Has the open world survival genre run its course?

Stranded Deep

face off

Chris Livingston fake Headshot png

Tyler Wilde, executive editor
Tyler thinks he's too cool to combine sticks with other things.

Chris Livingston, staff writer
Chris Livingston thinks the more survival games, the better.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Tyler and Chris argue over the state of survival—is it just an oversaturated mess of clones, or are there good new ideas yet to be explored?

Tyler Wilde: YES. Watching games grasp at the success at Minecraft and DayZ has become exhausting. I’m not saying online, open-world survival games should go away, but this constant stream of glitchy Early Access ‘me too’ games feels like a lot of wasted talent. There are so many clones to sift through that I've lost faith in the whole genre. Please, Chris, don’t make me cut down any more trees. My arms are tired.

Chris Livingston: NO. The survival genre is still exciting and promising and I’ll play as many buggy half-finished tree-choppin’ simulators as I have to until I find the next great one. There are definitely a lot of unfinished shoddy survival clones out there, and trust me, nobody is more tired of cutting down trees than I am. Nobody. But I'm still interested in the genre, and clearly I’m not alone.

Tyler: What does it even mean to be great in the genre? Minecraft is an anomaly. DayZ is a novelty. H1Z1 is a slightly more accessible DayZ. You have crafting, eating, and some amount of combat. Is it just that, but not broken as hell? And if so, why do we need 100 iterations of it? There must be ways to 'survive' that break out of the existing template.

Chris: Part of it, I think, is that survival fans don’t entirely know what the next great survival game is, we just know it’s out there somewhere and will have a certain combination of familiar elements. Yes, the scrounging, crafting, eating, not-dying, hunting, exploring, fighting, and so on. And then a certain something else that elevates the game beyond the survival framework. Minecraft obviously allows a ridiculous amount of creativity, DayZ provides paranoia, tension, and a nice mixture of solo-play and interactions with other players. I dunno what the next great survival game will have to set it apart; maybe that’s part of the draw.

Tyler: It’s like the genre has spawned its own meta game, and that game is: find a game in the genre that’s good. Sift through Early Access releases, watch YouTube videos, wander the ruins of unfinished games looking for the one we’ve been waiting for, occasionally getting burned by a WarZ or Stomping Land. I think I’ll stay home. It’s warm here and I don’t have to scrounge for anything except for more crackers. Plus, I have unlimited access to potable water (for at least a year).

Chris: You can stay home. I’ll build a home, out of, like, twigs and bark and shit. Anyway, buying a bunch of survival games, playing them for a bit, and then abandoning them, how is that different from buying an FPS, playing it for 20 hours, and then moving on? Just because a survival game isn’t perfect and doesn’t lead to months of play doesn’t necessarily mean it’s failed. I’ve had hours of fun even in unfinished, less-than perfect survival games like The Forest, Stranded Deep, Rust, and H1Z1. None of them were what I’d hoped for, and they’re not done, and for all I know they may never be done. But they still provided some enjoyment.

DayZ diary

Tyler: Let me huff and puff and blow your twig house down, because it’s totally different. Titanfall didn’t have much staying power, for instance—I did probably play it for 20 hours and then put it down—but I didn’t spend that time poking around trying to figure out why it should exist, wishing it had this or that feature, lamenting the bugs. It was just a good shooter that couldn’t hold onto an audience. It had a cohesive vision. It was a completed game. Outside of Minecraft, the survival genre doesn’t have a single game like that. Instead, everyone’s trying to win the lottery by putting a twist on DayZ and dumping it on Early Access, whatever state it may be in. Right now, making something like an Early Access arena shooter is actually riskier, and more interesting, than making a survival game.

Chris: If Early Access was saturated with half-made arena shooters I think we’d still be having the same conversation. And holding up Titanfall as a shining example probably isn’t fair: Electronic Arts and Respawn aren’t two guys coding games on their laptops while sitting in a Starbucks. I do see what you’re saying, though, and there is a definite flood of half-baked ideas stapled to survival mechanics, but for indie developers trying to get something made, a survival framework, an open world “make your own fun” model, and Early Access may be their best chance.

Tyler: Even a big developer like SOE—sorry, Daybreak—hasn’t meaningfully changed the genre with H1Z1. I think I recall the most fun you had with it was in Battle Royale, originally an Arma 3 mod. And I thought EverQuest Next Landmark (now just Landmark) was going to be huge. It's still growing and changing, to be fair, but it's been way at the back of my mind for months after launching without many of its planned features.

Back when it first started, DayZ was a crazy idea that incredibly worked. It was something we didn’t even know we wanted until we had it. The same goes for Minecraft. Sure, something else like that is going to come along, but it’s not going to start with ‘it’s like DayZ but with dinosaurs’ or ‘it’s like DayZ but medieval’ or ‘it’s like DayZ but you can put a rock up your butt’ or ‘It’s like DayZ but I’m going to abandon it after a year.’ It’s time to wipe the slate clean, Chris. No more lumberjack simulators, no more bad melee animations, no more munching on berries, and for crying out loud, no more zombies.

Chris: I’m picking up what you’re putting down, and I’m crafting it into planks so I can build a shack. Look, the basic formula is definitely wearing thin, but clearly survival fans aren’t entirely sick of it yet. Reign of Kings, which I played this week, has been on the Steam top seller list since it arrived in Early Access despite being buggy, ugly, filled with exploits, and made by the same developer who made another Early Access survival game, StarForge, that most players on Steam wound up hating. H1Z1 has sold over a million copies despite the fact that it’ll be free someday. Some might say that means survival fans are gullible, but I think we’re just hopeful. We’re hungry for the next great survival game, so we’re willing to throw some money at newcomers with no track records or devs with poor ones, just to jump into a new game and do the same old things. It’s hope!

Tyler: As a Star Citizen hopeful (and skeptic), I suppose I can’t find fault in that. I don’t want anyone to stop making games just because I’m tired of them, obviously—that’s very narcissistic and I’m only mildly narcissistic. I just don’t think I can stomach the disappointment of yet another game with 30 bullet points that sound brilliant, but still amount to hitting trees. At least something like No Man's Sky seems to break the mold (perhaps without being classified as 'survival'), but I remain skeptical of it too. For now, I’ll stick to reading your diaries, admiring all the dumb stuff that happens in these games from afar.

Chris: And I’ll chop down some trees, make logs into planks, and make planks into an ugly little house for you to sit in until Star Citizen comes out. Help yourself to some berries.


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