Dangerous Gaming Trends: Open Worlds

So have you heard about Olympic Diver for the PS3 and 360? It sounds amazing. Here’s the story: You play as multiple winning gold medalist Corey Swan (get it?), who on his latest Olympic dive had a terrible slip and became the laughing-stock of the world. Embarrassed, he left the sport behind until he couldn’t bare the thought of no longer diving. But he couldn’t return to the sport. Nobody takes him seriously anymore, so he had to look for another venue… New York City.

In Olympic Diver you get the entire city of New York at your fingertips. Every park, street, and building is yours to explore… and dive off of. Even better, you’re wearing nothing but a swimmer’s cap and a Speedo. You gotta see it in action to really appreciate it, it’s so cool to see the pedestrians point at you as you run by, and shout things out at you. At first they may be more insulting, but as you rebuild a name for yourself, you become more and more of an appreciated spectacle.

At first you may be taking gigs at a 9 year old’s birthday party, where you’ll need to impress by diving from the roof of the child’s house into their family pool. But in no time at all you’ll have passerby’s stopping and gathering in groups to watch as you dive from a 5-story building. No more insults or name calling. Now they applaud and cheer you on as you perform a multitude of mid-air tricks leading to your perfect plunge into the water below.

You’ll soon receive offers to dive from crazier and riskier locations, like say, the Statue of Liberty, or the Empire State Building. Pools will be set up for you, you’ll be televised, and sponsored, and you will be rewarded with cash and prizes, which can be used to make future dives more interesting. Get enough money and you’ll be able to buy that helicopter you’ve been eyeing, then you can jump out of it mid-flight and land into the pool thousands of feet below. It’s truly zany, but loads of fun when you’re attempting jumps from just about anywhere you want.

It depresses me knowing that were this game real, it would fit in nicely on the shelf next to GTA, Mercenaries, Just Cause, True Crime, Saints Row. It would be the talk of the town, “Ah man, have you tried shooting the rocket launcher right before he lands so he’s propelled upwards for bonus points!?”

Throw in a character creation system and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Who wouldn’t want the ability to be an obese athlete with a rainbow colored Afro? That just took the game from a 9.0 to a possible 9.5/10. Now we can have a cool marketing campaigned where we say things like “The choice is YOURS,” “The sky’s the limit,” “Do what YOU want, WHEN you want.”

Like my article last week, how much longer can the masses be fooled into buying the same thing over and over again? Why is it exciting to leap out of a helicopter in both Grand Theft Auto and Just Cause? Do I really care if I’m shooting web out of my hands as Spider-Man or electricity in InFamous? In the end you’re just tapping the same button and seeing a different on screen effect. Big deal. Where are the unique characters and storylines to pull us through an engaging plot? What’s the core element that the game excels in?


It’s like a big melting pot of sub-par game mechanics, but it’s impressive to people because it does “so much.” But do I really want to play pool inside of another game? Or would I rather play an actual good pool game? Do I want to run in gun in a barely playable form, or buy a game that focuses on action gunplay?

I see a scary future, and instead of every game becoming a Wal-Mart, I’d personally like to see genres still in existence 10 years from now.

The reason I’m looking at these sandbox games as potential threats to our industry, is the fact that not only are they offering the same content over and over again, and not succeeding in any one gameplay area, but they are relying on the gamer to create the experience, while the lazy developer reaps the reward.

No longer do they need to think of an engaging story, when they can just blame the gamers “lack of imagination” for not creating their own story in their open ended sandbox of fun.


The odd thing is, I can’t even see how it’s easier for the developer either. It has to be a pain making an entire scaled and proportioned city, with physics, and various engines to make sure everything works just right; from shooting a gun, driving a car, plane, boat, and don’t forget about bowling.

Of course, don’t get me wrong. There are the exceptions that get it right. They offer a stimulating experience from start to finish, and don’t rely on the distractions of the sandbox to reel the gamer in. But then there’s the rest; the ones that flood the market, and offer nothing but a different main character. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if people didn’t keep buying them.

Why are people ragging on the music game genre when the open world genre is just as bad? Instead of Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Nickelback, and Choir Band, we’re getting Mercenaries, Army Heroes, and Mexican Desperado. It’s the same thing, and released way too frequently.

