The Rule of Threeon July 1, 2014 at 8:00 am
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That’s been a pretty common saying for a long time. I mean, it makes sense. Why tinker with something when you know what you have already works?
Well, usually because there is potential to make it better.
After all, if we didn’t constantly strive to change things, nothing would ever improve. So, I think that phrase has become a bit of an anachronism. I mean, even hammers have been improved over the years. If you can improve a tool as simple as that, then you can improve ANYTHING.
But, I think the video game industry takes this expression to heart. It’s practically the undisputed king of “Never Changing Anything”. In its outdated empire, it would rather leave something exactly the same for as long as it prints money, then throw it away the moment they get a paper jam. It sees “PC LOAD LETTER”, and immediately takes that money printer to a field and beats it with a baseball bat. It’s never a dignified death.
This kind of business isn’t good for gaming. It’s too short-sighted. Not only is it nothing but a quick cash-in for publishers, but it’s not good for gamers, either. They want to see games being released in their favorite franchises for decades, instead of fizzle out and die after a few years.
It’s only natural; keep pumping out the same game over and over and over again, and of course we’re going to become disinterested in it. The vast majority of us aren’t easily amused dudebros who buy “Call of Duty” every year. We’re more sophisticated than that… or just get bored easily. Okay, we just get bored easily.
That’s not our fault, though. It’s not like we’re all wracked with ADD and can’t focus on any franchise for too long. On the contrary, many gamers are fiercely loyal to franchises they enjoy. Loyal to a fault, really. This can cause publishers to think it’s okay to continue down the path of samey-ness. To kill the horse, beat it, go to sleep, wake up, then beat it some more.
Hey, that horse is dead. You know that, right?
“Yeah, but you’re still standing around watching. So, we figured…why not keep this party going?”
Let’s not pretend this is a new trend. They’ve been doing it since gaming began. Just on the NES alone, look how many “Mega Man” games Capcom managed to release. It was six! By the time they had developed that many, it must have been like trying to squeeze out that last bit of toothpaste.
“No no, there is still some left in here. I’m not ready to go to the store and pay $3 for another tube!”
This is why I fiercely believe in something I call “The Rule of Three”. The idea being that you are allowed to make something three times. You’ll improve upon its mechanics and design each time. Eventually, hopefully, your third entry will be the best… then you quit. If you’re going to continue the series, you need to make a radical change at that point. Mix it up!
Let’s look back at the “Mega Man” example. 4 through 6 were, obviously, exactly like the previous games in the series. You can tell the designers were getting bored; the games were less fun to play, as a result. They were no longer fresh or interesting, but felt formulaic and safe. It was just another “Mega Man”. 1 through 3, however, saw massive changes with each entry, finally reaching a point with the third entry, where it felt as good as it was going to get.
And, if you’re screaming, “THAT’S WHAT A SERIES IS! GAMES THAT ALL PLAY THE SAME,” at your computer screen right now, you’re wrong. Oh, so wrong.
I expect bands that I like to stay within the same genre of music, but I like for them to experiment with different sounds with each album. I look at a series of games the same way. If you’ve made a game that fits within the same genre, then whatever you do beyond that can be whatever you want it to be!
How about a “Mega Man” game where you don’t fight eight robot masters? Maybe one could’ve been non-linear, like “Metroid”. Or maybe one DOESN’T need the obligatory “Fight All Eight Bosses Again” feature at the end of the game. Perhaps you only fight six robot masters, but there are twenty available, and each stage has multiple exits, so each playthrough is different. You’ll get different bosses and different power-ups.
It’s pointlessly restrictive to limit yourself to a perceived way a series HAS to be designed. It stifles creativity and leads to obscurity and apathy. Even if the developers aren’t totally satisfied and think they can do better. Even if GAMERS aren’t totally satisfied, it’s better to leave things on a high note, then start looking at things from a different perspective. Make your changes while people are still having fun, before the creative slump kicks in and before players start complaining.
If people are crying for more, then the developers have done their job well. Let them continue to do their job by letting them be creative.
Why do I think this way, though? Why do I care?
It’s because I love seeing new ideas and concepts sprout up. Developers pigeonholing themselves into a single series that barely changes from entry to entry is incredibly frustrating to me. Of course, the fans of these games don’t help the issue. They continue to buy them year in and year out. This only causes the publishers to believe that this is the correct path. That NEVER changing is the only way to conduct business.
I hate that mentality.
You may think, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. If people are happy playing the same thing over and over, then let them!”
I hate that mentality, as well.
Maybe it’s because I just have too much love for gaming. Maybe it’s because I get excited about design and experiencing new ways to play. Maybe it’s because when I see games being more progressive and changing their identities, that I think the people making them are actually enjoying what they do. And that means they’re trying their damnedest to deliver experiences that are really going to blow gamers away.