Mainstream Survival games are predictable: How can we change that?
Right now, survival games are regaining a lot of their initial popularity after being kicked off their throne by Battle Royale and MOBA games. This is mostly because some of the survival’s flagships are finally leaving or have already left Early Access. The departure will probably cause a second survival game craze, meaning we’ll get another wave of countless Early Access survival titles that all want to share in the genre’s popularity. However, many survival games share the same core concepts and can be very predictable, leaving little room for surprise.
What is a mainstream survival game?
Narrowing it down to the core, in a survival game you usually find yourself in an open world environment with little to no gear or resources. Your only goal is surviving by gathering food, crafting tools and weapons, and building/finding shelter. Besides making better gear and making processes like getting food more efficient, there are no real goals in the game. All the things on top of those mechanics can heavily differ from game to game and really depend on whether or not it’s a single or multiplayer survival game.
In multiplayer survival games like Rust, the end game mostly consists of raiding bases, while the end game for The Forest, one of the cornerstones of the single-player survival genre, consists of defending your base from weird humanoid creatures who try to hunt you down. But, there's never an end to those games or anything to give you a real sense of completion.
This game design with no definitive end is hated by a lot of players, but is loved by many more. However, when one of these games clicks with you they can be real time sinks; you could potentially pour thousands of hours into one of these games.
Same old, same old
The survival genre has more than enough games that take the core concept and add new things to it. Usually, it’s just the setting or the environment that changes. Some games are set in space while others completely exist in the depths of the oceans. In other instances, things like zombies or dinosaurs exist to make player vs. environment a bit more exciting or there are fantasy elements like magic.
These are changes that make a lot of the survival games stand out from each other but don't really change anything about the core of the survival game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but at some point, the core will be burnt out and people will grow tired of these games that on surface level look very different but when you get into them you’ll start to notice it’s the same formula over and over again.
How to change?
For the survival genre to evolve and become something big, like the RPG genre, developers need to play around with the core concept by adding new things, removing old things and overall changing up the same old formula while still keeping the feel of a true survival game.
There has been a lot of experimenting with game worlds in the genre but it usually ends up with an open world that is big, but small enough to still feel limiting and without a real sense of exploration. I would love to see a survival game set in an open world like the one in Horizon Zero Dawn but much much more expansive, a world you can explore for hours without running into the same little towns over and over again. A world that rewards exploration while still having to survive by gathering your standard food and resources.
Or, a survival game in a more tiny place i.e. someone who is locked in his own home due to a snowstorm that also caused a power outage, where you have to survive in the most primitive ways with whatever you can find in your own home. It would be especially cool if the house would be randomly generated for a different experience every time you play.
Branching out to different genres as a sub-genre would make for some really cool games, games where survival isn’t your main goal but something added for immersion whilst not feeling like a burden. A true MMO with basic survival elements could be something really interesting or maybe a heavily story-driven RPG where you have to provide not only for yourself but also for a group of survivors that are in there with you. Or maybe even a Battle Royale game with matches lasting one to two hours where you’ll have to survive the elements as well as outlive all of the other players.
When it comes to surviving in most survival games, all you'll need to get yourself is some food, water and sometimes shelter for warmth. However, this is a point where developers could get really creative. It would be cool to see basic things like going to the toilet become necessary in survival games but also things like your mental state or getting sick could be added to make surviving so much more interesting. At the very least, developers should try to make basic surviving more than just gathering food and water.
These are just some ideas that could potentially make for great games, but the survival genre should definitely branch out and renew itself to become something even bigger than it already is. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments. Don't forget to stay tuned to Gameskinny for much more gaming content.