A reader wonders why the most popular games often have such mediocre gameplay and why it is that no one seems to care…
Theres been an interesting discussion in the Inbox this week about whether or not it matters when a game has sub-par gameplay when the rest of it (i.e. the graphics, open world, story, etc.) are excellent. The obvious catalyst for these thoughts is Red Dead Redemption II, which I have played and enjoyed but which I agree has very unremarkable, and extremely repetitive, combat.
I dont think this is a very controversial thing to say, as the original was the same and most Grand Theft Auto games are even worse. Since they have all the time and money in the world to fix it Rockstar Games clearly dont care and I think thats probably for two reasons. One is that I imagine the success has gone to their heads and theyve never seemed to me like a company that is good at receiving criticism or cares about listening to what others say about their games.
The second reason, which Im sure theyre aware of, is that the general public dont care either. Especially not when the only two games to compare to Rockstars success play just as bad. PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds is considerably worse, actually. Half broken, with terrible gunplay, janky graphics, and not a whiff of anything approaching any kind of art design.
Fortnite is better, in all respects, but its gunplay is still firmly mediocre, which is odd because Epic Games did the early Gears Of War games and they had really good third person combat. Id almost suggest theyre doing it on purpose because they think the general public prefer their action imprecise and awkward but Call of Duty has always sold itself on its excellent gunplay and it is still extremely successful.
To me this is one of the great mysteries of gaming and Ive never really seen any explanation. People that like these games (not that I hate all of them) either shrug their shoulders and say it doesnt matter or they get angry and defensive (which is what I assume is going on in the comments section right now) and pretend that the action is actually really good. Which it plainly isnt. Or worse pretend that being okay and fine is somehow acceptable in what some are trying to call the game of the generation.
The Witcher 3 is another odd one, which has really ropey combat, but because the rest of the game is so good you kind of give it a pass. I know I do, but I cant help imagining how amazing that game would be if the main thing youre doing for half the time was actually fun. Not good enough or not bad but actually, genuinely good.
What all this proves to me is that only a small percentage of people actually play games for the gameplay. I dont say that to seem elitist but the primary reason the majority of people play games seems to be for the immersion, relaxation, or social interaction. Either something to switch your mind off after work with, a sort of virtual holiday to somewhere you could never really go, or a way to catch up with friends that isnt just talking on the phone or some app.
The people that play games primary for the gameplay is much smaller than many hardcore gamers probably imagine, and thats, I think, why these mega popular games are so ordinary to actually play.
Theres no good answer as to why these companies cant make them good as well, especially for someone as rich as Rockstar, but I imagine when youre spending $250 million to make a game you want to stick with what worked before. Especially when what worked before sold a billion copies.
None of this is some secret controversy or terrible crime that needs to be righted. Its not loot boxes or microtransactions or anything like that. But it does worry me sometimes when you realise that the whole concept of gameplay and what makes it good must be so very far down the list of priorities for most publishers. I just hope that the current status quo is maintained and they dont one day start to see it as a liability…
By reader Top Cat
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