In the land of sequels, reboots, and remakes it’s beginning to be difficult to see anything having a definitive and decisive ending. We stretch out experiences for as long as we can. At times it can enhance a story to build upon what’s already there. Or it can be at the detriment of an already solid experience. Video games are the perfect entertainment medium to keep coming back to for new missions and boss fights to face at any time. Games like Destiny, Overwatch, and Fortnite are wildly successful because they’re games that don’t have an “ending” in any traditional sense of the word. Instead, they’re video games that are great for short bursts of gaming with the occasional new maps, characters, or events to participate in every few months or so. But as huge and popular these games are, does this mean we’re beginning to move away from video games that are mostly singular and conclusive experiences?
In a GamesRadar+ article written around the summer of last year, writer Dan Dawkins talks about Ubisoft announcing their intention to create more video games focused on unlimited gameplay that doesn’t typically end after a player finishes the initial story. Dawkins then proceeds to examine why making such a move makes sense for most developers from a business standpoint, but also believes the video games industry shouldn’t abandon gaming experiences that actually have meaningful stories to tell with a conclusion.
On some level, I think we’re seeing this now. Take Anthem, for example, BioWare’s upcoming online multiplayer, action role-playing game. Anthem seems to be adopting the same models as Destiny, Overwatch, and Fortnite with its focus on online multiplayer elements. While BioWare has said their new game will also include a single-player mode and a wider story narrative to play through, it’s obvious that Anthem is meant to be vastly different from their other well-known signature properties, like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
I’ve still been debating whether or not Anthem is a game I’ll check out, even as the game’s release date gets closer and closer. I like multiplayer game modes in small doses, especially when the only reason I’m playing it is because a friend and I are getting together online for a few hours of co-op play. But I prefer to play my games solo with an elaborate story to gradually unfold. Anthem still looks and feels like it will be a game that leans more towards the online multiplayer experience, while single-player and story will largely take a backseat. I could be wrong, of course, but I’ll have to see what the consensus is after it’s out. I pray that Anthem will somehow marry the best of online multiplayer with what BioWare is known for—stellar story and characters.
I understand why these type of infinite games are appealing to most people now. Attention spans are much shorter than they were years or decades ago. Uncovering and playing a game that requires more of your time and investment is a lot to ask for. If you want to play video games, but only have an allotted amount of time blocked off to do it, Destiny, Overwatch, Fortnite and many other games of this design will be exactly what you want to be playing. It has fun game elements to indulge in and minimal to no story to have to pay attention to. It also keeps players coming back to these games because there are new add-ons being updated. Gamers get their money’s worth without having to worry about finishing a game and then needing to look for their next adventure to play. The playtime and fun these online multiplayer games promise will remain endless as long as the developers behind them continue to pour all their money and resources into one game instead of working on other projects that’ll take months or years to develop. When one game has already become a hit and is continuing to make money, why gamble on a new title that’s not a sure thing? The bottom line for all businesses is to make money with little to minimal risks. In other words, it’s better to play it safe. As NPD analyst Matt Piscatella, in Dawkins’ article, sums up:
“Given the decline in sales of the average finite, story based game when compared to 10-15 years ago, combined with the increase in development costs, and now the added opportunity cost involved, it’s no surprise at all to see the move towards games offering unlimited gameplay. The majority of those that purchase a finite, story based game are highly likely to never finish it.”
Based on Piscatella’s analysis, are we to blame for this shift in how we want to play and consume games? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I want the finite, story based games to disappear all together either.
If every video game is one big online MMO or co-op player experience, I can’t say I would want to stick around as a gamer for much longer. Despite what these advantages offer to gamers and businesses alike, it would get pretty dull and boring for someone like me who gets a thrill out of playing a game with an amazing story. Overwatch is a phenomenal game to play with beautiful maps and varied characters to choose from. But after an hour or two, whether I play it solo or with a friend, I’m ready to move onto something else. Story heavies, like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, Life Is Strange, and just about every Telltale Games title out there are the kind of game experiences that will stick with me for much longer. I remember how those games made me feel even years after finishing them. Getting “Play of the Game” during a session of Overwatch is pretty neat when it happens, except I can never fully remember what I did in specific matches to be the gamertag and character showcased in that moment. It may take me a while to play all the games I spent my money on, but once I do get to it, I want the game to elicit an emotional response. A reason for having spent 36 or 50+ hours to find out how it all ends for our favorite heroes and heroines once we bring them to the conclusion of their stories. Kingdom Hearts 3 has finally released last month, and whether it has been worth the wait since the first Kingdom Hearts came out in 2002, is still too early to tell. But for those who have played all the games in the series and are very much interested in knowing how Sora’s journey will end, will find a will and a way to finish the game no matter what.
Dawkins’ final thought on infinite gaming experiences is that he doesn’t want all his games to be nothing more than adequate, in the moment, endless experiences with no context or narrative. I agree with him, of course. Stories, whether they’re video games, films, or books, exist because it helps us understand the human condition. They give us a reason to navigate our emotional landscapes, make sense of what causes us immense amount of joy or what ignites our anger. We can get a glimpse of what it is to live a whole other life that’s different or similar to our own. You simply won’t get that if the main goal of a game is to guard a payload or be the first to take down an opposing team in a fire fight. Those moments will eventually become hollow and empty experiences.
Like Dawkins, I sincerely hope the vast majority of gamers aren’t only about playing all the Destiny and Fornites of the world. In the moment, infinite gaming is fine and all but please continue to make games that are meaningful, purposeful, and conclude on a profound level. I will gladly continue to be a gamer as long as these games have a chance to exist, and not become an obsolete relic from the past, much in the same way we now see record players, cassettes, and VHS players.
Do you think finite gaming experiences will go extinct to make way for more infinite gaming ones? Would you play video games that have little to no plot at all? Let me know in the comments section!