The San Diego Comic-Con showcased quite a few of our exciting video game panels, one of which was focused on the Action-RPG genre. David Brevik (Gazillion Entertainment) visionary behind Diablo and Diablo II, Jared Gerritzen (Major League Gaming), David Eddings (Gearbox Software), James Schmalz (Digital Extremes), and Chris Lee (En Masse Entertainment) joined me on location to discuss the evolution of Action-RPGs. From turn-based to real-time action, it was a pleasure to hear from the movers and shakers on how far the Action-RPG genre has come and where the genre could be going in the future.
We began the panel with a brief glimpse into the history of Action-RPGs. When asked which Action-RPGs have influenced their gaming career, David Brevik referenced how Moria was the basis for Diablo. The entire action RPG genre came into its own at that point in time. Jared jumped in and mentioned how Diablo defined this genre by combining first-person shooter twitch-like movements with an RPG. It was both shocking and captivating. David Eddings mentioned how Zork was one of the first action RPGs because, while it was all text, the player still felt that compelling gameplay aspect that Action-RPGs offer. Other panelists mentioned Kingdom Hearts and Borderlands being influential Action-RPGs. The Legend of Zelda was also mentioned as one of the first influential action games where the player’s really cared about the characters.
The panelists went on to discuss how the genre has changed and evolved mentioning how Final Fantasy’s turn-based games gave the player the ability to watch his/her character navigate the world. In addition, how procedurally generated games such as Diablo II gave players the option to play the game over and over. Multiplayer function is great for the genre because players get to create and maintain long-distance friendships.
The RPG aspect, of course, is a very big part of this Action genre, the panelists said. This discussion point led to the panelists describing how much RPGs in general have impacted the game industry at large. Lee mentioned how RPG elements are in nearly every game out there from online gaming, to social elements, to the evolution of characters. Eddings mentioned that AAA developers' goal when creating any RPG is to fulfill the player’s fantasy of being the hero, a race car driver, a football star, ultimate fighter, etc.
From there we moved in to the evolution of games. Schmalz agreed with other panelists that they could foresee a future game coming out and lasting for six or seven years because of the amount of transmedia, new content, lore, and evolution of characters that can be infused into one game. Lee feels that most games will shift in to this perpetual existence, meaning there will be no more sequels, just games that are released and go on with updates and new content.
When asked where the industry is going in the future, the panelists described how building communities and keeping players interested is key. Brevik mentioned how developers can’t ignore what players want because they are so many entertainment options out there competing with any given video game. For instance, Marvel Heroes is updated every week. It wasn't good at first, he said, but by building and communicating with audiences, we were able to improve the game and want to continue improving it based on our communities feedback.
In talking abut this perpetually existing game, the topic of Free to Play merging with Action-RPGs also came up. F2P allows for a free trial that developers hope will turn into paid subscribers, Gerritzen said. The challenge for developers is the need to pay employees salaries balanced against what the community wants. While ads can pull the player out of the gaming experience and pay to win exploits the customer, pay to decorate or customize your character is a better option when utilizing the free to play model, Eddings added.
Gerritzen mentioned that regardless of all this, a good game is the bottom line. No one will pay to play a bad game. Community is paramount. This is not like the movie industry where the audience's needs can be guessed or ignored. Without the community's needs being fulfilled, there is no game and ultimately, no jobs.
The Action-RPG genre is an intriguing and mega-fun genre, that is sure to continue surprising and exciting us in the future. I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to David Brevik, James Schmalz, Chris Lee, David Eddings, Jared Gerritzen, Gazillion Entertainment, Major League Gaming, Digital Extremes, En Masse Entertainment, Gearbox Software, and the countless producers, supporters, and fans. Thank you for your dedication and passion for the industry and for your valuable time.
Bimonthly, The Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about video games, the issues the industry faces, and the power of shaping online worlds. Find her on Twitter @GeneseDavis and GeneseDavis.com
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