Remember when open world games were the young, sexy pop stars on the scene? Remember the first time you played “Grand Theft Auto III” or “The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind” and thought, “OH. MY. GOD. I’m playing the future of gaming!”

It was exciting, wasn’t it? The idea that games could be so big and expansive was enough to turn any gamer into a swooning, screaming teenage girl. Clawing at these idols, trying to rip pieces of their clothing off to hang on the wall with all of their pin-ups they tore out of the latest issue of Game Throb.

You and your friends would be on the bed, laying on your stomachs, hands under your chin, feet swaying in the air, and gossip with each other about the characters.

“Mmm, have you seen Claude when he’s in his red sports car? It gets my heart pumping every single time. I am SUCH a Claude Clod. I always get so flustered when I see him!”

“Claude is great, but have you seen Tommy from “Vice City”? He rides motorcycles. That’s hot. I know the game isn’t out yet, but I have to beat the rush and start a fan club for him now before my name gets stolen by some ugly skanks.”

“Oh my god, what are you going to call yourselves?

“The Tommy Guns. I know, you don’t have to say anything. It’s fucking awesome.”

But, what’s common for pop stars is their light starts to fade. They get old. They get tired. They get mean. They get lazy. They get apathetic. They get boring.

Open world games ARE those pop stars and they’re going through the exact same problems right now. They’re getting older. They’re getting more tired. They’re getting meaner. They’re getting lazier. They’re getting apathetic. They’re getting boring.

They’re stumbling out of bars at four in the morning; drunk, coming down from an 8-ball of coke, and punching paparazzi in the face… every night.

It’s not the healthiest lifestyle.

Not that open world games are in the same situation as aged pop stars. They still have lots of value to gamers, but developers have lost their way. They’re focusing on the wrong things when they make them. Loading them up with padding, endless collectibles, and garbage content, trusting that “the world being open” is enough incentive for gamers to invest their time and money.

It isn’t.

We’re inundated with lazy, formulaic, and tedious open world games nowadays. It almost makes the FPS genre look underrepresented and unique. Almost. I’m not ready to call that one quite yet.

Open world games used to represent every gamer’s hopes and dreams for their hobby. We used to pin all of our imagination and aspirations to them, wanting so badly for the chance to explore digital worlds in the same way we might explore our own. To have the freedom to do whatever we want but in a safe, consequence-free environment.

Just the IDEA that games could ever achieve something so ambitiously grand was intoxicating on its own. Now, he very fact that we’re sitting here, with many games that transcend our wildest fantasies and we walk away less than enthused? Well, that should tell you a little something about how these are being executed.

The design needs a massive overhaul.

If you take a look at the most prolific purveyor of open world games right now, Ubisoft, you’d see a striking similarity between all of their games. The maps and progression feel similar, but they’re different genres, right? Action, FPS, racing. Different.

In fact, the dirty little secret is that they’re all the exact. Same. Game. Yes, the way you WIN the games does differ, but they all share the same core game mechanics.

Let me explain:

Ubisoft comes out with “Assassin’s Creed”. Big hit. They create a juggernaut of a franchise out of it, releasing multiple entries in the series nearly every year. To date, there have been twelve games released in the “Assassin’s Creed” series in the last seven years, with two more in development!

And people complain about “Call of Duty”…

Ubisoft didn’t keep this success within a single franchise, however. They’ve applied the same exact recipe to their other franchises and new IPs. Do you want to know what that recipe is, so you can make your VERY OWN Ubisoft game? Because I’ve got the secret recipe right here. You wanna hear it?

Alright, here is a shopping list:

  • Open world, but has to be something not present in a game before, so it looks super unique and innovative.
  • Collectibles, but make them not seem TOO much like collectibles. Make them landmarks, viewpoints, bases, side quests (Because we CAN make people collect side quests), equipment, costumes, feathers, pages, endangered species, radio towers, dragons, data stations, etc.
  • Tell people EXACTLY how much of something there is and how much of it they’ve found. Give a small reward for getting all of a certain collectible, even if it’s just a trophy.
  • To facilitate collecting even more, make EVERYTHING visible on the map… once they’ve gotten a certain collectible, like viewpoints in “Assassin’s Creed”. After that flood the map with icons. The player isn’t allowed to read the map properly until they’ve found enough stuff. They won’t want to anyways, because it’ll eat away at the OCD in them.
  • Build a very basic game around all this. It doesn’t really matter, it just needs to be a different genre from the last game.
  • Genre doesn’t matter. Just market it like it does.
  • Shake well. Serve broken, with a healthy portion of bugs, and prepare DLC for dessert.

Still not convinced? This year alone, Ubisoft has released five games using this recipe. FIVE. “Watch Dogs”, “Assassin’s Creed: Unity”, “Assassin’s Creed: Rogue”, “FarCry 4”, and “The Crew”. Yes, three of those are action titles, one is a FPS, and the other is a racing game, but you do the same things in all of them, which is collect stuff.

That’s what genre open world games have become. They are now the “Collect-a-thon” genre.