The part that hurts me the most is how it’s influenced other genres and some of my favorite franchises. I hated the transition of the Burnout series into the open-world style. It took the quick fun and levels out, and turned it into a “make your own fun” sandbox. I don’t want that. Or how about the most tragic of them all: Brutal Legend. Did anyone else think the beginning segment (the demo) was incredible? But then got disappointing when the open world segment was introduced?

There’s a place on the shelf for open world games, just like there is for sports titles every year, puzzlers, and music games; but in moderation. The masses need to stop eating these up, but as pointed out by the Platform Nation community last week to my previous article, it’s all about money and business. Why would a developer stop pumping these out if the mass mainstream audience is going to buy millions of copies of it?

So what is it about the open world genre that people enjoy so much? What are your thoughts on its success and why so many copycats are able to not only release, but also obtain as much success as the originators? Is it the gimmickyness to it? The quick plug in and play feel? Let us hear you in our comments section below.

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  • Caleb Johns

    I’d actually like to play Olympic Diver. Actually sounds fun.

    I think the frustration stems from there simply being more gamers now than there were before who are just now discovering these genres and so do not expect anything more than what is already there. This means devs can produce the same games with only marginal improvements and still sell these games to mass audiences.

    Grizzled gamers like us have much higher expectations and are also harder to please. That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with your point about story. It’s unacceptable these days to not have a storyline that is at least written by an actual writer. When you cheapen the story, it affects everything. A game can get by on mid-range graphics if the story hits home, but a nice looking game with a terribly told story is a lot harder to swallow.

    If we want the industry to be accepted as an art form akin to film and books the story is what will determine that. The latest graphical techniques enrich the experience, but it’s always the story that causes it to transcend beyond that.

    But, like you mentioned, this is a business and there will always be games, like movies and novels, that are created to sell to the lowest common denominator rather than push the medium. And that’s okay, as long as we get a gem once in awhile.

    Loved your article. Preach on, brother!

  • I personally love how Burnout Paradise changed things up. It’s fun to run through the open city with friends doing different gametypes. Yeah, the open world genre is the hype right now but it’s just a trend in gaming that will eventually transition out. Racing games for the most part were all too similiar for too long. The mainstream pushes the demand, we like the mundane things till we beat it to death and jump on to the new shiny. That’s why the bigger threat to gaming is sequels, every year is filled with excitement to a clusterton of sequels. The hype for Crackdown 2 is crazy considering it’s not that much different from the first one thus far (yes, another open world title). Halo could make sequels for eternity and wouldn’t die, unless Activision got a hold of it.

    We live in a society that has kept garbage like Survivor and American Idol on the TV and we’ve watched G4 turn into a Spike-TVish mess. Pushing for quality and thought provoking titles isn’t good for business, ask Firefly. Quality titles will exist though in the mass seas of open world titles and sequels…we just gotta dig out these gems.

    I personally play what I like, whether rehash or not. I’m sure I own some ‘Nickelbackish’ titles but hey, if I enjoy it…I’ll “waste” my dollar to make me hollar. Unfortunately I’m part of the problem, but I don’t mind.

  • nati

    Open world games aren’t the problem. It’s lame ass FPS rehashes. Honestly I think you made this epidemic up. I can’t think of many recent sandbox games but I could name a million new first person shooters.

  • Caleb Johns


    I don’t think the article is calling this an ‘epidemic’ (as a quick Ctrl-F search confirms). This is talking about emerging trends that threaten originality in gaming. I agree with you, there is a glut of FPSs out there which is, again, another dangerous threat that is probably even more advanced along than open-world gaming. But since everyone and their digital dog already know this, it doesn’t really make for an interesting read. I’d like to know about emerging trends, rather than harp on ones that are already old bones.

    And if you take another look at some long-standing series that are being released very soon (Red Dead Redemption, Splinter Cell: Conviction), you can see they are knocking down the walls of their previous releases in favour of something with more mass appeal – an open-world.

  • Daniel

    Sounds like SOMEBODY skipped the amazing multiplayer that Double Fine worked on for four effing years, and is pretending the game is short!