Does the FPS Genre Need to Evolve?

In the beginning of June, the indie development community came together for a 7-day game jam in order to answer the question of developer Jan Willem Nijman: “FPSes are a horribly oversaturated genre, indies can easily do amazing new stuff. Who’s up for it?”

And so began a contest to see what indie devs could do to the FPS to re-invigorate it in only seven days. You can see the whole Gamasutra feature about it here, including more in-depth information about the games created and what the developers said about them.

It’s not very common to see indie developers tackling such a genre, simply because of budget constraints and the fear of getting lost in an overcrowded market. They point to Triple-A first person shooters as problematic in the industry, due to their similarities and lack of innovation. But with the success and large profit of some of the larger FPS titles, it’s not a smart move of major developers to take big risks and give players something other than what they’re used to.

Enter the indie development community, known for their interesting use of innovation and introduction of new conventions in familiar genres.

“Every genre is converging on its own universal design. For example, almost every FPS game is a near-future squad shooter with regenerating health, two-gun-swap, offhand grenades, XP-grinding multiplayer, and an on-rails cinematic story about the greyness of morality,” said Wolfire developer David Rosen of the stagnation of the FPS genre. He went on to cite how large FPS titles are no longer changing or innovating on the game’s actual design, but are instead competing “in a graphical arms race”, always trying to reach a new level of photorealism to immerse the player in.

Over the seven days, many developers came up with interesting new ideas and takes on the FPS that they may take away and use in future projects of their own.

Now, while they are known for innovation and new takes on established genres, this entire bit made me question whether or not they were right. Do FPS games need to evolve and start to innovate their gameplay?

Saying that the FPS is a crowded genre is like saying Disneyworld gets busy during the summer. It’s PACKED from wall to wall, with barely any breathing room between titles. It seems like there’s a new FPS coming out every other week, each with their own unique hook and story (most of the time). Our bad guys are aliens! Look at this gun! Check out the awesome kill animations!

The fact of the matter is this; since it is one of the most popular and lucrative genres, people have become well accustomed to it. With a little bit of deviation from title to title, the mechanics and controls are pretty much the same; this button shoots, this one reloads, hit this one to cycle through weapons, use this one to control the camera, use this one to move, etc.

And that’s what people have become comfortable with. That’s what they’re used to in their FPS. Should we try and change that?

I think there is a middle ground that can be found here. You can use the traditional conventions of an FPS that people know and love, while still adding a new hook or bit of innovation to it that changes the entire feel of it and makes it into something more than “just a shooter”.

Think of the Half-life series here. Throughout the Gamasutra article, developers complain about the straightforward cinematic cutscenes that appear within the traditional FPS of today. But in a game like Half-Life, the storytelling is handled in a much more immersive way. The game uses real time events in a first-person perspective to make you feel like you’re part of the story, not just in it. It’s because of this that the story of Half-Life becomes central to the game, not just taking the backseat like it sometimes does in other shooters.

Another game that changes things up a bit in the FPS realm is Borderlands. It’s a true shooter in every sense of the word, bragging about having a litany of weapons made available to players throughout the game. You basically move from one area and quest to the next, shooting anything that moves with the multiple guns you pick up and carry with you.

But what makes Borderlands interesting is its loot system. Found typically in RPGs like Diablo and Torchlight, the developers at Gearbox decided to take those conventions and merge them with an RPG feel. The result is a lootfest that is both rewarding and a hell of a lot of fun.

So, does the FPS genre need to evolve? A little innovation and change in the norm never hurt anyone. In fact, it’s these leaps that often lead to cult classics and great games. But as a whole, the genre itself isn’t necessarily in any need of a major overhaul. And while it may have some titles that feel stale and uninspired, it is continually one of the most popular and successful genres on the market, raking in millions of dollars every year.

My vote? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But don’t be afraid to give it a new paint job just to freshen it up.

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