Cage sees "polarized" industry that must "grow up"

DICE 2013 Video: Quantic Dream's David Cage outlines 9 things the industry must do and he blasts game critics

In a provocative talk at the DICE Summit today, Quantic Dream's David Cage held nothing back in telling his peers that it's time for the games business to "grow up." Cage described what he sees as a "Peter Pan Syndrome," meaning that the industry has been anxious about growing up and essentially refuses to do so.

He noted that the industry has remained practically the same for the last 40 years - the best selling games continue to be either those from Nintendo, the Call of Duty games or GTA. There are only three genres: kids games, casual and violent games. Games have used the same themes and same worlds and same paradigms, he said. One look at Wolfenstein in 1992 compared to Call of Duty in 2012 shows that graphics have leapt forward, but in the last 20 years the concepts haven't changed much at all - it's still about guns and "kill people before they kill you."

"Buy crap and you will get more crap. Buy risky, ambitious games and you will get more of them"

David Cage, Quantic Dream

Cage said that it's an exciting time for the industry now, and it's time to reassess who we are, how we can do things differently, and how to do them better. He noted that games still live in what he termed "wonderland," a world not connected to our reality, which talks about things that are not related to what we know. And since the games being made are largely the same, the industry has mostly the same audience for 40 years.

Cage commented that games are under immense pressure now; the landscape changes very quickly around us, he said. You see new platforms appearing almost every week, and digital distribution is just the beginning. There's tougher competition for entertainment time nowadays, so the industry must figure out what it can do to make sure people keep playing games.

For older gamers, that's a big problem, Cage noted. It's an issue that the industry keeps making the same games and lacks innovation. Cage wants to see the market move from teenagers to a market where anyone can play. Think about some of your friends or parents or grandparents who have no interest in games, but you can all talk about your favorite book or movie, he said.

Cage then proceeded to outline his nine things the industry needs to change to grow up:

1. Make games for all audiences. How can we make your mother or grandmother play games? It's time to invent interactive entertainment for adults, he said.

2. We must change our paradigms. Violence and platforms are not the only way. We're in an industry where game designers don't know what to do if the character isn't holding a gun, he lamented. You can define interactivity in many different ways. Can we make games that are not based on systems? When you get older, you don't necessarily want to compete in a game with others. You don't want your ass kicked by a 10-year-old. So can we as an industry make games with no gun?

3. The importance of meaning. Many games have absolutely nothing to say. They are empty, he said. So can we create games that have something to say, that carry an idea, that tell you something that resonates with you? Let authors come in! Most games are written by designers or graphic artists or others, he noted. All real world themes should be used - any theme you know in real life could be used in a game. Can we create games that talk about relationships, feelings, politics, homosexuality? Games should be a mirror for what you are, Cage remarked. The game will leave an imprint on you. You will keep thinking. This is what any creative medium should achieve, he asserted.

4. Become Accessible. Focus on minds, not thumbs! He said games should just be about going on a journey, not just about challenging you - like the aptly named Journey, he said.

5. Bring other talents on board (he cited those he's worked with like David Bowie, Ellen Page).

6. Need to establish new relationships with Hollywood. For a long time they saw games like licensed products, but games can be more than that and should be a respected medium, he said. It's time for constructive, balanced partnerships. Cage said game makers and Hollywood can invent a new form of entertainment together.

7. Changing our relationship with censorship. This is a big issue for Cage, which he said he could probably spend 4 hours talking about alone. He noted that while he sees himself as a writer, and he sometimes uses violence or sex, he doesn't like that he has someone looking over his shoulder saying he can't do this or that. It's okay in a movie or TV series, so why isn't it okay in a game? The answer has always been it's because games are interactive. But the truth is it's no different and games are protected by First Amendment now, Cage commented. We shouldn't have different constraints than film, and it's crazy that we should feel constrained like film was in '60s," he said. Cage was also shocked by some games he saw at E3. Some games are just more violent and gruesome and are gratuitous; "we behave like stupid teenagers ourselves, and we need to stop this," he said. "If we don't want to be accused each time something terrible happens, we should show that we are serious, responsible and respect our medium and customers."

8. The role of press. Press is very important, Cage said. He stressed that press are generally very clever, they analyze the business, they evangelize it and try to educate. But he also blasted another segment of the press: the game critics. He claimed that they "aren't press". Being a critic is a serious job but not everybody has the skill for it, he said. He complained that there's no analysis from critics.

9. The importance of gamers. Buying or not buying a game is almost like a political vote, Cage explained. "Buy crap and you will get more crap. Buy risky, ambitious games and you will get more of them. So buying games is also a responsibility," he said.

