Can I sell you on this idea for a game I have?
In it, you see, you're this super-soldier. I mean, you're frikkin' huge. And you've got guns! Guns like you wouldn't believe! Anyway, there's some bad guys, and it's up to you to shoot them right in the face. What makes it cool is that you have some kind of a unique power. Probably to do with time.
No? Wait, I've got another one.
Get this - you're a guy with a sword. Or an axe. There are options. And anyway, you're in this world that's being menaced by darkness, which is used as a metaphor for evil. And pretty much you're the only one who can do anything about it. There's, like, a million quests you can do, and you can find loot. But - get this - you don't have to! You can be a jerk! Like, a really cool jerk, with glowing eyes. Or not. It's going to be huge.
It's just not grabbing you, is it?
Look, I'm as big a fan of shotgun-based hilarity as the next person, and my tolerance for levelling up is ridiculously high, but no matter how much I might like my gaming staples I get tired once genre devolves into generic.
Game developers - listen up. You should not be in the business of selling us content. You should not be marketing hours of gameplay. It is not important exactly how many action packed levels you have included.
You are selling an experience. Sitting down with a new game is like going on holiday; you are our travel agent. If you want us to buy, you need to offer at least one of three things:
* a unique destination;
* a better journey; or
* a more stylish mode of transport.
I'm in danger of straining a metaphor, but stay with me here.
A Unique Destination: Take us somewhere new. Let us be someone unique. War ravaged cities have been done a million times, but Bioshock's submerged objectivist dystopia was one of a kind. You can be a kung-fu streetfighter anywhere, but if you want to be a licensed hip-hop superstar the only door is through the DefJam franchise.
A Better Journey: There's nothing about Half-Life's plotline that pushes the envelope. What makes it exceptional is the execution. It knows that it's not delivering a game so much as it's delivering an experience. It's the difference between buying product from a bargain bin and making a purchase through a sales consultant. Half-Life is speaking directly to the player, and is concerned with exactly what response it's provoking in the player. It's not offering content - it's targeting content.
More Stylish Transport: Atmosphere is everything. Something prosaic can be amazing when placed in context. Getting the atmosphere right is what makes Silent Hill effective and House of the Dead not so effective. It's what distinguishes Fallout from Outlander (who remembers Outlander?) and Wing Commander III from Wing Commander V. Knowing your strengths, playing to them, and making every aspect of your design subservient to the reaction you want to provoke in the player.
Gaming is a wide, wide world, but travel agents keep trying to sell me the same package again and again.
Frankly, I'd like something new.