Do What You Want, OKGO
Why are so many gamers content to just do as they are told? Who exactly is to blame for not exploring the world of an MMO? (Which is, after all, still a game, not a pure world simulator, for better or worse.) Why, in one of the most potentially interactive entertainment mediums, are games so constrained or controlled, and so many “consumers” still so passive?
Outside of the games themselves, why do players offer critique, punditry or backseat driving without seeking to understand before demanding to be understood? I guess it’s always just easier to blame the other guy.
Why do devs cater to player trends? Might I suggest that at least some of them still want to make money? That may be a tough question: make a game specifically to make money, or make the game you want to make and try to market it?
There’s a place for products that are built from a singular vision and that are uncompromising in how they approach it, counting on their labor of love to find the right audience instead of opening the tent doors to all the camels. I suspect everyone has their pet product that might fit this mold. I hope we never lose that corner of the game industry. (Though it is changing thanks to budgets and tools.)
…but it’s still an ecosystem of niches, not a way to survive the mainstream. There’s gold in them thar hills, but it’s risky business. The less risky mainstream might stumble onto a gem here and there, but by its nature, it’s more about keeping that shareholder cash flowing, and that means you can’t rock the boat much.
Oh, and challenge is still a variable, completely dependent on the perception of the player. Too many players (and devs) don’t understand that. There is no golden equation that collapses the player skill distribution curve into the Perfect Game. Even player-driven variables (difficulty settings, for one) can’t possibly cover all possible players.
…and let others do the same. In a market that is ever more digitally distributed, there’s room for the mid-size games with modest scope and other assorted indie products (including hardware, apparently, which is fascinating). The niches can work… but it may not always be easy. They can’t try to be AAA games (barely interactive movies), they have to embrace the niche and, well… do their own thing.
As one author noted…
Not every game is one of those RPG things, but games from Puerto Rico (an interesting example as there are no dice rolls and very little mechanical randomization; the most important random elements are the other players) to Chess to Rook to StarCraft rely on player choice. Players need to make choices (not just solve problems), and devs need to let them… even if that means letting them choose not to play their game because it’s too different. We all need to be confident in our choices and not worry so much about catering to anyone else. I think we get better games and better gamers that way.