Today, at least with AAA games, the “kind of actor” that publishers want is an actor willing to spend sixty bucks to buy the game. Developers are incentivized to “cast” everyone they possibly can. Consequentially, we end up with games that try to do a little of everything and end up alienating everyone. Take a game such as Assassin’s Creed 4. Even if you love sailing around listening to sea shanties, you might roll your eyes at chasing down all those fragments. Even if you love the story missions, you’ll roll your eyes at having to do long fight scenes to complete them. Even if you love the stealth of the assassin’s contracts, you’ll throw your controller at having to sink three brigs to progress in the story. Etc. Try to do everything, you guarantee there’s something in the game to annoy/frustrate/bore everyone.
This even crops up with more “narrowly focused” games. Bioshock Infinite sold itself as a shooter with a great story. It didn’t try to rope in everyone, just people who were fans of shooters and games with deep storylines. Seems pretty narrow, right? But the game was really bifurcated into periods that were long fight scenes that played like pure shooters and long, ponderous stretches where no action happened at all. Shooter fans had long waits for the next thing to shoot, story fans got annoyed at the long bits where nothing happened except people ziplining at you with guns.
It’s telling that the quote below comes from Gabe Newell. Valve has a history of making games that don’t go out of their way to appeal to every possible customer. DOTA appeals to a very specific gamer. Team Fortress only appeals to people that like tower defense. No one who looks forward to Madden is going to play Portal. But everyone knows these games are good. Really, really good. Their fans are passionate about them, and the modding community ensures that people are playing them and loving them years after their release. They stay fun. They stay relevant. There’s a lesson for developers there.
I hope, as someone who loves games, that developers start making games that do attract a very specific “actor.” But when you look at the budgets of games, or, more tellingly the sales figures of games like Watch Dogs, I have a feeling that we’ll have to spend more and more time ignoring fragments, sidestepping GPS caches and arching our eyebrows at drug induced spider tanks as the years go on.