The Secret Sci-Fi Sauce: What makes A Sci-Fi Video Game A Stellar Success?

Titles and franchises like Mass Effect are seen as pinnacles of the genre, celebrated for intricate narrative, character development, and player choices that linger long after the game ends.
Mass Effect

Titles and franchises like Mass Effect are seen as pinnacles of the genre, celebrated for intricate narrative, character development, and player choices that linger long after the game ends. Or take “The Witcher”, a series combining fantasy with a rich sci-fi undercurrent, delivering a living, breathing open world and asking players to make morally complex decisions.

Bethesda’s Fallout games showed us how narrative and consequences within a world could immerse us deeper than ever before. More recently, “Cyberpunk 2077” (2020), despite a controversial and delayed launch, made waves with ambitious depictions of a dystopian future and a narrative tightly woven together by seemingly imperceptible choices the player made. These games have not only set benchmarks for storytelling and world-building but have also redefined the expectations for the sci-fi gaming genre in the last decade.

As we look towards the next big title, it’s an interesting question to consider; what are the ingredients of successful sci-fi video games? How far can they convention, and how can we predict the next big thing in one of gaming’s most popular genres.

 

Player Agency and The Power of Choices

Sci-fi games that let us ‘shape’ our own destinies through genuinely meaningful choices are probably what will help the next big release to outshine its competition. Mainly, because it’s so hard to do.

We can name them easily enough. Memorable characters have added depth and richness to the best games ever released by giving us memorable conversations and companionship – or rivalries – to contend with. Focusing on one of the most iconic, the silent protagonist, Master Chief in “Halo”, characters we assume as we play are often some of the most compelling. No sci-fi game can escape characterization of some form, but when it’s done right, a game lacking visuals or personalization can still soar to heady heights of success.

While these inspired ideas mentioned above are important, there’s always a call for innovation. To an extent, anyway. Successful sci-fi games often draw inspiration from tried and tested tropes, and there’s some argument – even across gaming as a whole – that focusing too much on reinvention (fixing what isn’t broken, essentially) can affect a game’s enjoyability. Look at casino gaming, where classics like blackjack, roulette, or online casino slots have remained popular by virtue of their familiarity. They often feature innovative themed game ‘skins’ (titles include Space Invaders, Pigeons from Space or Spaceman, to name a few popular sci-fi-themed slots and casino games) but, the underlying formulas remain largely unchanged.

Speculating on the next breakthrough in sci-fi gaming, reveals more about how gaming is centered on familiarising and connecting with the players, as opposed to simply coming up with something ‘new.’ A thread of tried and trusted, when mixed with a commitment to build a truly inspired world has been a recipe for success for years. In light of releases like Starfield this year, we’ve seen further evidence for the genre still remaining fresh and fun, even with the many titles hitting the shelves each year.

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net You can contact ian at: ian@scifipulse.net
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