Death of the Critic

A Case Against Open World Games

Written by: Tom Blaich

It’s not often that I argue against adding features. It’s counter intuitive. It goes against everything I normally stand for, and everything everyone else normally stands for. We want more. We want our dollars and cents to be giving us a tangible experience, as massive as possible. We want the cost benefit analysis to be as positive for us as possible. To be able to milk every single last hour and minute out of a game.

That is not what I’m arguing against. In some ways I’m arguing against the attitude, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with more being added to games. Generally it’s a pretty good thing.

The problem that we can begin to see is that publishers are pushing developers to add more to games, where it isn't needed. Publishers want as many bullet points on the back of the box as possible, as many buzzwords to throw around releases and conferences, as much hype as possible built around a game before launch. They are focused on the sales that are occurring before the game is even out in the wild, selling the product more on promises than deliveries.

Chief offender is the last
Metal Gear Solid game that was released in the fall. Proceeded by a $40 downloadable prequel, the game gives you several “open world” maps, in which your main character, Big Boss, is allowed to run and gallop and drive through in order to accomplish the mission. And at first this announcement was met with praise. By allowing players to approach the complex and in depth Metal Gear missions from multiple directions and their own tactics, they would allow an unprecedented amount of freedom and change the game itself.

Unfortunately they did change the game. They took the once highly directed and focused game and mired it down in endless side missions that asked you to perform the same tasks over and over again as you walked over the same nondescript stretch of desert highway for the umpteenth time. Gone was the highly specific and convoluted storytelling, in favor of a game that artificially stretched out the experience for entirely too long. It’s weird to long for the hour-long cutscenes of the past instead of being asked to rescue another prisoner or extract another officer.

This phenomenon is not new. Adding unnecessary features to games has been plaguing games for a long time. Just look at the 2010 release of
Bioshock 2, which added a multiplayer mode that baffled fans in its inclusion. Or the 2013 Mass Effect 3, with its wave based multiplayer mode that added micro transaction purchases and a chance to “improve your galactic readiness” which would help you achieve a better end to the game.

It speaks of trying to add features to make the game appealing to new players, but it also speaks to a much weirder phenomenon, in which publishers believe that we need only play their one game a year. We should be able to play that game until they release the next, and the next, and so on. They ask immense time commitments from us, and include massive time sinks in their games, which; if anything, are making them more daunting to me as a player.

Let's look at the release season last year. We had
Metal Gear Solid 5, The Witcher 3, and Fallout 4 all within a matter of months. And if I played each of these games as much as developers intended, I could have easily sunk hundreds of hours of my time into just these three games over the last few months. This used to be immensely appealing to me. When I was able to do this. When I was able to sit down for hours on end, day after day and just play a game.

Publishers still think of their audience as kids with no other responsibilities besides games, instead of the late 30’s demographic that actually dominates the space. You wouldn’t think of telling a father and husband to come home from his job and play four hundred hours of video games in 3 months. It’s simply not feasible.

Why can’t a game simply be a fulfilling 20-hour experience? Why do I have to keep plugging away at a game instead of playing it for a week and being done? The mark of a good piece of media to me is that when I’m finished with it, I crave more. I want more music, more missions, and more film. But increasingly, in these open world games, I find myself putting them down halfway through, and not really picking them back up again. I’m not craving more. I’m inundated. I’m sated.

Can we show a little restraint?


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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