In the end, Cage just wants to see games transform from "games" to "digital entertainment." This new form of entertainment should be accessible to all, open to all themes and genres, talk to society in meaningful ways, should be based on the journey, not the challenge, should be cross platform, and it should become mass market, he concluded.

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Latest comments (29)

Robert Oelenschlager Independent Game Developer 6 years ago
His message seems kind of confused. One moment he says we need to stop making this kind of game, then says we should be allowed to make whatever we want, but then we need to stop making games that are challenging because it's about the journey, but they should appeal to everyone, which I would assume the people that wanted a challenge are an exception? Also multiplayer is bad because some people don't like it? I don't know, it sounds like a lot of personal design opinions than design facts. I'm tired of fps too, but I just remedy it with other games cause the ecosystem is huge. It's like an iceberg, everyone can see this shallow tip of bloody shooters and scanty nuns, but no one takes a breath to look under the water and see the Minecrafts, Sim games, Machinariums ad infinitum. Honestly the problem seems obvious to me. If you are publically traded or think more about the money over the design, you are going to worry about money first. When business suits sit at the top and not the creative people, you create a ceiling. Creativity suddenly receives a budget. The top reason people go independent is creative freedom isn't it?
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago
Does anybody have David Bowie's email address?
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
9. If you don't buy but also don't spoil your ballot (i.e. write in to the publisher) your lack of a vote is not noted.

Seriously, the whole "vote with your wallet" mindset is very flawed because many times someone like Activision won't notice 56+ million people not buying Modern Warfare 3 (14 million sold worldwide on all platforms according to VG charts as of 2013, 70 million Xbox 360s sold worldwide as of 2013) and they'll just carry on and release Black ops 3 and MW4 the years afterwards.

Not buying a popular "crap" game is not a vote. It's unnoticed.

@ Robert - Of course it's not facts. It's his personal opinion. It says there right in the paragraph before the points start. i.e. "His". It's not meant to be anything other than debate-generating - to spark ideas and challenge preconceived notions about game design and philosophy...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 6th February 2013 9:34pm

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Show all comments (29)
Alex V EIC, NGN6 years ago
As much as I love Quantic Dream's projects, I think he's going overboard a little. Almost every sector of the entertainment industry (interactive or not) has the problems he is describing.
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Robert Oelenschlager Independent Game Developer 6 years ago
@James I went back and reread the article, and all I see is "his list of nine things the industry needs to change to grow up." I honestly can't find where he says it's just a personal opinion. For me, it honestly feels like he is making a professional appraisal of the industry and telling us what we are supposed to do to fix seemingly obvious problems. Like, we shouldn't discuss the idea of games that abandon challenge, that we need to drop what we are doing and fix these bad design decisions.

Maybe I'm being overcritical, and perhaps I did miss where he said it's just to spark discussion, and I apologize if I keep missing it, haha.
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Justin Trautmann Studying Digital Media & Multimedia Technology, Hillsborough Community College6 years ago
Same games over the last 40 years? So our current (and upcoming) 2013 games are the same as the games of 1973? Further in the article a 20 year mark (in comparing Wolfenstein and Call of Duty) was cited, so I just presume the 40 year thing was either a typo or he misspoke, which happens to all of us.

This sounds a lot like the art vs entertainment conversation - with a focus on the more ideological than reasonable. It is interesting to read, though, and I'd love to see something in more detail than just the bullet points presented in this article.
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Jack Nilssen Independent Game Developer, Dark Acre6 years ago
I love how the loudness & controversy-level of developer rants escalates in direct relation to how close their next game is to release.

I wonder if he was worried he was losing relevance & no one would buy Beyond: Two Souls.
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz6 years ago
@ Justin, he said 40 years and even had it on a slide. The 20-year thing was mentioned just because of the time between releasing Wolfenstein and the latest CoD. As for getting more detail, I actually interviewed Cage today also, so we'll be bringing you more soon.
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports6 years ago
Way to go and put us all down and tar us with the same brush!
"There are only three genres: kids games, casual and violent games."

I've spent the last 8 or so years working on a number of titles that don't fit in those categories. Somewhat of an over simplification to make a point methinks.

