Money and video games: A sad mix

Should the video game industry go "mainstream?" Don Reisinger thinks it probably will, but he hopes it doesn't.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read
Grand Theft Auto IV
Can I go back in time? Rockstar Games

Dan Houser, Rockstar Games creative vice president and chief Grand Theft Auto IV writer, said in an interview recently that he would rather see developers enjoy their creative freedoms instead of garnering respect from the entertainment industry and being tied down by regulations.

"(Developing video games) is really fun at the moment because we're not in any academy and the medium's not codified," Houser told the Telegraph. "There's no accepted way of doing anything so that give us enormous pleasure because we can make it up as we go along.

"Movies and TV and books have become so structured in the way they have to approach things," he continued. "Not working in that environment gives us enormous freedom. I'd rather keep the freedom and not have the respect."

It's an interesting point and one that I tend to agree with. Right now, many shows and television segments need to go through a "standards and practices" check to ensure that what will be broadcast won't offend others. Films also go through a rigorous vetting process and each movie is rated based on its content. Trust me, it's nothing like the ESRB.

But as video games continue their rise in popularity, it might only be a matter of time before they finally reach the mainstream entertainment space and are considered an equal to films and movies. Once that happens, as Houser explains, the video game industry will be rocked by rules and scrutiny that could diminish its value to those of us who have enjoyed gaming for years.

Realizing that, I don't want to see the video game industry go mainstream.

I think the industry has gone far enough. I remember a time, not too long ago, when the video game industry wasn't so focused on business the way it is today. I agree with Houser that there is still some creative freedom, but the more I play games, the more I realize that that creative freedom is being sucked away just a little more each day.

How many first-person shooters do we have to play before it gets to be enough? More often than not, the game is built off the Unreal Engine (just look at this list!) and regardless of the developer, it looks and plays the same way as every other FPS on the market. It's to the point now that I've boycotted first-person shooters because of my disgust.

But it goes far beyond first-person shooters. Years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find an advertisement in games. Now, if you play Madden NFL 09 or just about any Need for Speed title, you'll be inundated with in-game advertising. It's everywhere. And it's annoying.

There's also the issue of sequels. I realize that video games are becoming more costly to develop and one of the best ways to get every last dime out of a game is to develop sequels and capitalize on a franchise, but come on! Do I really need this many sequels? Sure, some are better than their predecessors (I'm looking at you, Gears of War 2), but I find that those are the exception, not the norm. More often than not, sequels are rushed out the door because the suits upstairs want to make a quick buck. Great. But what about the gamer?

I consider myself "old school" when it comes to gaming. I still love my favorite titles from on the NES and I look back fondly at the debates we engaged in over which console, the SNES or the Sega Genesis, was best. That was a time when gaming wasn't nearly as popular, but it wasn't as commercial either. Innovation and creative freedom was rewarded above all else and derivative game play was practically nonexistent.

But as the video game industry started its trek to the mainstream, it placed a priority on cash. And in the process, games did become more regulated and that creative freedom Houser touched on, while still present, is a modicum of what it once was.

Do I still love gaming? Of course. Would I give it up even though it's starting to go mainstream? Of course not. But that doesn't mean I need to like where gaming is headed. The more mainstream the industry gets, the more ads, derivative game play, boring iterations of established titles, and regulation, we will be forced to deal with.

And as a gamer, that's not good.

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