Why We Need Middle Shelf Games (The Jimquisition)

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Nowadays it seems “AAA” publishers are giving us fewer games, and consequently fewer options. That’s because they are.

In today’s all-or-nothing industry, the “middle shelf” game, the kind of game that has a budget but isn’t mega mainstream, is a dying art.

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Chris TopherJustin McDanielNitriumArella JardinFord.Fairlane Recent comment authors
Chris Topher
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Chris Topher

This user has been deleted, but this comment will remain here so the following thread does not have to be deleted.

Nitrium
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Nitrium

Justin, why is my comment awaiting moderation? I’ve looked at it multiple times and just don’t see the issue.

Ford.Fairlane
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Ford.Fairlane

The mid-tier was always a great test bed for innovation that eventually made its way into top tier titles. Dark Souls creating its own genre is a great example; I thought of some others. Destructible Environments (Red Faction), Cover-Based Shooting (Kill Switch), Time Mechanics (Singularity). I’m currently playing two mid-tiers that are derivative but enjoyable in their own right: Darksiders: It’s a Zelda-like but done well and the unique art-style and story make it a fun ride. Metro 2033: The dark and gritty apocalyptic shooter has become a genre unto itself, but Metro captured the dingy, well-worn aesthetic better than… Read more »

Aotrs Commander
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Aotrs Commander

I am pretty much the definition of a mid-tier gamer, which is why – largely until the rise of Kickstarter – I was beginning to struggle a bit. All the stuff I play (strats, citybuilders, dungeon management, isometric RPGs) has always been pretty much middle tier. Probably the only games I’ve ever bought that weren’t are Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Bioware from through to Mass Effect 3 and the Witcher trilogy. (Unless maybe some of the later C&C games count? Maybe Civ?) I think there are a few left. Obsidian has pumped out Pillars of eternity (and in a scant few… Read more »

Nitrium
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Nitrium

Japan produces boatloads of mid-tier games (e.g. Nioh, Nier, Yakuza, Senran Kagura, etc). For Western publishers, outside of Ninja Theory, Lords of the Fallen and The Surge (Deck13) are mid-tier. Then there’s Larian’s Divinity Original Sin 2 and RPGs from Obsidian. The Telltale games are all mid-tier as well as Life is Strange. I’m sure there’s many more I’m missing – the situation isn’t quite as dire as Jim’s video suggests imo.

paul
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paul

I’m with you 100%. I’ve cut back drastically over the past 3 years because There just isn’t that many games I’m interested in. Maybe I just need to pick up a PS4 or a Switch

Kevin Rooney
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Oddly enough, your old friends at Extra Credits just did a video on this same subject matter and came to the same conclusion you did, albeit from a different perspective. Their analysis focused on the stories of videogames rather than the gameplay, but they said the same thing: that just as the homogenization of the AAA gaming market is turning every game into a copycat of popular trends, it’s also leaving them with hollow stories that are afraid to tackle serious subject matter. They brought up Activision’s AAA release Call of Duty: WWII and its shallow treatment of the Holocaust… Read more »

MuddyScarecrow
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Doesn’t Yakuza count as a mid tier series? As far as I can tell it doesn’t waste the GDP of a third world country on marketing and despite having what could diplomatically be labelled as an “open world” it absolutely doesn’t feel like most open world games. In so much that its side activities actually have some fucking variety. Also I definitely would say it’s not going for anything resembling mass appeal considering how bizarre that series can get. Mesuking anyone? Though perhaps its non linearity disqualifies it from the definition.

TheDovah
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TheDovah

I didn’t even think about the concept of middle shelf games. That’s a really damn strong point and I think I actually own quite a lot. Red Faction:Gurillia may not be a Triple Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh title but it’s fun. Bladestorm:The Hundred Years War may not be a Trrrrrrrrripleee AAA game(doesn’t feel like one but this may be Techo Koei being Techo KoeI) and I’m having a shit ton of fun. The list goes on and on. The industry values cash above everything but *whispers* Doing mid shelf games is a great way to get free cash. People may like not whatever… Read more »

Arella Jardin
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Arella Jardin

With the booming success of Stardew Valley, I’m surprised no one has taken a shot ata mid tier farming/daily grind sim. I mean, you have Story of Seasons and Animal Crossing on Nintendo. But there’s nothing with a halfway decent budget on Xbox ot PS (though plenty of indies on pc).