I still don't really know what it means for 'the industry' to 'grow up' ... maybe I don't want to or maybe I did an no-one noticed. We all know there are plenty of good non-violent games out there and they don't have to be casual or for kids.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@ Robert - he doesn't need to state either thing I pointed out. Everything everyone says is their personal opinion unless (and even sometimes when) it's backed up by hard data. This is just a general fact of life and of conversational English language as well. You don't need to put "IMO" every time you write something in order for people to understand that it's your opinion. That'd mean that you would take everything that doesn't state "IMO" at face value as being completely unarguably true?!
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Brian Smith Artist 6 years ago
All reads a bit irrelevant to me. A personal list of wants. No real explanation why anything said is needed other than through his perspective. In fact the list says 'wannabe movie maker' to me. Games will carve their own future as far as I'm concerned and pushing them towards achieving what movies do is short sighted. Sure there are things that'll influence both from either medium but it's not the destiny of games to become just interactive movies.
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Lance Winter Senior Game Designer, Splash Damage6 years ago
Press 'X' to submit witty reply.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@Brian. I think there are a number of good points in there and apart from one point that mentions hollywood specifically, none of them scream "wannabe movie maker" to me because none of the things he talks about are about making games more cinematic or filmic...

@ Jack - I don't really see how any of these points are particularly controversial, tbh.

Let's see how I read the points because I appear to be in a minority here:
1. Expand the audience - don't just cater to one type of gamer
2. A lot (if not the majority of big release games on consoles and PC) of games rely on violence to further play. Can we make those same types of games without so much blatant violence to further the play?
3. Not many games have any sort of message or theme. More are doing so these days but the majority are not. We don't need to have this in every game but it has been proven that thematics and other tricks build engagement on the part of the consumer of the media and this will only improve the medium and games that implement it.
4. A combination of point 1 and 2 with a sprinkling of 3 mashed in.
5. Expand the people who are invloved in the creative process - this will bring in new insights and mindsets, breaking the mould in good ways. This has been shown to work well in business and cooperatives of many sorts.
6. Redefine the "licensed" movie tie-in. Get rid of them as they currently exist and make them better at the same time.
7. Lobby for increased freedom of expression. Change people's minds that games are not just for children. Allow more adult (not meaning sex) themes in games and not being afraid to use them like you can in every other medium in the world.
8. Improve the press-developer/publisher relationships. Improve press impartiality and quality.
9. Gamers be vocal for what you like or not... and support (or not!) them.

Now for some real world applications:
1., 2., 4., The Wii applied these design principles. Tetris does, The Sims does. They're immensely popular without overcomplicating things. There's a reason why Monopoly is more popular than Risk - despite the latter being a more "deep" gameplay experience. It's also more narrow in its appeal.
3. Take Dragon's Dogma for an example. Prettty standard over-complicated rubbish "J-POP" story. But it could have been the action genre's Planescape Torment.
5. You see the push for mixed sex workplaces all over the world. You know why? Becuase it's been proven that it adds to the creativity and viewpoints and thus efficiency and value of the work produced. Bringing in people from different fields of expertise is another step along this track. It's not always applicable but in most cases it can't hurt.
6. This is happening with that SyFy/MMO game that was mentioned on here a week ago (I forget the name) and they could lead to very lucrative new markets in the gaming landscape.
7. Well, this one is pretty self explanatory but, just for kicks - if there's no regulatory imposition and differences in games like Australia, Germany and US then it'll be cheaper to make games and there will be one uniform experience as opposed to watered down ones... plus you're not worrying about staying under those limits on your project from the get-go.
8. Another self-explanatory point: Independent press means more trust from gamers for both publishers/developers and press. You may not always get the "score" you want but you'll have more repeat customers who are less jaded and will believe it when you say a game is good.
9. Market forces. 'Nuff said.
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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext6 years ago
People seem to not understand the principal of voting with your wallet. I find this odd, because it works the same way in real life, and people seem to understand it there.

Whenever you spend money, you vote FOR something. The more money spent, the more others will create similar products/services to chase that money. Only those who spend money get to vote. Not spending money simply means that you don't get any say. No one measures 'money not spent'. Everyone measures money spent.

The bottom line is this.. you cant vote AGAINST anything... you can only vote FOR something. If you choose not to vote (spend money), then you don't get any say.
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@Kieren kids games, casual, violent and FIFA?

He does seem to miss out a lot of popular sports titles, and puzzle games and I am pretty sure a lot of people are enjoying racing games right now.
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Brian Smith Artist 6 years ago
@James - From how I read it his wants seem to come from comparing the games industry with filmed media in terms of content breadth and audience reach. I wasn't centring on the Hollywood point at all as it was pretty empty. Maybe games aren't destined to become a medium sporting the same emotional reach as film.

