Graveyard of Gaming Genre Giants
King's Quest. Wing Commander. Guitar Hero. These games were the epitomes of their genres. Here's a look at how they died...and what, if anything, replaced them.
The games industry relies on its biggest franchises to drive sales and hook players with a combination of spectacle, innovation, and quality craftsmanship. In turn, these huge franchises lead the way for future games and the development of the medium. As time goes on, however, series that were once at the forefront inevitably either fade away or disappear completely. Here's six game franchises that once dominated the industry that are no longer with us, what caused them to fall from grace, and what took their place.
Call of Duty
Why it was so popular: Call of Duty was the ultimate World War II shooter in an age when the genre was about to become passé. The landscape was becoming stale in the wake of the many Medal of Honor clones that series inspired. Of course, Call of Duty also boasted gameplay derived from what came before, but it introduced elements that transformed the genre into something more immersive. Instead of a lonely mission into enemy territory, A.I. comrades flanked you at every move. As well, your point of view constantly changed, as you took control of soldiers from all sides of the war. It's these exact qualities that turned the game into one of the most successful franchises of its time.
Why did it decline: As successful as the World War II setting was, it eventually wore out its welcome; it didn't help that several other companies jumped on the bandwagon, which lead to the market being saturated with titles. Eventually, gamers grew tired of the formula and began searching for the next big thing.
What took its place: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward were chained to their own creation, but they created a bit of creative wiggle room for themselves by changing the setting to modern-day conflicts. The basic gameplay paralleled previous Call of Duty games, but the updated setting and weapons was instantly more familiar to an audience used to seeing current military operations sprawled across the news. Currently, the "modern" COD games rule the console FPS roost, though it'll be interesting to see how long Activision can milk it before fans clamor for something new.
Why it was so popular: Games that use plastic instruments have always been huge in Japan, but here they were one of the smallest niches around. That all changed when Harmonix teamed up with Red Octane to create a guitar rhythm game that actually made you feel like you were playing a guitar. That air of authenticity was what gave the series its huge appeal. Challenging gameplay paired with killer song lists made the games a mad success even before Activision put its marketing might behind it.
Why did it decline: In the process of pushing the brand as far as it could go, Activision saturated the market with Guitar Hero games to the point where stores were cluttered with plastic instruments and dozens of different Guitar Hero products. And that's not even taking into account spin-offs Band Hero and DJ Hero, - or that it also had to share shelf space with competitor Rock Band. The building mountain of rhythm game products almost guaranteed that the genre had an expiration date.
What took its place: Peripheral-less dance games. Almost as a reaction to the sea of plastic building in people's living rooms, dance games that didn't require specialized equipment started to become big. Critics panned Just Dance for the Wii, but it was one of the few third-party Wii games to become an über-seller. Even Harmonix got in the act, creating Dance Central for Microsoft's Kinect, and this game went on to create the kind of "killer app" buzz that the original Guitar Hero had.
Why it was so popular: A few decades ago, PC gamers tended to skew much older during the heyday of the adventure genre. Because of that, the games were known for their deep, complex stories, which helped compensate for what is now relatively primitive graphics and sound. It also helped that two of the biggest companies of that era -- Sierra Online and LucasArts -- released quality title after quality title.
Why did it decline: As PC technology improved, developers began to focus more on the audio/visual side of gaming and placed less emphasis on story and narrative. Let's also be honest: The majority of adventure games featured puzzles that defied real-world logic, which drove anyone other than dedicated fans a little crazy. Conversely, the dawn of the modern Internet meant that players could look up the answers to any puzzles they couldn't figure out, negating the puzzle aspect of the games entirely.
What took its place: Action games. The gaming world is currently dominated by titles that put more of a value on twitch and fine motor skills than logic and deduction. The adventure genre's influence, however, is still felt, as many games incorporate adventure game concepts in their design. Any title in which you collect multiple items then assemble them together in order to fulfill a task owes a debt to adventure games, as does any title that requires inventory management (though they could just as easily thank old-school RPG titles for that). And let's not forget the mini-resurgence that the genre's experiencing thanks to the efforts of companies like Telltale and the DLC market, which lets old classics like The Secret of Monkey Island 2 live again.