E3 2016 proved nostalgia is strangling creativity
Crash Bandicoot

With another E3 behind us and the industry boiling over with excitement, anticipation for cool new games is soured somewhat by a recurring trend

Simply put: the overwhelming number of ‘reboots’, ‘remasters’ and sequels have dominated proceedings, with developers repeatedly turning their attention to established franchises that consumers know and love.

And it leaves you wondering what effect this nostalgia tap is having on creativity.

Repackage

It’s the Sony conference. An announcement ends and the lights drop. The crowd sits anxiously, anticipating the Japanese giant’s next bravura announcement.

The audience doesn’t have to wait long before hearing a distinctive theme tune, followed by a projection of a familiar tropical setting. Everyone bursts into raucous cheering and applause as excitement ripples through the auditorium at the mere thought of another original Crash Bandicoot game.

But alas, it turns out we will not be receiving a brand new Crash Bandicoot this year – only a remastered collection of the original trilogy.

After the initial disappointment faded a few things became abundantly clear. Firstly, people really, REALLY want a new Crash Bandicoot game. Secondly, and probably most importantly, publishers, like Sony, knowthat  people really, REALLY want a new Crash Bandicoot game. So much so that fans who remember Crash Bandicoot fondly will have no problem throwing their money at a repackaged version of this classic title, even if it wasn’t the original experience they were after.

From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense. Why make a new Crash Bandicoot game when you can simply cash in on public nostalgia and repackage the previously released titles?

Rinse and Repeat

Let us move on to what is easily the most bloated dimension of the video game industry: the sequel.

They’re the proverbial beer belly of the video game industry, as we all keep going in for “just one more”, and boy did that belly balloon at E3 2016.

Gears 4 trailer screenshot

With titles like Gears of War and Dead Rising entering their fourth main iteration, and the coming of second instalments for the recently fledged Titanfall and Watch Dogs, it’s clear sequels are going nowhere anytime soon – while the previously new IPs of this generation are now spawning their own offspring.

Don’t even get me started on Call of Duty or Fifa: the poster children for the sequel machine, churning out a new title annually.

Infinite War war machine

As the largest publishers focus their attention on steadily incrementing the numeral of their most popular properties, their disproportionate attention arguably draws a detrimental shift away from innovation, instead focusing on what worked and how to replicate it. Developers constantly return to these established franchises and all too often recycle the same mechanics with little innovation – serving up fans more of the same.

Indeed, diverging from the formula too much incurs the wrath of fans. When Resident Evil 7 was revealed – a sequel actually attempting a radical overhaul of the series – it was greeted with derision in some quarters for ‘not being true Resident Evil’.

As fans of a franchise our nostalgia is strong, and when we play Halo 5 or Call Of Duty 58 we want familiarity. But it’s because of this desire for something recognisable under a familiar brand that we start to see gaming focusing on the comfortable rather than the truly daring.

Fan nostalgia drives developers and publishers to go with the established, less-risky formula that has already been proven successful, and this frequently leads to a direct drop in creativity and innovation.

Reimagine

Apart from remasters and sequels, we also have the increasingly popular reboots. These are the lesser of the evils to be fair, as we often see a complete overhaul of the engine under the hood.

We can look at E3’s recently announced God of War, Prey or Quake games; they seem to be taking the familiar and invigorating it with new ideas, mechanics and even different themes.

YouTube screenshot

These are names we all recognise, and publishers use recognition to capitalise on our nostalgia, but this is a thin line for developers to walk; performing a balancing act between innovation while still remaining true to the core series.

Developers can still retain the familiar mechanics and characters we’ve grown to love over the years, but if it’s too different there’s always the risk it might alienate core fans.

Although these reboots can sometimes be a well-targeted shot to the arm that reinvigorates a dormant series and excites the industry, the use of a recognisable brand remains an obvious attempt to siphon from the deep well of nostalgia once more.

Sometimes this can actually be a good thing as once forgotten titles are resurrected for a new generation, and fresh life is breathed into them. But it’s a delicate balance.

Regurgitate

This E3 was full of announcements, reveals and intrigue, but whether the industry is rebooting, remastering or any other synonym for repeating, it seems that as long as the publishers have viable recognisable properties, investing in a tried-and-tested IP over a new innovative one will always be the safer, more profitable option.

Innovation and creativity isn’t dead, and the indie market is thriving, but if this year’s E3 proved anything, it was that creative visions in the mainstream have been further shunted to the side by bigger, broader-shouldered peers.

More:

New God Of War echoes The Last Of Us, and that’s great

Resident Evil 7 is the reboot we’ve been praying for

Microsoft are all about the hardware – Sony are all about the games