E3 is now nearly a month in the past, and as the dust settles, we look forward to a quiet summer with a monstrously expensive autumn looming on the horizon. There are going to be a lot of games hitting players over the next year, but one thing I noticed at E3 was that there was one feature in particular that seems to be all the rage. Lots of games that weren’t are now going open world.
Dead Rising 3 is doing it. Dragon Age: Inquisition is doing it. The Witcher 3 is doing it. Metal Gear Solid 5 is doing it. Even driving games like The Crew are doing it. Suddenly, as we look at the next generation of games looming on the horizon, we see that one feature touted repeatedly. What’s happening?
It used to be generally regarded that creating an open world game was one of the hardest things to do in the industry, let alone do it successfully. Grand Theft Auto III was the first inkling we had of what that kind of gaming would be like and for many years, they were the only developers on consoles that dared to tackle such an ambitious kind of game. Of course, on the PC there was Bethesda, who eventually brought their brand of open world RPG gaming to consoles first with Oblivion, then Fallout and Skyrim enjoyed a virtual monopoly on vast, RPG worlds that other developers were too intimidated to imitate.
So why is there suddenly a wellspring of open world games bubbling around the next generation of consoles? Could it be that the software publishers, all too aware that a genre can be oversaturated, are afraid the same thing might happen to the first person shooter and are looking for other outlets to keep consumer interest high? After all, Activision, the king of the FPS genre right now with Call of Duty was one also the king of skateboard games with Tony Hawk and the king of music games with Guitar Hero. A relentless annual release schedule of those respective series eventually weakened audience interest in the respective IPs, to the point that Activision had to retire them.
Right now, open world games like Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim make a lot of money. One of the reasons they do that is because, as a genre, they are not as common as the FPS, so whenever games in these series comes out, it’s always an event. That’s why even games of less polished quality—such as the original Saints Row—tend to sell well, and the small number of imitators also garner their fair share of sales just because people love the concept of an open world game but have few opportunities to play them on a regular basis. Just Cause 2, for example, has a laughable story and none of the detailed world building of Grand Theft Auto IV, but its massive playground of brilliantly designed go-anywhere-do-anything destruction won it many fans.
Now Bethesda is facing competition from BioWare and CD Projekt, while Rockstar has been getting steady competition from all quarters like Avalanche Games (who now have an open world Mad Max game coming out next-gen) to Sucker Punch, which is on its third open world super hero game with Infamous: Second Son.
At this point, there’s a real possibility that gamers of the next generation may feel overwhelmed by all the open world choice that’s available to them. It’s one thing to know that over 100 hours of your life is going to be sucked up by a Bethesda RPG, but what if there are two more options that do the same thing? Even affordability isn’t an option, how many people can safely say, “Yes, I have over 300 hours I’m willing to devote to play each of these three massive open world RPGs fully?”
That’s a first world problem if ever there was one, and it’s one that many gamers are going to have to tackle in the next generation.