I know there are some people who think what I’m about to say next is absolute lunacy, but I’d also be willing to be those same people are probably younger than 20, and this is their first serious foray into a console generation. Anyone who’s been through a few generations of hardware is going to know that what I say next is not craziness, it’s inevitability, and that inevitability is the decline of the first person shooter as the dominant genre. This is just the passage of time and the changing of tastes at work.
The same sort of thinker today that might insist “The FPS will rule forever, and ever, and ever, and nothing will ever dethrone its popularity” is probably similar to the sort of person that believed fighters in the 90s would rule forever. Yes, that’s right, the FPS has not been the dominant genre since time immemorial. In fact quite a few genres ruled the roost before the FPS ever took the throne, but this is something younger gamers might not remember.
We’re already seeing the signs of this fatigue even today. The Call of Duty franchise, while still the most profitable gaming property at the moment, is already suffering from something it never had in its earlier years; a growing, vocal group of detractors. The success of the franchise particularly its Modern Warfare incarnation, has been so virulent amongst developers that for the last five years, contemporary military shooters have been flooding the market at an exhausting rate. And that audience is now voicing their exhaustion. Analysts had actually predicated that Modern Warfare 3 would not surpass the sales of its predecessor, Call of Duty: Black Ops and they were proven right as the accounting came in at the start of this year. That’s a first for the franchise which has regularly enjoyed increasing sales with each new sequel. But, as with annual sports games, there comes a time when the same, identical mechanics, with minor tweaks may fail to attract new audiences with every new release. It happened with the Guitar Hero franchise, and it may be happening here now.
I’m probably still being conservative with this estimate, but I’m going to say that by the year 2017, roughly five years from now, the sales of the FPS are not going to be anywhere near the insane sales levels they’ve enjoyed for the last five years. A lot of those sales were driven by mainstream/casual audiences, people who simply follow trends, rather than developing specific tastes or preferences. The fickle nature of such a consumer—buying things based only on flavor-of-the-month recommendations from friends—means that their interests are bound to wander elsewhere.
And when that happens, what will come after the FPS?
We’ve already started to see how some of the developers that successfully handled shooters in the past are experimenting with the future. Naughty Dog, for example, has done well with their 3rd person, contemporary shooter, the Uncharted Series, but their latest game, The Last of Us, bears more resemblance to Resident Evil than Gears of War with its focus on survival, some elements of horror, and the typical Naughty Dog emphasis on characters and relationships. Borderlands has established massive success as an FPS, but it’s not really because of the FPS elements, so much as the Diablo-esque loot and RPG mechanics, combined with some of the best co-op multiplayer seen in a game to date, something the sequel is poised to expand on.
It’s in concepts like this that the future may lie, the exploration—virtual or otherwise—of relationships to other people. There’s a reason Facebook and other social networking services are so popular, and it’s precisely because of that social aspect. Games that have had social aspects have traditionally been more adversarial about that relationship, but the rise of co-op—or even compelling digital companions, such as in Mass Effect or Dragon Age—have proven that what people really enjoy is spending time with people they like.
Before Guitar Hero burned away its audience with oversaturation, its chief appeal was in people pretending to play music together. It’s the same draw that keeps Dance Central popular on Kinect and Singstar on the PS3. It is the same reason that the horde mode from Gears of War took everyone by surprise with how much fun it is to work with others rather than against them. Humans are inherently social creatures by nature. It seems like the next genre in gaming is likely going to capitalize on that, because that’s where most people—even non-gamers—can find a compelling reason to stick around. People like to win, but they also like to share that victory with others. Co-op gaming recognizes that.