Open-world games continue to sell incredibly well, but the cracks have begun to show up, not just in the games, but in the industry in general.
The eighth generation of consoles allowed developers to create some of the massive open-worlds ever seen in video games. In 2018, Ubisoft painstakingly brought the entirety of Ancient Egypt to life in Assassin’s Creed Origins, whose map size was approximately 80 square kilometers in size. Rockstar Games took eight years to develop Red Dead Redemption 2, whose hand-crafted and jaw-droppingly detailed open-world design made exploring its rugged 19th century American setting almost life-like.
After seeing the success and popularity of such humongous titles, it’s easy to assume that open-world games encapsulate the AAA games industry, however, that isn’t the case. While open-world games continue to sell incredibly well, the cracks have begun to show up, not just in the games, but in the industry in general.
The problems surrounding these huge open-world games are plenty. The most tangible one that many would agree is the unpolished, broken state, most of them seem to launch nowadays. Titles like Anthem, Mass Effect Andromeda, Fallout 76, and Cyberpunk 2077 are just fine examples of where even the most talented game studios went wrong.
Game developers are, after all, human beings, and expecting them to build an untamed utopia that would serve as a playground, even in an ideal world, is too much. What’s worse, is that this utopia, even if it’s presented in the most polished state with all its tools and tests aligned, has one major drawback.
That one major drawback, which is creeping up quietly, is that modern open-world games are just too overwhelming. In my personal experience, I have realized that every new open-world game I venture into, I tend to spend even less amount of hours than I spent in the one before that, and rarely it has to do with the quality of the open-world.
When players have the option to explore five different terrains at the same time, most of them would usually start off with one but would be tempted to explore the other four as well. This leads to a sense of urgency where I, the player, feels distracted, almost all the time. As result, I’m unable to cherish what’s currently in front of me, rather contemplating what’s down in the next area. Ultimately, the overwhelming thoughts take over and I quit the game, thinking of it as a chore, which leads to never-ending fatigue, every time I even think about that game in the future.
Open world games are supposed to generate a feeling that we are actually living in this alternate world. Its objective is to excite the players, to let off the anxieties and troubles of the real world, and allow them to take a breather in this fantastical world they would be proud to call their second home. This means getting to know every alleyway, every mountaintop, every bizarre NPC’s in that area. However, the larger this world becomes, the more difficult it is to call this world my second home.
Rockstar Games, a company that has mastered the art of developing open-world games, is allegedly taking a different approach in developing the next-entry of its highly acclaimed Grand Theft Auto Series. Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier (at the time at Kotaku) reported last year that the company plans to tackle its crunch filled environment by releasing moderate-sized games, which they will expand via subsequent updates.
Many would argue that this would label the next Grand Theft Auto title or whatever Rockstar Games is currently working on, as a “games as a service title”, a term notoriously famous in the games industry for all the wrong reasons. However, this could possibly turn out to be a completely unique affair that benefits both the games and the developers.
For starters, releasing open-world games in parts or episodes could diminish the achingly long time between the releases. Red Dead Redemption released back in 2010 while Red Dead Redemption 2 saw the day of light in 2018. Similarly, Bethesda released Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, a deeply loved RPG, back in 2011, with its next iteration, although announced, is still many years away from its release.
Long development time not just heightens gamers’ expectations to a ridiculously high, unachievable level, but also limits the developers’ creative endeavors, ultimately making the game feel old, even at its launch. The perfect example of this is Cyberpunk 2077. While the game is a solid RPG that provides players with an inexplicable pleasure in tackling any given combat scenario, it ultimately doesn’t revolutionize the genre, so to speak. Its creative endeavors have already been seen, implemented in various ways over the course of 8 years it spent in the oven. This is something that has plagued almost every AAA game this gaming generation. The more time they spend in development, the less they feel original, and ultimately robs long time gamers of any kind of excitement while playing.
Releasing open-world games in an episodic format would allow developers to combat crunch culture, while also giving them a chance to evolve the genre creatively, not to mention the less time between the releases, which is always a good thing. Moreover adding new attributes to the subsequent episodes could surpass player expectations, as it would easily differentiate from prior releases. It will allow players to explore, live and remember every ounce of a city, a town, or a castle, before venturing into an entirely new location, doing and seeing entirely new things that could be added in the future episodes.