Also, If you don't want to get your arse kicked by a 10 year old then don't play games. Just because older folk don't want to play games it doesn't mean a way needs to be found to engage them. Games don't need to be for everyone.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend6 years ago
I really get cheesed off with industry folks trying to tell everyone else how they should behave, or telling people what is wrong with the games industry and how to make it 'right and proper'. Like any child (which our industry is in terms of how long it has been operating) you can't just say 'don't do that, do this etc' and expect that child to instantly change their ways.

Bottom line is we are in a great industry; we don't make products that kill people, we don't pollute the atmosphere with toxic fumes, we don't take up acres of land and resources, we don't inhumanely slaughter animals, we don't have small children in 3rd world countries making our products or do anything that is bad when you really get down to it. We should be proud of our industry and not pander to the 'tsk tsk, bloody game developers, electronic child molesters etc etc' line that everyone who knows fook all about what we do tells us over and over.

To really grow as an industry we need to accept what we are and focus on the positive things we do, then over time we will iron out all the not-so-great parts just like every other business has had to do. (well some of them, the rest are horrible entities that care about nothing but profit and don't care what they destroy to get it)

We do not need directions on how to conduct ourselves from anyone.

Rant over....

Edited 8 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 7th February 2013 5:45pm

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Simon Lepine Studio Creative Director, Gameloft Montreal6 years ago
He's been making the same kind of rants for years, nothing new here. I saw his GDC 2011 talk and this is just more of the same. Like noted above, just doing some PR for his upcoming game.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@ Brian Lewis - I think I already pointed out how "voting with your wallet" is an empty gesture and is not ever really noticed by publishers unless you email them and let them know why and how you are voting. Like I said: Activision doesn't care about the majority of the market NOT buying Call of Duty...

@ Brian Smith: I think that's just an evolution of the art form. Any art form will mature to the point where it has and supports mainstream appeal as well as peripheral preferences. I truly believe that games surpass movies and books in many ways whilst simultaneously being surpassed by those two art forms. There is room for everything and taking tricks and impacts from other art forms is completely valid and does not diminish the art form in any way.

I also think that there is room for many different types of gamer and that you don't need to fear going online because you don't want your arse handed to you because you're a casual player or because you don't want to hear homophobic or sexual slurs on the game you like. Yes, you don't need to include everyone in your game but there's no reason to lump them all in together as well. Most matchmaking systems cater for newbies vs veterans. It's not a weird ideological shift. You don't just tell those people to stop playing games, do you? Because they're newbies? Do you?!

@ Darren: Like any child (which our industry is in terms of how long it has been operating) you can't just say 'don't do that, do this etc' and expect that child to instantly change their ways.

I see it more of an encouragement. A shock to the system. In any business you need disrupters - people who will challenge the mode of operation. We have that in my industry and it's fully encouraged. I don't like all the buzzwords they use (I think they're empty) but they inspire and precipitate change: mostly in a good way. It's meant to be a challenge - to question what you're doing and see if it's "right" - both for you and your customers (which are not just the consumers). Just because you're in a great industry doesn't mean it can't be better!!

[edit] I feel like a lot of people here are taking these statements as a "be all and end all" kind of thing. Like you cannot have any game without these "requirements. That's not how it is at all. Rather that the industry and art form expand to include these elements more is the gist of the story and message. It's not a comment on how you're doing your jobs or how all games to date are lacking... it's how we might proceed. It's a challenge to better ourselves and improve and expand things.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 7th February 2013 6:21pm

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend6 years ago
@ James

I don't agree with the 'shock to the system' encouragement you speak of.

My gripe is not with improving our industry, but the stream of people that keep telling us how we should operate as if we don't all know the issues that our industry faces. It is extremely patronising that everyone should feel the need to tell us where we are going wrong and what magical silver bullet we should use to fix it. That doesn't encourage improvement, it just adds to the cacophony of noise. People that have answers actually do something about it, you hear about it with their success.

Of course change will happen and we are changing all the time, but we don't need constant reminders or 'shocks to the system' to tell us what we already know. We ARE doing things to make our industry better, its just everyone seems to gloss over them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 7th February 2013 7:06pm

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David Serrano Freelancer 6 years ago
When did pointing out what should be common sense become "provocative?"

I'd encourage everyone who criticized Cage's comments to read a speech given by Joseph B. White, a Senior Editor at the Wall Street Journal, in 2009 titled How Detroit's Automakers Went from Kings of the Road to Roadkill.

