First impressions aren’t everything. If they were, I’d have written off Defiance after playing the beta.
For those not in the know, Defiance is a cross-media entertainment event that uses both an MMO video game and a TV show to tell stories set in a single world. The actions of players in the game will impact the writing of the show, and the events of the show will change the landscape of the game. Although it will be a bumpy road, Defiance could not only succeed, but change the way developers approach games.
Games have been growing increasingly more immersive since they were first created. Just compare, say, Pong and Skyrim. Pong entertains for a few minutes; Skyrim acts as a gateway to another world where people can lose cumulative weeks of their life. Defiance will change gaming by taking another step toward total immersion.
The type of immersion Defiance is aiming for is sort of a Holy Grail of video games. Even Bungie, when talking about their new game Destiny, talks about creating a living, breathing world that grows and changes whether or not an individual shows up that week to play. Defiance takes that to another level. Imagine how awesome it would be if you could tune in to a TV show like Game of Thrones, only one that also includes a playable world populated with NPCs having their own conversations, living their own lives, and shaping the world you play in. This is the bold step Defiance is taking.
In order for Defiance to inspire other developers to be more ambitious, however, it needs to be a success. If the Defiance gamble doesn’t work, nobody will care if it ever existed.
The first step is always the hardest. If Defiance shows that the companies can earn more over a long period of time by focusing on developing a living, breathing world rather than just a single product such as a standalone game, then the profit-driven industry will follow.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The Defiance beta can generously be called average: The graphics are okay; the missions feel emotionless; the guns, although bountiful, have little that distinguishes one from the next. The game simply doesn’t have time to pull itself together before the April 2 release date. In the long run, though, it won’t matter how average the Defiance game is upon release because the show will garner enough interest for the Defiance game development team to find what works for them.
The creative force behind the Defiance show is Rockne S. O’Bannon, who also created a show called Farscape. Anyone who remembers this cult science fiction series will have no doubt that Syfy’s new program will deliver. Farscape’s blend of emotional realism amongst fantastic set pieces and really, really bizarre episodes distinguishes it from almost any other science fiction program out there. If O’Bannon does nothing but repeat himself with Defiance, it will still be a show not only worth watching, but worth sharing with others.
And sharing with others is the entire point. Science fiction shows have had a habit of thriving off of a cult audience ever since the original Star Trek. Shows like Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and even the aforementioned Farscape survived (or were revived) off a small but devoted viewership. When Defiance manages to find its audience (and it will), it will have supporters to give the developers time to experiment with the unique opportunities their cross-media world will grant them.
By taking advantage of the cult followings science fiction shows and MMOs tend to generate, Defiance will have the opportunity to change the ambitions of the people who create games. It won’t be a sudden explosion like Halo, however; the steady but growing success of the show and MMO will allow Defiance to stand, eventually, as a bold new step in cross-media entertainment. And, if we’re lucky, it will inspire other game developers to follow in its footsteps.
Date: April 2, 2013