Posted by Raine Hutchens on May 7, 2012

One In The Chamber – Are FPS Games Losing Their Flair?

We’ve got Call of Duty, Quake, Battlefield, and tons of other FPS games that have hit the market over the past decade. Starting with Doom and running all the way through Modern Warfare 3, each of these games performs different in their own way, all while running off of the same basic principle: run and shoot. Some of these games remain fun and intuitive to play, however, over the years they’ve become muddled and streamlined to the point where it’s possible that they’re losing their touch within the gaming community.

I’ve been an FPS fan for years. I love Doom, Quake, and Bulletstorm. The thing about each one of these games is that they approach the whole FPS genre differently, allowing them to be separated from one another. They don’t fit the general shooter norm. Sure, Doom was a game about senselessly running around killing things, but it was part of what’s been called the “beginning of the genre.” Quake was a game in which the multiplayer mode opened up a brand new way for players that are shooter fans to come together competitively. When it comes to Bulletstorm, in what other game can you unload a clip of lead into an enemy’s hind quarters and score extra points for it? Don’t worry, I’ll wait… Exactly. You don’t find FPS titles like these much anymore, and when you do they usually get a bad rap.

When Goldeneye came out for the N64, gamers went wild! To this day if you’re a gamer and have a score to settle, the gentlemanly way to deal with it is to have a match on Goldeneye to assess the victor. And if you haven’t played Goldeneye on the N64, you should probably stop reading this and go play it. I’ll be here when you get back.

Goldeneye was another game where the shooting was senseless, but it was built upon fun levels, interesting game modes, and fun little options that made the game ridiculously entertaining for hours. I mean, come on, rolling through an entire level with Paint Ball Mode on, while everyone has huge heads? That’s a total recipe for WIN!

With the more recent FPS games that have released, namely the Call of Duty series, we don’t see much of these interesting features anymore, and it’s being noticed. Steve Ellis, the co-founder of Free Radical Software, provided his own assessment of the modern FPS genre, and it’s not a pretty one. The Timesplitters developer claims that “pretty much every FPS loses money.” Ellis has recently set up a mobile game studio by the name of Crash Lab with former Rare colleagues, but don’t expect to see any FPS titles coming from the developer anytime soon.

So why has Ellis turned cheek on the FPS industry? What is so bad that would force the writer of the multiplayer component in Goldeneye to leave FPS games behind? Luckily for us, he elaborates on that a bit in an interview with Edge. Starting off, Ellis states:

“I spent the whole of 2008 going round talking to publishers trying to sign up Timesplitters 4. There just isn’t the interest there in doing anything that tries to step away from the rules of the genre – no one wants to do something that’s quirky and different, because it’s too much of a risk. And a large part of that is the cost of doing it.”

What do we take from this little snippet? Simply the fact that FPS developers nowadays are fearful of straying away from the Call of Duty template. Devs want to make sure their game sells, so they look at it in a process that cuts out somewhat like this:

  • Create a setting, sometime during some war
  • Introduce characters that seem interesting, but not enough for players to get attached to
  • Develop a single-player campaign that caters to loner gamers, but don’t make it necessary to enjoy the game. Strip details and have it follow the point, shoot, move on method.
  • Add guns, lots of guns
  • Throw in some killstreak rewards for the elite players
  • Develop maps that look like the old ones from the previous titles, only with different names and a random car moved to the other side of the map
  • Plan more maps for DLC, to keep gamers throwing money at the game
  • Start working on four sequels

Okay, so I may be pressing just a little too rough on the FPS genre, and I’ll admit, I really enjoyed Call of Duty: Black Ops. I’m even excited for Black Ops 2, but you can’t deny that some of what I mentioned up there is truth. Following this template means that your FPS game will sell, no matter how bad it is. As long as you make it look cool, gamers will gobble it up.

Back to what Ellis was talking about, he continues his interview:

“Nobody really buys any FPSes unless they’re called Call of Duty. I guess Battlefield did okay, but aside from that pretty much every FPS loses money. I mean, [look at] Crysis 2: great game, but there’s no way it came anywhere close to recouping its dev costs. We’ve been through more than a couple of console generations and seen things grow and grow to a stage where it’s not really the business we got into. It’s not really what we signed up for in the start.”

Through Ellis’ words, he explains that the FPS genre just isn’t what it used to be. There’s no real fun in it anymore. Players get extremely competitive, in a negative way, which influences the way the game appears to other gamers. It’s even getting to the point where developers are shying away from the genre all together, simply because they don’t make the Call of Duty games. The genre has just reached a stalemate, and I can’t say I believe it will pull out anytime soon. Maybe we need another Goldeneye? The reboot for that didn’t go over well, on either platform it came to.

I think that players have become desensitized to their FPS games. Players are somehow okay with the same, repetitive gameplay over and over again. Something about giving it a new name and paying the full price for it over and over again makes it seem new. While I find some enjoyment in the Call of Duty games, I still find myself looking back to the older games in the genre, hoping for some kind of savior to break the mold.

What do you think? Could the FPS genre use a breath of fresh air? If so, what could help take it to the next level?

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