I would love to see a farm sim on Xbox, with some decent graphics and animations, maybe some basic voice acting, and more expansive options. A decent small dev team could probably throw that together for less than a million dollars.

Greene Scott
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Greene Scott

What you said about the market for gaming shrinking reminds me what happened to the comics industry in the 90s, EA and Activision might want to have a look at what happened to Marvel then. Also I wonder if Nintendo does mid-tier still since we don’t know what budgets their games get. I remember how the original Smash Bros was just a no budget pet project people at Nintendo developed in their spare time and were surprised by how success it was. Or how Donkey Kong Country was made on dare, that it could be made for the budget of… Read more »

InfamousDS
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InfamousDS

Based solely on the thumbnail and the basic premise of the point (I haven’t watched), I highly recommend playing Dead Space on PC or Xbox One Back Compat. It is a VASTLY different experience when played with a surround sound headset, and you quickly come to realize just how talented Visceral was before they were eviscerated.

A nice tribute to the talent of yesteryear by enjoying their games.

Sperium
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Sperium

Also since you mentioned Shadow of Destiny, I’d like the opportunity to weep for Bloody Roar. I played the SHIT out of Bloody Roar 2 on playstation, for a while it was my favorite fighting game (And yeah it hasn’t aged very well but back then I was a kid who liked playing as a dude who turned into a ninja mole so shut up) , but since the license belong to KONAMI I know I will never see another proper Bloody Roar while they have it in their cold, warlock-like clutches. My only hope is someone buys the license… Read more »

Sperium
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Sperium

Would the Yakuza games be what you’d call mid-shelf games? Their budget is certainly nowhere near on par with the big triple A buff bois of the market, but all of the Yakuza games boast a consistent level of quality on all departments, with impressive and reallistic character models (some even almost reaching L.A Noire levels of quality when you compare to the real actors who portray said characters) and all of that without having to hack the game to bits and sell those bits separatedly or shoving lootboxes into it. Hell, Yakuza Kiwami was a top-to-bottom remake of the… Read more »

Benj
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Benj

I feel like a lot of what THQ Nordic is publishing could be considered “middle shelf” games too.

They have known properties like Darksiders, Red Faction and Pillars of Eternity that are known properties but no where near the bloated, cash-oozing monstrosties that EA and Activision Blizzard jizz out.

whe123
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whe123

I suspect Nier:Automata was originally conceived as a mid-shelf product by Square-Enix. The graphics in that game pretty much reflect as much. It turned into a break out hit. I’d like to think the other major publishers took notice.

Terry-Osaurusus Hex XI
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Activision and co not only content to merely sit on their ever-growing hoard of cash, but to also utilise it for actual lobbying of Netherland politics to avoid paying their share of tax!; I feel I should mention at every single opportunity as Western countries face harsh cuts to ever more necessary public services in the pretense of austerity as the wealthy get only unimaginably richer. Oh and the recent Prey was alright by the way. Don’t forget the upcoming ‘Vampyr’ title by Dontnod studios is a midtier game, they call it “AA” in one of their developer videos though.… Read more »

Anton
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Anton

This is my favorite episode in quite a while. A very relevant point. Thankfully, due to self-publishing becoming increasingly accessible, I think mid tier games are returning without AAA help. Just now I’m playing Battletech – modestly budgeted, incredibly niche, and sooooo good to the right audience. Another good sign is that we’re seeing some mid-tier games become popular, but retain their core values. After striking it big with Dark Souls, fromsoft could have asked for a huge budget from Sony and gone full AAA. Instead, they made yet another modestly budgeted, tightly focused niche game with Bloodborne -and it… Read more »