“And the four horsemen rode across the simulator market. Train, Flight, Farming and Truck. That was until the land fell into chaos, under the reign of the knockoff sims”
Simply searching “simulator” on Steam now gives you over 800 results. If you had told me that even 5 years ago I’d think the world had suddenly grown a huge population of train enthusiasts. Instead, we have city bus simulators, air traffic control simulators, and the ‘parodies’. Oh, and we have the rubbish. We have it in spades.
Developers are jumping on the bandwagon and pumping out anything resembling a game as fast as possible, resulting in a pile of manure even the best farming simulator couldn’t turn into fertiliser. It’s a joke really. Then again, we have some popular games in this section, Surgeon Simulator being the most obvious. It has become a brand now, with two versions of the game across multiple platforms, and all from a prototype made during a 48 hour game jam. Heck, the original game won a BAFTA!
Perhaps the inspiration for The Teller from the recent series of Doctor Who?
So now we have a bit of a timeline. We had the original enthusiast simulators. Excalibur Publishing were the port of call for almost all simulators. Then, Surgeon Simulator came out as the result of a game jam. As YouTube celebrities brought the game to the general public, the floodgates opened.
Wannabe ‘serious’ simulators came out, some living up to their original counterparts, many not. Every vehicle-focused industry was given a simulator. So, as something becomes popular, of course the satire is inevitable. That is where we are today: the age of simulator satire.
Goat Simulator, Grass Simulator, Viscera Cleanup Detail. I find it hard pressed to believe someone enjoys these ‘games’ as more than a quick laugh.
The whole situation with simulators is highly reminiscent of the zombie survival craze, made popular by DayZ (and arguably Minecraft to an extent). Looking slightly before that, we had modern military shooters coming out from just about everyone. They both followed a similar formula of having a few games really push the boat out, a lot of pretenders, and then satire. With zombie survival we had a lot of online songs or animations parodying DayZ’s success (and arguably Infestation: Survivor Stories is a satire, simply because of how broken it is). With modern military shooters we had the fantastic Spec Ops: The Line, giving commentary on both the games and modern war as a whole.
That said, it’s not a new thing to have a craze. When Super Mario Bros. came out there was a craze for new platformers in its style. Recently in the mobile market we had the Clash of Clans series of knockoffs, as well as the Candy Crush Saga/Bejeweled clone phase.
It is a common opinion to believe the modern military shooter and zombie survival genres are saturated to the point where gamers often roll their eyes at announcements of new ones. Simulators are more than likely at that point right now too. Soon, we’ll have a new fad (are we in a horror phase? With Outlast and Five Nights at Freddy’s being so popular, we might well be) but whatever it is, I’m actually looking forward to it.
These crazes result in developers taking the ideas that really make up the genre and putting them on their head. Surgeon Simulator took the clunky and often unintuitive controls of a simulator, put it in a funny environment and made a game out of it. Telltale’s The Walking Dead took zombie survival and turned it into an emotional point and click game. Even games like Bulletstorm, or (less successfully) Brink, which received an average response, I think only came about from the saturation of the shooter genre. While they aren’t cult classics, they were hailed for their imagination. One game coming out which is a response to the overcrowded MOBA market is Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s cross-universe entry into the genre, and it’s getting some really positive feedback, from people new to the genre and veterans.
Taking a popular idea and putting it on its head is how the game market evolves. Assassin’s Creed IV used that to its advantage, creating the incredibly popular sailing mechanic. World of Warcraft currently has 10 million subscribers, back up from a dwindling few, thanks to Warlords of Draenor, which embraces new players, allowing someone to instantly be leveled to level 90, which is personally my pet peeve with MMOs, having to grind up in order to access the content I enjoy: epic battles. A less successful example of this would be The Evil Within, attempting to recreate then update the action of Resident Evil 4 while maintaining the horror aspect. While it wasn’t a successful outing into the horror genre, for action fans it was still recognised as a good game.
Where game engines and assets are becoming affordable and assets are plentiful, these fads I think result in the best games: they give developers with the sort of imagination to improve upon an idea a chance to really revitalise and improve a genre. The price? Games like Grass Simulator.