequels that were technically better iterations but essentially more of the same (Ass Creed, GoW). And many of the better titles failed commercially for one reason or another.

    I think it is a lack of imagination, the me-too syndrome and the continued poor business of marketing and selling video games that is to blame.

    This is very odd coming from Ubisoft considering they’ve really turned their portfolio around this generation and ditched most of the shovelware.

    1. Disagree away, at least you bothered to put together a reason, as opposed to the email that consisted of three words that I was sent.

      I think Ubisoft have benefited from what my old lecturer would call ‘Wriggle Room’ in this generation, but let’s not forget that historically the ‘Best’ games of all time are usually either a sequel or something that did something great and new. The Dreamcast had such an opening line-up, one that was rarely matched over it’s cycle, and same with the Wii.

      Perhaps it’s a traditional viewpoint to take, and I wholly agree that there is an element of blame culture at work here, but it isn’t healthy for any console to have such a pronounced and prolonged lifespan. Innovation comes easier with new tech and when new tech has been added to the three major consoles (Motionplus, Move and Kinect specifically) it’s been met with belligerence and contempt from many who would rather have seen the technology fully realised in the next generation rather than shoe-horned into this one. (Not a stance I personally take, but it’s a popular one).

      Overall I want a new generation to encourage growth and investment, and can see why developers would also want a new challenge.

  2. I think part of the reason ‘creativity’ is stifled is economic.

    Mirrors Edge was one of the more innovative titles, but didn’t sell anywhere near the numbers that a variety of sequels and ‘three-quels’ did.

    Games studios inevitably latch on to a successful first outing and happily pump out a sequel as they *know* it will sell. All comes back to the bottom line of the balance sheet.

    Taking a chance on a new title or franchise does not necessarily come with the same kind of success a sequel pretty much guarantees now. As much as that sucks for gamers, cold hard cash rules the day.

    1. And yet the whole time the whole Indie Game world is exploding in terms of popularity and profitability.

      Perhaps this is a sign that the current business model for retail releases is failing developers?

      1. Maybe. Activision have now closed two studios because they didn’t fit in with the companies ‘ethos’; which seems to basically be ‘money first’

        Indie games tend to have lower budgets, so less risk of ‘loss’ if it doesn’t work out – and a greater chance of profit if it does…

        Studios more willing to take a punt on an indie title as a result; and gamers are enjoying the innovation we’re seeing in that area of gaming – leading to solid profits

      2. After watching Indie Game The Movie I’m unconvinced that the concept of big publishers working with indie devs is either viable or desirable. Similarly Jonathon Blow recently wrote a great blog post regarding the Microsoft Certification Process that suggested that even getting a game onto the XBLM is extra hassle for the sake of it.

        Taking that into account indie development has always been a cornerstone of creativity, but less so innovation due to the constraints that innovation has (Fez took five years to put out, Braid was similar). Those that do innovate either require investment or support. Neither of which is freely available without terms that can hamper the process.

        While they may be more profitable, long-term for the publisher, the price paid by the dev can often be too much.

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