Jonathan Blow Asks Daily Reaction: Don’t You Get Tired of Playing Games That are the Same?

Continuing Daily Reaction’s growing list of industry vets making an appearance on AskDR, today Sebastian Moss and Dan Oravasaari have secured a question from one of our favorite and most outspoken developers, Jonathan Blow.

Jonathan Blow:

Why don’t you guys get tired of games that are all the same?

I’ve been excited about video games since I was a kid, and I played many games but at some point, I get tired of playing the same game. That doesn’t mean it is a bad game, for someone who is younger, who hasn’t played that game a million times, it is probably better than the one I played, because it has more modern things in it. I don’t know, you just see all of these people in the press get super excited about a game that is not really any different than the previous game, what is the deal there?

Dan: Jonathan, let me start off by saying thank you for the question and for participating in our increasingly popular AskDR feature. This is a genuine question that I think many developers have, as the games market has a wider reach than ever before, but the attachment of certain genres and franchises seem to be narrower than ever.

Starting off with the simple answer to the question, yes, many of us actually do become tired of playing the same game every year or clones a few times a year. But, when it comes to reviewing a product, we cannot project our generally broader experience onto a product, as it unfair to deny that title a chance to find ground with new fans – simply because we are tired of it. This does not mean that we cannot point out faults or pitfalls the game will fall into when compared to the current industry standard, but that simply not liking something because you don’t like FPSes or RPGs is a mockery. That is where the ability to balance our own personal biases about a product becomes paramount in what differentiates a professional review from any opinion found on the internet.

The general perception that reviews are simply opinions is the antithesis of what I truly believe, if someone is going to consider themselves a professional they need understand the whole market and how a product will fit within it. Many journalists that I have spoken with are tired of the growing trend of annual releases of specific titles, but the market demands that we maintain a decent understanding of the industry and how those games will shift it – so we need still need to play everything. Some journalists will simply use the hype surrounding a game to help excite fans on their site for little more than temporarily increased traffic, as a sadly high number of readers only want to hear reaffirmation that their loved game is great.

The best example of this has to be the move from World War 2 FPS titles to modern, to the more recent trend of the near future setting. World War 2 games were the standard for most shooters for a time, even though I am sure that there were more than a handful of journalists who were absolutely tired of the saturation and repetition. It was not until the market as a whole grew tired of the WW2 setting and a ‘new’ game emerged that everyone could back, that we were able to see a shift. Reviewers had stated for a long time that a number of games were becoming incredibly similar and that the genre was becoming stale, but games like Medal of Honor were still heralded as quality, simply because they were the best at the time – even though the genre had become tiresome.

In general, journalists are not there, or should not be there, to use their positions to shift the market to their own taste in games. Although, I do think that there is something with the tiresome nature of the games industry and the growth of the indie market as a whole. Looking at most of the games that become popularized by little more than word of mouth (and quality of course), we are seeing more buzz about smaller and more unique titles than ever before.

This of course has to do more with the ability for gaming sites to find a method of personal opinion based content, such as podcasts. Usually, it is during these times you will find more passion from industry vets regarding a smaller title than this year’s sequel to last year’s sequel. Namely, this is done as a method to attach personal beliefs to that specific staff member instead of using a review, as those are usually become misconstrued as the general opinion of the publication itself.

Seb: This is a great question, and one that does genuinely trouble me often. As journalists, we are surrounded by games, we cover them every single day, follow every tiny detail that happens in the industry, power through games for reviews, and generally nerd out for our entire work day. And then, when our shift finally finishes, a lot of us end up playing games to unwind.

Ubisoft’s Martin Schelling, Producer for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, asked me pretty much the same question when we were chatting about games journalism. He asked me if the press are “able to stay objective and remain surprised when the brain budget is overtaxed with so many games,” and if journalist’s articles/reviews will end up becoming more and more “grumpy and negative”.

What I find so interesting is that Daily Reaction was asked a very similar question by two developers who are behind completely different experiences. Blow’s The Witness aims to change gameplay types and conventions completely, in a way only an indie can, while Assassin’s Creed generally sticks to the same formula, but offers a quality blockbuster experience that’s highly polished.

A lot of indie developers find AAA games repetitive, which is why they strive to make such unique experiences and generally want the press to embrace newness, while AAA developers want to make the biggest games possible, and generally don’t want the press to let the fact that they play hundreds of games impact the scores of a game meant for people who only play a few a year.

So as journalists there is that problem when it comes to reviews – a lot of critics believe that they should let their personal annoyance at game genre repetitiveness affect the score, while others believe that each game should be taken individually and scored on its own. In reality, reviews generally are somewhere in between, but it’s certain that some critics do let their feelings of boredom get to them.

Like Dan said, I believe such feelings are better used in editorials/podcasts than critical reviews, where people who don’t have the same gaming diet as you just want to know how good a game is.

Speaking personally, I know this job does ruin some games for me. I forced myself to play Assassin’s Creed for a review, when I knew I should take a break from the series, and ultimately ended up burning myself out so much that I can no longer face AC.

Tons of journalists I talk to at events have similar stories, and many have taken breaks from any recreational game playing while they get their mojo back. It’s weird, we all love games, but sometimes the way we are made to play them takes away the fun.

But the fact that many journalists do believe that there are a lot of samey games out there is a fantastic thing. Journalists need to be looking for the next big thing, or simply for stuff that’s really unique and cool. The fact that we play so many games and get unrivaled access to titles puts us in a position to find some truly new games and give them the exposure they deserve, thus helping the games industry expand and evolve.

So yes, Jonathan, we do get very tired of same experiences. But, like you said, there often seems to be a huge amount of excitement around titles that aren’t that different, which seems contrary to everything I’ve said. The deal behind that is that not only is there a constant stream of new, fresh faced journalists, but a mixture of our own love of certain series, our hope that ‘maybe this time it will be different as there’s a dog’, our ability to still be suckered in by a good trailer, and a dash of us hiding our negativity because we don’t want to be unduly cruel to a title we haven’t experienced yet.

Oh, and of course some sites do very well from hype, because ‘You Guys, Seriously, This Battlefield Trailer Will Melt Your Tonsils’ does so much better than ‘New Battlefield Trailer has Battles, Fields’.

Games journalism will always be a hyperbolic mixture of extreme hype and extreme negativity, just like all other branches of the press.

Do you ever get tired of playing the same games? Has the industry become repetitive? If so, should journalists be more verbal about it? Let us know in the comments below, email us at [email protected] or tweet us the same things at Seb and Dan.