Because since the launch of the 360 and PS 3, AAA developers and publishers have made the same types of mistakes Detroit made in the 1970's and 1980's. Detroit repeatedly underestimated competition, mismanaged relationships with employees, handled failure better than success, relied too heavily on one design / manufacturing paradigm (which was no longer aligned the needs or preferences of the majority of consumers) to generate all of their profits and then used the money to cover losses on other failed projects. But most importantly, Detroit refused to accept that to survive it could not remain what it was in the past. Sound familiar? And Detroit has never fully recovered from the mistakes it made three decades ago. Uninspired and derivative design and brand loyalty didn't save Detroit and they are not going to save AAA gaming.

White also pointed out there were David Cage's in the auto industry. Cassandras who recognized the deeply rooted systemic problems and repeatedly tried to warn manufacturers to change their design, manufacturing and business models. But the Pollyanna's dismissed and ignored the warnings until it was too late. I'd estimate the AAA industry's "we should have listened to them" clock has reached about 5 minutes to midnight.
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kyfhgjf Founder/ Creative Director, GloLiquid6 years ago
Right on man, I've been writing a blog which covers these issues in some detail.
Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think:
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@ Darren.

I think that's fair enough. However, I don't think I'm seeing the same stream of people attacking what the industry is... and that cacophony of noise is going to be there despite whatever comes from any extra voices to the mix.
People that have answers actually do something about it, you hear about it with their success.
Actually, I disagree. There are plenty of examples of people and companies that gave the answers to questions too early or just in the wrong space... or perhaps they just didn't have the right audience. Those answers often get recycled but they usually are not met with success...
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Mike Engle Senior Game Designer, Zynga6 years ago
@James: The wallet-vote analogy is the truth of the industry (and, really, of business in general.) Companies need food (money) to survive, and the ones making products people want get the most food. The ones producing weak products get the least food (and either atrophy or die out.)

EA will never say "Gosh COD is massively profitable but some gamers told us they don't like it. Let's stop making it." So it's bizarre that you somehow mistake Cage's 9th point as asking gamers to speak more, when what's really being said is the opposite, "don't speak: pay."

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mike Engle on 8th February 2013 12:27am

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
See, Mike. I'm saying that if you withold your money and yet the game is successful - despite the people who did not pay being the majority - their "vote" is not counted or even missed.

Witholding your money without explaining that you did it or why you did it is as useful as not voting in an election compared to spoiling your ballot. You're being counted while still voicing your belief. Otherwise you're labelled as apathetic, busy or ill or whatever myriad reasons that could stop you from voting. In my example in my first post Activision believes that you want to buy the game but that you couldn't due to money constraints or that you played at a friend's or you played a rented or "used" copy... They won't consider that you don't like Modern Warfare 2. The majority of gamers "voted" that they didn't and don't like Call of Duty (the numbers are in the post as well) and yet it continues to be made and targetted by Activision. What has voting by "not paying" accomplished?

I can tell you that it hasn't resulted in a better more widely-appealing game or alternative games to appeal and take advantage of of all those potential players... which is what you might expect if you think a company wants to make the most money possible. We're still on the 7th or 8th iteration of the same game ten years on with little to no difference.

Anotehr issue with the mentality of voting with your wallet is that you can't vote for something that doesn't exist. So how can we pay for something that we would like when there are no options than the games we don't like? If we don't tell the companies responsible they will never know what will appeal to those people (the majority) they are not capturing with their current strategy.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 8th February 2013 11:35am

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend6 years ago
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Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 6 years ago
As one of the dozen or so people in Europe who actually bought a copy of Nomad Soul, I'm not 100% sure the above statements are convincing.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer, Studio52 London6 years ago
I had Nomad Soul, was amazing at the time it was made.
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Mike Engle Senior Game Designer, Zynga6 years ago
@James: You don't seem to understand how business works. The system is overwhelmingly driven by positive votes (sales.) The market observes where the votes are cast and follows.

Negative votes are largely irrelevant. In fact the only thing that makes them ever relevant is if they're so catastrophic that they reduce the number of positive votes (or the possible of future positive votes.) PR Scandal-type screw-ups.

As a single voter, you don't control the industry. Sorry, that's life.

But as a group, we (gamers) absolutely do control the industry. If everyone stopped paying for FPS games (and any other pre-existing genre) tomorrow, and only purchased innovative, new-genre games, then within 2 years those would be the only types of games produced by the game industry. That is how business works. It follows the money. It follows the votes.

But don't be surprised if games like COD continue to persist nigh-forever, because at the end of the day they're a product the market will continue to demand for the foreseeable future. My own purchases may be infrequent in that particular series, but clearly there is a ton of demand for that type of shooter or they wouldn't keep following the money.
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