We sometimes have to go through things we don’t enjoy. Not because we’re masochists or depressed, we do it because in the end we get rewarded for our suffering. Going to work so at the end of the month you get a paycheck that you can spend on Steam sales, struggling through another romcom your better half wants to see so you can see the look on your face when you emotionally manipulate her into playing Battlefield with you, or even going to Sunday church once or twice just so you’re guaranteed front line seats during the Rapture. This is why I play bad games, not because I particularly enjoy them, I do it because when the time comes and I get my hands on an actual quality game, I appreciate it more than a warm shower on a freezing day. Today I’m going to take a look at a genre that has become more overcrowded than a swimming pool in China on a particularly nice day: open world survival games.
Open world survival games are a hard nut to crack when it comes to gauging their quality. Something that was ground breaking ten years ago wouldn’t even be considered mediocre in this day and age where we want more than just wandering around in an area roughly the same size as the globe, we want to mould it, survive, and thrive in it. I fondly remember watching a Youtuber play a game called Stranded, a basic survival game by today’s standards, but at the time the game seemed so amazing that I followed the Youtuber One F Jef’s series so religiously that I might have kickstarted the Let’s Play boom by myself. The game revolves around your character being, unsurprisingly, stranded on an island which you have to scavenge for supplies to keep an eye on your hunger, thirst, and all that other fun stuff survival games have you manage. A love for a genre was born, and when games such as Minecraft and the DayZ mod came out, the love was solidified and cemented. From that day on I became part of a problem, and I didn’t even know it.
The gargantuan success of Minecraft and DayZ didn’t go unnoticed by the ‘people who like money by the bucketloads’ club. The influx of new titles was arguably started by the sudden and harsh realisation by the developers over at Bohemia Interactive that the increase in sales of their ARMA 2 title by literally over 1,000% wasn’t enough, they needed to find a way to get more heaps of mon- err, give the players a better, more complete experience. They took a page out of Minecraft’s book and decided to allow players to experience the incomplete experience while they worked hard to create a game that users affectionately started calling ‘the game that runs worse than Stephen Hawking’. Despite this, it became one of the biggest sellers in the Steam Store which a lot of members of the aforementioned bucketclub looked at like a hungry dog looks at that piece of meat you accidentally dropped on the floor.
And thus a new era was created, an era in which early access became the new norm, Trump starts having an inexplicably good chance at the White House, and release dates are like teenage relationships, we just don’t want to commit. Have a look at the top ten sellers in the open world survival genre, only one of them has seen a full release: Terraria. While this isn’t in any way, shape, or form a gauge of the quality of games, it does show how eager people are to pay for promises that might never be fulfilled. Others flock in because the game is just what they need, regardless of which stage of development it is in.
I am convinced we’ve peaked when it comes to survival games, the audience for these games have been so dilated between titles that games like DayZ have gone from 50,000 Concurrent players at its peak to barely scraping together 5,000, and the Beta isn’t even anywhere near the horizon. Fatigue might also be a factor, after punching the umpteenth tree, we just want to send an apology letter to Greenpeace and think about what we’ve done. I am hopeful that a lot of games with a significant amount of potential such as Subnautica see a release and still have a place in many people’s libraries, because while a lot of these games are nowhere near bad, the landscape changes so rapidly that a ground breaking game now can be considered as old as soggy Pringles: Amazing when they were new, but I wouldn’t even wish them upon my worst enemy now.
In summary, I’d like to clarify that a lot of the games in the open world survival genre aren’t bad despite my article’s title, they are surprisingly solid and fun games, there’s no unknown reason why some are as popular as free ice-cream. They’re well built, have a ton of features, and above all, are extremely fun to play with a group of friends. The only problem the genre is facing is that there are too many games that are simply too similar and the occasional shady update progress on some early access titles. As a big fan of the genre, I’m going to continue playing these games with a careful sense of enthusiasm, because at the end of the day, like a bad case of Stockholm syndrome, I can’t help but come back and love open world survival games for what they are.